Outside the Gospels nothing is known of Barabbas. His name is Aramaic and means “son of the father” (Abba), ironically denoting the status given exclusively to Jesus. Barabbas was imprisoned for robbery (John 18.40) or for insurrection and murder (Mark 15.7; Luke 23.19), crimes not uncommon in the turbulent Palestine of the first century CE. In the account of the trial of Jesus, the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate is portrayed sympathetically, finding no fault in Jesus and recognizing that Jewish priests plotted his arrest. Following a Passover custom unknown outside the Gospels, Pilate offered to free a Jewish prisoner and suggested Jesus, but the crowd (in John, “the Jews”) demanded that Pilate release Barabbas and crucify Jesus. This helped establish a negative attitude toward Jews in Christian tradition (see Anti‐Semitism).

Gregory Shaw