This now is number eight of my favorite posts from the past.   Often I deal with issues in the New Testament that in my judgment cannot be historically accurate.  One of these, to the surprise of many readers, is the familiar story of what allegedly happened at the trial of Jesus according to the Gospels: Pilate is said to have offered to release him as a favor to the Jewish crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Passover; but instead they choose a Jewish insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas – and so that was the one Pilate released.   Could that have happened?

I addressed the issue in 2019, in response to a reader’s question:



Pilate condemns Jesus to execution for treason against Rome. Pilate gives the Jewish crowds the option of releasing Jesus or a Jewish insurgent, Barabbas (15:6–15).   I did a quick search to see if this was an attested practice in the Roman Empire and couldn’t’ find any relevant information.  So, I have two questions:  Do you think this detail is accurate?  Is there any evidence that Roman officials actually freed condemned prisoners at certain local festival times?



This was an issue I worked on while writing my book Jesus Before the Gospels.  After doing my research I came to a definite conclusion, that I state rather strongly (!).  Here is what I say about the matter there:


Mark’s Gospel indicates that it was Pilate’s custom to release a prisoner guilty of a capital crime to the Jewish crowd in honor of the Passover festival.  He asks if they would like him to release Jesus, but they urge him to release for them Barabbas instead, a man in prison for committing murder during an insurrection.   Pilate appears to feel that his hand is forced, and so he sets Barabbas free but orders Jesus to be crucified (Mark 15:6-15).

This Barabbas episode was firmly set in the early Christian memory of Jesus’ trial – it is found, with variations, in all four of the Gospels (Matthew 27:15-23; Luke 23:17-23; John 18:39-40).   I do not see how it can be historically right, however; it appears to be a distorted memory.

For starters, what evidence is there that Pilate ever …

Never heard this one before?  If you’re not a member of the blog, you won’t be able to keep reading, and you may *never* hear it.  Joining is inexpensive and easy; and every thin dime you pay goes to charity.  So what’s to lose?