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Pilate Released Barabbas. Really??

I received recently the following question, which deals with an issue I had long puzzled over.  It involves the episode in the Gospels where Pilate offers to release a prisoner to the crowds at Passover, hoping they will choose Jesus.  But instead they choose a Jewish insurrectionist and murderer, Barabbas.  Could that have happened?

Here’s the Question and my Response:

 

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?

 

RESPONSE:

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 released a prisoner to the Jewish crowd because they wanted him to do so, or because he wanted to behave kindly toward them during their festival?   Apart from the Gospels, there is none at all.   In part that is because we do not have a huge number of sources for the governorship of Pilate over Judea, just some highly negative remarks in the writings of a Jewish intellectual of his day, Philo of Alexandria, and a couple of stories in the writings of the Jewish historian, Josephus.   These are enough, though, to show us the basic character of Pilate, his attitude to the Jews that he ruled, and his basic approach to Jewish sensitivities.  The short story is that he was a brutal, ruthless ruler with no concerns at all for what the people he governed thought about him or his policies.  He was violent, mean-spirited, and hard-headed.   He used his soldiers as thugs to beat the people into submission, and he ruled Judea with an iron fist.

Is Pilate the sort of person who would kindly accede to the requests of his Jewish subjects in light of their religious sensitivities?   In fact he was just the opposite kind of person.  Not only do we have no record of him releasing prisoners to them once a year, or ever.  Knowing what we know about him, it seems completely implausible.   I should point out that we don’t have any evidence of any Roman governor, anywhere, in any of the provinces, having any such policy.

And thinking about the alleged facts of the case for a second, how could there be such a policy?  Barabbas in this account is not just a murderer, he is an insurrectionist.  If he was involved with an insurrection, that means he engaged in an armed attempt to overthrow Roman rule.   If he murdered during the insurrection, he almost certainly would have murdered a Roman soldier or someone who collaborated with the Romans.   Are we supposed to believe that the ruthless, iron-fisted Pilate would release a dangerous enemy of the state because the Jewish crowd would have liked him to do so?   What did Romans do with insurrectionists?  Did they set them free so they could engage in more armed guerilla warfare?  Would any ruling authority do this?  Of course not.  Would the Romans?  Actually we know what they did with insurrectionists.  They crucified them.

I don’t think the Barabbas episode can be a historical recollection of what really happened.  It’s a distorted memory.  But where did such an incredible story come from?

We need to remember what I stressed earlier, that these accounts of Jesus’ trial repeatedly emphasize that Pilate was the innocent party.  It was those awful Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ death.  For the Christian storytellers, in killing Jesus, the Jews killed their own messiah.  That’s how wicked and foolish they were.  They preferred to kill rather than revere the one God had sent to them.   That is one key to understanding the Barabbas episode.  The Jews preferred a violent, murdering, insurrectionist to the Son of God.

There is even more to it than that.   We have no evidence outside these Gospel accounts that any such person as Barabbas existed.   It is interesting to think about the name of this apparently non-existent person.   In Aramaic, the language of Palestine, the name Bar-abbas literally means “son of the father.”   And so, in a very poignant way, the story of the release of Barabbas is a story about which kind of “son of the father” the Jewish people preferred.  Do they prefer the one who is a political insurgent, who believed that the solution to Israel’s problems was a violent overthrow of the ruling authorities?  Or do they prefer the loving “Son of the Father” who was willing to give his life for others?   In these Christian recollections, the Jewish people preferred the murdering insurrectionist to the self-sacrificing savior.

It is interesting to note that in some manuscripts of Matthew’s account of the Barabbas episode there is an important addition.  In these manuscripts – which may well represent what the Gospel writer originally wrote – Barabbas is actually named “Jesus Barabbas.”  Now the contrast is even more explicit: which kind of Jesus do the Jews want?   Which Jesus, the son of the Father, is to be preferred?   In this account, of course, the Jews are remembered as preferring the wrong one.  But for the Gospel writers that’s because the Jews are always doing the wrong thing and always opposing the true ways of God.

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Comments

  1. Robert
    Robert  March 18, 2019

    “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.”

