Barabbas (βαραββας, for the Chald. בִּר אִבָּא, son of Abba, Simonis, Onom. N.T. p. 38; a common name in the Talmud, Lightfoot, Hor. Hebrews p. 489), a robber (λῃστής, Joh 18:40) who had committed murder in an insurrection (Mr 15:7; Lu 23:19) in Jerusalem, and was lying in prison at the time of the trial of Jesus before Pilate, A.D. 29. The procurator, in his anxiety to save Jesus, proposed to release him to the people, in accordance with their demand that he should release one prisoner to them at the Passover. As a rebel, he was subject to the punishment laid down by the Roman law for such political offenses, while as a murderer he could not escape death even by the civil code of the Jews. But the latter were so bent on the death of Jesus that, of the two, they preferred pardoning this double criminal (Mt 27:16-26; Mr 15:7-15; Lu 23:18-25; Joh 18:40), who was accordingly set free (Ac 3:14). There appears to have been a usage in Jerusalem, at the paschal feast, for the governor to release to the people a prisoner whom they might particularly desire. This custom does not appear to have been ancient; it was probably derived either from the Syrians or from the Greeks and Romans, the former of whom had such a custom at their Thesmophoriae, the latter at their Lectisternia. Some think the policy of this provision was obviously to conciliate the favor of the Jews toward the Roman government. SEE PASSOVER.
Origen says that in many copies Barabbas was also called Jesus (Ι᾿ησοῦν Βαραββᾶν; see the Darmst. Lit. Bl. 1843, p. 538). The Armenian Version has the same reading: "Whom will you that I shall deliver unto you, Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus that is called Christ?" Griesbach, in his Comment., considers this as an interpolation, while Fritzsche has adopted it in his text (so also Tischendorf in Mt 27:16-17, but not his last ed.). We can certainly conceive that a name afterward so sacred may have been thrown out of the text by some bigoted transcriber. On the other hand, the contrast in ver. 20, "that they should ask Barabbas and destroy Jesus," seems fatal to its original position in the text. SEE JESUS.