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The ESV is typical in it's rendering of Barabbas' name:

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”—Matthew 27:15-23 (ESV)

The NRSV translation, however, says that his name is Jesus Barabbas:

At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus* Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus* Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’—Matthew 27:16-17 (NRSV)

The footnote reads:

Other ancient authorities lack Jesus

So was his name Barabbas or Jesus Barabbas?

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Maybe the Christian English Bibles should all refactor all occurrences of Jesus to Joshua. –  Blessed Geek Nov 22 '12 at 17:26
@Blessed Geek: You might be interested in the The Jewish New Testament which transliterates the name to Yeshua. (It also does a number of other things to remind us that he was, after all, a Jew living among Jews.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 22 '12 at 17:31
very interesting question , this also lends support to the Islamic view that Jesus escaped crucufiction. Infact Quran clearly says that someone else replaced Jesus. The crucifiction happened but it could not be christ Jesus. Intending to write an answer for this. –  Ali Dec 12 '13 at 9:55
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1 Answer

The name Barabbas is clearly a patronymic (bar-Abbas or "son of the father") rather than a given name. As it turns out, a handful of manuscripts provide another name for that individual: Jesus. As the NET Bible points out:

Although the external evidence for the inclusion of “Jesus” before “Barabbas” (in vv. 16 and 17) is rather sparse, being restricted virtually to the Caesarean text (Θ Ë1 700* pc sys), the omission of the Lord’s name in apposition to “Barabbas” is such a strongly motivated reading that it can hardly be original. There is no good explanation for a scribe unintentionally adding ᾿Ιησοῦν (Ihsoun) before Βαραββᾶν (Barabban), especially since Barabbas is mentioned first in each verse (thus dittography is ruled out). Further, the addition of τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν (ton legomenon Criston, “who is called Christ”) to ᾿Ιησοῦν in v. 17 makes better sense if Barabbas is also called “Jesus” (otherwise, a mere “Jesus” would have been a sufficient appellation to distinguish the two).

Bruce Terry speculates:

The name "Jesus" before "Barabbas" in verses 16 and 17 is in brackets in the UBS text. Although the name "Jesus Barabbas" is found in only a few manuscripts, it is more likely to be original, because copyists would have been likely to have omitted the name "Jesus" from before "Barabbas" out of reverence, and there is no reason for it to have been added.

That seems possible, but my speculation is that the scribes removed the Barabbas's given name in order to reconcile Matthew with the other gospels, which all tell this story and do not mention his full name. It also might have been an attempt to simplify the story and remove the prospect that the crowd was confused over which Jesus Pilot was asking about.


As a student of the gospels, I would appreciate translations to, at the very least, mention this important textual variation in a footnote. The evidence also seems strong enough to include the variant in the text itself.

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Fascinating find! I share your frustration over translations eliding/"fixing" things without noting the fact. –  Gone Quiet Nov 21 '12 at 20:00
@Monica: This question and answer was prompted by an answer on Christianity.SE that you might be interested in. The question (Has the name “Jesus” ever been used for naming Jewish children since the Savior's incarnation?) could be asked on Mi Yodeya if it were phrased differently. (But, please, nobody suggest migration. It's got lots of issues.) –  Jon Ericson Nov 21 '12 at 20:10
Wow, staring at the train wreck over there. :-) A different formation of that question would be fine on Mi Yodeya if someone wants to ask it fresh, but migrating that one would be a bad idea. BTW, while "Jesus" can be transliterated as "Joshua", Jews who say "Joshua" overwhelmingly mean יְהוֹשֻׁעַ , not the same name as Jesus. (I was unaware of any Jesus-Joshua connection until reading that question.) –  Gone Quiet Nov 21 '12 at 20:57
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