The criminal who was released instead of Jesus. Barabbas (Βαραββ[symbol omitted]ς, for Aramaic bar-’abba’, "son of Abba") was his surname; according to some Greek MSS in Mt 27.16–17 his first name was Jesus. He is described in Jn 18.40 as a λ[symbol omitted]στής. Although this passage is commonly translated as "Barabbas was a robber," here the word λ[symbol omitted]στής does not mean a thief in the ordinary sense, but rather a bandit, a revolutionary, a meaning that the Greek word sometimes has also in the writings of Josephus. According to Mk 15.7 and Lk 23.19, Barabbas was an insurgent, a rebel against the Roman occupation forces. He was one of the rioters in an uprising in which someone was murdered, and he was arrested for the crime. In certain circles of the populace he was, no doubt, regarded as a local hero. Among such people he might even have aroused messianic expectations and hopes for the final unsheathing of the messianic sword.
According to Mt 27.20 and Lk 23.4, the Jewish authorities who accused Jesus before Pilate had with them a "crowd" or "crowds"; this has often been understood as a mob representative of the inimical attitude of the Jerusalem populace toward Jesus. Despite repeated assertions of popular support given Jesus in Jerusalem both before the Passion (Mk 11.18; 12.12, 37; 14.2) and even after it (Acts 2.41, 46–47; 3.11; 4.1–4, 21, 33; 5.13–14, 17, 26; 8.12; 9.31), this understanding has gone unquestioned for centuries. In Mk 15.7–8, however, the tight sequence of thought suggests that this "crowd" was actually composed of the followers or friends of Barabbas who came up to beg the paschal amnesty for their hero but had to fend off Pilate's attempts to release Jesus instead (see also Acts 3.14–15). After Barabbas had been released, the two λ[symbol omitted]στής between whom Jesus was crucified (Mk 15.27; Mt 27.38, 44) were presumably followers of the rebel leader.
Bibliography: j. j. twomey, "Barabbas Was a Robber," Scripture 8 (1956) 115–119. d. m. crossan, "Anti-Semitism and the Gospel," Theological Studies 26 (1965) 189–214. j. blinzler, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10v. (2d, new ed. Frieburg 1957–65); suppl. Das Zweite Vatikanische Konzil: Dokumente und Kommentare, ed. h. s. brechter et al., pt. 1 (1966) 1:1234. j. mÜller-bardorff, Die Religion in Geischichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 1957–65) 1:869. Encylopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 206.
[d. m. crossan]
Barabbas ★★½ 1962
Barabbas, a thief and murderer, is freed by Pontius Pilate in place of Jesus. He is haunted by this event for the rest of his life. Excellent acting, little melodrama, lavish production make for fine viewing. Based on the novel by Lagerkvist. 144m/C VHS, DVD . Anthony Quinn, Silvana Mangano, Arthur Kennedy, Jack Palance, Ernest Borgnine, Katy Jurado, Vittorio Gassman; D: Richard Fleischer; W: Diego Fabbri, Christopher Fry, Ivo Perilli, Nigel Balchin; C: Aldo Tonti; M: Mario Nascimbene.