    The story fits perfectly well with Mark’s time of writing during or immediately after the Jewish revolt. Thus it is easy to imagine Mark’s purposes in creating this story. Prior to the Jewish revolt, it is hard to imagine a realistic Sitz-im-Leben for this “distorted memory” to have become a widespread tradition available even to the author of the fourth gospel. Thus it is much easier to consider the possibility of ‘John’ being at least indirectly dependent upon the gospel of Mark or one of the other synoptic gospels for his abbreviated version of this story, in which Barabbas is not even properly introduced as a character. Some will appeal to a pre-Markan passion narrative, but why not just accept the most economical solution of John being at least indirectly dependent upon one of the synoptic gospels? This example can be multiplied by several others as well as some more encompassing aspects of Mark’s structural emphasis on a theme that is taken up and developed in John’s gospel.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 18, 2019

      It’s certainly possible! But the question is *evidence* — and for me it’s a very heavy burden of proof to show that one document is literarily dependent in any way on another, especially in a massively oral culture.

      • Robert
        Robert  March 19, 2019

        “It’s certainly possible! But the question is *evidence* — and for me it’s a very heavy burden of proof to show that one document is literarily dependent in any way on another, especially in a massively oral culture.”

        But, of course, you have no evidence that the Barabbas story circulated widely orally prior to being picked up by Jesus and considerably later by John. To make that claim, one should be obliged to reconstruct a realistic function that this utterly distorted story would have played in various communities widely enough dispersed that no one in John’s community would have ever heard of this story based on its written form in any of the synoptic gospels. Can you plausibly reconstruct such a scenario? Is it really more plausible than the obvious function this story has for Mark in the historical context of the Judean rebellion against Rome? Much less hypothetical to think that stories from Mark’s gospel circulated after it was written and in use in multiple communities that someone visiting John’s community might have also heard this story.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 20, 2019

          Yup, it’s a matter of establishing what strikes you as the most plausible scenario.

          • Robert
            Robert  March 20, 2019

            “Yup, it’s a matter of establishing what strikes you as the most plausible scenario.”

            OK, then, so who, in your opinion, has presented the most plausible form-critical reconstruction of this utterly distorted tradition such that it is early enough to be widespread and known independently by John?

            Let’s balance that hypothetical form-critical reconstruction against the likelihood that Mark may have created this story that fits so very well his own historical situation and rhetorical views.

            For examples of my view of the more plausible likelihood, see Joel Marcus’ Anchor-Yale commentary, II, p. 930:

            “This account .. may partly reflect the later Markan situation, in which some Christians have suffered from the violence of revolutionaries who, in their own day, have usurped the leadership of the Jewish community.”

            More to the point, see also the Hermeneia commentary on Mark by Adela Yarbro Collins, especially p. 721:

            “It is likely that the evangelist, who probably wrote during the first Jewish war with Rome, created this scene to address the subject of that war in the light of the rejection of Jesus as messiah by the majority of the Jewish people. Instead of accepting Jesus, who taught the way of self-denial and endurance of unavoidable suffering, the people chose leaders like Barabbas, who led them into a brutal and destructive war.”

            In order to support your contrasting view, we need a more plausible reconstruction of the tradition history that supports the other side of Joel Marcus’ ‘partly’. Or should we just assume that so much of what Mark wrote also circulated early and independently as oral traditions known to John, sometimes even with word-for-word Greek repetition (Θέλετε/βούλεσθε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν τὸν βασιλέα τῶν Ἰουδαίων;)? And if we are to make that assumption, can we really justify this as the more plausible hypothesis?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 22, 2019

            As you know quite well yourself as an expert in the area, yes indeed, that has been justified as the more plausibly hypothesis by many many scholars! It’s intereseting that what seems most likely to one expert doesn’t seem at all very likely to another! But I’m not completely following your question: recognizing the Barabbas scene as being informed by the War in 66-70, how is that either a form-critical analysis (what’s the form that emerged?) or relevant to the question of whether John knew Mark? Are you saying that it must be a Markan creation? Why Markan? Why couldn’t Mark have heard it from someone else? Moreover, even if Mark did create it, and John knew aobut it, that absolutely (in my mind) does not mean that John must have read Mark. Secondary Orality is a very important issue and, in my ivew, an almost certain reality.

          • Robert
            Robert  March 22, 2019

            Bart [with responses by Robert in brackets]: “As you know quite well yourself as an expert in the area, yes indeed, that has been justified as the more plausibly hypothesis by many many scholars!” [Which ones? Where?]

