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BARABBAS

ba-rab'-as (Barabbas): For Aramaic Bar-abba = literally, "son of the father," i.e. of the master or teacher. Abba in the time of Jesus was perhaps a title of honor (Mt 23:9), but became later a proper name. The variant Barrabban found in the Harclean Syriac would mean "son of the rabbi or teacher." Origen knew and does not absolutely condemn a reading of Mt 27:16,17, which gave the name "Jesus Barabbas," but although it is also found in a few cursives and in the Aramaic and the Jerusalem Syriac versions in this place only, it is probably due to a scribe's error in transcription (Westcott-Hort, App., 19-20). If the name was simply Barabbas or Barrabban, it may still have meant that the man was a rabbi's son, or it may have been a purely conventional proper name, signifying nothing. He was the criminal chosen by the Jerusalem mob, at the instigation of the priests, in preference to Jesus Christ, for Pilate to release on the feast of Passover (Mk 15:15; Mt 27:20,21; Lk 23:18; Jn 18:40). Matthew calls him "a notable (i.e. notorious) prisoner" (27:16). Mk says that he was "bound with them that had made insurrection, men who in the insurrection had committed murder" (15:7). Luke states that he was cast into prison "for a certain insurrection made in the city, and for murder" (23:19; compare Acts 3:14). John calls him a "robber" or "brigand" (18:40). Nothing further is known of him, nor of the insurrection in which he took part. Luke's statement that he was a murderer is probably a deduction from Mark's more circumstantial statement, that he was only one of a gang, who in a rising had committed murder. Whether robbery was the motive of his crime, as Jn suggests, or whether he was "a man who had raised a revolt against the Roman power" (Gould) cannot be decided. But it seems equally improbable that the priests (the pro-Roman party) would urge the release of a political prisoner and that Pilate would grant it, especially when the former were urging, and the latter could not resist, the execution of Jesus on a political charge (Lk 23:2). The insurrection may have been a notorious case of brigandage. To say that the Jews would not be interested in the release of such a prisoner, is to forget the history of mobs. The custom referred to of releasing a prisoner on the Passover is otherwise unknown. "What Matthew (and John) represents as brought about by Pilate, Mark makes to appear as if it were suggested by the people themselves. An unessential variation" (Meyer). For a view of the incident as semi-legendary growth, see Schmiedel in Encyclopedia Biblica. See also Allen, Matthew, and Gould, Mark, at the place, and article "Barabbas" by Plummer in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes).
T. Rees
Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'BARABBAS'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE; 1915.

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