According to some footnotes in some bibles, the man that the Jews want Pilate to release in exchange for Jesus (Christ) is called Jesus Barabbas (Matt 27:16-17). These instances of “Jesus Barabbas” only appear in some Greek manuscripts of Matthew. Since Matthew is basically an expanded version of Mark, does this mean that Mark also originally had Jesus Barabbas? This makes sense of Pilate’s contrast: To release Jesus called Barabbas or Jesus called Christ (ιησουν τον λεγομενον βαραββαν η ιησουν τον λεγομενον χριστον). In our current texts, he just asks to release Barabbas or the Jesus called Christ.
“Bar Abba[s]” literally means “son of the father” in Aramaic.
I argued in an earlier post that Mark 1:9 probably didn’t have “from Nazareth” in the original since its Synoptic equivalent, Matthew 3:13, doesn’t have that phrase. It only has “from Galilee”. Meaning that when Matthew was writing his edition of Mark 1, his version of Mark probably didn’t have “from Nazareth” or he would have included it, since Matt likes to insert the words now translated as “Nazareth” in parts of his narrative that are unique to Matthew (Mark 11:1-11 vs Matt 27:1-11).
Along those lines, I can see why Matthew would add the name “Jesus” to “Barabbas” if he understood Mark’s theological point. On the other hand, Matthew removes Mark’s Aramaisms (like “talitha koumen” in Mark 5:41; cf Matt 9:23-25) so he might not have known Aramaic. On the other hand, Matt knew what the name “Jesus” meant. But then again he’s writing in Greek. The name “Jesus” has no meaning in Greek but the name that it’s derived from – Joshua – does have meaning so he must have been told what the name meant by someone else. Another possible reason would be that because Matt seems to be writing to Hellenized Jewish-Christians, the Aramaisms might have seemed either redundant, offensive, or useless.
But I’m thinking Matt didn’t know Aramaic. So if Matt didn’t know Aramaic, then he wouldn’t have known what “Barabbas” meant and would have had no reason to add the name “Jesus” to his name. But Mark does seem to know Aramaic (Mark 14:36 vs Matt 26:42), and having a constrast between an insurrectionist Jesus Son of the Father and a peaceful Jesus Son of the Father does seem to fit Mark’s style of writing; his ironic contrast.
So “Jesus Barabbas” is more than likely an invention of Mark, and Matthew probably just copied what Mark wrote. Since it’s only in some manuscripts of Matthew, it must have been systematically left out of subsequent copies of Matthew. Mark, on the other hand, was never a popular gospel. At least until the forged resurrection sighting was added to the end.
Or then again, Jesus Barabbas might have been the historical Jesus!