            Bart: “It’s intereseting that what seems most likely to one expert doesn’t seem at all very likely to another! But I’m not completely following your question: recognizing the Barabbas scene as being informed by the War in 66-70, how is that either a form-critical analysis …” [it isn’t, I’m asking for a fleshed out form-critical alternative to Markan creation.]

            Bart: “(what’s the form that emerged?)” [you tell me]

            Bart: “… or relevant to the question of whether John knew Mark?” [see Part 2, separate post below*]

            Bart: “Are you saying that it must be a Markan creation?” [No, but who has credibly argued in detail that it was not?]

            Bart: “Why Markan?” [Because it fits so perfectly well in Mark’s gospel.]

            Bart: “Why couldn’t Mark have heard it from someone else?” [He could have. Let’s form-critically explore how such an oral tradition would have functioned in the Markan and Johannine communities.]

            Bart: “Moreover, even if Mark did create it, and John knew aobut it, that absolutely (in my mind) does not mean that John must have read Mark.” [I agree. That’s why I’m only speaking of indirect, oral dependence on the Markan version of the story.]

            Bart: “Secondary Orality is a very important issue and, in my ivew, an almost certain reality.” [Exactly my point.]

            Robert: The problem, as I see it, is that there really isn’t a more plausible form-critical alternative to the simpler hypothesis of Markan creation of the Barabbas pericope and at least indirect Johannine dependence on post-Markan retelling of the Markan version of the story.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 24, 2019

            I can’t answer all your quesitons here but I will say that yes indeed, many many scholars (you do know this!) think it is more plausible that John did not know the Synoptics than that he did. And secondary orality means that the author of John had heard *stories* about Jesus that may have originally come from earlier written sources, but that he himself had not *read* those sources, or at least used them.

          • Robert
            Robert  March 22, 2019

            Part 2

            *How is form-criticism relevant to whether John knew of Mark’s version of the story?

            Because those who defend the lack of even indirect, oral dependence of John on a retelling of Mark’s version of the story need a fleshed-out credible alternative to how John would have ended up with a version of this story that incorporates identical word-for-word Greek material at its core. For a non-Markan version of the oral tradition to have reached John without even the possibility of oral reports of Mark’s story reaching John, the more credible form-critical alternative should also be relatively early in order to be more widespread than reports stemming from Mark’s gospel. The closer one associates the form-critical independent oral version of this story to the time of the writing of Mark’s gospel, the less likely it is able to reach John independently of oral reports reaching John that are not based on Mark’s version of the story.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 24, 2019

            Form criticism determines the Sitz im Leben of a *kind* of story, analyzed according to its formal literary features.

  2. Avatar
    dankoh  March 18, 2019

    May I add a couple of other points:

    In Josephus, Pilate does yield to the crowds once, early in his tenure, when he wanted to bring images to Jerusalem; a “multitude” petitioned him not to; Pilate was ready to have his soldiers kill them all, but the Jews said they would rather die, so Pilate relented. (Ant. 18.3.1) But in 18.3.2, when he wanted to use Temple funds to build an aqueduct, and another crowd raised an objection, this time he had the soldiers go in civilian clothes and massacre the crowd on his signal without warning. In other words, Pilate makes it very clear he does not like crowds telling him what to do, even when they do it peacefully.

    If Barabbas was indeed an insurrectionist (lēstēs can mean that, or robber or bandit), that would help explain why Pilate was so quick to execute Jesus; he had just put down one insurrection and was not about to allow another. (It does raise the question of why Barabbas was still alive at that point, of course.)

    And there were two other lēstai – the “bandits” who were crucified along with Jesus. Why didn’t Pilate offer them to the crowd?

    And has it been pointed out lately that Pilate was the absolute master of Judaea? If he wanted Jesus to go free, Jesus would go free. What could the priests do about it?

    All this is yet more evidence that the Barabbas story is a complete fiction intended to help exonerate Pilate and the Romans.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2019

      Of course inn that instance his hand was forced. Since his primary role was to keep the peace, he could not very well engage in a public massive slaughter of unarmed people! Good point about the other insurrectionionsts!

  3. Telling
    Telling  March 18, 2019

    Hi Bart, This is only somewhat related to the blog topic. I asked this of Mark Goodacre a while back, but he didn’t respond. I wonder if you might comment on it.

