Barabbas?


#1

In the bible, before Jesus was to be executed, the crowd was given a chance to free one prisoner. The crowd chose to free Barabbas. Is there any information on who he was or what he did to warrant execution?


#2

Yes…as per Mark 15:7 he was a rebel who murdered during an uprising and was considered a very dangerous enemy to Rome and sentenced to death because of it.

No problem letting a guy like that free into the crowd at Passover time, right?
Not!

Many New Testament scholars think the Barabbas story is apocryphal…legendary instead of historical.

First, there doesn’t seem to be any reference outside the bible for Pilate–or any other Roman official-- ever having this custom of freeing a prisoner of the crowd’s choice.

Second, of all we know about Pilate…he ruled with an iron fist and didn’t give a flyin’ *&^% about pleasing the people. He was not the sensitive type, minding local laws and customs.

Also…why would a Roman governor release such a dangerous criminal into the crowd during Passover?

And…why would the Jews choose the spiritual and merciful Jesus to be crucified instead of this murderer? As if to choose a violent revolution instead of a good relationship with God?
They are given the choice and…oy, they make an unfortunate one, it seems.

And then there’s the name: In Aramaic, Barabbas means “son of the father”.
And we find out in Matt 27:16-17 that Barabbas’ first name is Jesus (eliminated from many manuscripts).

Too much of a coincidence and convenient…pitting the two “Jesus” characters–one good, one bad–side by side like that.

.


#3

You may be right, I have no evidence to suggest otherwise. But you also fail to reference your sources for suggestions the story was made up.
I find the difficulty in saying this part of the Bible could not have happened as there were 4000 people feed on five fish in one Gospel and 7000 in another; or that there was no proof Barabbas was real outside the Bible; or that Jesus’ resurrection could have been nothing more than a mental event in the minds of the Apostles; or that this was most unlikely or that beggars belief is that such a position calls into question the veracity of the New Testament and we can pick and choose what we want to believe.
This has sadly led to the diaspora of Protestantism and should be avoided in Catholic exegesis.


#4

I’ll reply to this first.

Okay, this is I believe a pitfall many modern scholars fall into - they take Philo’s and Josephus’ portrayal of Pilate too literally. Ever since the Holocaust, attempts have been made to eliminate or soften elements in the NT that could be construed the anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic. Which is all well and good, but despite (or perhaps, because of) their good intentions, many modern scholars went the opposite direction and demonized Pilate and the Romans. They use Philo and Josephus to justify their portrait of Pilate the bloodthirsty monster, but what they really forget is that both authors had their own respective agendas in vifilying Pilate. Sure, Pilate may not have been a nice man or a weak-willed sort of guy, but he probably isn’t the butcher some modern writers make him out to be either. This is scholarly bias in play: the gospels are thoroughly dissected and critiqued, but at the same time, whatever Josephus and Philo say are taken uncritically at face value. Either dissect them both or don’t.

Many New Testament scholars think the Barabbas story is apocryphal…legendary instead of historical.

First, there doesn’t seem to be any reference outside the bible for Pilate–or any other Roman official-- ever having this custom of freeing a prisoner of the crowd’s choice.

It’s true that there’s no reference to the so-called ‘Paschal privilege’ outside the gospels. But, the fact still stands that the four gospels attest to this custom. (If you believe that the synoptics and John are records of independent traditions about Jesus, then that’s double.) Some might say that that isn’t enough - we need an independent attestation of the custom first before we take it into consideration. But really, just how many events are there in history that are only attested in one or two sources?

Now we do have surviving records of instances where Roman rulers would release prisoners, usually for political reasons (to gain favorable reviews, for one); who’s to say that Pilate did not pull a similar act, even if the gospels are our only surviving records of it? The main reason why there are scholars who would even doubt the historicity of the custom is because the image of the ‘evil Pilate’ is so fixed in their minds. Come on, we all know Pilate was a heartless bas***d - surely he couldn’t have performed the custom the gospels said he did. :rolleyes:

One could argue that if the so-called ‘Paschal privilege’ is fictional and was designed to cast Jews in a bad light (as is often claimed), why did the evangelists not make it into an occasional custom instead of a yearly one? An occasional practice would have worked even better since it would have portrayed the Jews as so bloodthirsty that they asked for Barabbas instead of Jesus even though it was not customary to release a prisoner every Passover. And since we’re talking about fiction: if the evangelists (or the Christians before them) invented Barabbas, wouldn’t their fictional invention have been a source of embarrassment? If Pilate didn’t really release any prisoners at all on the Passover or on other holidays, or at least on one occasion, their claim should have been exposed as false and would have been an embarrassing liability.


