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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.

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    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, 2018 at 0:00
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    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, 2018 at 0:00
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    I really want to answer this question, but find myself unable to, simply because I don't exist either, but am most likely a contrived fabrication as well. See, my father's name is Trajan, and I am born on September 19th, a day later than one of my close friends from Gymnasium, whose father's name is also Trajan, as that of the famous Roman emperor, whose birthday also fell on September 18th.
    – Lucian
    Dec 22, 2018 at 2:42
  • @Lucian I'll ask you, are you being serious about this? If you are, then it would be an excellent piece of anecdotal information.
    – CMK
    Dec 22, 2018 at 2:53
  • @CMK: Maybe I am, maybe I'm not; I guess you'll just have to take it all by faith. :-)
    – Lucian
    Dec 22, 2018 at 2:56

6 Answers 6

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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.

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  • Thanks. This is a good answer. I appreciate it.
    – CMK
    Jul 1, 2019 at 13:39
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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.

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Text of first image:

In the opinion of the author of this note we have a distinctly defined rabbinic reference to the custom which gives us not only a reliable source for the usage but also throws a new light upon the function and purpose thereof.

A Mishnah in Tractate Pesahim reads:

"A mourner, and one who is removing a heap (of debris which had fallen upon a person, and it is unknown whether he is alive or dead), and likewise one who has received a promise to be released from a prison )מי שהבטיחוהו להוציאו מבית האסורים(, and an invalid, and aged person who can eat as much as an olive, one slaughters on their behalf. (Yet in the case of all these, one may not slaughter for them alone, lest they bring the Passover-offering to disqualification" (i. e. the mourner may defile himself through the corpse; he who is removing the debris may find the person underneath it dead, in which case he himself is unclean; the prisoner may not be freed; while the invalid and aged person may grow weaker. Therefore they must be registered for the Passover-offering with others)."

Text of second image:

of Roman rule but also to the pre-Roman period, i. e. the Hasmonean, when the Jews were still a self-ruling people.

Now anyone who has any knowledge of Jewish religious law knows that under no circumstances would a culprit, tried and convicted by a tribunal, be subject to any form of release whatever. If the Mishnah speaks of "one who has received a promise to be released from a prison" it must have reference not to an offender of the religious law but only to one who had been imprisoned by the government for political reasons. Only in that case could the king or ruler, if willing, release or pardon the prisoner."

Thus we have reached three weighty conclusions:

  1. that the custom of releasing a prisoner on the eve of Passover has a positive basis in Jewish sources;
  2. that the custom goes back at least to the pre-Roman period; and 3. that it had application only to political prisoners.

In conclusion we venture to say that the custom arose during the turbulent years of civil war which marked the Hasmonean period, when political prisoners abounded in the land. At that time, the Jewish prince, in order to placate the people who had assembled in the holy city from Palestine and from the Diaspora for the celebration of the Passover, released a political prisoner as a gesture of the peace and good-will that were to reign during the holiday. We must not forget that the pilgrims who came to Jerusalem constituted a great source of income to the Temple and to the priesthood. To encourage the pilgrimage, to attract people from far and near, the Hasmonean rulers (who were also priests) found it to their own expedience to lessen during the holiday period the bitterness of political antagonism, and to create the impression that no one coming to Jerusalem would be caught in the midst of political strife. With this view in mind, they instituted the custom of releasing a prisoner on the eve of the most popular pilgrimage festival, namely, the Passover. 16

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    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, 2018 at 19:51
  • 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, 2018 at 22:13
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    To me, the “primary” issue is whether there was a governmental precedent for the prisoner release practice. With external proof of the practice, the story has veracity and there would be no reason to challenge it. The “smaller” issue would be did someone change the name of the prisoner to fit the metaphor. However, this would be highly speculative where if someone doesn’t believe in divine involvement, their skepticism could lead them to see the meaning of Barabbas as “too coincidental”. With proof of the prisoner release practice, I see no credible reason to doubt the rest of the details.
    – alb
    Dec 8, 2018 at 16:48
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    Especially when there is great manuscript evidence to support Barabbas' real name as being Jesus bar Abbas.
    – alb
    Dec 8, 2018 at 17:13
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    But one could say that any single event recorded in the gospels was fabricated. And since we have external corroboration of the release practices the only rationale for the renaming of Barabbas is that the usage of Abba was rare. Seems pretty lame to me. The longer the bible is around the greater the attestation!
    – alb
    Dec 8, 2018 at 17:59
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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!

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  • 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 6:18
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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.

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  • 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 0:03
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    I agree with this point.
    – CMK
    Dec 8, 2018 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, 2018 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, 2018 at 2:36
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Peace.