    Mark 8:27 (and Luke 9:18) tells of Jesus asking, “Who do people say I am?”. Yet Matthew 16:13 replaces “I” with “Son of man”, as: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

    Even more curious, King James translations, and only King James translations, qualify the same passage with (unquoted): Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

    It looks that the King James scribes saw some ambiguity in the Matthew translation, that it may appear that Jesus is speaking of someone else, not himself, and so qualified it with the added “I”.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 19, 2019

      Ah, right, it would look that way at first! But actually, there is a textual variant at that point. The later manuscripts insert “I” into the passage. But the scribes did it for just the reason you suspected the KJV translators did!

      • Avatar
        brenmcg  March 19, 2019

        Or possibly Mark edited Matthew here for the same reason as later scribes!

  4. Avatar
    Carlov  March 19, 2019

    I apologize for being off topic and jumping ahead but I’m not aware where I can post topic suggestions.

    Please consider addressing the question of whether Jesus actually died on the cross from a historical perspective, either here or in your next post.

    I believe there are 2 reasons, in particular, to believe that he may not have died on the cross:

    1) Jesus’ crucifixion lasted significantly less time compared to standard practice.
    2) The spear thrust in Jesus side is only mentioned in the gospel of John.

    This begs the question, if he wasn’t on the cross long enough to die from suffocation nor was there a spear thrust, what killed him? Did he suffer more brutal torture than usual prior to his crucifixion?

    The following two points may also be indicators as to whether Jesus died on the cross.

    3) At least one of the Roman centurions at the crucifixion was a sympathizer of Jesus (Although I’m not sure how much authority he had in the crucifixion so this point may not valid. Moreover, traditionally Pilate seems to be reluctant to condemn Jesus but this seems to be ahistorical).
    4) If Jesus did in fact not die on the cross this would explain the “post-mortem” appearances (I understand that there are other explanations as well like the hallucination hypothesis).

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      The big problem with making a *historical* reconstruction of what really happened is that you first have to decide which aspects of the various stories in the Gospels are themselves historically accurate. You would have to show that it’s *likely* that the Gospels are right that he died quickly, for example.

      The idea he didn’t really die at all has been around a very long time. If you haven’t read it, the most famous account is Hugh Schonfield’s The Passover Plot (but you can find earlier adumbrations already in teh early 19th century, e.g., in Henrich Paulus’s Das Leben Jesu)

  5. fefferdan
    fefferdan  March 19, 2019

    Bart, I’m reconsidering based on your argument. I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, because for me there’s a ring of truth in the story — based on the criterion of embarrassment for Jesus and his disciples. Barabbas’ people are brave and outspoken; Jesus’ followers are nowhere to be seen. I certainly agree that the Gospel writers were trying to make “the Jews” look bad, and I agree with those who see this as a way of Christians disassociating themselves from the Jewish Rebellion of 66 ce.

    How about this: that after Jesus was arrested, there was a scene in front of Pilate’s palace, with the crowd of Barabbas supporters clamoring for his release but no actual tradition of releasing a prisoner. Maybe THAT’s the distorted memory you speak of?

    I also think it’s not much of a leap to see that the two “thieves” crucified with Jesus were probably insurrectionists. [Did they crucify people for thievery?]. I’ve presumed until now that these were Barabbas’ disciples. But maybe one of him was Barabbas himself?

    Dan

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      It’s possible, certainly. But my sense is that the trial was a very small-time affair, something done with no one around, taking just a minute or less, like all the other trials Pilate was dealing with that morning. The trial scenes themselves in the Gospels are exaggerations.

  6. Avatar
    Rita Gomes  March 19, 2019

    For me the name Bar-abbas was not by chance.
    It was purposed to emphasize further that the Jews were Jesus’ great enemy.
    One time I read a book that talked about a leader whom the Jews in fact believed to be the Messiah.
    He lived after the death of Jesus and expelled the Romans from Palestine.
    I do not remember the name of this leader, who did not gain notoriety like Jesus because three years later Rome reconquered Palestine again.
    Is this report correct?
    Would you know the name of this leader?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      Are you thinking of Simon bar Giora (during the first Jewish uprising, 70 CE)? Or, later, bar Kochba (second uprising, 132-35 CE)?

  7. Avatar
    Rita Gomes  March 19, 2019

    It may be my delusion, but if the name of Jesus is accompanied by another name, just as happened in the narration in Matthew that added Jesus before the Bar-Abbas?
    Could this be the answer to never having found anything to prove its existence?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 20, 2019

      I suppose later Christians added the name “Christ” to Jesus?

