Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Who is Barabbas?

All four of the gospels refer to Jesus' fellow prisoner, Barabbas, by name. First, I'll present the four accounts and then some commentary:

Matthew 17:15-26:
Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, "Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?" For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.
When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him."
But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus.
The governor answered and said unto them, "Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you?"
They said, "Barabbas."
Pilate saith unto them, "What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?"
They all say unto him, "Let him be crucified."
And the governor said, "Why, what evil hath he done?"
But they cried out the more, saying, "Let him be crucified."
When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it."
Then answered all the people, and said, "His blood be on us, and on our children."
Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
Mark similarly provides an account.
Mark 15:6-15:
Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them that had made insurrection with him, who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them.
But Pilate answered them, saying, "Will ye that I release unto you the King of the Jews?" For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy.
But the chief priests moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.
And Pilate answered and said again unto them, "What will ye then that I shall do unto him whom ye call the King of the Jews?"
And they cried out again, "Crucify him."
Then Pilate said unto them, "Why, what evil hath he done?"
And they cried out the more exceedingly, "Crucify him."
And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.
Luke also has an account.
Luke 23:13-25:
And Pilate, when he had called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, said unto them, "Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: no, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him." (For of necessity he must release one unto them at the feast.)
And they cried out all at once, saying, "Away with this man, and release unto us Barabbas:" (Who for a certain sedition made in the city, and for murder, was cast into prison.)
Pilate therefore, willing to release Jesus, spake again to them.
But they cried, saying, "Crucify him, crucify him."
And he said unto them the third time, "Why, what evil hath he done? I have found no cause of death in him: I will therefore chastise him, and let him go."
And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required. And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
Finally, John also has the account.
John 18:38-19:16
Pilate saith unto him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, "I find in him no fault at all. But ye have a custom, that I should release unto you one at the passover: will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?"
Then cried they all again, saying, "Not this man, but Barabbas." Now Barabbas was a robber.
Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and they smote him with their hands.
Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, "Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him."
Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, "Behold the man!"
When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, "Crucify him, crucify him."
Pilate saith unto them, "Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him."
The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God."
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, "Whence art thou?"
But Jesus gave him no answer.
Then saith Pilate unto him, "Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?"
Jesus answered, "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin."
And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar."
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, "Behold your King!"
But they cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him."
Pilate saith unto them, "Shall I crucify your King?"
The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar."
Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.There are no further references to Barabbas in the text of the New Testament.

So, who was Barabbas? He was a robber (John's account), a notable prisoner (Matthew's account), someone who had (with others who were also imprisoned) made an insurrection/sedition and committed murder in the insurrection (Mark's and Luke's accounts). So, this man was a true brigand and a captain of them. His name appears to be taken from "bar abba" meaning "son of the father" (although some have suggested "bar rabbi" meaning "son of the teacher."

I scanned through the early church writers to see if there were any interesting legends about him. I mostly came up empty. Tertullian describes him as "the most abandoned criminal" (Tertullian, Against Marcion, Book 4, Chapter 42)
Cyril of Alexandria describes him as "a notorious robber" and "a dangerous and brutal criminal, [who was] not free from blood-guiltiness" (Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, at John 18:40) Augustine calls him "the robber," "the murderer," and "the destroyer [of life]"(Augustine, Tractate 116 on John's Gospel, at John 19:1) Even Faustus (whom Augustine opposed) called him "the notorious robber" (Faustus quoted in Augustine's Reply to Faustus, Book 14, Section 1) Chrysostom provides a characteristically colorful description:
For which was right? to let go the acknowledged criminal, or Him about whose guilt there was a question? For, if in the case of acknowledged offenders it was fit there should be a liberation, much more in those of whom there was a doubt. For surely this man did not seem to them worse than acknowledged murderers. For on this account, it is not merely said they had a robber; but one noted, that is, who was infamous in wickedness, who had perpetrated countless murders.
- Chrysostom, Homily 86 on Matthew, Section 2, at Matthew 27:11-12

On the whole, though, the early church basically leaves Barabbas alone. A couple (Origen and Rabanius) describe him as figuring the Devil, while Pseudo-Jerome goes so far as to associate him with the scapegoat which was freed. I'm told the the "Gospel According to the Hebrews" is an apocryphal work that takes the "son of the teacher" interpretation as opposed to "son of the father," but generally the apocryphal works also pretty much leave him alone or simply parrot the canonical accounts.

