Cong Corrales .
NETIZENS have been posting a meme about how people chose Barabbas over Jesus. It has been appearing on my newsfeed since “holy week.” I suspect it will continue circulating on the Internet until the midterm elections next month.
The meme goes on to say that 2,000 years later, people still tend to choose thieves and white-collar criminals over supposed people of conscience. Right off the bat, any self-respecting critical thinker would say the meme is loaded with political agenda – as if the political terrain in the Philippines isn’t fractious enough.
So, in the spirit of public service, I would like to share with you the context behind the Jewish people’s choice two millennia ago with the end in view that you stop sharing that ignorant meme. My source of information for this context is culled from the writings of Roman-Jewish historian, Titus Flavius Josephus.
First, let us start with his name. The “Bar” part of his name is actually the Aramaic version of “Fitz” and “Ben” in medieval Europe. It means “son of.” For instance, Fitzgerald and BenCyrus would mean sons of Gerald and Cyrus, respectively.
Barabbas, then, means son of Abbas. However, his full name is Yeshua Barabbas. Yeshua is a common Hebrew alternative name to Yehoshua or Joshua in the Second Temple period. Joshua, in turn, is where the name Jesus has been derived from. Loosely translated, Abbas means lion but for the Hebrew, it means god. So, Yeshua Barabbas translates to Jesus son of god.
If you are a Bible freak and find these translations ridiculous, you can look it up in Mathew 27:16-17 that gives the full name of Barabbas as “Jesus Barabbas” and this was most probably the name as originally written in the ancient texts.
With this information, it would be safe to posit that Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judea, could have made the Jews choose between “Jesus son of god” and “Jesus of Nazarene,” son of a carpenter. More on this “choice” later.
Second, Barabbas was neither a bandit nor a thief. He was part of the Jewish armed resistance — the Zealots. They were a political movement in 1st century Second Temple Judaism which sought to incite the people of Judea province to rebel against the Roman Empire.
During King Herod’s regime over Galilee and Perea, which includes Judea, decreed to put the Roman insignia, an eagle, in all the synagogues across his realm. The Jewish people saw this as a desecration of their places of worship. Thus, the formation of the Zealots.
Barabbas was imprisoned for being a “lestes” (Greek for bandit) after leading a riot in Judea. He could not have been a thief since the Greek word for thief or robber is “kleptes.” The word bandit does not necessarily mean a thief but that the person belonged to a band or a group. In Barabbas’s case, the Zealots.
Also, thieves during that time weren’t executed publicly because they consider theft a petty crime. Being an insurrectionist, however, needed to be made as an example to other Jews not to rebel, ergo the crucifixion.
Joseph ben Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest who presided over the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus argued specifically that Jesus was claiming to be the “king of the Jews” as opposed to being the “son of god” because King Herod would care less if Jesus claimed to be the son of the Jewish god.
That’s is why the cross where Jesus was nailed bore the inscription “INRI,” which means Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaervm or Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.
This argument played into supporting the cause of the Zealots. The Jews would have preferred to choose a person actively fighting for their cause than Jesus who, years before, had been correcting high priests, questioned the Jewish dogmas, and even dismantled the stalls of traders in front of a synagogue and shooed them away. Jesus even publicly forgave a taxpayer and worked to heal the sick even during the Sabbath.
So, it is an understandable choice for an oppressed people at that time to choose a fighter over what they perceived to be a pacifist.
The vilification is understandable too since it still happens in contemporary history. Remember what the Americans called Macario Sacay and the last remaining Katipuneros? Yes, you guessed it right – bandits.
Now, this should’ve been the contents of the Barabbas meme. Enemies of the state who have been vilified 2,000 years ago are still being vilified as bandits today or in the modern jargon — terrorists. Pfft.