Did You Know?
What crimes did Barabbas commit?
▪ All four Gospels mention Barabbas, the man whom Roman ruler Pontius Pilate freed in place of Jesus. Barabbas is called “a notorious prisoner” and “a robber.” (Matthew 27:16; John 18:40) He was in Roman custody in Jerusalem “with the seditionists, who in their sedition had committed murder.”—Mark 15:7.
Although no secular evidence of Barabbas’ crimes exists, the fact that he is grouped with the seditionists leads some scholars to associate him with subversive groups active in first-century Israel. Historian Flavius Josephus records that bands of outlaws figured prominently in the social struggles of the day; such criminals claimed to seek justice for oppressed Jewish peasants. The rebellion against the perceived injustices of the Romans and of the Jewish nobility reached epidemic proportions by the middle of the first century C.E. Bands of outlaws later made up a large part of the Jewish forces that chased the Romans from Judea in 66 C.E.
“Barabbas may have belonged to one of the rural brigands,” says The Anchor Bible Dictionary. “These brigands were popular with the common people because they preyed upon the wealthy establishment of Israel and created havoc for the Roman government.”
In Roman times, what crimes merited a death like that of Jesus?
▪ The means that the Romans used to punish subversives, outlaws, and other rebels was to fasten them to an instrument of torture and leave them there to die. This punishment was considered the worst form of death possible.
“It was public, demeaning, and painful,” says the book Palestine in the Time of Jesus, “and it was designed to strike fear into the hearts of any who would dare pose a threat to the status quo.” One Roman writer in ancient times noted regarding the execution of criminals: “The most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this fear.”
According to Josephus, one prisoner of war captured by Titus’ troops during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. was executed in this manner before the city walls in an attempt to intimidate the defenders into submission. When the city finally fell, many others met the same death.
The largest mass execution of this type that history records took place at the end of a revolt led by Spartacus (73-71 B.C.E.), when 6,000 slaves and gladiators were executed along the road leading from Capua to Rome.
[Picture on page 10]
“Give us Barabbas” by Charles Muller, 1878