Mark 15:16

The soldiers then took Jesus away into the courtyard – that is the Government house – and they called the whole garrison together.

Pilate’s court
had a cohort
at his disposal
to dispose of

how else rule
so many others
by such a pittance
of pity

here’s yet another
this must be Tuesday
or any other day
who knows who cares

much practice
leads to great efficiency
we whistle we work
as one ought
in a graveyard

Presumably, these soldiers were the ones who publicly scourged Jesus. It is likely that they were just as matter-of-fact in their hauling him away to be disposed of through the all too familiar route of crucifixion.

We know from current reports of secret places of detention around the world that further degradation of identity and torture await. In preparation for those, a larger audience is called together for the “fun”.

It was not that long ago that Jesus was led from Gethsemane to the chief priests who called together the whole Sanhedrin for a religious trial. From there Jesus was led to Pilate for a state trial that never became a trial but a bartering session. Pilate had Jesus led away to the keeping of soldiers on his way to Golgotha. They, in turn, called a larger group together for a pre-crucifixion ritual of diminishment and weakening.

Jesus had indicated that he would be handed over to death. At the time it was not clear that there would be handing over after handing over. This is a systemic institutional response—keep shunting a decision on to a next level for implementation. Everyone can claim to be innocent; it is always the next set of actors that screwed up.

As we enter deeper into the processes leading to the death of Jesus, we might remember Barabbas. Knowing the duplicity of occupiers from the inside [note slavery and removal of Native peoples, not to mention sequential waves of immigrants, women, and LGBTQ+ persons], Readers can imagine Barabbas also having been present during the previous scene and freed to walk down the steps and into a cheering crowd. Other imaginations can see this as a promise and that he never makes it out of captivity or is recaptured the next day.

Mark 15:15

And Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them, and, after scourging Jesus, gave him up to be crucified.

in the end rulers aren’t
to lead beyond followers
getting a perk here a buck there
will only shorten a reign

despots and crowds an unholy mix
bring each other down a peg
and then a whole step or era
competing over the smallest bits

this one must die
or everyone will die
we’re in agreement
for now

in a seeming few seconds
we’ll be at each other’s throats
common enemies keep enemies
apart for only so long

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd”, sounds like an unsanitized version of a church growth slogan. This is not much different than any established or aspiring power willing to say one thing to cover the doing of its opposite.

After the feeding of thousands, Jesus “released” or sent the crowds away. Presumably, they were sent away full or having received enough. Here Barabbas is being released, sent away, still a murderer, still an insurrectionist.

While there are no paper trails between Barabbas and the Maccabees or a developing Revolt, we can see him returning to his assassin ways.

A point can be made that the textual interplay between Abba and Barabbas “reflects and emphasizes the artificiality, and therefore the profound fictionality, of the entire sequence of the arrest/trials scenes in Mark” (Aichele13). Even so, this fiction also reveals the realities of power structures down through time—expeditiously trading for the most immediate gain.

Guards and soldiers have been mentioned before. They remind us that decisions are never made by other people without their implementation by still others at a remove from the decision-making, whether Herod’s guard sent for Baptizer John’s head or, here, the soldiers receiving Jesus.

This is a good time to remember to include ourselves and how we are complicit in political decisions. Buffy St. Marie wrote “Universal Soldier” in the early sixties. She said, “It’s about individual responsibility for war and how the old feudal thinking kills us all.”

Mark 15:14

“Why, what harm has he done?” Pilate kept saying to them. But they shouted furiously, “Crucify him!”

I’ll ask you a question
so you can dig a deeper hole

it’s the easiest of four others
I could put before you

most simply put—why
most elusive of the lot—why

you can ask all you want
to those unable to hear

in the end it’s a minor delay
the unquestioned roll along

Even as Pilate asks why the crowd has the response “Crucify” so quickly on their lips, we might see him cupping a hand behind an ear as if to say, “What was that? Louder, please.” It would not be the only double message he has sent.

Translationally, the English “wrong” or “harm” is much too mild for “evil”. The word κακός (kakos, base, wrong, wicked) is a primary word and etymologically related to the crude “kakka” or “sh_t”.

This can relate back to Herod’s appreciation of Baptizer John, but it is far easier to see it as Pilate continuing to play with the chief priests and crowd.

Given the way Mark references previous scenes, Readers can appreciate the imagination of Myers196:

The fickle masses are central characters in the farce and important to Mark’s political message. In a matter of days, the crowd has gone from “hearing gladly” Jesus’ criticisms of the priestly elite (see 11:38) to being manipulated by them to lobby for his demise (15:10f). In the Colosseum parody, the tragedy is that the masses again succumb to the will of their political and class opponents (who fear them! see 14:2). That is why the shrieks of the crowd (15:13f) simultaneously echo the wails of the demons in Mark (see 3:11, 5:5, 9:26) and the cries of the oppressed (see 9:24, 10:47f, 11:9).

