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Both Luke and Mark describe Barabbas as having been imprisoned for insurrection and murder:

Luke 23:19 - (Barab′bas), a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder.

Mark 15:7 - Among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barab′bas.

In these chapters we are also told that the crowd called for Barabbas' release, which was granted. Later, at Golgotha, Jesus is crucified with two "thieves" or "robbers." The Greek is λῃστής ( lestes). The word is related to "plunder."

This raises the question of whether these two men were merely "thieves" or actually radical Zealots who had joined the insurrection in which Barabbas is reported to have been involved. Such a scenario seems to be consistent with the fact that they had been convicted of a capital crime which may not have been the case (?) with mere robbery. It also dovetails with the Gospels' saying that there numerous persons arrested with Barabbas for insurrection.

So should we think of the two "thieves" who were crucified with Jesus as plunderer-insurrectionists, possibly even disciples of Barabbas? Please feel free to address translation issues as well as the social/legal context of their alleged crime.

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  • Interesting question! +1. Your question might be improved if you also add the references from Luke 23.32 and Matt 27.38
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 20:36
  • Note that Bar Abbas means “Son of the Father” ans his first name was Jesus as well. Compare this with the he religious celebration where two goats are chosen, with one being sacrificed and the other sent into the wilderness, known as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.
    – grammaplow
    Commented Nov 18, 2023 at 20:34

2 Answers 2

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The short answer is, We are not told so we do not know. However, here are the facts that we do know.

1. Barabbas

Barabbas is described in Mark 15:7 and Luke 23:19, 25 using two nouns:

  • στάσις (statsis) = an insurrection, dissension;
  • φόνος (phonos) = murder, slaughter, killing

Interestingly, in John 18:40 we have another word used for Barabbas:

  • λῃστής (léstés) = a robber, brigand, bandit

2. Two criminals/robbers

By contrast with the above, the two crucified with Jesus are described using different nouns:

  • λῃστής (léstés) = a robber, brigand, bandit (as per Matt 27:38, 44, Mark 15:27)
  • κακοῦργος (kakourgos) = (lit: an evil-worker), a criminal (as per Luke 23:32, 33, 39)

Thus, there is little to link the two criminals to Barabbas. Certainly, there is nothing to suggest that the two criminals were involved in any insurrection and murder, just robbery.

However, such an analysis does not preclude any association with Barabbas, but the stories of the gospels does not specifically link them to Barabbas. However, if Barabbas were the ringleader of such a band of criminals, the Roman practice was to execute the ringleader first as an example. The fact that he was not being executed before the criminals, suggests that any association between the two criminals and Barabbas was either non-existent or unknown to the Roman authorities.

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Mark 15.27 has: καὶ σὺν αὐτῷ σταυροῦσιν δύο λῃστάς, ἕνα ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ ἕνα ἐξ εὐωνύμων αὐτοῦ

with λῃστής the word commonly used to refer to both robbers as well as rebels, possibly zealots and associates of Barabbas, but this is as far as we can go with the text because it still has the traditional meaning of "thief" which is apolitical, and so the text is ambiguous.

John 18:40 (KJV 1900)

40 Then cried they all again, saying, Not this man, but Barabbas. Now Barabbas was a robber [λῃστής].

Mark 11:17 (KJV 1900)

17 And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves[λῃστής].

here this is a quote of Jeremiah 7.11, in which פָּרִיץ or "brigand, violent robber" is meant, and does not carry with it the meaning of political rebellion. It is not that theft was a capital crime, but violent theft certainly was.

Theologically, it's appropriate that Jesus be counted as a rebel, since this was the core condemnation of man, that he rebelled against God by imitating Satan's rebellion in considering to be a god. But again, this reading can be obtained by his substitution for Barabbas even if the other two were not followers of Barabbas.

Both Matthew and Mark use λῃστής but Luke switches to the more generic κακοῦργος or "criminal", de-emphasizing this most likely to avoid any suggestion that the Christian movement was in any way similar to that of the many rebellious groups in Palestine at the time.

So my guess would be that yes, they were probably violent rebels, but it's not conclusive and they could just be violent robbers.

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