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Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist

Barabbas (original 1950; edition 1963)

by Pär Lagerkvist

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,1182110,972 (3.92)111
Authors:Pär Lagerkvist
Info:Amsterdam: Meulenhoff
Collections:Your library, Nobel
Tags:Scandinavisch Auteur, Literatuur, Hist.Roman

Work details

Barabbas by Pär Lagerkvist (1950)

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    King Jesus by Robert Graves (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Both books attempt address the life and death of Jesus from an objective perspective, showing how it might have been viewed by contemporaries not predisposed to believe the full religious account
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    The Seven That Were Hanged and Other Stories by Leonid Andreyev (susanbooks)
    susanbooks: Lagerkvist & Andreyev each give intriguing versions of the Lazarus story.
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» See also 111 mentions

English (16)  Swedish (1)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
My kids love churches, but not having been brought up religiously, they don't understand any of the iconography. Trying to explain to a six-year-old why they all have statues of this beardy guy slowly dying on a stick has really brought home to me what a hideous and morbid idea Christianity is built on. I understand that some people find it very touching and beautiful, but I find it difficult to see it that way. Telling people that this man went through agony, and then died, on your behalf, whether you like it or not, is a heavy load to lay on someone and entails a serious amount of what I suppose psychologists would call guilt.

What's very clever about this book is that Pär Lagerkvist has found a way to examine this idea which works whether or not you believe in the metaphysics: Barabbas, the man acquitted in Jesus's place, is someone in whom the central myth of Christianity is literally true.

They spoke of his having died for them. That might be. But he really had died for Barabbas, no one could deny it!

So the reactions of Barabbas – relief, disbelief, morbid curiosity, survivor's guilt – become a kind of study in what Christian dogma might imply for the human mind. Barabbas can never quite bring himself to believe in Jesus as a divine figure, but, as he says in the novel's most famous passage: ‘I want to believe.’ That conflict is the essence of the book.

Barabbas is a great figure to expand upon, since in the source material he is both crucial and barely mentioned. The Bible gives very few details about him, though there's some suggestion in Luke that he took part in riots in Jerusalem. John, usually the most poetic of the gospels, is disappointingly brief: it simply says, ‘Barabbas was a bandit [λῃστής].’ This gives Lagerkvist great freedom to construct a suitably rough past for him, and the scope to imagine how this one act of being freed might have affected the rest of his life.

In some versions of the Biblical text, Barabbas's full name is ‘Jesus Barabbas’ (which would make sense of Pilate's question to the crowd in Luke – ‘Who would you have me free, [Jesus] Barabbas or the Jesus that is called Christ?’). This may reflect a later mythological tradition, but even so, it points to a deep sense in which the two are equated – indeed, there are serious Biblical scholars who believe that they are one and the same person. This duality is fully explored in Lagerkvist's story, which sees Barabbas go through similar ordeals and, for that matter, end up nailed in the same place.

His state of mind and his state of belief at that point are open to interpretation. It's a very incisive way of looking at the challenges and mysteries of such big topics as atonement, the crucifixtion, and faith – and one which goes to the heart of them in a way that theological texts generally do not. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Feb 12, 2019 |
This is a book which rose in esteem, for me, upon a re-reading. The premise: Barabbas is saved by Jesus indirectly (chosen by the crowd to live and be released). He is haunted by Jesus and his followers but despite being one who was 'saved' he cannot bring himself to believe any of the stories of Jesus or believe the doctrines of Christianity. He is a man tortured, never at peace until he dies.

This is a book chronicling existential doubt. In Lagerkvist's re-telling there is no aspect of the crucifixion and resurrection that do not also have a naturalistic explanation. There is no faith-trump-card, even for eye-witnesses. Still faith and doubt co-mingle in Lagerkvist's pages.

( )
1 vote Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
It was not what I was expecting, but was still quite good and nicely written. ( )
  ceh3167 | May 1, 2017 |
Read during Spring 2002

Par Lagerkvist is mostly unknown amongst Engilsh speakers, I only know him from my amazing European novels teacher in High School. Barrabas is the man who is pardoned in place of Jesus. How does he continue his life after this event? I could not put it down but it very enigmatic. It is not a Christian themed novel but otherwise very hard to describe. Just read it.
  amyem58 | Jul 11, 2014 |
Awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize for Literature primarily for his poetry, Par Lagerkvist was also a dramatist, essayist and novelist.

