Barabbas was a Terrorist?

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Today, with The Devil Left Him out and available, I’d like to talk a little about the connection between Jesus and Barrabbas, and the latter’s role in the Biblical story.

1st Century Judea had a number of divisive sects vying for control of what Judaism meant. The Sadducees, the priests, were the most Hellenized, the most docile with regard to the Roman occupation. The Pharisees, the scribes, were most determined to emphasize their Jewishness, and to appeal to Rabbinical authority and black-letter Mosaic Law. The Essenes were the proto-monastic mystics who hungered for God in the desert. They were most connected to John the Baptist, and according to some New Testament Scholars, to Jesus himself.

Then you had the Zealots, who imagined themselves as the successors to the Maccabees who had thrown off Greek rule and in the previous century and briefly established Jewish independence before the Romans showed up. They favored a violent overthrow of Roman rule, and believed that Divine aid would secure this goal as it had secured the Promised Land for Israel in Joshua’s time (Linguist’s Note: “Joshua,” “Yeshua,” and “Jesus” are all the same word as expressed in English, Hebrew, and Greek). A subset (or ally, depending on which source you rely upon) were the sicaroi, or “dagger-men”.

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Sicaroi were literal terrorists, they would practice stealth assassination with their sicarii, or short-bladed daggers, and then blend back into the crowd. They practiced this not only against Romans, but against Jewish collaborators.

What has this to do with Barabbas?

Well, the Gospels have it that Barabbas was an unsavory character. Matthew refers to him as a “notorious prisoner” (Mt 27:16), and Mark (15:7) and Luke (23:19) say that he took part in a riot, and committed murder. John 18:40 calls Barabbas a “bandit”, using a Greek word (“lestes”) that the Jewish historian Josephus later used to refer to rebels.

Is that enough to justify my headline? Maybe not. Some historians say that the sicaroi were active in the run up to the Jewish Revolt of the 60’s AD, not during the 30’s.

But there’s an even more interesting link between Jesus and Barabbas. “Barabbas” in Hebrew means “son of the father”, and early editions of the Gospel of Matthew refer to Jesus as “Jesus Barabbas”. It may have been changed to avoid confusion.

This presents an interesting contrast between the two guys Pilate had on hand to execute on Good Friday: there’s the Messiah that Jesus claimed to be and the more direct,  political type that Barabbas could well have been. The Messiah of God vs. the Messiah of Man, as Augustine might have put it.

Which is why The Devil Left Him has a tragic, dagger-wielding Barabbas encountering Jesus prior to their more famous meeting. Check it out.

The Biblical Game of Thrones

One of the most interesting things about the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is the all-to-human snapshots it gives of life and politics of the Bronze Age. While the Gospels spreads a moral vision of a perfected humanity, the OT spares us none of the warts and horrors we have come to expect of ourselves.

For example, consider the Books of Kings. Historians have called into question whether Solomon really ruled over the resplendent realm that Scripture describes, but the fall from power that Solomon and his heirs experience has a powerful truthfulness to it. Basically, Solomon grew old and arrogant, taxed too much, married too often, and began to idolize himself. He became the thing that the prophet Samuel warned Israel about when they asked him for a king. And then, under his heirs, the northern part of the realm broke away and formed its own kingdom, worshipping the Golden Calf (because nothing is new under the sun).

The House of David after Solomon, ruling the southern kingdom of Judah, was a mixed group, according to the two Books of Kings. We see some genuine reformers, some hardened idolators, and some in between. But they hung on to power until the Babylonians came calling.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, was a soap opera out of George R.R. Martin’s most lurid imagination.

The leader of the revolt against Solomon, who became king of the Northern Tribes, was Jeroboam I. He build the Golden Calves, an idolatry the Biblical authors never miss a chance to remind us of and condemn. His son and successor, Nadab, was murdered by Baasha, a captain in Nadab’s army, who stole the throne. As Justice would have it, Baasha’s son and heir, Elah, ruled barely a year before a commander of chariots, Zimri, murdered him while he dined in the house of a steward.

Zimri was king for all of seven days. Apparently he’d neglected to check if the army was really behind him. As soon as the word got out that Elah was dead, the soldiers nominated another commander, Omri, to be king, and Omri laid siege to the palace in Tirzah. Zimri perceived that all was lost and set fire to the palace, burning it down over his head. Omri thereafter ruled from Samaria.

After this, we get a period of relative dynastic stability. Omri’s dynasty rules for three generations. They are followed by the dynasty of Jehu, which manages four generations. Then the old pattern re-emerges. Shallum murders King Zechariah, and rules for a month before being killed by Menahem. Menahem rules ten years, and his son Pekahiah for two, whereupon Pekah assassinates Pekahiah (yeah, there’s a difference). Pekah rules for twenty years before being assassinated himself, by Hoshea. Hoshea was a puppet of the Assyrians, and when he made the mistake of rebelling against them, the Assyrians did what they were famous for, and wrecked the place, brought in foreign tribes, and resettled the Israelites in other parts of the realm. So began the legends of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

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There’s a novel in here somewhere, is all I’m saying…