  8. Avatar
    leepooltdhh  March 23, 2019

    Based on the paltry amount of documents available about Pontius Pilate, are there any good books on the historical Pilate? Do you have any recommendations for books about the historical Pontius Pilate?

  9. Robert
    Robert  March 24, 2019

    Bart: “Form criticism determines the Sitz im Leben of a *kind* of story, analyzed according to its formal literary features.”

    Yes, I know what a Sitz I’m Leben is, but that is not all that Form Criticism is and does.

    Bart: “I can’t answer all your quesitons here but I will say that yes indeed, many many scholars (you do know this!) think it is more plausible that John did not know the Synoptics than that he did. And secondary orality means that the author of John had heard *stories* about Jesus that may have originally come from earlier written sources, but that he himself had not *read* those sources, or at least used them.”

    Sorry, but you’re missing the point entirely. I am not speaking of John knowing the synoptics. Secondary orality is exactly what I am talking about. Probably not possible to carry on a nuanced conversation in blog comments,

    • Bart
      Bart  March 25, 2019

      Ha! Probably not. If you’re thinking secondary orality we’re on the same page. Now that was easy!

  10. Robert
    Robert  March 24, 2019

    brenmcg: “Here Matthew’s Pilate is saying Jesus’s only crime is being called the Messiah which makes the chief priests jealous. …
    … For Matthew its clear Pilate and Rome have no problem with jesus claiming to be the messiah only the chief priests do.
    Forced readings point towards secondary editions.”

    It is your reading that is forced. As in Mark, Matthew also uses a past tense here: Pilate knew it was out of jealousy that they had already handed over Jesus. Pilate does not “make” them jealous, as you claim, neither in Matthew nor in Mark. And in neither gospel are the priests portrayed as being concerned about Jesus being an insurrectionist. Rather in both gospels the priests perceive Jesus to have blasphemed and is thus judged worthy of death and handed over.

    • Avatar
      brenmcg  March 25, 2019

      I’m not saying Pilate is making the chief priests jealous in either version; that’s not the point.

      The point is the charge brought by the priests to Pilate against Jesus is that he is claiming to be king of the Jews. This would be a Roman concern and as you say not necessarily a concern for the priests in either gospel. They are concerned with blasphemy and claims of being the Messiah.

      In Matthew’s version Pilate refers to Jesus not as king of the Jews but as the Messiah – revealing Pilate’s understanding that Jesus was handed over by the priests not for being called king but being called Messiah. Which is why the next line “For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus to him” makes sense.

      In Mark’s version Pilate refers to Jesus as king of the Jews which is why the next line “For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus to him” doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t follow, it indicates an editing of Matthew.

  11. Robert
    Robert  March 26, 2019

    brenmcg: “I’m not saying Pilate is making the chief priests jealous …”

    You are wise to retreat from your original idea that Pilate “makes the high priests jealous.” You should also abandon your idea that Matthew ‘invents the story to show the Jews choosing an insurrectionist over the true messiah’. In fact, Matthew removes all mention of Barabbas being an insurrectionist. He only tells us that he is a well known prisoner. Being further removed from the Judean revolt than Mark, this detail loses all importance to Matthew. Rather than focus on this contrast between Jesus and Barabbas as competing types of the Messiah or revolutionary hero, he is content instead merely to focus on the similarity of their names. Perhaps this also paints the high priests and crowd as even more arbitrary in their choice of Jesus Barabbas over Jesus the one called the Messiah. 

    I suspect you will now try to use these insights as yet a different argument in favor of Matthean priority. Any port in a storm, I guess. 

    “In Matthew’s version Pilate refers to Jesus not as king of the Jews but as the Messiah – revealing Pilate’s understanding that Jesus was handed over by the priests not for being called king but being called Messiah.”

    So you’re saying that Matthew has a later understanding of ‘Christ’ as more of a religious term, somewhat more removed from the sociopolitical reality of the Jewish revolt as the more immediate historical context in which Mark writes. That’s possible.

    • Avatar
      brenmcg  March 27, 2019

      **You are wise to retreat from your original idea that Pilate “makes the high priests jealous.” **
      Well this wasn’t my original idea its just a misreading but no matter.

