Barabbas , also called Jesus Bar Abbas (“Jesus Son of the Father”) is a character in the Gospels only appearing during the trial of Jesus . He is presented as a famous prisoner who provoked a murder in “sedition” , without specifying which one. Pontius Pilate , who believes that Jesus is innocent and who would have been obliged to release a prisoner at every festival, proposes to “the crowd” to release Jesus or Barabbas. “The crowd” calls for his release rather than “Jesus King of the Jews” (Jesus of Nazareth).

The consensus historian generally agrees on the historicity of a prisoner named Barabbas distinct from Jesus but a tendency to accentuate the parallel between the two characters was able to develop over the successive redactions of the Gospels. For some authors, this episode, written in the 60s and 70s , is to be considered as a literary process used to minimize the responsibility of the Romans in the crucifixion of Jesus, so that the Gospel according to Mark can not be suspected of containing the slightest criticism of the Roman authorities and the slightest support for the participants in the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-74.

Some researchers, finally, draw a parallel between two Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus Bar Abbas or, for some, believe that both are one and the same person.

The name

Several manuscripts give the bearer of the nickname or cognomen Barabbas the name of Jesus, but this one was then removed from the manuscripts, as much for reasons of writing by the scribes ( Charles Perrot ) as to avoid that there are two Jesus whose a “brigand” ( Hyam Maccoby quoting Origen and Etienne Trocmé ). Regarding the name of Jesus Barabbas was in the Gospel of Matthew in 27.16 to 17, the iii th century Origen wrote in effect: “It is not appropriate to give this name to an unfair character and, moreover, no sinner is so named in the scriptures ” 1. The indignation of Origen testifies to the embarrassing nature that clearly showed that mention Jesus Barabbas to the point that suggests that they are “heretics” who added 2 . However, several codices of this gospel that have been found call indeed Barabbas the name of Jesus, the correction to reach the versions we know may have occurred later 3 , 1 . The codices in question are not especially old, but the experts believe that they represent the original version, because it is very difficult to imagine that Christians have added this name to manuscripts, while the opposite approach is much more likely 3 .

“When he talks about God or God, Jesus uses only the Aramaic expression ” Abba, ” which means ” Father . ” This Aramaic expression with its explanatory gloss in Greek is attested in Mk 14, 36 and parallels. Also found in the letters of Paul , in Galatians 4, 6 and Romans 8, 15. ” For Simon Claude Mimouni , ” is the common language of prayer in Judaism contemporary to the time of Jesus 4 . ” The etymological meaning of the cognomen or nickname of Barabbas is” son of the father “(frombar , in Aramaic : son of, and Abba , Father). The final “s” is a Greek genitive mark .

Historians therefore retain his name, and was called Jesus Bar Abbas 5 .

The context

According to Simon Claude Mimouni , the governorate of Pontius Pilate is one of the five highlights of the unrest in Palestine between the death of Herod the Great and the outbreak of the Great Jewish Revolt , enamelled with no less than six major incidents, which must be added the execution of Jesus of Nazareth and possibly sedition Jesus Bar Abbas, whose popularity is reported in the synoptic Gospels 5 . Pontius Pilate has probably crucifiedmany unruly and especially the leaders of a movement messianic trend and the most prominent personalities he managed to capture that led a crowd of Samaritans to gather on Mount Gerizim 6 . Although Flavius Josephus , who reports the episode, does not give the name of the instigator of this gathering, some scholars believe that it may be Dosithea of Samaria, which they make a disciple of John the Baptist to which he would have succeeded to the head of his movement 7 .

The exactions of Pontius Pilate are reported by the Jewish writers Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria .

According to the Gospels

Barabbas is a character that appears only during the trial of Jesus , in one source, the Gospels , while Pontius Pilate has already questioned Jesus, asking him if he is “the King of the Jews 8 . ” Jesus nods to this question by the formula ” You say 9 . ” In the gospels attributed to Mark and Matthew , Jesus then refused to answer the other accusations made by Pilate (Mark 15: 4; Matthew 27: 13-14) and ” the chief priests and elders (Mt 27:12) ” Note 1 . In the only gospel attributed to John , the last of thecanonical to have been composed in the years 90 – 100 , Jesus answers: “My kingdom is not of this world.If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have fought so that I would not be delivered to the Jews. my kingdom is not from here. “(Jn 18:36)

It is then that Barabbas is introduced into the narrative by invoking what the critics later called the paschal privilege , although the synoptic gospels refer to all feasts and not just to a custom that would have occurred only at Passover 10 .

