Note: I believe that the following question is a question of hermeneutics, because exegesis is defined as "a critical interpretation or explanation of the Bible".

I would post the relevant passages, but they are too long to post. They are Matthew 27:15-26, Mark 15:6-15, Luke 23:15-25, and John 18:39-40.

I heard Richard Carrier argue that the story of Barabbas is fabricated and based on the ritual in the Mosaic Law where one lamb was killed as a sacrifice and another was let into the wilderness, found in Leviticus 16.

He says that the name Barabbas is an extremely unusual name, and means "son of a father", which corresponds to what Jesus Christ was, the Son of God the Father. Jesus and Barabbas, therefore, were both "lambs" of the same sort. Added to this is the fact that Barabbas was an insurrectionist, and Jesus was accused of potentially instigating an insurrection, which was ostensibly why He was crucified.

He also says that there is no record of the custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover outside of the Gospels, and so it was most likely fabricated, adding credence to the idea that the story was invented.

Carrier says that Barabbas was the lamb that was freed set free, and that Jesus was the lamb that was killed as a sacrifice.

Is this theory substantiated?

Thank you.

  • Where is hermeneutics defined that way? What are you quoting? Thanks. – Ruminator Dec 7 '18 at 19:35
  • I looked it up on Bing (which, incidentally, apparently uses the dictionary of Google, which I find unreliable in certain cases, but not with technical theological terms), and it corresponded to a definition that I found using a relatively unknown dictionary application my phone, which said that hermeneutics is the branch of theology dealing with the principles of exegesis. This is why I define "exegesis", rather than "hermeneutics". – CMK Dec 7 '18 at 19:55
  • Would you mind editing the question and just leaving that part off as it isn't documented and it isn't necessary for the answer. For those of us used to being sensitive to unverified assertions that's a bit jarring. Thanks. – Ruminator Dec 7 '18 at 19:59
  • 1
    According to what I have just recently read on Wikipedia, "Abba" was used as a given name in the first century at least once, as has been found in a burial site in Giv'at ha-Mivtar, and it was a common name in the Gemara section of the Talmud, which dates from between 200 and 400 AD. This makes it much more likely that Barabbas was a literal name, and not a contrivance. A scholarly book has been given as a reference. This solves a large part of the problem, I believe. . – CMK Dec 8 '18 at 0:00
  • 1
    Combined with Alb's evidence that the practice of releasing prisoners at some special event was possibly mentioned in a source apart from the four Gospels, the issue seems almost resolved – CMK Dec 8 '18 at 0:00

The name abbas was particularly popular. The more popular the name, the less likely that the name would have been fabricated for thematic purposes. It simply wouldn't be interpreted metaphorically. To demonstrate the commonness of Abba as a name, look at this quote from the Babylonian Talmud, Berachoth 18b. You can also see the note, here.

I am looking for Abba. They said to him: There are many Abbas here. I want Abba b. Abba, he said. They replied: There are also several Abbas b. Abba here. He then said to them: I Want Abba b. Abba the father of Samuel; where is he?

Secondly, the theological impetus for fabrication doesn't quite fit either. The name "son of a father" doesn't really connect that well to the scapegoat motif. A name like "goat" or "wilderness" or "atonement" would bring that connection much more to the fold. The name "son of the father" does not add any theological connection to the ritual of the scapegoat, which if that were the pericope's purpose, one would certainly expect.

  • Thanks. This is a good answer. I appreciate it. – CMK Jul 1 at 13:39

There would be no reason to doubt the veracity of the bible on the subject of the story of Barabbas and the custom of releasing a prison from prison at the time of the Passover. There is in fact evidence of the custom in the Mishnah. See snips of article below.

Citation: Chavel, Charles B. “The Releasing of a Prisoner on the Eve of Passover in Ancient Jerusalem.” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 60, no. 3, 1941, pp. 273–278. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3262626.

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • That is what they call a "canonical answer". It answers the question compellingly and is the place to go to find the answer. +1 way up! – Ruminator Dec 7 '18 at 19:51
  • Another excellent answer and good quote. +1. – user25930 Dec 7 '18 at 20:05
  • Thank you for your answer. It makes sense, seeing as prison time is not a punishment to be found in the Old Testament law or elsewhere, and so it does answer the obejction that there was no reference of the cusrom outside of the four Gospels. However, that was only a minor objection, the main objection being the similarity between the name of Barabbas and the title of Jesus Christ as Son of God (the Father), and that Barabbas was an extremely uncommon name at that time. How would you answer these objections? Thank you. – CMK Dec 7 '18 at 22:13
  • @CMK It is possible that the name of the character was changed in order to highlight certain themes/analogies, but there is no reason to throw out the whole story from that. The Bible indeed changes these kinds of details sometimes for the sake of the narrative. – Nacht - Reinstate Monica Dec 8 '18 at 0:10
  • @Nacht Thank you. I have also considered this. – CMK Dec 8 '18 at 2:17

The question contains a logical fallacy. The fact that something is not mentioned in secular records does not make it false. That is an argument from silence based on what is unknown. The Bible record can be treated as equally reliable (I believe more reliable) than secular records which are often very patchy.

The interesting theological point about the release of Barabbas is the miniature of salvation. Barabbas was a convicted felon; Jesus was sinless (Heb 4:15, 7:26-28, etc). Jesus was executed so that Barabbas was released.

This is exactly what happens to us as sinners (Rom 3:10-18). Jesus was treated as we deserve so that we will be treated as He deserved!

  • Thank you for your answer. I understand that the last argument is an argument from silence. Perhaps that's why Carrier seemed to have used it as a side-argument to the main argument, that Barabbas' name means "son of a father", and Christ was the Son of God the Father. Also, what you said about Barabbas being released while Christ was executed, although I certainly agree with you, is the exact reason why Carrier says says that the story is invented. How would you answer this objection? – CMK Dec 7 '18 at 22:19
  • I would ask - why did he "invent" the story about Barabbas being invented. There is nothing in the narrative to suggest this. That is, there is evidence for the assertion. – user25930 Dec 8 '18 at 6:18

Alb has already answered the question with quality sources but I want to add a little more to this matter:

  • if every event in the scriptures that were filled with symbolic meaning were scrapped as artifice then there would be little Bible left! That is how they work. But consider, the hand of man is belied by "artifice". That is, what man has done is in jarring contrast, like a tractor in a field, to what God has made. But when the historical passages also have symbolic and prophet images then you know that all these were made with the same divine hand.

  • "To the Hebrews" explains that Jesus is the animal that died and the scapegoat because he permanently left death.

  • I understand your argument that the correspondence between this story and the ritual with the goats was divine; but the objection that the story was contrived still could be made based upon this information. – CMK Dec 7 '18 at 22:26
  • But my point was that any story that contains symbols is likewise tossed out which would include most of the scriptures. If "Hacksaw Ridge" contains archetypes does that make it unhistorical? – Ruminator Dec 8 '18 at 0:03
  • 1
    I agree with this point. – CMK Dec 8 '18 at 2:28
  • What is your opinion on the fact that Abba was a given name in Israel in the first century, however uncommon, and so a man could have been idenfied by the name "Barabbas"? – CMK Dec 8 '18 at 2:31
  • I don't know enough about names then to have an opinion one way or another. The way it looks to me though is that his first name was "Jesus" and his "last name" was "son of Abba". [Mat 27:16 NIV] 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. – Ruminator Dec 8 '18 at 2:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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