#5



(Continued)

Also…why would a Roman governor release such a dangerous criminal into the crowd during Passover?

And…why would the Jews choose the spiritual and merciful Jesus to be crucified instead of this murderer? As if to choose a violent revolution instead of a good relationship with God?
They are given the choice and…oy, they make an unfortunate one, it seems.

Well, the question is, is Barabbas really that ‘dangerous’? Or is that just an assumption?

There had been a handful of scholars in the past who suggested that Barabbas wasn’t really an insurrectionist himself but was someone who got arrested by mistake in “the insurrection.” For one, Mark 15:7 only says that Barabbas was in jail with “the rebels who (oitines, plural) had committed murder during the insurrection,” which doesn’t really say anything about whether Barabbas did play a role in it. Mark doesn’t explicitly label Barabbas as an insurrectionist - he only says that he was in prison with them. Matthew 27 says that Barabbas was episēmos, “famous/notable/distinguished.” This is often translated in the negative sense in many Bibles - ‘notorious’. But it isn’t explained what he was (in)famous for. The only gospels who are do seem to suggest Barabbas was a criminal was Luke and John, but even then John is the only gospel that explicitly labels Barabbas a lestes, “robber.” Luke says that Barabbas was "a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. " In their view, Luke and John had inflated the earlier, more ambiguous tradition found in Matthew and Mark that Barabbas was jailed with insurrectionists (but leaving his actual crime unstated).

In this scenario, the historical Barabbas was mistakenly arrested for crimes that he didn’t commit. Some, based on the idea that Barabbas had the same name as Jesus, have also suggested that the authorities might have mistook him for Jesus of Nazareth in their search to arrest the latter. Based on Matthew’s explanation of Barabbas as a ‘famous’ prisoner and based on another possible interpretation of Barabbas’ name (Bar-Rabban ‘son of [the] Rabban (our teacher)’), there had also been a speculation that maybe this Jesus was the son of a famous rabbi, perhaps Gamaliel - the first teacher to have had the title Rabban. This, in their view, would explain why the crowd would ask for Barabbas.

But even if you do not accept the above scenario, I think it’s a good illustration of how we might take some ideas for granted. We’re so used to the image of Barabbas as violent seditionist that we fail to see other possibilities: if he was indeed an ‘insurrectionist’, a murderer or a ‘robber’, maybe his crime (if he did commit one) wasn’t as huge or as publicly dangerous as the later popular uprisings of the 50s-60s (in other words, he’s just a small fry compared to other rebels), or at least as we often think it might have been. Or maybe he was just framed. Or the choice was deliberate - Pilate was daring the Jewish leaders to choose from an actual criminal (Barabbas) and someone they claimed was dangerous on about the same level. (One could always have Barabbas re-arrested later or maybe even covertly assassinated.) Who knows?

And you’re forgetting something. Jesus might not have been the rebel leader some people (Reza Aslan being the most recent example) make Him out to be, but He’s hardly a ‘harmless’ proto-Hippie who just spoke about love and peace and who got arrested and crucified by mistake by the overexcited and highly-paranoid powers that be. I think it’s more likely that everyone involved in the drama knew what he was doing.

And then there’s the name: In Aramaic, Barabbas means “son of the father”.
And we find out in Matt 27:16-17 that Barabbas’ first name is Jesus (eliminated from many manuscripts).

Too much of a coincidence and convenient…pitting the two “Jesus” characters–one good, one bad–side by side like that.

.

I think this is reading too much into the meaning of the name. Abba was in use as a personal name - there were many Abbas in later rabbinic literature. I think it’s more likely that the name gave rise to later symbolism rather than the other way around (“son of Abba” = abba ‘father’ = “Son of [the] father”). That, or perhaps the other possible explanation of the meaning of Barabbas, already suggested by St. Jerome in the late 4th century (bar-rabban “son of the teacher (rabban)”) is more likely.