“At each feast, he released a prisoner to them, the one they asked for 11 , 12 . “

The Gospel according to Marc explains: “There was in prison the name Barabbas, arrested with the rioters who had committed a murder in the sedition. The assembled crowd began to ask for the usual grace 13 . ” So Pilate asks: ” Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews 14 ? ” The ” high priests ” turn then ” the crowd ” to ask it releases rather Barabbas 15 . Pilate asks: “So what would I do to him whom ye call the King of the Jews 16 ? ‘ ‘ The crowd ‘ meets twice “Crucify him 17 ! ” .

“Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified 18 . ”

Matthew’s editors make few changes to the original story. We just learn that Barabbas was famous. Moreover, since Barabbas was called by his full name, the proposal of Pilate came back to ask do you want me to release you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ ? The reaction of Origen at least shows that it seemed strange and maybe even embarrassing. The editors of the Gospel of John state that: “Barabbas was a robber 19 . ”

For Hyam Maccoby , the nickname “bar Abbas” would have been given to Jesus of Nazareth because of his habit of praying and preaching by designating God as “Abba” (Father), as evidenced by the Gospels 20 , 21 . For Eisenman, Barabbas in the Gospels is something as a substitute for Jesus Himself 22 . “This is the man who was arrested ” in the sedition ” for having caused a ” riot and murder ” (Mark 15: 7; Luke 11:19 p.m.) 22 . ” What seems to correspond to the incident that causes Jesus in the Temple, whose synoptic gospelscause the cause of his immediate arrest – at night – and his crucifixion the next day. Hyam Maccoby also believes that Yeshua or Jesus Abbas Abba bar bar is nothing other than Jesus of Nazareth, and the choice between two prisoners is fiction or literary device 20 . He concluded that some of the acts attributed to historically Barabbas must then have been committed by Jesus 20 . Furthermore, far from having demanded his execution, when “the crowd” shouts “Free Barabbas” it would be the release of Jesus of Nazareth it claimed 20 .

Several authors, following Solomon Reinach 23 , have found a similarity between the story of the passion of Jesus and the story told by Philo of Alexandria , staging a simple character called ” Karabas ” taken to task by the Alexandrine crowd. and derided to make fun of the new Jewish king Agrippa er en route to his new kingdom in summer 38 24 , in a similar charade that imposed Jesus 23 .

It would be a question of distinguishing between the two faces of Jesus, Jesus hated and Jesus loved by the crowd, a condemned Jesus and a Jesus washed away from his sins, a political Jesus and a spiritual Jesus. More generally, the figure of Barabbas is highly enigmatic and leads literal or symbolic interpretations 25 . Most historians agree that this literary device was used by one of the editors of the Gospel of Mark in the years 60 – 70 – that is to say at the height of the Great Jewish Revolt of 66-74 or its repression – to minimize the responsibility of the Romans in the crucifixion of Jesus, so that this writing can not be suspected of containing the slightest criticism of the Roman authorities and the slightest support for the rebels.

The interpretation

In the New Testament , Pilate gives the gathered people the choice to save Barabbas or Jesus, and the crowd shouts to him to free Barabbas. This story, referring to the Jews responsible for the crucifixion and invoking a blood curse , has been used for anti-Semitic purposes serving as the basis for accusations of people deicide 26 . These accusations are denied by the Catechism of Trent ( 1566 ), for which the sole responsibility of the crucifixion is all the sins of mankind from the original sin until the end of time 27.

The paschal privilege

The substitution between two prisoners, Jesus Barabbas and Jesus, “the King of the Jews” proposed by Pontius Pilate as it is described in the Gospels , is due to the fact that the Roman governor could, according to the Gospels, release the prisoner that the crowd designated during the Passover feast . The Gospel according to Matthew thus describes this “paschal privilege”:

“At the feast the governor was wont to release to the crowd one prisoner whom she wanted 28 . “

The historical value of the “paschal privilege” is highly contested 29 . His reality is in doubt for several reasons 29 . First, because throughout the Roman Empire it is attested in no text of any kind 30 . The only texts that speak, are the gospels 30 , 31 and in the following centuries the stories of the Passion that were learned 29 . Since the Gospels are not independent texts, but to editors and subsequent versions Gospels have made theirs with, under the eyes, previous texts 32the stories of the trial may have only one common source , 33 which could be the first gospel in chronological order, that of Mark . As with all other passages of the gospels, this text constantly refers to the Old Testament 34 . These are not “independent testimonies” 32 . All the stories that speak of the “paschal privilege” concern only two prisoners: Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus bar Abbas.