Even to this day the poor, the masses, find themselves tricked into supporting the current economic paradigm that has never been on their side. Sheer overwhelming power against them and dreams of riches that may yet be theirs combine to entice them to act against their own long-term best interest.

Whatever the cause of wailing, it has been heard by Jesus and he has been present with those crying out. This has connections with Moses entering the court of Pharaoh with a demand to release wailing captives. Both Moses and Jesus have elusive grave stories from an unknown location to empty.

Mark 15:13

Again they shouted, “Crucify him!”

crowds shout and chant
the only thing they know
the shorter the better
the more rhythmic the better

so off with her head
so lock her up
so crucify him
so kill

were there conditions
ambiguous options
we’d have to negotiate
then where would we be

offer one choice
never more never less
tenaciously hold to it
as a center of the universe

get in our way
you’ll live to regret it
get out of our way
you’ll live to regret it

The penalty for a murderer who had participated in acts of insurrection against Rome—Barabbas—is crucifixion. The crowd has come to release Barabbas from this penalty. Their response here is in keeping with their intention. If there is a crucifixion to be had and it was going to be applied to someone, the crowd would want that crucifixion to be attached to someone other than Barabbas.

This accounts for the strange use of “palin” here. Since this is the first time Pilate has asked about applying a penalty to Jesus, “palin” can’t be used in its usual fashion of bringing back to mind a previous occasion similar to this one.

What is being returned to is the issue of release and the penalty attached to it. To release Barabbas, his expected penalty needs to return to Pilate for assigning. Thus the crowd’s response, connecting the penalty of crucifixion to Jesus.

It doesn’t matter if Pilate says, “Jesus” or “king of the Jews”. The crowd only hears, “Not Barabbas!”

Jesus becomes a nobody in stages. A disciple, Judas, betrays Jesus in the dark. The Sanhedrin resorts to lies. Pilate does not use Jesus’ name, but a derisive nickname to depersonalize his opponent. These last two political techniques have been used from time immemorial and to this day. The crowd also participates in the disappearance of Jesus before he is even dead. He is only, “Not Barabbas”, not a father’s son.

Without going the route of Docetism, that for which Jesus was anointed is already present before a physical death. All traces of Jesus have been erased. There is no Jesus, no movement. It’s over.

Mark 15:12

Pilate, however, spoke to them again, “What should I do then with the man whom you call the ‘king of the Jews’?”

in a strict binary world
there is only release and death

were there ever more
we’d go starker raving more

poor pea-brains only know
you’re in-pod or out

to leave is to die
or is it to thrive

one choice too far
leaves one to die in place

Asking for advice when you already know what you are going to do is one of the worst of lies. Everyone loses.

This is the third time “king of the Jews” has been used in relation to Pilate. First, looking for Jesus’ response to that title (15:2). Second, asking the crowd about releasing Jesus (15:9). Third, asking the crowd about a disposition of Jesus (15:12).

What we don’t hear in most English translations is that signal word, “palin” or “again”. This helps hold the three uses together and see them as a technique of ruling used by Pilate and many others—framing the encounter in such a way you get what you want without being responsible for it.

Perkins720, reflects on responsibility for Jesus’ death:

Responsibility for the death of Jesus lies at the feet of those who participate in the deceit and power politics that permit the casual sacrifice of innocent persons. Such phenomena have not vanished from our world…. The Barabbas incident suggests [a] severe consequence of the corruption introduced by power politics: People can no longer distinguish the guilty and dangerous person from the innocent. They may not even care whether a person is innocent or guilty.

In a season of deliberate lie upon deliberate lie and continual accusation of “fake news”, we find ourselves in the crowd pressing toward Pilate and being used even as they get what they purportedly want—the release of Barabbas.

Whether the issue is Peter’s limited vision of Messiah, the presence of G*D, Judas orchestrating an arrest, or the orchestrated theatre of Pilate and chief priests with bit players of Crowd, Barabbas (father’s son) and Jesus (father’s son), we are in a lose-lose situation. Everybody falls into someone else’s trap.

The only out is not to be like leaders everywhere; to be a servant.

