Is it true that at Jesus’ trial, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate tried to get him off the hook by offering to let him loose, according to his annual custom, but that the Jewish crowd insist that he release to them Barabbas instead, a serious criminal?

[[RECALL, in case you haven’t been reading each of the posts in this thread:  I’ve been trying to show how experts in the phenomenon of “memory” can help us reflect on the Gospel traditions about Jesus.  Memory is a much wider and more expansive phenomenon than most people imagine.  Memories involve what we’ve done, what we’ve experienced, what we’ve learned, what we’ve heard, and what we simply recall about the past whether we ourselves experienced it and whether our recollections are just personal or collectively shared by a broader swath of our community (e.g., our “memories” of the Clinton presidency or of the Civil War)  .

When seen in this broader sense, the Gospels contain some “historically true” memories of Jesus but also some distorted or fake memories.  In the current thread of posts I’ve been discussing key passages of the Passion narratives of the Gospels.  All these are taken from my book that discusses such things in large, Jesus Before the Gospels (HarperOne, 2016).]]


The Barabbas Episode

As I earlier indicated, 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,

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