If not attested Paschal privilege is considered unlikely for the Roman governors, it seems almost impossible for a prefect in Judea 30 . Indeed, since the death of Herod the Great ( -4 ) and taking direct control of Judea by the Romans (+ 6 ), the Galilee , but also Judea and sometimes even Samaria , are crossed revolts , while in parallel groups called “brigands” by the Romans infest the country 35 , 5 . Such a requirement for a governor of Judea would have been at high risk 36 . In any case, Flavius Josephus, Which was proposed to note all the privileges that the Romans had granted the Jews, did not mention this privilege Brandon feels quite extraordinary 30 . While he mentions dozens of repressions and hundreds of crucifixions, Josephus does not benefit at any time to give an example of prisoner released for a reason of this type in his seven-volume account of the Jewish War , or in those of the Judaic Antiquities corresponding to this period 37 .

However, Jean-Pierre Lémonon “these explanations do not take seriously the sources 10 ‘ . He believes that there is among the objections that contradictions or apologetic developments, which does not disqualify a priori a text in terms of history 10 . For him, “the episode of Barabbas is attested in the four Gospels 10 ” and the “paschal privilege” is explicitly mentioned in three of them, but only the Gospel according to John directly links the custom of the liberation of a prisoner and the Passover feast 10 . For him,”The Barabbas episode entangled with the mention of the paschal privilege is part of an ancient tradition of the stories of the Passion; tension, born of the Roman presence, provides a good historical background supporting the existence of prisoners held by the Roman governor and popular at least with some of the people of Jerusalem 10 . ”

He subscribes to the statement of Raymond Edward Brown , who believes that “criticism invites, at least, to recognize the historicity of the liberation of an armed supporter named Barrabas 38 ” distinct from Jesus, without which the narrative as we we know it today could not have developed 10 . From the stories of the Passion, “a tendency to accentuate the parallel between the two characters ” 10 may have emerged, although they were not “necessarily put in competition by Pilate himself at the request of the crowd 10 . ” Similarly,”It is not impossible that during holidays the governor of Judea has conducted releases, it was an opportunity to show both the reality of Roman power and gentleness 10 ” . He admits that there is nothing to talk about a custom concerning these potential releases at parties 10 .

Pontius Pilate in the Gospels

Main article: Pontius Pilate .

It is not only the identity of Jesus Barabbas, the strange exchange made between the two Jesus and the so-called ” paschal privilege ” that questioned the critics about the stories of the Passion , but also the personality of the Pilate of the Gospels. . There is such a difference between Pontius Pilate described by Philo and Josephus and the weak personality of Pilate “who plays a hesitant partition in the Passion Drama 39 ” , that one can speak of conflict 39 .

Gesture become proverbial though unlikely, unless that Pilate there is Jewish Note 2 .

Vexation, rapine, injustice, outrage 40 , 41 , “haughty disdain for the feelings of others 41 ” , “citizens without trial that he had made and finally killed his unbearable cruelty 40 ” , are the accusations made against Pontius Pilate by secular authors 41 . “The evangelists describe him in a very different light: inspired by the most humane and honorable intentions of those who are subjects of his governorship, he exerts all his efforts to persuade them to withdraw from their madness, and when he is finally constrained by the need to fulfill a bitter obligation, he washed his hands 41 »before delivering Jesus to be executed 41 .

A theologian like Jean-Pierre Lémonon does not deny that “opposition between secular texts and texts Gospel of Passion regarding the portrait of Pilate 42 . ” According However him a profound change was recently started and studies on Pilate refuse now ” this opposition without nuance between Pilate brutal supposedly secular sources, and another one of the Gospels, which would be hesitant or meek 42 . ”

So it is not only the “paschal privilege” that has seemed improbable to most lay exegetes and historians Note 3 , it is also the way that, according to the gospels, Pilate would have applied it. Curiously, after Jesus said, “You say, I am king” (Jn 18:37). ” Pilate said: ” I find in him no guilt (John 6:38 p.m.). ” . Although it was not a king recognized by the emperor , that claim to royalty is a crime of lese majesty, threatening Rome and imperial power and actually punishable by death 43 , Note 4 .

