Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

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?

share|improve this question
4  
Maybe the Christian English Bibles should all refactor all occurrences of Jesus to Joshua. –  Blessed Geek Nov 22 '12 at 17:26
2  
@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
add comment

2 Answers

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.

Conclusion

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.

share|improve this answer
    
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
add comment
  1. Barabbas doesn't mean son of the father. Instead, it is a patronimic or another nickname.

  2. The name Jesus followed by Barabbas in Matthew 27:16-17 can be found in some versions of the Greeg Bible. It is reported in the Novum Testamentum Graece in brackets because it is not considered true for certain. It could be caused by a copier's mistake.

  3. It is possible that there was no mistake, but the name Jesus followed by Barabbas wasn't uncommon in Palestine and wasn't a problem for Eastern Christians who knew the Jewish culture.

  4. Later, other Christians, who didn't know Jewish culture well, had the word Jesus removed from Barabbas as a form of respect towards Jesus Christ.

What I have written is reported in a scientific report 74 pages long about the name Barabbas. It can be found on internet at this address: http://digilander.libero.it/Hard_Rain/Barabba.pdf

It is written in Italian so I’ll report the translation of the some of the most relevant parts of this report (“Note relative al nome Barabba”) and the original quotation from the Novum Testamentum Graece:

16 εἶχον δὲ τότε δέσμιον ἐπίσημον λεγόμενον [Ἰησοῦν] Βαραββᾶν ([Jesus] Barabbas). 17συνηγμένων οὖν αὐτῶν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος• τίνα θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν, [Ἰησοῦν τὸν] Βαραββᾶν ([Jesus the] Barabbas) ἢ Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον χριστόν;

P 11 Now, the term bar Abba, בר אבא, is so common in Jewish literature that anyone who meets it immediately think of a patronymic, not tied to God as Father, but to a person's name. Bar Abba understood as a child of God, called "Father" as a title or proper name, is in fact an expression totally unknown in Judaism. It is possible to call God Abba, but never would anybody call someone a "son of the Father" and even "son of God".

P 13, footnote 49 It is allowed to invoke God in Aramaic as "abba" in the first person, as in the case of Jesus, although the use is limited.

P 13, footnote 49 In Judaism we do not have cases of use of the word of "abba" as the title of God

P17 If there is no literary attestation that "bar Abba" or derived forms may mean son of the Father in the honorific sense of "son of God", even in terms of simple Aramaic grammar this solution is to be discarded.

P 18 if you wanted to say "Son of the Father" in Aramaic should say: בריה דאבא (berè deAbba), or "son-of-his Father," an expression that provides a greek word transliteration incompatible with Barabbas / n. Moreover, this expression is never understood in the sense of "son of God", but as the son of the rabbi, the teacher.

P11 In the Talmud Abba is a name of a person and bar Abba is a patronymic , in the Seder has Dorot are cited dozens of rabbis who are called Abba , we also have mention of a Yeshua bar Abba , of course this is not purely and simply identified with Barabbas in the gospel ( whose name was Jesus , according to some manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel ), but it illustrates how the combination in Aramaic of Jesus with patronymic bar Abba is certainly not a fact that gave anybody some sort of perplexity.

P 18 It is possible, if not likely, that both Mark and Matthew have meant reporting what was not a patronymic form, which could only correspond to the "son of Abba " , but a nickname, a nom de guerre of what in effect is defined as brigand , a bandit who was in prison .

P 72 Barabbas can be interpreted as a patronymic (son of Abba), or as a nickname (in a similar way to bar Kokhba), this gives us an interpretation of this character consistent with the Jewish culture and the environment.

P 9-10 It is possible, on the one hand, that the lesson Jesus Barabbas originated from an accident in the manuscript transmission but it is also possible that the lesson is genuine and has survived only in codes of "Palestinian" tradition and in Origen because the expression did not cause any inconvenience or theological embarrassment to an audience of the Palestinian geographical origin and mentality, as opposed to other geographic regions where censorship began to operate very soon.

P 72 It is possible to conjecture that the name "Jesus" suffixed to Barabbas was known in the Palestinian traditions and were part of the older editions of the Gospel of Matthew; it was later censured for deference to Jesus Christ and the tradition was lost

share|improve this answer
    
PLEASE DO NOT SHOUT WITH ALL-CAPS. Also, was the name "Jesus" really uncommon in the First Century? Please see Colossians 4:11. There we find an associate of Paul, whose name was "Jesus." Thanks! –  Joseph May 9 at 22:51
    
Abba as a name for God was actually used in Judaism. It appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Talmudic literature. bt Taan 23b tells of Abba Chilkiah who prayed God would send rain for some schoolchildren who had asked him (Abba, the wrong Abba) to make rain. He prayed answer the prayer of these children who cannot tell the difference in "the Abba who can give rain and the Abba who cannot give rain." –  Frank Luke May 15 at 18:38
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.