Barabbas and the Crucified

Barabbas and the Crucified May 6, 2014

George Athas blogged last week about the possibility that the remains of the last Hasmonean king, Antigonus II Matthathiah, may have been identified – “discovered” would be the wrong word, since this is not a recent discovery, but a reconsideration of an earlier find, the study of which seems to have confronted unfortunate mishaps and hurdles.

As Jim Davila pointed out, if the identification is correct, then this would be our second find of someone who had been buried after having been executed by crucifixion. See also James Tabor’s thoughts.

These remains and the recent discussions of them raise interesting questions in connection with the Gospels. Abba, a supporter of the Hasmoneans, and Bar-Abba, meaning “Son of Abba,” taking part in a rebellion and facing execution himself? Could there be a connection? The timing could fit – Mattathiah Antigonus II ruled from 40-37 BCE, when he was captured by Herod and executed by Marc Antony. Abba, according to the inscription, subsequently recovered and had the remains of Antigonus placed in an ossuary. It is not clear that this happened very soon after his execution. Indeed, unless I am mistaken, our earliest ossuaries (unless this one is an exception) date from some decades later.

One also needs to consider the possibility of borrowing from or interference between a historical story about a Hasmonean who is crucified and denied honorable burial and subsequently given a burial in a borrowed grave, and the story of something similar happening to Jesus. But it is also possible that this sort of thing happened more than once, and that it would not have been unexpected for Jesus’ followers to have sought to recover his remains and give them a proper burial with the honor they felt he deserved.

A key historical question, of course, is whether they were successful, and why we end up with the divergent strands of (1) God honoring Jesus by raising him from death, and (2) other humans trying to, and then in later sources succeeding to, actually accord Jesus an honorable burial. I wrestle with those questions and other related ones in my book The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith?. But the puzzle remains.

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