Logically, convinced Pilate that Jesus was innocent should relax so without further ado, which was entirely in his power 44 . Instead we see the resort to subterfuge of “Paschal Privilege” 44that will immediately turn against him 45 . “Moreover, when the high priests urge the crowd to demand the freedom of Barabbas and thwart his intentions, he is reduced to timidly asking the crowd: ” What would I do with him whom you call the King of the Jews? ” 44 ” . Then docilely he sends the innocent Jesus to the crucifixion because “the crowd” asked him, calling on her the curse of bloodWhile even assuming that the “Paschal privilege” existed, it spoke only to release a prisoner and not to send to death that “the crowd” would mean 45 . Moreover, assuming the Paschal privilege existed and he was forced to release Barabbas, what prevented Pilate to release Jesus also, since he thought innocent 46 ? Pilate would have released Jesus bar Abbas, who was a member of the very popular and famous resistance 45 . Brandonpoints out that this is aberrant behavior for a Roman governor, whose one wonders how he justified in his report to the Emperor Tiberius 45 .


Representation of a dispute between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages . These disputes often resulted in new accusations against Jews, including ritual crimes , episodes of violence, and the public cremation of Jewish works such as the Talmuds or the writings of Moses Maimonides . Woodcut by Johannes von Armssheim – 1483

The story of Barabbas has a special social meaning because it has been used since time immemorial to reject the responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus on “the Jews” and to support the accusation of deicide , since in Christianity Jesus becomes God him even in the concept of the Trinity . The first literary witnesses of this anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism go back to the beginnings of Christianity and are found among the Fathers of the Church. This accusation, several centuries distant and aimed at a collective responsibility, is all the more strange since it is historically demonstrated that the Jewish authorities did not have the right to condemn to death and that it is therefore Pontius Pilate who condemned Jesus to a torment that was executed by the Roman forces. Besides, Jesus and all his followers are Jews themselves.

The reasons why the evangelists mitigate Pontius Pilate’s responsibility in the process of condemning Jesus could be related to the circumstances of writing their story in the Roman Empire, so that their writing could cross the bar of censorship. If the opposition “Jesus Barabbas” – “Jesus Christ is said” is indeed a literary process, one of the goals of the editors is to exonerate the Romans of any responsibility by charging a contrario “the Jews” . Throughout the news, there is an ever increasing minimization of Pilate’s responsibility; the responsibility of “the Jews” is increasingly important to reach its climax in the Acts of the Apostles and then theGospel according to John 47 . It contains 70 times the word “Jews” , even if it sometimes has the meaning of Judeans, or sometimes designates the Jewish authorities or represents other times the opponents of the disciples of Jesus. It was during this period that Domitian , an emperor deemed very hostile to the Jews, began executing or sending into exile many of his supporters and relatives, under the pretext that “they live in the Jewish” : an event that the Christian tradition improperly calls Domitian’s persecution , but which also has an echo in the Talmud through the Kelomenos martyrs . It’s also inIn the 1990s, the process began to break between the Christian Jews 48 ) and the rabbinical movement in formation 48 in the Yabneh Academy 49 .

Michel Quesnel remarked that “determine who is responsible for the death of Jesus has policy implications, religious and ideological 50 . ” However, he attributes ” historians “responsibility ” have long charged the Jews 50 . ” When the output of Volume II of his book” Jesus of Nazareth , ” Joseph Ratzinger “Simply explains, like other exegetes before him, that the word” Jew “used by the author of the Gospel of John during the episode of the trial of Jesus refers to the aristocracy of the Temple and not the people Jewish in general. This would make no sense in the context, especially as the author of this Gospel is also Jewish … In the story of Mark, continues the pope, the expression ” ochlos ” (the “mass”, “the crowd “) would in turn refer to supporters of the rebel Barabbas who had come en masse to seek pardon of their companion, a grace that it was customary to give the people on the occasion of the Passover 51 . ”

The figure in the art and culture


  • Jesus oder Barabbas? of Antal Dorati , melodrama for narrator, choir and orchestra on a libretto by Frigyes Karinthy , commissioned in Budapest on (duration about 15 min.).
  • Barabbas is also the name of a Georges Chelon song
  • Barabbas is the title of a song from the album Lost Magnificent by French rapper Sameer Ahmad.
  • Up Through The Ashes group Kamelot refers to choosing the Roman governor Pontius Pilate gave the Jewish public as well as the release of Barabbas.
  • Barrabas is also the name of a group of funk soul music of the 1970s
  • A French doom metal band called Barrabas
  • “Barabbas” Song of Sameer Ahmad (2015)
  • ” Barabbas ” Piece by Stomy Bugsy on the album Royalties (2015)


