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would suggest some considerations which
make hesitate to decide that the discrepancy is fatal. In the first place, it is possible, though perhaps not probable, that Christian tradition shifted the date of the crucifixion by a month in order to make the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God coincide with that annual sacrifice of the Passover lamb which in the belief of pious hearts had so long foreshadowed it and was thenceforth to cease. Instances of gentle pressure brought to bear, for purposes of edification, on stubborn facts are perhaps not wholly unknown in the annals of religion. But the express testimony of history is never to be lightly set aside; and in the investigation of its problems a solution which assumes the veracity and accuracy of the historian is, on an even balance of probabilities, always to be preferred to one which impugns them both. Now in the present case we have seen reason to think that the Babylonian New Year festival, of which Purim was a continuation, did fall in Nisan at or near the time of the Passover, and that when the Jews borrowed the festival they altered the date from Nisan to Adar in order to prevent the new feast from clashing with the old Passover. A reminiscence of the original date of Purim perhaps survives, as I have already pointed out, in the statement in the book of Esther that Haman caused pur or lots to be cast before him from the month of Nisan onward. It thus seems not impossible that occasionally, for some special reason, the Jews should have celebrated the feast of Purim, or at least the death of Haman, at or about the time of the Passover. But there is another possibility which, remote and fanciful as it may appear, deserves at least to be mentioned. The mock king of the Saturnalia, whose resemblance to the dying Christ was first pointed out by Mr. Wendland, was allowed a period of licence of thirty days before he was put to death. If we could suppose that in like manner the Jews spared the human representative of Haman for one month from Purim, the date of his execution would fall exactly on the Passover. Which, if any, of these conjectural solutions of the difficulty is the true one, I will not undertake to say. I am fully conscious of the doubt and uncertainty that hang round the whole subject; and if
1 Esther ji. 7.
in this and what follows I throw out some hints and suggestions, it is more in the hope of stimulating and directing further inquiry than with any expectation of reaching definite conclusions.
It may be objected that the mockery of Christ was done not by the Jews but by the Roman soldiers, who knew and cared nothing about Haman; how then can we suppose that the purple or scarlet robe, the sceptre of reed, and the crown of thorns, which the soldiers thrust upon Christ, were the regular insignia of the Haman of the
To this we may reply, in the first place, that even if the legions stationed in Syria were not recruited in the country, they may have contracted some of the native superstitions and have fallen in with the local customs. This is not an idle conjecture. We know that the third legion during its stay in Syria learned the Syrian custom of saluting the rising sun, and that this formal salute, performed by the whole regiment as one man at a critical moment of the great battle of Bedriacum, actually helped to turn the scale when the fortune of empire hung trembling in the balance.
But it is not necessary to suppose that the garrison of Jerusalem really shared the beliefs and prejudices of the mob whom they overawed ; soldiers everywhere are ready to go with a crowd bent on sport, without asking any curious questions as to the history or quality of the entertainment, and we should probably do the humanity of Roman soldiers too much honour if we imagined that they would be deterred by any qualm of conscience from joining in the pastime, which is still so popular, of baiting a Jew to death. But in the second place it should be observed that according to one of the Evangelists it was not the soldiers of Pilate who mocked Jesus, but the soldiers of Herod," and we may fairly assume that Herod's guards were Jews.
The hypothesis that the crucifixion with all its cruel mockery was not a punishment specially devised for Christ, but was merely the fate that annually befell the malefactor who played Haman, appears to go some way towards reliering the Gospel narrative of certain difficulties which otherwise beset it. If, as we read in the Gospels, Pilate was really
i Tacitus, llist. iii. 24 sq., compared with ii. 74.
: Luke xxiii. 11.
anxious to save the innocent man whose fine bearing seems to have struck him, what was to hinder him from doing so ? He had the power of life and death ; why should he not have exercised it on the side of mercy, if his own judgment inclined that way? His reluctant acquiescence in the importunate demand of the rabble becomes easier to understand if we assume that custom obliged him annually at this season to give up to them a prisoner on whom they might play their cruel pranks. On this assumption Pilate had no power to prevent the sacrifice; the most he could do was to choose the victim.
Again, consider the remarkable statement of the Evangelists that Pilate set up over the cross a superscription stating that the man who hung on it was king of the Jews.' Is it likely that in the reign of Tiberius a Roman governor, with the fear of the jealous and suspicious old emperor before his eyes, would have ventured, even in mockery, to blazon forth a seditious claim of this sort unless it were the regular formula employed on such occasions, recognised by custom and therefore not liable to be misconstrued into treason by the malignity of informers and the fears of a tyrant ?
But if the tragedy of the ill-fated aspirant after royal honours was annually enacted at Jerusalem by a prisoner who perished on the cross, it becomes probable that the part of his successful rival was also played by another actor who paraded in the same kingly trappings but did not share the same fate. If Jesus was the Haman of the year, where was the Mordecai? Perhaps we may find him in Barabbas.
