According to Mark, it was a custom of the Roman governor during the feast of Passover to release one prisoner to the Jews, anyone for whom they asked. When Pilate asks the crowd which prisoner they would like to have released—Jesus, the preacher and traitor to Rome, or bar Abbas, the insurrectionist and murderer—the crowd demands the release of the insurrectionist and the crucifixion of the preacher. Why? Pilate asks, pained at the thought of having to put an innocent Jewish peasant to death. “What evil has he done?” But the crowd shouts all the louder for Jesus’s death. Crucify him! Crucify him! (Mark 15:1–20). The scene is absolutely nonsensical. Never mind that outside the gospels there exists not a shred of historical evidence for any such Passover custom on the part of any Roman governor. What is truly beyond belief is the portrayal of Pontius Pilate—a man renowned for his loathing of the Jews, his total disregard for Jewish rituals and customs, and his penchant for absentmindedly signing so many execution orders that a formal complaint was lodged against him in Rome—spending even a moment of his time pondering the fate of yet another Jewish rabble-rouser.
~ Reza Aslan