Jewish Journal

Why the Jews freed the murderer

by Brad A. Greenberg

July 17, 2007 | 12:57 am

Many a pogroms have been incited by Passion plays and the idea that Jews were to blame for Jesus’ death. After all, they let a murderer—that filthy murderer Barabbas—go free while Christ was hung on a tree.

I’ve long thought this ridiculous and still do. But at church Sunday night I began to see this story differently from the Jewish perspective (yes: church and Jewish perspective).

I’ve read countless times the passage in the Gospel of Mark where Pontius Pilate asks the crowd of Jews which prisoner he should free—the Messiah or the murderer—but I hadn’t paid attention to the way Barabbas is described in Ch. 15 as “among the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection.”

“Barabbas,” the Rev. Mark Brewer of Bel Air Presbyterian then said, “was like a freedom fighter for the Jews, who had probably slit some Roman soldiers throat.”

Learning that, I wondered under which circumstances the Roman-ruled Jews would have chosen to free a man believed to be a Jewish heretic and who said he was going to destroy the temple over someone they believed was fighting for the physical and political freedom of the Israelites.

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