No the theory is not substantiated. It is not a fabricated story but an actual, historic event that tells us a much deeper story for today about those who are preaching “another Jesus” who is not Jesus the Christ but a “Jesus” who is the Antichrist (that is, the instead-of-Christ)….their Jesus Barabbas who is not the Lamb slain but a wild beast…a murderer, an insurrectionist and a robber.

This is a story of choosing between two “Jesuses” for each of us.

One is the real Jesus Christ the Son of the Father while the other is the antichrist…Jesus the instead-of-Christ the son of the father (the devil)…being preached by the others who are so-called “ministers of righteousness”.

This other “Jesus” is of the devil (the “dragon”) and is response to those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of THE Jesus who is called Christ. The devil has come up with his own “Jesus” to make war with those who have received the real Jesus.

Revelation 12:17 KJV (17) And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

Yet, in this “war” many are receiving the other “Jesus” (who is the instead-of-Christ) that they…the “super apostles”… are preaching today rather than the deciding firmly for the real Jesus who is called “Christ” that the true apostles of Christ preached.

2 Corinthians 11:3-4 KJV (3) But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

Many had once accepted the preaching of the true Jesus have then received “another Jesus” later by those who come preaching their other “Jesus” as the dragon makes war with them with his “ministers”. The false prophets come forth and say here is the Christ when it is really the antichrist...the instead-of-Christ. They promote the false Jesus and act on behalf of his authority.

(4) For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

In the story, Pilate gave them a choice….a vote…either for “Jesus” called “Barabbas” (meaning “son of father”) or Jesus who is called “Christ”.

Jesus who is called Christ is the Son of Father in Heaven while their “Jesus” is the son of their father the devil as he makes war. This “vote” is still going on today as we speak.

Matthew 27:15-17 KJV (15) Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. (16) And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. (17) Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ?

Those who are preaching “another Jesus” (the “chief priests and elders” of the churches of men) are persuading the multitude to ask for their “Jesus” Barabbas and destroy the Jesus who is the Christ….the Prince of Life.

Many (in ignorance and according to the vote of those who listen to their rulers) crucify the Prince of Life from ever appearing in their mortal flesh (which would give them eternal life in this earth) by doing so.

Matthew 27:20-23 KJV (20) But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. (21) The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. (22) Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. (23) And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

God has already raised Jesus from the dead and He is alive now forevermore. Why deny the Holy One and the Just and desire “another Jesus” who is not the Prince of life? Why “kill the Prince of Life” when He is risen? The true apostles of Christ witness to us that the real Jesus is risen from the dead and is alive now. He IS risen. We must take up our cross and follow the real Jesus.

Yet, “Jesus” Barabbas is a “beast”….a murderer…as the receiving of this “Jesus” destroys the eternal life of THE real Jesus out of our own lives.

Acts 3:14-17 KJV (14) But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; (15) And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.

Through faith in His name…the Jesus who is called Christ… does He make our “man”…our mortal bodies…strong so that we may witness to this dark and dying world that Jesus is indeed alive. As He lives, we live in this world.

(16) And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.

If we listen to the persuasion of our “rulers”, we will choose the wrong “Jesus” and crucify the Prince of life out of our own lives.

(17) And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.

If we rely on our own wisdom and understanding, then we will “vote” the number of the beast (another Jesus who is the antichrist…..the instead-of-Christ). To “count” is to vote with pebbles. When we vote for the wrong “Jesus” that man preaches in his own earthly wisdom, we then crucify the true Jesus who is called the Christ out of our lives.

666 = chi xi stigma = Christ crucified on cross

Revelation 13:18 KJV (18) Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

The Jesus which is called Christ is then crucified (666) out of our own lives when we “vote” for the their Jesus. The real Jesus is the Lamb as He does no evil. Their “Jesus” is a wild beast…an insurrectionist, a murderer, a robber...and kills the Prince of Life.

Matthew 27:22-23 KJV (22) Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. (23) And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.

Their “Jesus” …the antichrist…the instead –of-Christ…that they are preaching has the name (singular) of blasphemy upon his heads as they are calling him “Jesus”. There are many another “Jesuses”…a sea of them…being preached.

Revelation 13:1 KJV (1) And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.

The real Jesus is as a Lamb in comparison as it had been slain and not a wild beast as the other “Jesus” whose "deadly wound is healed".

Revelation 5:6 KJV (6) And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.

Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

The Jesus they preach says it is okay to “slay” others in their religious wars. There is “peace and safety” in doing so according to their ministers. There is no dying to sin….keeping the daily sacrifice of the Lamb. There is no keeping of the dying of the Lord Jesus Christ in our mortal bodies as his “deadly wound was healed”.

