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"Barabbas" Summary

By Pär Lagerkvist

fiction | Published in 1989

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

Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

After being spared from crucifixion, Barabbas struggles to understand the significance of Jesus's death.


"Barabbas" is a novel written by the Swedish author Pär Lagerkvist and was first published in 1950. The book delves into the life of the biblical character Barabbas, exploring his experiences and internal conflicts. Set against the backdrop of ancient Jerusalem, the story provides a thought-provoking examination of faith, doubt, and the human condition.

Brief Synopsis

The novel is set in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus Christ and follows the story of Barabbas, a notorious criminal who was imprisoned and sentenced to death by crucifixion. The plot unfolds against the historical and religious backdrop of the Roman occupation of Judea and the crucifixion of Jesus. Barabbas, a man of violence and rebellion, finds himself in the midst of profound events that ultimately lead to his own spiritual awakening.

Plot Overview and Setting


The story is primarily set in Jerusalem, a city under Roman rule during the time of Jesus' crucifixion. The novel vividly captures the political and religious tensions of the era, portraying the harsh realities faced by the inhabitants of the city.

Plot Overview

Barabbas, a thief and rebel, is imprisoned and awaiting execution when he is unexpectedly spared in favor of Jesus. Following this turn of events, Barabbas struggles to comprehend the significance of Jesus' crucifixion and the growing movement of Christianity. The novel delves into Barabbas' internal conflicts as he grapples with questions of faith, redemption, and the meaning of life.

Main Characters

The novel features several key characters who play significant roles in Barabbas' journey.

BarabbasA notorious criminal and rebel who is spared from crucifixion and embarks on a spiritual journey.
SahakA Christian slave with whom Barabbas forms a close bond.
The GovernorThe Roman authority figure responsible for Barabbas' imprisonment and punishment.
The Fat WomanA fellow prisoner who provides Barabbas with companionship and support.

Story Points Over Chapters

Chapters 1-3: Imprisonment and Crucifixion

Barabbas is imprisoned and faces the prospect of crucifixion for his crimes. He witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus, an event that leaves him bewildered and questioning.

Chapters 4-6: Life after Crucifixion

Barabbas is spared from crucifixion, but he is haunted by the memory of Jesus' death. He struggles to understand the significance of the events he has witnessed.

Chapters 7-9: Encounters and Conflicts

Barabbas encounters Christians and becomes involved in their community. He grapples with his own beliefs and questions the nature of faith and redemption.

Chapters 10-12: Spiritual Journey

Barabbas embarks on a spiritual journey, seeking meaning and understanding in the wake of Jesus' crucifixion. He forms a deep connection with Sahak, a Christian slave, and experiences inner turmoil.

Chapters 13-15: Trials and Tribulations

Barabbas faces trials and tribulations as he navigates the challenges of his newfound beliefs and the persecution of Christians. He is confronted with the realities of faith and martyrdom.

Chapters 16-18: Conclusion and Resolution

The novel reaches its conclusion as Barabbas grapples with his fate and the profound impact of Jesus' crucifixion on his life. He is forced to confront his own mortality and the complexities of faith.

Main Events

  • Barabbas' imprisonment and impending crucifixion
  • Witnessing the crucifixion of Jesus
  • Barabbas' spared from crucifixion
  • Barabbas' encounters with Christians
  • His spiritual journey and inner conflicts
  • Persecution of Christians
  • Conclusion and resolution of Barabbas' story

Themes and Insights


  1. Faith and Doubt: The novel explores the complexities of faith and the pervasive nature of doubt, as seen through Barabbas' internal struggles.
  2. Redemption: Barabbas grapples with the concept of redemption, seeking meaning and purpose in the wake of Jesus' crucifixion.
  3. Identity: The story delves into questions of identity and self-discovery as Barabbas undergoes a profound transformation.


The novel offers insights into the human experience, portraying the internal turmoil and existential quest for meaning that transcends time and place. Lagerkvist's exploration of faith, doubt, and redemption resonates with readers on a deeply personal level.

Reader's Takeaway

"Barabbas" offers a captivating and introspective exploration of faith, doubt, and the human condition. Readers are invited to contemplate the profound themes and questions raised by the novel, prompting introspection and self-examination.


In "Barabbas," Pär Lagerkvist delivers a thought-provoking and poignant narrative that immerses readers in the tumultuous world of ancient Jerusalem. Through the character of Barabbas, the novel delves into the intricacies of faith, doubt, and redemption, offering a compelling exploration of the human spirit. As Barabbas grapples with his own beliefs and experiences, readers are drawn into a captivating journey of self-discovery and introspection. With its timeless themes and profound insights, "Barabbas" continues to resonate with audiences, inviting reflection and contemplation long after the final page is turned.

Barabbas FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Barabbas' about?

    Barabbas is a novel by Pär Lagerkvist that tells the story of the biblical figure Barabbas, who was released by Pontius Pilate instead of Jesus Christ. The novel explores Barabbas' struggle with faith, guilt, and the meaning of life.

  2. Is 'Barabbas' a religious book?

    While 'Barabbas' is based on a biblical character and explores themes of faith and spirituality, it is considered a work of fiction rather than a religious text.

  3. What is the writing style of 'Barabbas'?

    Pär Lagerkvist's writing style in 'Barabbas' is characterized by its introspective and philosophical nature. The novel delves into the inner thoughts and emotions of the protagonist, offering a deep exploration of existential themes.

  4. Is 'Barabbas' a suitable book for religious study?

    While 'Barabbas' can prompt discussions about religious and philosophical concepts, it is ultimately a work of fiction and should not be considered a primary source for religious study. However, it can be a thought-provoking supplement to such studies.

  5. What are some major themes in 'Barabbas'?

    Some major themes in 'Barabbas' include faith, doubt, redemption, the human condition, and the search for meaning in a world filled with suffering and injustice.