      The original claim was that the allegory story works best if “Jesus Barabbas” was the original form, and that “Jesus Barabbas” being the original form works best in Matthew’s version – which is the only version that presents it as a straight choice for the crowd between the two Jesus’s. Barabbas being an insurrectionist would then just be being made explicit by later writers.

      **So you’re saying that Matthew has a later understanding of ‘Christ’ as more of a religious term, somewhat more removed from the sociopolitical reality of the Jewish revolt as the more immediate historical context in which Mark writes. That’s possible.**
      ‘Christ’ as a more religious term can’t be described as a later understanding. Paul’s ‘Christ’ is hardly a violent revolutionary?

      Anyway the main points are that the line “for he knew it was out of envy they handed him over” doesn’t belong in Mark and how Mark’s removal of Barabbas from the choice given by Pilate means Barabbas’s introduction in Mark is a few lines too early – it should be placed when the crowd call for Barabbas to be freed as it is in Luke and John.

      • Robert
        Robert  March 29, 2019

        Your arguments for Matthean priority are all very subjective. You don’t think a line ‘belongs’ in Mark or another line appears ‘a few lines too early’ in Mark. Such subjective assessments carry absolutely no weight whatsoever in source-critical discussions.

        As for Mark’s understanding of the character of Barabbas as comparable to the insurgents of the Judean war against Rome, an historical context from which Matthew was further removed, that has nothing to do with an absolute chronology of military vs spiritual or Pauline interpretations of the Messiah. It has to do with contemporary Judean conceptions of the role of the Messiah in the historical context in which the gospel of Mark was being composed. Mark and Matthew both have a relatively Pauline or what would come to be known as a Christian theological view of the Messiah. But the relevance of an insurgent aspect of
        the character of Barabbas was still perceptible in Mark’s version of the story. This is apparently no longer seen as particularly relevant for Matthew.

        • Avatar
          brenmcg  April 1, 2019

          The argument may be subjective but I have two 1st C greek writers who agree with me. The writers of Luke and John both place Barabbas introduction when the crowd calls out his name.

          Matthew places Barabbas’s introduction when Pilate introduces him to the crowd and this gives us a ready-made explanation for why Mark’s introduction comes a few lines earlier than Luke or John have put it.

          Excellent evidence for Mark editing Matthew.

          The idea that the natural development of christian thought was to reduce te revelancy of the insurgency aspect of the barabbas story is contradicted by the fact that both Luke and John say he’s an insurgent. Better to see the story developing *into* one of insurgency after Matthew’s original account.

          • Robert
            Robert  April 1, 2019

            See my response below.

  12. Avatar
    Evan  March 26, 2019

    Question: The word in John 18:40 appears to be lestes, which is also used in 10:1. In both cases it is translated “robber” in RSV. While context in 18:40 is not helpful, it would not be likely that someone entering through a window in 10:1 would be considered a “thief and an insurrectionist.” So if the translation “robber” is accurate, is it possible that John recalls a tradition in which the “chief priests” (not a mob) were petitioning for the release of a less offensive criminal, and that the Synoptics fabricated all the hooey about Barabbas being a murderer and insurrectionist? After all, John says Roman troops arrested Jesus, there was no kiss of betrayal, there was no late night trial, there was no condemnation for blasphemy. Seems like in the passion narrative John has a routinely more believable account, regardless of its mythic theology.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2019

      Ah, interesting idea. Actually LESTES in the writings of Josephus referred not to a common robber but precisely to an insurrectionist. My view is that this translation makes better sense of John 10. All of Jesus’ predecessors were insurrectionists, interested in violence that harmed those they were (badly) trying to protect. Jesus now preserves a new alternative as a good

  13. Robert
    Robert  March 26, 2019

    Bart: “Now *that’s* a scene that could never be filmed in our day! It’s culturally very interesting how the offensive parts of the film when it came out are really not so much any more, and the parts that the vast majority of people didn’t think were offensive at the time shock viewers today. (I’m not referring to his name — which was offensive at the time — but the mockery of speech impediments — which for the general population then was not).”

    At the risk of being doubly politically incorrect, Life of Brian was not merely making fun of speech defects in these scenes, but they were obviously also making fun of the stereotypical homosexual lisp, also completely unacceptable today, but apparently not particularly objectionable in 1979.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 27, 2019

      Absolutely! It’s mind boggling what was completely acceptable 40 years ago!

