Barabbas Biography

Popularity Index
Quick Facts

Nationality: Kosovar

Born Country: Roman Empire

Famous as: Notorious prisoner

Continue Reading Below

Barabbas is a biblical character mentioned in the four gospels of the New Testament. Though the story appeared in the ancient versions of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John, scholars believe it was added to Luke much later. Not much is known about Barabbas’s history, except that he was probably a rebel or a bandit who had been imprisoned by Roman authorities. Before the Passover feast, the crowd chose Barabbas, over Jesus Christ, to be released, according to the tradition of the “Paschal Pardon.” Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, thus released Barabbas. Following this, Jesus was crucified. Historians differ over the authenticity of the story, with some claiming that it was invented to normalize anti-Semitism and to blame Jews for Jesus’s death. Others believe the tale does not have any historical significance, as it has not been mentioned anywhere else except the gospels.

Childhood & Early Life

Barabbas is a biblical character and a Jewish insurrectionist (c. 30 C.E.) mentioned in all the four gospels of the New Testament. The Jewish crowd chose him, over Jesus Christ, to be released by Pontius Pilate before the Passover feast in Jerusalem.

The name “Barabbas” could have been Aramaic for the “son of the father” (“bar abba”) or the “son of the teacher” (“bar rabban”), suggesting that Barabbas’s father could have been a Jewish leader. Origen, a biblical scholar, was one of many scholars who suggested that Barabbas’s full name may have been “Yeshua bar Abba,” or “Jesus Barabbas.”

Matthew 27:16 mentions Barabbas as a “notorious prisoner.” Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19 suggest he had been imprisoned with rebels who had been held for murder and rebellion during the insurrection, against the Roman forces. John 18:40 suggests he was a bandit.

There is no story that mentions his background.

Continue Reading Below
You May Like
His Story

Scholars believe Barabbas was not just a robber but a leader of a group that had somehow been involved in a violent act against the Roman authorities. Some believe he was a member of the Zealots or the sicarii (or dagger-men), a group of militant Jews who wished to throw out the Roman occupiers by force.

Jesus of Nazareth, too, had been held as a traitor. Before his arrest, Jesus had entered the Temple, where he had immediately overthrown the tables of the money-changers and interrupted the trade for sacrificial offerings for Passover.

The high priest's followers bribed one of Jesus’s disciples to betray him and then arrested Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane. He was then handed over to Rome and charged with treason.

By then, Barabbas had already been in prison with several other rebels. Jesus was tied up and brought to the Roman governor's house in Jerusalem. Both Barabbas and Jesus received the death penalty, which could only be pardoned by the governor or praefectus of Judea, Pontius Pilate, based on the crowd’s choice.

The four gospels state that according to a Passover custom in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate was required to commute a prisoner's death sentence on the demand of the people. The "crowd" (ochlos), "the Jews," or "the multitude" (according to some sources), were thus responsible for the release of either Barabbas or Jesus, from Roman custody.

According to the gospels, the crowd wished Barabbas to be released, leaving Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. Pilate thus reluctantly had to let Barabbas go. The Gospel of Matthew states how the crowd said of Jesus, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children." Not much is known about what happened to Barabbas after he was released.

This story was initially present in three gospels, Mark 15:6, Matthew 27:15, and John 18:39. Later, copies of Luke, too, showed a similar verse, Luke 23:17, although it was not present in the original manuscripts.

The ritual of releasing prisoners at Passover in Jerusalem was known as the “Paschal Pardon.” The gospels have some ambiguity regarding whether the custom was Jewish or Roman in origin.

Other Interpretations

Some scholars believe that the story of the crowd choosing Barabbas to be released was included to justify anti-Semitism, so that people could blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

Continue Reading Below

The Gospel of John describes the crowd as "the Jews," and Matthew, too, blames the Jews, but the composition of this crowd is debatable. The gospels state that Jesus’s disciples had abandoned him the moment he was arrested. Thus, Barabbas was more likely to have had people supporting him for the release. Some believe Jesus’s disciples, too, could have been part of the group that demanded Barabbas’s release, so that the high priest was satisfied.

Jewish historian Max Dimont stated that Barabbas’s story lacked credibility from both the Roman and the Jewish points of view. The story projected Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor, forced by the opinion of a small, unarmed crowd of civilians, into releasing a murder convict.

A Roman governor doing so could have been executed himself. Dimont also argued that the custom of "the privilege of Passover,” where a criminal was released, is only mentioned in the gospels. No other scripture or text mentions the same.

However, Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, created a more credible version of Pilate in his novel The Master and Margarita (1940). Pilate was portrayed in the novel as a harassed official, threatened by a high priest into executing Jesus.

Ancient versions of Matthew 27:16–17 mention Barabbas as "Jesus Barabbas." Origen claimed that a bandit could not have been named Jesus, so "Jesus" was probably added to Barabbas's name by a later heretic.

However, others suggest that scribes could have removed the "Jesus" bit from the original name "Jesus Barabbas" to prevent disrespecting the name of Jesus Christ.

Many modern scholars, however, argue that a Christian writer would not deliberately equate Christ with a criminal.

Benjamin Urrutia, who co-authored The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, believes that “Yeshua Bar Abba” or “Jesus Barabbas” was actually Jesus of Nazareth, known by a different name. He also believes that there was no real “choice” between two criminals.

He states that Jesus could have been the leader of a Jewish rebellion against the Romans. Josephus stated a similar rebellion in his writings.

A few scholars such as Hyam Maccoby, Stevan Davies, and Horace Abram Rigg believe that Jesus and Barabbas were the same person.


In Naomi Alderman’s 2012 novel In the Liars' Gospel, Barabbas appears as one of the protagonists.

Professor Barabas, the Belgian comic character, was named after the biblical character.

Fulton Oursler’s 1949 novel The Greatest Story Ever Told featured Barabbas as a friend of Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and the father of Jesus. Joseph's friend, initially known as Samuel, was a rebel trying to overthrow the Roman rule. Samuel, after learning about the story of Jesus's birth, told Joseph that he was renaming himself "Jesus Barabbas.”

The 1961 movie Barabbas, which was based on a novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Pär Lagerkvist, had Anthony Quinn portraying Barabbas. Similarly, the 1961 MGM film King of Kings portrayed Barabbas's arrest.

Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita was about Pontius Pilate's trial of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth).

See the events in life of Barabbas in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Barabbas Biography
- Editors,

People Also Viewed

Beatrice McCartney
Beatrice McCartney
Paul Rusesabagina
Paul Rusesabagina

Gina Maddy Kimmel
Gina Maddy Kimmel
Nancy Reagan
Nancy Reagan
Robert Wadlow
Robert Wadlow