Mark 15:11

But the chief priests incited the crowd to get Barabbas released instead.

do they have to do
all the work around here
those poor bishoprics
so put upon

defending faith all day long
with extra sessions
all through the night
lest something slip through

able to finally decide
yet another is to die
it’s only what you say
doing is no mitigation

now to hold to their word
Herod has nothing on them
there is an unruly herd
to wrangle into their image

Triangled relationships have been around for a long time. Here we have Pilate, chief priests, and crowd. Pilate and the chief priests find themselves speaking to one another through the actions of a crowd.

Pilate, knowing the envy of the chief priests, has teased them by baiting the crowd—asking if they want Jesus released. This raises the hackles of the chief priests and they respond to Pilate by stirring the crowd to clarify that they want Barabbas released, not Jesus.

This continues to this day as leaks to the press become a way to stir the masses to send a message through their predictable reactions.

A savvy politician will expect a reaction from their sparring partner and be able to take advantage of it. Mark does not record Pilate washing his hands to proclaim his innocence regarding the disposition of Jesus. However, in egging on the crowd, and thus the chief priests, it appears that the crowd has the last word—free Barabbas; kill Jesus!

The history of the church has borne this out. Pilate is innocent; all Jews are guilty. Anti-Semitism has been and still is all too alive and active within the church. This, in turn, justifies the state to disadvantage Jews on an almost predictable cycle. When they are not the ones being fired at, other minority groups take their turn. This makes it all too possible to begin blaming multiple groups for the anxiety loose in a society.

While still in the middle of an episode with Barabbas, it is helpful to remember how Mark puts a story within a story. Mark’s initial audience has literally seen insurrectionists like Barabbas lose the Temple. Mark could have moved from verse 5 to 15b but needed to give a warning about a choice of ways—Jesus’ or Barabbas’.

Mark 15:10

For he was aware that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had given Jesus up to him.

the higher up
a success ladder
the greater
a green-eyed monster

more and more
leads to more
and then more
there’s no end

at first comfort
then some ahead
but never enough
at last power

those jealous see
so much greed
in everyone else
envy radar on

All-in-all, it is probably best to translate φθόνος (phthonos) as “envy” rather than “jealous”.

Those who have an interest in what may be an essential dynamic in Jesus ending up on a cross can access an essay, “The Anatomy of Envy and the Gospel of Mark” []. Here is a condensation of a key paragraph.

Mark 15:10 can be viewed accurately when seen against the backdrop of the events narrated in chapters 11–15. Mark correctly uses the term envy and not jealousy; for, the chief priests are distressed at Jesus’ success and seek to destroy his prestige. Jesus invaded the physical space of the elite priests by entering the Temple and challenged their priestly role in his critique of the way the Temple was run. Jesus was increasing at their expense, or so they perceived it. The chief priests’ envy of Jesus’ honor was occasioned by his miracles and his bold public actions in redefining temple life and by giving excellent responses to challenges put to him. Mark suggests that Jesus is the peer of the chief priests and deserving of both honor and envy. He gains in stature by being envied. Pilate’s perception that it was “out of envy” that Jesus was handed over is a striking clue which leads us to identify and connect seemingly disparate elements in the narrative into a coherent and plausible cultural scenario. The narrative strategy in portraying Jesus as envied seems to serve the primary rhetorical aim of the gospel—the praise of Jesus and the acknowledgment of him as Christ, Prophet, and Lord—the Most Honorable person in the cosmos next to God.

Envy can be seen as a huge stumbling block in any situation where partnership (not equality) would be a more logical and effective way to proceed. Here think of Cain and Abel. We can also put Sarah and Hagar here, along with Moses and Aaron at the time of Ten Tablets meeting a Golden Calf. The seeking for honor by James and John is a setup for continuing ancient differences by way of the envy of the chief priests. This raises questions about who it is a Reader envies.

Mark 15:9

he answered, “Do you want me to release the ‘king of the Jews’ for you?”

hey Pilate
you stupid
or what

don’t release
that one
the other

a father’s son
in place of
a father’s son

what’s taking
so-o-o long
hurry now

Text Box: hey Pilate
you stupid
or what

don’t release
that one
the other

a father’s son
in place of
a father’s son

what’s taking
so-o-o long
hurry now
The crowd has asked for the release of a prisoner. Understood is that the one they want released is Barabbas. Pilate is acting like a big tease when he, oh so innocently, wants to clarify that it is “the king of the Jews” they want released. Of course, it is not.

Not only is there mean teasing going on but some irony as well. The word for “release” is ἀπολύω (apolyō, give leave to depart). This same word has been used by the disciples when there were crowds of hungry people and by Jesus after those persons have been fed. He sent them back to their ordinary lives after an extra-ordinary event. It is also used in the debate about divorce and one person releasing another (10:1–12). It can also be seen at the end of each healing with release from sickness or an unclean spirit.

