Barabbas is know to have been a seditionary,murderer and thief etc.

  But the state of the times wasn't that simple. Rome was an occupying force, therefore the source of law is tainted with respect to Israeli law therefore not bound by it. In our century we have an example of the French underground during WWII. If we have one of these killing a Nazi, then the Nazi was not granted recognition for protection under Viche law, since this government is a planted puppet. His presence is illegal.

  Now, if Barabbas murdered and stole from Israelis, then the case is as if the Isreali law is still active, and yes that would be true. But it is a bit nebulous as regards to charges of sedition. And again, during the American revolution, killing a soldier of the King was sedition with respect to the Crown and imposed colonial law, but not in the view of the founding fathers. Perhaps it's a matter of timing, or perhaps the losing nation must make a formal address to it's citizens to no longer oppose assimilation. 



The political situation of the Holy Land during the time of Jesus was like this.

First off, the Galilee - where Jesus came from - and Judaea were technically different territories.

When “King of the Jews” Herod the Great died, his territory was split among three sons: Archelaus, Antipas and Philip. Archelaus got the lion’s share, the regions of Judea and Samaria, Antipas received the Galilee and Peraea (the east bank of the Jordan), while Philip got the rest. While Mark (and once, Matthew) call Antipas ‘King’ Herod, none of these sons were technically ‘kings’: Archelaus was an ethnarch ‘national leader’, while both Antipas and Philip were tetrarchs ‘rulers of a fourth’. Archelaus however ruled so badly that the Romans - who heard the complaint of Archelaus’ subjects against him - kicked him out and replaced him with a prefect around AD 6. Archelaus’ territory thus became a Roman province (a low-class one at that), the province of Judaea. (I’m spelling it with the extra ‘a’ to distinguish it from Judea proper.)


The Galilee was under Antipas’ jurisdiction: he had his own soldiers and his own tax collectors*, and he ran his own government the way he wanted to. He paid tribute to Rome occasionally, kept things in line by keeping public order and defending his borders, and Rome would grant him some degree of autonomy in return (and some promise of protection against hypothetical enemies). He minted his own coins, one of the principal signs of ‘independence’.

  • The tax collectors in the Galilee we see in the gospels - such as Matthew/Levi - would actually be working directly for Antipas, rather than Rome as we often imagine. In fact, the ‘hekatontarch’ in Capernaum - whose servant Jesus heals - is probably not a Roman centurion (because really, Roman troops had no business being in the Galilee at that time), but an official in Antipas’ army. We know that Herod the Great modelled his own personal army after the Roman military, and it’s not impossible his sons did likewise for their own armies. (Note that John’s closest parallel to the synoptic story of the centurion’s servant is the the son of the basilikos, the royal official.)

It’s kind of like the Soviet Union and its satellite states during the Cold War: Eastern Bloc countries established by the Soviets like East Germany, Hungary, or Poland all had their own ‘independent’ governments. They had to contribute to the Soviet Empire in various ways, but Moscow only intervened directly in these countries only very occasionally, when unrest or civil tumult got out of hand or when a brash government felt too independent. That’s the same tactic Romans used: as long as Rome saw that their client ruler ruled correctly, he was left in peace.


Down south in Judaea, things were kind of a little different but at the same time, a little similar. While the prefect officially governed the area, actual daily government was left to Jewish authorities, who acted as the middlemen: for example, in Jerusalem it is the high priest and his circle of advisors. There were a few Roman soldiers in garrisons acting as token lookouts for trouble, but otherwise, cities, Jewish towns and villages were run by Jewish magistrates and elders, according to Jewish law. The Roman prefect only showed up in Jerusalem during the major pilgrimage festivals (such as Passover) to check for any potential unrest. During the rest of the year, however, he and most of his soldiers are in Caesarea-by-the-(Mediterranean) Sea (Maritima) with other gentiles. Again, you have here a form of indirect rule: letting the natives run their own affairs.

Speaking of which, the time when Jesus dies - the late 20s-30s - were actually relatively ‘peaceful’. When we think of the 1st century and imagine all those Roman soldiers patrolling the streets, that’s actually a picture that would fit the 50s-60s, when the land was becoming dangerous and Jews were beginning to engage in a massive rebellion against the Romans, more than the time Jesus lived in. There was of course the threat that some uprising might erupt (it was a sort of tense ‘peace’), but all in all, the first half of the 1st century was relatively better when you compare it to the latter half of the same century.

Nothing has changed in the Middle East then and now: it was just a very volatile, tense place as it is today. A complete 180 could happen in just a matter of years. A lot changed in the decade or two after Jesus; ‘s*** just got real’ (pardon the crude slang) after Jesus was gone.


Excellent historical perspective. Thank you.


It is precisely because of the overlapping, or colliding, spheres of influence in Roman Judaea that a prisoner was pardoned. One sphere attempting to placate another.

More interesting, to me anyways is that the Aramaic name Bar-Abbas translates to “son of the father.” One Son of the Father replaces another. One who has taken life, versus, one who gives it.



