Barabbas (whose name ironically means "son of the father") was a robber or a rebel involved in an insurrection who was imprisoned during the same time Jesus was being tried by Herod and Pontius Pilate. When Pontius Pilate went before the crowds to release Jesus, they demanded that Barabbas be released instead.

There is a great deal of mystery surrounding Barabbas, such as what exactly he was in prison for, what happened to him after he was released, and why he had such a strange name (Barabbas was not a common name at all; it is, in fact, quite an unusual one). Theories abound on all accounts. The very most interesting conjectures are of the last. Tradition has it that Barabbas' first name was, of all things, Jesus. Various theories about what was happening go as follows.

In one version, the crowd's choice is a symbolic one: Jesus Christ was a savior of a spiritual nature: he preached nonviolence, tolerance, and redemption. Jesus Barabbas (the "father" in his name meaning god) was a Christ of politics and war: he was an insurrectionist who came to save the people through battle and bloodshed. The implications of this are up to interpretation, of course.

Another version has it that Pontius Pilate fooled the crowds by offering a choice between Jesus son-of-god (Christ) and Jesus son-of-god (Barabbas). When they said Jesus son-of-god as in Barabbas, Pilate, who genuinely wanted to let Jesus Christ go, pretended to think they meant Jesus Christ and not Jesus Barabbas, and so he let Jesus Christ go and he really crucified Barabbas. That makes the whole crucifixion bit a hoax. Again, the implications are left up to the reader to decide.

Yet another interpretation, popularized as a part of the conspiracy theories of Micaheal Baigent and Richard Leigh in Holy Blood, Holy Grail, was that Barabbas was the actual son of Jesus and Mary Magdalen. In their reading of the Story of Jesus, Jesus was crucified for claiming the literal title of King of the Jews because of his descent (through Joseph) from King David, and the mobs clamored for the release of Jesus Barabbas because he was, literally, "the son of the father", and the line of Jesus might be continued.

The evidence they give, while mostly circumstantial, is compelling, at least if one is already sympathetic to conspiratorial readings of the Birth of Christianity. Barabbas is described in the Bible with the greek word lestai, which literally means bandit, but at the time was used as a euphemism for the Zealots who roamed the Judean countryside fighting for independence from Rome. Jesus Barabbas' sobriquet Barabbas is a shortened form of the Aramaic Bar Rabbi, which means "son of the rabbi".

Now, in the Bible, Jesus is in fact accorded the title rabbi, which has a literal meaning closer to "teacher". However, under the laws of the time, a man could not be considered a rabbi unless he had already married and fathered a child. This seems to be supported by certain of Gnostic Gospels, which imply a "special relationship" between Jesus and Mary Magdalen. Under this reading, it was Jesus who was married at the Wedding at Cana, which is supported by a guest telling him (I paraphrase here) "normally one doth give the best wine at first, and the worst as the night wears on, but thou has saved the best for last." Under the customs of the time, it was the responsibility of the groom to provide the provisions, such as wine, for a wedding.

(buh rab' uhs) GREEK: BARABBAS
"son of the father/teacher"

All four Gospels describe Pilate's offer to the crowd during the trial of Jesus to free one prisoner - a customary favor bestowed by the Roman governor at the time of the Passover feast. The choice given was Jesus or Barabbas, a man who had been arrested for insurrection and murder and was a notorious prisoner. Urged on by their leaders, the people clamored for Barabbas to be freed and for Jesus to be executed.

Barabbas may have been a leader of the Jewish militants who wanted to throw off the Roman yoke by force. As an insurrectionist, Barabbas would have been sentenced to death by crucifixion as a warning to others. Some ancient manuscripts give Barabbas's first name as Jesus, a not uncommon name of the time. This would have made Pilate's offer even more poignant: "Whom do you want me to release for you (Jesus) Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?" (Mt. 27:17).

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

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