  • 1950 : Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist ( Nobel Prize in Literature 1951 )
  • 1957 : Fire Day of René Barjavel 52
  • 1990 : Jean d’Ormesson writes a History of the Wandering Jew where the hero meets Barrabas after his release.
  • 2012: In the novel Yeshua, in the name of the son , Chloé Dubreuil camps Barabbas, teenager, meeting Jesus shortly before his crucifixion. Barabbas in this novel is evoked as the son of Jesus.
  • 2014: Jesus says Barabbas by Gérald Messadié
  • 2016: In a novel in Breton language, Bar Abba ( Al Liamm editions ), Yann Bijer imagines Yeshoua Bar Abba engaged in a nationalist fight doomed to failure.


Harry Guardino acted as Barabbas in the film The King of Kings of Nicholas Ray released in 1961 .
  • 1950s: René Barjavel tried to adapt Michel de Ghelderode’s play to the cinema. Filming began in Collioure Royal Castle with Jean Le Poulain but stopped after a foul week money 52 .
  • 1961 : Barabbas : Richard Fleischer’s Italian-American film starring Anthony Quinn as Barabbas, based on Pär Lagerkvist’s novel.
  • 2012 : Barabbas : Roger Young’s TV movie with Billy Zane as Barabbas.


  • 1927 : Barabbas by Michel de Ghelderode , Belgian writer and playwright.
  • 2008 : Barabbas in the Passion of Martin Giguère, a play in 7 paintings created by the Théâtre du Faux Chest (Chicoutimi (Quebec, Canada)).

Popular culture

  • In Quebec , the story of Barabbas gave birth to the expression “known as Barabbas in the Passion ” 53 .
  • In the xv th century in Provence , the intervention of a demon Barabbas was invoked to explain behavior contrary to the dogma of the Inquisition : “(…) by blaming the devil Barabbas, who often appeared to him in the shape of a black cat; Barrabas was to cast doubt Catherine of God’s mercy and become the prey of the demon ” 54 .

See also

On other Wikimedia projects:

  • Barabbas , on Wikimedia Commons
  • Deicide people

External link

  • Salomon Reinach , “The Tortured King”  [ archive ] , Anthropology (1902).


  • (in) Lester L. Grabbe , Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian, Vol. II , Fortress Press,, 722 p. ( ISBN  0-8006-2621-4 ).
  • Claude Simon Mimouni , Ancient Judaism of the vi th century BC to the iii th century AD: priests rabbis , PUF , coll.  “New clio”,, 968 p. ( ISBN  978-2130563969 , online presentation  [ archive ] ).
  • (in) Robert Eisenman , James the Brother of Jesus And The Dead Sea Scrolls , The Historical James Paul as the Enemy, and Jesus’ Brothers have Apostles , Vol. I , GDP,, 411 p. ( ISBN  9780985599133 ).
  • (in) Robert Eisenman , James the Brother of Jesus And The Dead Sea Scrolls , The Damascus Code, the Tent of David, the New Convenant, and the Blood of Christ , Vol. II , GDP,, 443 p. ( ISBN  9780985599164 ).
  • François Blanchetière , Investigation of the Jewish roots of the Christian movement , Stag,, 586 p. ( ISBN  9782204062152 ).
  • Simon Claude Mimouni and Pierre Maraval , The Christianity of origins in Constantin , puf , coll.  “New clio”,, 528 p. ( ISBN  978-2130528777 , online presentation  [ archive ] ).
  • (in) Nikkos Kokkinos , Crucifixion in AD 36: The Keystone for the Adventures of Jesus in Jack Finegan , Chronos, kairos, Christos: nativity and chronological studies , Jerry Vardaman & Edwin M. Yamauchi, ( online presentation  [ archive ] ).
  • Pierre-Antoine Bernheim , Jacques, brother of Jesus , Albin Michel, ( ISBN  2-226-14269-X ).
  • Jean-Pierre Lemonon , Pontius Pilate , Workshop, ( ISBN  978-2-7082-3918-0 , online presentation  [ archive ] ).

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