There’s this interesting theory that Jesus Barabbas may not actually be guilty of the crimes he was accused of. He was arrested and jailed for insurrection and murder, but in this case he may have simply been framed or was at the wrong place at the wrong time. (There was a failed uprising or disturbance and Barabbas was mistakenly implicated and rounded up by the authorities.)

Note that Mark simply says that Barabbas was jailed with the insurrectionists who committed murder “in the insurrection” (it was the insurrectionists who committed murder, not Barabbas), while Matthew doesn’t even specify any crime, instead just saying that Barabbas was a “notable (or famous) prisoner.” Luke does describe Barabbas as “the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder,” but then again, being jailed is not definitive proof of guilt. At best, you could only infer Barabbas was convicted of doing these things. John does call Barabbas a lēstēs ‘robber/brigand/bandit’, but then again, it could simply have been what Barabbas was accused of being, not necessarily what he really was.

This idea is interesting because it would explain why the chief priests would ask for Barabbas and why Pilate would ultimately seemingly have no hesitation releasing him. (That was one of the difficulties with the ‘guilty Barabbas’ scenario: why would the chief priests specifically ask for a supposedly dangerous lēstēs like Barabbas to be released, and why would Pilate allow for his release - Paschal privilege aside?)

This proposal I think actually brings up another level of irony at the story: Barabbas may have been legally innocent of the accusations against him, but Jesus was ‘guilty’. Barabbas may not really have been a murderous bandit or insurrectionist, but Jesus very much is the Messiah and a King.


Do Protestants consider our extra books in The Bible, like Maccabees etc. to be the apocrypha? Why?


patrick457, greatly interesting information, but I have a difficult with your “crude slang.”

There are millions of other ways to describe without using such language.


I second that, thanks Patrick!


Very sorry about that.


Barabbas is an Aramaic name. Try parsing the name to find out what it means, you will be surprised. If you do not not how to parse it, let me know.


Barabbas was respected by the Jews for being an insurrectionist against the Romans because independence was only partially granted to them from previous actions. Jesus on the other hand was disrespected by the Jews for being King of the Jews (or at least that he said he was). When the situation required itself they held up the Caesar card.

I find the situation strange because Herod an Idumean must have been in their minds in the mixture of politics, having been less than a generation ago. I wonder whether they were still looking for the Maccabeean style deliverer.


That is a much better way of looking at it rather than the substitution theology some protestants claim. The idea that Barabbas gets off while Jesus Christ takes his place. Instead Barabbas was shown to be inadequate to do the job of salvation by war, whereas Jesus was truly able to do the job by making peace.


There’s this speculation (of course, given lack of actual evidence, this is just a rather nice piece of speculation) that Barabbas was really the son of a famous rabbi. Aside from bar-Abba (‘son of Abba’), the other possibility is that the name comes from bar-Rabban (‘son of the Rabban’ - “son of the teacher”). And at that time, the one person who held the title Rabban - a combination of rabbi and abba, basically - was Gamaliel, the same person who stood up for Peter and John before the high priest’s council, and also Saul/Paul’s teacher.

This speculation goes that Rabban Gamaliel had a son named Jesus, popularly known as the “Rabban’s son.” During a disturbance or uprising in which some people got killed, this Jesus was implicated and arrested (he may or may not have have really been involved in fomenting the disturbance; who knows? Maybe he just got framed).

Given how Gamaliel is a respected and prominent figure, the arrest of his son would have caused some kind of uproar. The Jewish authorities arrested Jesus of Nazareth and handed Him over to Pilate while trying to - or maybe should I say, ‘in order to’ - clear Jesus son of Gamaliel’s name. In this scenario, the Jewish authorities were actually trying to persuade Pilate that Jesus Barabbas was innocent (hence asking for his release), but that Jesus of Nazareth was guilty. In other words, they were trading the ‘guilty’ Jesus for the ‘innocent’ Jesus.

We often imagine Barabbas as the leader of the stasis, “the uprising” or “the sedition” he was supposedly involved in. But the gospels doesn’t necessarily say that. Even if one agrees with the traditional idea of Barabbas as a guilty ‘robber’ / Zealot / whatever, all one can infer from the texts was that he was a “notable/famous prisoner,” (Matthew) that he was “jailed with the insurrectionists who in the insurrection committed murder,” (Mark - it was ‘the insurrectionists’ who are said to have murdered people here, not Barabbas himself) and is apparently convicted of insurrection and/or brigandry and murder himself (Luke, John) - all of which are not direct indications that he was the ringleader, just that he was maybe (accused of being) a part of it.


A simple explanation works best. There was a riot, which Bar Abbas instigated. People were killed and Bar Abbas and his crew were apprehended immediately. The chief priests paid people off to set Bar Abbas free. So while Jesus the son of the father, the insurrectionist, was set free, Jesus, the Son of the Father, the Prince of Peace, was led away to crucifixion, with two of Bar Abbas’ crew.


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