We are told by the Evangelists that at the feast which witnessed the crucifixion of Christ it was the custom for the Roman governor to release one prisoner, whomsoever the people desired, and that l'ilate, convinced of the innocence of Jesus, attempted to persuade the multitude to choose him as the man who should go free. But, hounded on by the priests and elders who had marked out Jesus for destruction, the rabble would not hear of this, and clamoured for the blood of Jesus, while they demanded the release of a certain miscreant, by name Barabbas, who lay in gaol for murder and sedition. Accordingly Pilate had to give way: Christ
1 Matthew xxvii. 37 ; Mark xv. 26; Luke xxiii. 38; John xix. 19.
was crucified and Barabbas set at liberty. Now what, we may ask, was the reason for setting free a prisoner at this festival ? In the absence of positive information, we may conjecture that the gaol-bird whose cage was thrown open at this time had to purchase his freedom by performing some service from which decent people would shrink.
Such a service may very well have been that of going about the streets, rigged out in tawdry splendour with a tinsel crown on his head and a sham sceptre in his hand, preceded and followed by all the tag-rag and bobtail of the town hooting, jeering, and breaking coarse jests at his expense, while some pretended to salaam his mock majesty, and others belaboured the donkey on which he rode.
It was in this fashion, probably, that in Persia the beardless and one-eyed man made his undignified progress through the town, to the delight of ragamuffins and the terror of shopkeepers, whose goods he unceremoniously confiscated if they did not hasten to lay their peace-offerings at his feet. So, perhaps, the ruffian Barabbas, when his irons were knocked off and the prison door had grated on its hinges to let him forth, tasted the first sweets of liberty in this public manner, even if he was not suffered, like his one-eyed brother, to make raids with impunity on the stalls of the merchants and the tables of the money-changers. A curious confirmation of this conjecture is supplied by a passage in the writings of Philo the Jew, who lived at Alexandria in the time of Christ. He tells us that when Agrippa, the grandson of Herod, had received the crown of Judaea from Caligula at Rome, the new king passed through Alexandria on his way to his own country. The disorderly populace of that great city, animated by a hearty dislike of his nation, seized the opportunity of venting their spite by publicly defaming and ridiculing the Jewish monarch. Among other things they laid hold of a certain harmless lunatic named Carabas, who used to roam the streets stark naked, the butt and laughing-stock of urchins and idlers. This poor wretch they set up in a public place, clapped a paper crown on his head, thrust a broken reed into his hand by way of a sceptre, and having huddled
i Matthew xxvii. 15.26; Mark xv. 6-15; Luke xxiii. 16-25; John xviii. 38-40.
a mat instead of a royal robe about his naked body, and surrounded him with a guard of bludgeon-men, they did obeisance to him as to a king and made a show of taking his opinion on questions of law and policy. To point the jest unmistakably at the Syrian king Agrippa, the bystanders raised cries of "Marin! Marin ! ” which they understood to be the Syrian word for “ lord.” 1 This mockery of the Jewish king closely resembles the mockery of Christ ; and the joke, such as it was, would receive a keener edge if we could suppose that the riff-raff of Alexandria were familiar with the Jewish practice of setting up a sham king on certain occasions, and that they meant by implication to ridicule the real King Agrippa by comparing him to his holiday counterfeit. May we go a step further and conjecture that one at least of the titles of the mock king of the Jews was regularly Barabbas? The poor imbecile who masqueraded in a paper crown at Alexandria was probably a Jew, otherwise the jest would have lost much of its point; and his name, according to the Greek manuscripts of Philo, was Carabas. But Carabas is meaningless in Hebrew, whereas Barabbas is a regularly formed Hebrew word meaning “Son of the Father.” The palaeographic difference between the two forms is slight, and perhaps we shall hardly be deemed very rash if we conjecture that in the passage in question Philo himself wrote Barabbas, which a Greek copyist, ignorant of Hebrew, afterwards corrupted into Carabas. If this were granted, we should still have to assume that both Philo and the authors of the Gospels fell into the mistake of treating as the name of an individual what in fact was a title of office.
Thus the hypothesis which, with great diffidence, I would put forward for consideration is this. It was customary, we may suppose, with the Jews at Purim, or perhaps occasionally at Passover, to employ two prisoners to act the parts respectively of Haman and Mordecai in the passion-play which formed a central feature of the festival. Both men paraded for a short time in the insignia of royalty, but their fates were different ; for while at the end of the performance
Philo Judaeus, Adversus Flaccum, vol ii. pp. 520-523 ed. Mangey. The first to call attention to this passage
was Mr. P. Wendland (“Jesus als Saturnalien - Konig," Hermes, xxxiii. (1898), p. 175 sq.).