Gill provides similar comments, and adds:
The Ethiopic version adds, "the prince", or "chief of robbers, and all knew him"; and the Arabic, instead of a "prisoner", reads, a "thief", as he was.
He also points out that this name was a common name among the Jews, providing various citations to folks by that name. There does not seem to be much more out there on him.

Thus, I was a little surprised to see a rather bizarre comment in my comment box attempting to promote a novel view:
"Anathema" continues even unto this very day... to wit, 'Christian's' regard towards "Jesus Barabbas" (originally written in the Greek Gospel according or attributed to Matthew (27:17). But is such regard justified?

Is the depiction, contained only in the Holy Gospels, of "Jesus Barabbas" accurate or true?

Standing on the stage of ecclesiastical history's most dramatic and celebrated hour, like a potted plant of poison ivy, Jesus Barabbas said nothing whatsoever to anybody (nobody said anything to Him), -yet He is incongruently released (because Pontius Pilate honored a Jewish 'custom' -of releasing one prisoner during the Passover, -never before or since exercised).
Nevertheless, He is described as being "notorious"... to whom?
Where did He come from? Where did He go? Supposedly, He participated in the 'insurrection', -what "insurrection"? The "insurrection" wherein fanatically 'religious' Jews sought to overthrow Herod's Roman supported 'secular' governance -in an unsuccessful attempt to re-establish the ancient 'theocratic' form of governance as was instituted by David' (after the Lord rebuked the 'anointed' king Saul and replaced him with David?

I'm sure young Saul of Tarsus had something to say (and do) when 'the messiah' came riding on an ass into Jerusalem that fateful day...

It certainly wasn't "Jesus Barabbas", -which, by the way, "Jesus" was His 'name', -"Barabbas" is what He was 'called'. 'Barabbas' is not a surname (any more than is "Christ"), it is, rather, an Aramaic appellation, the meaning of which is: Bar = Son + Abba = Father (as in the Father of us all or 'God').

Whoa.

Roland, a reluctant iconoclast.
There are numerous errors in this comment. First, the name is just Barabbas (not "Jesus Barabbas"). Second, the fact that we don't have any historical record to which to tie this particular notorious criminal is hardly surprising: we don't have any significant records of the crimes of the day - so treating historical silence as significant is an error. Third, the whole comment is riddled with misplaced sarcasm and innuendo, compounding those errors through what seems to be some sort of iconoclastic pride. I have no idea who Roland is (or why he was using the handle "Barabbas126" to post the comment, but I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has encountered this same deviant view anywhere else.

UPDATE: I've tried to clarify the list of errors above. I found the information on textual data interesting. There are several variant spellings of the name: some manuscripts double the rho (leading to the "son of the master" interpretation) and some make the doubled betas single. Also, some manuscripts to add the name "Jesus," which is doubtless the basis for Roland's claim. However, neither the earliest nor the majority of manuscripts have this reading.

-TurretinFan

1 comment:

natamllc said...

Just a digression from him, Barabbas; I was compelled by my wife to go see a movie recently, as in a few years ago. I can't recall the name of it but it was about Jesus. A famous actor, who's name also escapes me directed and financed the movie. I guess it was a hit with Catholics as this guy is suppose to be one. Many Christians, as I understand it, also were lured into spending the money to see the flick.

Of the movie, the one scene that sticks in my mind's eye the most was the part when they led Barabbas down the colonade to the steps, freeing him. Holywood captured what I believe the real Barabbas must have experienced in some sense of emotion when he was set free!

Sometimes we forget we are commenting on real historical people, both that guy, Barabbas and Jesus!

I guess if all this History took place contemporaneously, it would be like the G men letting Al Capone go! Sadly for humanity, gladly for him, he would walk temporarily free to be who he is for the time until his end, too!