What is it like to be a man who sees the faith of others and yet cannot believe himself? What is it to have first-hand knowledge of things that have become legendary? What is it like to be the only man for whom the words “Jesus Christ died for you” are literally true but have never become spiritually true?
Barabbas is a man freed suddenly from the death sentence when the crowd offers their yearly pardon to him instead of Jesus Christ. After witnessing Jesus’ death by crucifixion, Barabbas wanders: back to familiar friends, into the strange phenomenon of Christians meeting for prayer, eventually into slavery where he is chained to a man who is an enthusiastic (if uninformed) believer in “Christos Iesus.”
Personally, I prefer historical fiction about Biblical characters that is NOT written from a Christian perspective.* I find Christians tend to have an agenda for these characters. Par Lagerkvist has just the right approach, in my opinion: he is able to convey with clarity and sincerity what believers actually believe but he does not have an agenda (either to promote or undermine Christianity.) Instead, Lagerkvist takes a compelling character, brings him to life in a way that is both believable and complex, making his main character a witness to many things and a participant in few (which simply feels appropriate, given Barabbas minor role in scripture). In this novel, Barabbas comes to represent the person who has all the evidence he would need to believe, and yet cannot fathom the true cost of following Christ.
This book is simple to read and provides an interesting intellectual puzzle worthy of and capable of generating really interesting discussion. I’m glad I’ve read it and I am hoping my husband will read it soon so we can talk about it!