723. The Prisoner Released

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Matthew 27:1515Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. (Matthew 27:15). Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would.
It is not known whether the custom here mentioned was of Jewish or of Gentile origin. According to Maimonides, the Jews were in the habit of punishing criminals at the three great feasts, because there would then be a greater multitude of people to witness the punishment than at other times. If the custom be of Gentile origin, as many suppose, it is then a question whether it was a Syrian or a Roman custom. Grotius supposed that the Romans introduced it in order to gain the good-will of the Jews. There is, however, no historic mention of the practice aside from what we find in the Gospels.
It is thought that this privilege of demanding the release of a prisoner at the Feast of the Passover was expressly named in the instructions which Pilate had received as propraetor, since the governor had not the right of himself to release a prisoner, the right of pardoning a condemned criminal being a prerogative of the emperor alone.