The man called Barabbas had done evil, murderous things. It was his time to die, and he accepted that, even embraced it. The torture, both physical and emotional, would end. He was a disgrace, and he would blessedly be no more. But then the Jewish leaders did the unthinkable—they convinced the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilate, to release Barabbas and crucify Jesus of Nazareth, the famed teacher and healer who they falsely accused of sedition.
This is a fascinating, powerful event from history, and yet we know next to nothing about one of the main participants! Who was Barabbas the Jew? Where did he come from, and where did he go after that fateful day? The records have been lost. Two millennia is a long time.
Why is this story important? At first, I thought I Was Called Barabbas would be a story about personal redemption, and that was enough. We all make mistakes, including some big ones. We all seek redemption in some form. We all want to make real, sustainable progress and be happy, along with our family and friends.
That was as true two thousand years ago as it is today. But lots of other things are true, too. People then were the same as people now. They had to deal with the same familial, cultural and political dynamics. They made the same kinds of mistakes. Yes, technology makes a difference, particularly with regards to the amount of leisure time (which sometimes gets us into more trouble), but for the most part, technology is just fancy wrapping paper around the common human experience.
So, a story about the life of Barabbas is also a story about the time in which he lived and the various aspects of society in which he likely would have participated. While the primary arc of the story focuses on the typically uneven path toward personal redemption that we all seek, the secondary arc involves the explosive growth of Christianity in the midst the powerful Roman Empire and the politics of the day—which are understandably similar to politics now.
We also have a number of well-known personalities from history we can draw upon to add to the story of the enigma called Barabbas. The apostle Paul, of course, is acclaimed and much beloved, and he plays a major role. Mary, the mother of Jesus, makes a significant appearance, and in my telling of the story she occupies a primary place in the growth and progress of her son’s church. The prestigious and wealthy centurion Cornelius, the first “gentile” converted and baptized by Peter, also interacts with Barabbas and plays a prominent part in his future.
Of course, all of this continues to build, so I recognized early on that that this story couldn’t stop at just one book. There was too much happening. The new church was sending missionaries everywhere, which means they didn’t stop at the borders of the Roman Empire. We know they went to Africa, India, and Arabia. In fact, Paul’s true “first” journey was to Arabia, for three years, and we rarely talk about it.
Africa is fascinating to think about, too, and it’s so vast. There have been Jews in Africa for thousands of years. In fact, in more recent times the state of Israel has even airlifted Ethiopian Jews out of Africa to save them from starvation and hostilities. And since the time of Christ, there have also been many Christians in Africa. I Was Called Barabbas briefly “goes to Africa,” but Book 2, called Pillars of Barabbas (tentative launch March 2021), will spend significant time there, as well as in Rome.
By the way, Rome, too, is amazing. My wife and I visited in 2019, and part of the purpose was so that I could visit the ancient Roman ruins and “feel the bones” of the Eternal City as I prepared to write Book 2. It was well worth it. Early on, Paul lauded the faith of the Christian saints in Rome, and Rome became central to the future growth and influence of Christianity. In fact, after about 70 AD (70 CE), there were no Christians in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas … and almost no Jews, either. Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus made sure of that (which will be part of Book 3).
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Meet Michael House
Michael House is the author of I Was Called Barabbas and Patriot Star. Before beginning his second career as a writer, he worked for twenty-five years in the world of corporate finance, strategic planning, and business development. Now, Michael lives in Utah with his wife, where he spends his time writing and enjoying his children and grandchildren. Learn more about Michael and his work at www.mdhouselive.com.