Those earlier recognitions of needful endings of a season of life are here continuing those natural, expected, habitual times to be followed by a reset.

Yet, in the play about releasing there is a different edge. In just another 6 verses, Barabbas will be released from captivity and Jesus will be released to crucifixion.

Pilate is in charge of this conversation about release. He has the authority to release or not to release. His wonderment at Jesus and toying with the crowd might lead a Reader to suspect that things might still turn out alright for Jesus. Peter may well have been correct to not buy the suffering and death part of Jesus’ vision and jump to rising from victory to victory until the end of time. Perhaps Pilate won’t give his authority away to a dancing girl’s desire (theleō).

Yet, Pilate is asking Herod’s question, “what do you want?” (thelete) to a roiling crowd.

Pilate appears disinterested in anything resembling a trial to deal with this problem put in his lap by the chief priests. His primary goal seems to be to avoid a significant disruption or riot during the time of overcrowding Jerusalem during this major feast.

Mark 15:8

So, when the crowd went up and began to ask Pilate to follow his usual custom,

pushy crowds
make up
their own rules

it makes no difference
generations old tradition
made up on the spot

whatever they want
they want now
and brook no delay

they’ll do the deal
we want you to get rid of
so now you get rid of

it doesn’t have to make sense
it just needs to be obeyed
and that right soon

The crowd enters the scene. While it is easy to make a connection with the mob that arrested Jesus and those who brought false witness at his trial before the Sanhedrin, the crowd may have been there to advocate for the release of Barabbas rather than for the trial of Jesus.

It may be that the triumph of entering Jerusalem cannot be connected to the venom expressed at the Antonia fortress that protected Pilate when he was in Jerusalem. The crowd may not have turned against Jesus; he became only a cog in their attempt to release Barabbas.

A Reader might also begin reflecting on Pilate’s political calculus about which father’s son was most likely to cause him the most difficulty in the near term. Is it the pretend insurrectionist who has already proved his ineptness by being captured in the first place? Is it the gathering a grass-roots movement that has already affected the economy of Geresene and thus of the Roman army with the loss of pigs (after all an army travels on it stomach), and sheer numbers of 4,000 and 5,000 people in one place (where a healing service could quickly turn into a political rally that looked at the root causes of poverty in an occupied country)?

While it is never easy to peer into the motivations of an occupier well-schooled in benign reasons for how Rome became so powerful and Israel so weak, it doesn’t take much to be able to see Pilate glad to play Barabbas-oriented crowds off against the chief priests and their anti-Jesus orientation. He can make two critical opposition factions happy for another day, thus delaying their resistance to his rule.

It also doesn’t take much to not see this as some grand G*D-Plan. Power refuses to recognize its own irrelevance and all the actions to this point are understandable as business-as-usual.

Mark 15:7

A man called Barabbas was in prison, with the rioters who had committed murder during a riot.

every father’s son
carries a patriarch’s choice
to overthrow a thwarting
by sabotage or violence

whether through legal means
or those not licit
abba father is reduced
to murder of soul and body

like son like father
a net is cast to catch
freedom’s choice to step aside
beyond controlling addiction

Mark introduces us to a head-scratcher with this new character, Barabbas.

At its simplest, “Bar” means “son” and “abba” means “father”—“son of the father”.

This, of course, is also a designation of Jesus’ relationship with G*D.

Aichele13 reflects:

Barabbas does not appear as an active character in Mark’s narrative, but his name is used by “high priests” as the one to be released when they “stir up the crowd” in order to demand the crucifixion of Jesus.

…the statement in some manuscripts…that Barabbas was also named “Jesus” generates an element of irony or even slapstick in the story: Jesus the son of the father (“abba”) is condemned while Jesus the son of the father (“Barabbas”) is released…. The political insurgent becomes a mock double of the Galilean preacher who has been arrested “as if [he] were a highwayman”(Mark 14:48).

Mark does use irony, but it seems particularly out of place here. Mann637–639 suggests the “Jesus Barabbas” that shows up in some manuscripts had the “Jesus” excised in by scribes in the copying process. He concludes:

“All in all, we are unlikely to solve the puzzle of the prisoner with the startling appellation; and, short of some new and dramatic discovery, we must deal with the text as we find it.”

There are difficulties whenever Readers—original (ancient) or subsequent (contemporary)—attempt to wrestle with a text. LaVerdiere2279helps keep us from getting mired in the details:

When Mark is interested in the etymology of a name, he explains it. That is what he did with Bartimaeus….

In the end, Jesus’ uprising is the same and different than the uprising Barabbas was involved with. Quite the puzzle, intended or not.