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Updated on May 16, 2009

Why Was Barabbas Released Instead of Jesus?

After Jesus was arrested, he was interrogated by the Jewish religious authorities and then taken to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and accused of claiming to be a king. According to the gospels, Pilate realized that Jesus was innocent, and wanted to let him go free. But an unruly mob in the courtyard shouted for a prisoner named Barabbas to be released instead, and Pilate eventually gave in to the pressure. Jesus was then turned over to some Roman soldiers and led away to be crucified.

Mark 15:7 says that Barabbas had been captured while taking part in a recent revolt against the Romans. Thus, although many Christians think of him as an evil criminal, he may have actually been a freedom fighter. In fact it is quite possible that he was a well-known rebel leader. Because such a person would be very popular among the ordinary people, the crowd would naturally have called for his release.

Some early manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew indicate that Barabbas' original name was "Jesus bar Abbas". Evidently this was later shortened to Barabbas because Christians didn't want the name Jesus to be connected with a criminal. Besides the similarity of their names, Jesus and Barabbas had something else in common too, in that both of them had a rebellious attitude toward the governing authorities. These similarities between the two men are very intriguing to some people, and a few individuals have even speculated that Barabbas wasn't a real person, but a fictitious duplicate of Jesus who was added to the story to try to hide the fact that Jesus himself was the real rebel leader. But most biblical scholars reject this idea.

According to Christian tradition, after Barabbas was released, he went to the site of the crucifixion and watched Jesus die on the cross. Some sources also say that he was eventually killed while taking part in another rebellion.



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