#6

Welll…I didn’t exactly fail to reference my sources. I just didn’t know ya wanted 'em. They are very easy to find in any library and all over the internet.

Some references, from the encyclopedia:

Finnish-American historian Max Dimont who wrote “Jews, God, and History”, “The indestructible Jews; is there a manifest destiny in Jewish history?”, “The Jews in America : the roots, history, and destiny of American Jews”, “Amazing Adventures of the Jewish People”, and “Appointment in Jerusalem: A Search for the Historical Jesus” is one of many revered historians who points out that from a Roman standpoint, for the authoritative Pilate to bow down to a crow of unarmed civilians and release a prisoner condemned to death for insurrection against the Roman empire…he would face execution himself.

Author and scholar Benjamin Uruttia, who wrote The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus…and Jewish scholar Hyam Maccoby, among others, also agree that the “choice” the crowd must be fictional…and believes the character of Barabbas was meant to symbolize Jesus of Nazareth (he links this with some writings from Josephus. Check wiki for more).

Other scholars note that the story was a way to make a dramatic point and tell it in “parable” form by the writer of the Mark gospel.
Dennis R. MacDonald, who is the John Wesley Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the Claremont School of Theology in California and wrote The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark thinks the writer of the Mark gospel borrowed
the idea from Homer’s *Odyssey. *

Investigating whether this Barabbas scene would have really happened doesn’t have to “question the veracity” of the New Testament. Writers back then often used parables and creative ways to tell a story and make a point–just as we do today. The readers/listeners back then understood this.
It’s not merely picking and choosing what to believe. Sometimes, it’s the meaning of the story that is more important than the story itself–just like Jesus’ parables. They didn’t all really happen, did they? Does it matter? No. He was trying to make a point when he told them and telling a dramatic, symbolic story is one way to do that.

I’ve got more…stay tuned…


#7

This is an odd claim, even for you.

Clearly the parables were intended as stories to make a point. The Barabbas event is purported to be an historical one, not a parable. Once we begin blurring the lines between parables and events in the Gospels, it makes it much easier to slip in presumptions against the historicity of the Gospels.

Your claims about Barabbas, in fact, rely upon the assumption that the Gospels were written centuries after the events portrayed in them. The implication being that the Barabbas story could have been affirmed or denied very easily by anyone within decades of the crucifixion of Jesus. Therefore, your denial amounts to an implicit claim that the Gospels had to have been written much later.

Modern Biblical scholars, contrary to your contention, are tending towards a much earlier authorship. The work of Richard Bauckham shows that naming the names of some individuals while shrouding others in a cloak of anonymity served definite purposes and strongly supports an early authorship of the Gospels because those individuals who were unnamed were individuals who would have been in jeopardy while the Romans and Sanhedren held authority. There is a strong case based upon names, that the Gospels were widely distributed prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

Given early authorship, including the Barabbas story would have discredited all the historical claims of the Gospels, in particular, the most important historical claim of all - the Resurrection of Jesus.

Contrary to your assertions, people “back then” understood the difference between allegory and historical fact. Any attempt to present a fictitious allegory as a real event would have been recognized. It is one thing to present an allegory as allegory, or read hidden meanings into historical events, but another completely to narrate an allegory as if it was an historical event.


#8

He was a rebel/zealot involved in a riot that lead to the death of a Roman. He was caught for murder, but may not have actually committed the murder. There isn’t much information on him because of his name. It may have been changed to Barabbas, meaning son of the father, to give the impression that he represents all of us as children of God and Christ took his/our place on the cross.


#9

Let’s see what the gospels themselves say.

Matthew only says that Barabbas was a “famous prisoner/prisoner of note” (desmion episēmon, often translated negatively as “notorious prisoner”), but doesn’t state what his crime was.