Revelation 13:3-4 KJV (3) And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. (4) And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like unto the beast? who is able to make war with him?

Those who “dwell on the earth”….the earthly wisdom of envy, strife, hatred of one another, wrath, etc….do not deaden these things out of their lives but instead “dwell” on them and do them.

They do not keep the sacrifice of the Lamb who died for our sins in their lives but instead the “deadly wound is healed” in their lives and are found receiving and worshipping the wrong Jesus. They go into “captivity” by those who are preaching another Jesus. They “kill” others over their “Jesus” that they are worshipping through their handwriting of church dogmas. They kill others with the sword of the tongue when the real Jesus said to put away the sword. (see Matthew 26:52).

Revelation 13:8-10 KJV (8) And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. (9) If any man have an ear, let him hear. (10) He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.

We must confess that the real Jesus is Lord….the Jesus who is called Christ…the Son of the Father…the Son of God…..and not their “son of the father”…not their Jesus who is the instead-of-Christ.

Philippians 2:9-11 KJV (9) Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: (10) That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; (11) And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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There is no historical record of this, it's from Mark which looks like fiction. According to Carrier who studies the Roman Empire, they would not release a prisoner like this. When you take in to account how much fictive language and borrowed stories Mark uses its highly probable this is also a made up tale.

This article is taken from Carrier's book OHJ. It's a summary of parallels to OT stories, Romulus and several other myths. It also details examples of fictive writing, ring structure and other literary devices commonly used in myth.

The internal and external evidence that the Gospels are anonymous and non-eyewitness is compiled here.

Carrier did a blog post on [Mark's use of Paul][3], which includes a a chiasmus Mark has constructed within Mark 12 that demonstrates his dependence on Paul.

Mark composed his mythical tale of Jesus using many different sources: most definitely the Septuagint, probably Homer, and, here we can see, probably also Paul’s Epistles. From these, and his own creative impulses, he weaved together a coherent string of implausible tales in which neither people nor nature behave the way they would in reality, each and every one with allegorical meaning or missionary purpose. Once we account for all this material, there is very little left. In fact, really, nothing left.

We have very good evidence for all these sources. For example, that Mark emulates stories and lifts ideas from the Psalms, Deuteronomy, the Kings literature, and so on, is well established and not rationally deniable. That he likewise lifts from and riffs on Paul’s Epistles is, as you can now see, fairly hard to deny. By contrast, we have exactly no evidence whatever that anything in Mark came to him by oral tradition. It is thus curious that anyone still assumes some of it did. That Mark’s sources and methods were literary is well proved. That any of his sources or methods were oral in character is, by contrast, a baseless presumption. Objective, honest scholarship will have to acknowledge this someday.

He is saying it looks like fiction.

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    That's interesting, I've never heard the claim that Mark "looks like fiction", it would be helpful to substantiate this claim. Also a bit peculiar to say there's no historic record whilst commenting on a historic record! If you write off every Christian or Jewish source about Roman practices in Jerusalem at this period then you've written off pretty much the entire historic record.
    – Steve can help
    Mar 31 at 10:36
  • Additionally, on the claim of "there is no historic[al] record of this" - what did you make of the Chapel quote in alb's answer?
    – Steve can help
    Mar 31 at 14:07
  • Welcome to the forum, @Joel Rivard. Common skeptical assertions such as "There is no historical record of this" obviously ignores a 2,000 year old document, which outranks any speculations about what an account "looks like," and asserts arguments based on improbability. There are massive numbers of coincidences and improbabilities that occurred in history. For example, imagine a future historian scoffing at a man named "Churchill" who fought in World War 2 armed with a claymore and a longbow! historyofyesterday.com/…
    – Dieter
    Mar 31 at 16:47
  • The author of the article linked above, concluded with "History gives us a multitude of anecdotes. They sound pretty much like fairy tales. They are forgotten tales of women and men who managed to shape the events by imposing their vision of the world when the world was living chaotic and dramatic moments." It's an amazing story!
    – Dieter
    Mar 31 at 17:00
  • Steve can help, the article I linked to based on Carrier's book - On the Historicity of Jesus, gives a possible explanation for the Barabbas narrative. He was a violent criminal not a political prisoner. But that is interesting because Carrier claimed there was no evidence this would ever happen. Beyond this there are dozens of reasons to believe Mark also used Paul to create stories and from James Tabor and other scholars there is a clear connection to Hellenistic theology going on. I will link to some sources. This looks more like myth than history. Apr 2 at 6:08

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