  14. Avatar
    ftbond  March 28, 2019

    Dr Ehrman –

    re: “We need to remember what I stressed earlier, that these accounts of Jesus’ trial repeatedly emphasize that Pilate was the innocent party. It was those awful Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ death. For the Christian storytellers, in killing Jesus, the Jews killed their own messiah. That’s how wicked and foolish they were. They preferred to kill rather than revere the one God had sent to them.”

    If the Jewish leadership found Jesus guilty of a “strictly Jewish” capital crime – such as (for example) blasphemy – then Jesus would have been condemned to death by the Jews, and by (apparent) “agreement”, handed over to Pilate – not for “judgement” (what would Pilate care about blasphemy) – but rather, to simply carry out the death penalty, because under Roman rule, the Jews couldn’t execute anyone.

    In this case, then, it truly would have been “the Jews” that put Jesus to death.

    So, that would mean that, in fact, the “emphasis” you mention was warranted. They *wanted* to make sure that Jesus was executed for a “Jewish crime”, sentenced to death by Jews – and – the execution was merely carried out by Pilate.

    Do you think that simply because the gospel writers emphasized “Pilot’s innocence” that that somehow makes the account “suspicious”, or incredible?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 29, 2019

      Yes, I think it makes their accounts suspect — not necessarily wrong, but suspicious, given everything else we know about the political situation, Pilate, and the role of Jewish leadership in the administration of Palestine.

  15. Robert
    Robert  April 1, 2019

    This is not evidence of Mark editing Matthew. And I spoke of no ‘natural development of Christian thought’. That would be the kind of weak argument you try to develop. I merely tried to explain to you why Matthew might drop this detail as irrelevant to him and his story.

  16. Avatar
    alanpaul71  April 9, 2019

    I get the idea of prisoner release as an act of good faith. We’ve seen it in modern times whether in for example, Ireland or Israel so it’s not a stretch for me to picture Pilate despite his reputation, trying to manage the powder keg masses at Passover by any means. Ok letting an insurrectionist go might be a stretch but I get the idea

    The question I have is that if it had no basis in reality, wouldn’t the presumably romanized readers of Mark know so and risk damaging the credibility of the gospel as a whole? I suppose we could say the same with the nativity census story?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 10, 2019

      You could say that about lots and lots of stories. People today believe all sorts of stories that simply aren’t creditable. Odd to those of us who don’t believe them!

      • Avatar
        alanpaul71  April 10, 2019

        Yes absolutely but I thought it was risky including the Barabas release to an audience who might know it was unlikely thereby risking its credibility?

        Or maybe the objective was worth the risk.

  17. Avatar
    robsaxe  October 22, 2019

    Omgosh, Bar-abbas means “son if the father” in Aramaic?? Wow! Do you think the Gospel writers knew this? You’ve said they didn’t speak Aramaic or even live in Palestine.

    That puts a completely different spin in this story. Jews were insurrectionists to the Romans and the Christians to the Jews. What a way to start my morning… wow.. if info like this doesn’t drive one from faith to historicity, I don’t know what will. Thank you Dr Ehrman!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 24, 2019

      I’m not sure *they* did — but the people who originally told the story almost certianly did.

  18. Avatar
    Ferrante83  April 26, 2020

    Dear Dr. Ehrman,
    Do you agree with archaeologist Shimon Gibson who places the Praetorium at the Gate of the Essenes, at Herod’s Palace?
    If not, where did the trial of Jesus take place?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 27, 2020

      I don’t know. He’s a fine archaeologist, but I don’t know whether others agree with him or not.

      • Avatar
        Ferrante83  April 28, 2020

        So, where did the trial of Jesus take place? At the Antonia Fortress or at Herod’s Palace? Where else?

        • Bart
          Bart  April 28, 2020

          I have no idea. More shocking, I’m not sure there was a “trial.” Pilate may simply have heard that this fellow was calling himself the King, and told his soldiers to crucify him. The accounts of the trial int he Gospels are, of course, from decades later; there are numerous aspects of the accuonts that are completely implausible, historically (especially the account in John)

          • Avatar
            Ferrante83  April 29, 2020

            Which are the aspects of the accounts of Jesus’ trial that are historically implausible?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 30, 2020

            Well, for one thing, that the author of John would have any idea what Pilate and Jesus said to each other when the text indicates that none of Jesus’ followers or the Jewish leaders were in there; or that Pilate, as in John, ran back and forth between the accused and teh accusers as if he was a messenger boy!

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