Mark says that, “there was the one called Barabbas, bound with the insurrectionists who (plural) had committed murder in the insurrection.” If you’ll look closely, Mark doesn’t explicitly identify Barabbas as being an ‘insurrectionist’ himself - only that he was in prison with certain people involved in “the insurrection.” One could read it as meaning that Barabbas was an insurrectionist himself (some later manuscripts even go so far as to alter the word “insurrectionists,” stasiastai, into “co-insurrectionists,” systasiastai, explicitly making Barabbas a partner in their crime), but as it stands, the text itself lacks any precision. What Mark only says is that at that time, Barabbas was joined in jail by persons who were charged with insurrection and murder: whether he was their partner in crime or he just coincidentally happened to be detained along with said rioters is left unexplained. One might argue that if Mark wanted to link Barabbas with murder and insurrection he would have used a less ambiguous, more obvious term: “one of the insurrectionists…” So Mark’s account may fix the time of Barabbas’ imprisonment, but doesn’t specify the actual cause (if any) of his imprisonment nor how far legal proceedings had progressed against him.

Unlike Mark, Luke explicitly makes Barabbas complicit in insurrectionary activity. He is described as “a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.” One might say that Luke’s portrayal of Barabbas as explicit criminal serves to highlight a theological point - note how Luke constructs his account. Luke doesn’t mention the ‘paschal privilege’ (the supposed yearly custom of releasing a prisoner mentioned by the other three gospels), and no choice is offered to the crowd; Luke’s crowd, seemingly spontaneously, asks for Barabbas. Barabbas is then introduced as insurrectionist and murderer after the Jewish leaders had demanded his release.

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”—a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder.

There’s a good reason for this. Luke crafts his passion narrative such that Jesus is repeatedly stressed as being innocent of the charges laid against Him (Luke’s Pilate, the good thief, and the centurion all say that He is innocent/righteous over against His accusers). In addition, Luke casts Jesus’ death in the mold of the rejection the OT prophets faced in former times: he places Jesus’ death in the framework of biblical history. In Luke’s mind, Jesus’ rejection and ‘martyrdom’ are prophesied in the Scriptures and are in keeping with Israel’s ‘historic’ (biblical) habit of persecuting the prophets.

This is why Luke’s account is constructed the way it is. To stress Jesus’ innocence, Barabbas’ ‘crime’ needed to be brought to the fore, to bring out a stark contrast between the two men: Israel resumes its former habit and rejects the prophet who never did anything wrong for a rebel and a murderer. Since in Luke’s version, no Passover custom is in view, no choice is presented to the people and the plea for Barabbas is more or less spontaneous, the actions of the Jewish crowd are presented as all the more blameworthy. (That the insurrection is said to have happened “in the city” makes it worse: the assembled crowd of Jerusalemites would have known Barabbas’ crime.)

John (where Barabbas is only mentioned once, and does not have much to do) follows the same trend as Luke: Barabbas is described as a lēstēs, a “robber” or “brigand.” (Josephus also uses lēstai to describe the Zealots - to whom he was unsympathetic - who were active later in the century, especially when he wished to express his moral condemnation of them.) John thereby incriminates Jesus’ Jewish opponents theologically: they choose the ‘King of the Jews’ over a common criminal.

We might say that Luke’s and John’s portrayals of the guilty being chosen over the innocent really influenced later Christian ideas about Barabbas. Whenever we read about Barabbas, our minds will often (unknowingly) default into the murdering rebel of Luke and the brigand of John and then read that portrayal into the more ambiguous presentations found in Matthew or Mark. So at least, what we can say is that the gospels basically agree about describing a prisoner named or nicknamed bar-Abba/bar-Rabba(n), but the exact nature of his crime or whether he was really guilty or not of any crime is something that will remain a mystery.


#10

You are wrong. The Bible is correct. The Gospels are actual history. Take a look at this video:

catholic.com/video/are-the-gospels-historically-reliable


#11

BornInMarch. You asked (with parenthetical addition mine):

Is there any information on who he (Barabbas) was or what he did to warrant execution?

[LIST]
*]Insurrectionist
*]Robber
*]Murderer
[/LIST]

Barabbas was apparently infamous and very well-known to the people Pilate addressed (had notoriety): “notorious prisoner” (Matt. 27:16").

Here is some more info to help fill out what has been answered above too.

LUKE 23:18-19 18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”-- 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder.

ACTS 3:13-15 13 The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

JOHN 18:39-40 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?" 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Hope this helps.

God bless.

Cathoholic


#12

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