Drawing from the well-known biblical story of the crucifixion, Lagerkvist envisions the criminal, Barabbas, in the aftermath of having been acquitted and Jesus crucified in his place. Barabbas becomes obsessed with wanting to understand why a man who is called the Messiah would choose suffering and crucifixion. Why does Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s crucifixion, become suddenly dark at the moment of his death? How is it possible that a man can be resurrected from the dead, his tomb found empty? What does his message of “love one another” mean? Why do some believe that Jesus is the Son of God?

Par Lagerkvist’s Barabbas is unable to find faith in the absence of understanding. He seems generally devoid of feelings for his fellow man, and fails to intervene on behalf of a girl with a hare-lip and a fellow captive to whom he is chained for years, both devout Christians who die for their faith. In the end, Barabbas’s quest for understanding grows into a desire to believe, but remains ambiguous as to whether or not it is fulfilled.

Lagerkvist’s writing is concise and skillfully descriptive, but for the most part, Barabbas’s struggle to find faith felt fairly predictable to me, and not particularly interesting. However, my enjoyment of this short novel was considerably enhanced by the occasional insertion of the unexpected, such as the following conversation between Barabbas and a man whom Jesus has raised from the dead, surprising in its inconsistency with Christian dogma regarding the after-life.

Barabbas sat opposite to him and was drawn to examine his face. It was sallow and seemed as hard as bone. The skin was completely parched. Barabbas had never thought a face could look like that and he had never seen anything so desolate. It was like a desert.

To the young man’s question the man replied that it was quite true that he had been dead and brought back to life by the rabbi from Galilee, their Master. He had lain in the grave for four days and nights, but his physical and mental powers were the same as before, nothing had altered as far as they were concerned. And because of this the Master had proved his power and glory and that he was the son of God. He spoke slowly in a monotone, looking at Barabbas the whole time with his pale, lack-lustre eyes.

...-The realm of the dead? Barabbas exclaimed, noticing that his voice trembled slightly. The realm of the dead?...What is it like there? You who have been there! Tell me what it’s like!

-What it’s like? The man said, looking at him questioningly. He clearly didn’t quite understand what the other meant.

-Yes! What is it? This thing you have experienced?

-I have experienced nothing, the man, answered, as though disapproving of the other’s violence. I have merely been dead. And death is nothing.


-No. What should it be?

Barabbas stared at him.

-Do you mean you want me to tell you something about the realm of the dead? I cannot. The realm of the dead isn’t anything. It exists, but it isn’t anything.
Barabbas could only stare at him. The desolate face frightened him, but he could not tear his eyes away from it.

-No, the man said, looking past him with his empty gaze, the realm of the dead isn’t anything. But to those who have been there, nothing else is anything either.

-It is strange your asking such a thing, he went on. Why did you? They don’t usually.

And he told him that the brethren in Jerusalem often sent people there to be converted, and indeed many had been. In that way he served the Master and repaid something of his great debt for having been restored to life. Almost every day someone was brought by this young man or one of the others and he testified to his resurrection. But of the realm of the dead he never spoke. It was the first time anyone had wanted to hear about it.
6 vote Linda92007 | Dec 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (30 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pär Lagerkvistprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blair, AlanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gide, AndréLettersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Llovet, RamonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maury, LucienPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sales, NúriaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Everyone knows how they hung there on the crosses, and who they were that stood gathered around him: Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene, Veronica, Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross, and Joseph of Arimathea, who shrouded him.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067972544X, Paperback)

Barabbas is the acquitted; the man whose life was exchanged for that of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified upon the hill of Golgotha. Barabbas is a man condemned to have no god. "Christos Iesus" is carved on the disk suspended from his neck, but he cannot affirm his faith. He cannot pray. He can only say, "I want to believe."

Translated from the Swedish by Alan Blair

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:02 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The condemned thief in whose place Jesus was crucified is tormented by guilt and struggles to understand the meaning of the dead rabbi's teachings.

(summary from another edition)

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Ediciones Encuentro

2 editions of this book were published by Ediciones Encuentro.

Editions: 8474903386, 8474908736

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