On Wed, 21 Nov 2001 "Paul Schmehl" <p.l.schmehl@...
> . . .
> I don't think the Lazarus "incident" bears as much relationship to
> this as you do.
Paul, I am anxious to begin consideration with you of what you call
"the Lazarus incident."
Many scholars, especially those who focus upon the gospel's use
of signs, have pointed to the Lazarus story as a significant turning
point in the Fourth Gospel. It is the centerpiece, the denument of
the gospel account, concluding the so-called Book of Signs.
It is also what I call the first act in a trilogy of stories, also
the story of the Anointing of the Feet of Jesus by Mary of Bethany
and the Washing of the Feet of the Disciples by Jesus. All three
stories use symbolic imagery, Mosaic oracles borrowed from the
Pentateuch, to describe how Jesus replaces the priesthood of Israel
with his own disciples. I call it the Ordination Trilogy of the Gospel
This Ordination Trilogy serves as the transition between the Book
of Signs and the Book of Glory in the FG.
It begins with reference to "a certain man" who was ill (ASQENWN
literally: stumbling, weak, even morally weak). Lazarus was his name.
Jn. 11: 1 is the first time that the name of Lazarus appears in the FG.
It appears 11 times altogether in the FG, all within the context of the
first two acts of the trilogy, in Jn. 11: 1, 2, 5, 11, 14, 43 and 12: 1,
2, 9,10, 17.
In spite of the importance of this story and this character, Lazarus is
not mentioned anywhere else in the FG, nor in the Gospels of Mark
or Matthew, nor in any of the writings of Paul. The only reference to
the name is in Luke 16: 19-31 in one of the parables of Jesus: often
called the Rich Man and Lazarus, in which Lazarus and the rich man
die. Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham (heaven), and the rich
man goes to Hades. The rich man proposes to Abraham that Lazarus,
whom the rich man sees as a servant, should be allowed to return to
the earth (be resurrected?) in order to carry a message to the rich
man's brothers. Abraham rejects this proposal, reasoning that if the
brothers will not listen to Moses and the prophets, they probably
won't be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (16: 31).
So the issue of resurrection is raised in Luke, but the bottom line is
that Lazarus is NOT resurrected in that gospel. Thus, in the only
other source regarding a character named Lazarus, there is no
account of his being resurrected.
How could this be? How could the early church have no other
orthodox record of a man who was resurrected by Jesus? Clearly,
he would have an important witness to bear! What did he experience
in death and resurrection? How long did he live? Where did he live?
What ever happened to him anyway? The record is silent on all of
The only place we can look for information about Lazarus is in the
parable of Jesus found in Luke 16. Whatever information we find
there will not be expected to be historical information, because this
is clearly a parable, a lesson taught by Jesus. It is fair to assume
Jesus uses Lazarus as a fictional character in this parable. Yet, it is
the place we must begin because there is no other place to look.
The parable in Luke begins with a description of a rich man who was
dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every
day. If we were looking for an actual person, a historical character,
who would this rich person be? His clothing would seem to narrow
the field to someone placed very high in society, but the key, ISTM,
is the description of how he ate. He "feasted sumptuously every day."
In the Pentateuch there is only one person in all of Israel who is given
the privilege of a daily feast. He eats only the best of the best food
available in the whole nation: the High Priest.
The parable goes on to tell us that Lazarus was a poor, sick, hungry
man who lays at the rich man's gate. If the rich man is the High Priest,
then would his gate not be the gate of the temple? Lazarus is not
begging, as one would expect from someone starving in that location,
but he "longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's
table." He wants a portion of the left-overs from the High Priest's
Is Jesus not offering some sort of criticism of the High Priest in this
parable? It would appear to be a scathing criticism of one who eats
sumptuously every day, but ignores the poor, starving, sick man at
his gate. Why would such a man long to eat what fell from the High
Priest's table? Could it be that he is a temple priest? If so, would
he not have a right to eat some of the food (the priests' portion) that
is offered to God in the temple by the faithful children of Israel?
There is historical information available today, in the scrolls found at
Qumran, to support the contention that the High Priest was called
the Evil High Priest by at least the Qumran sect in the first century.
Some have even questioned whether or not the Qumran community
may have been established as an alternative site to the temple, in
anticipation that God would destroy the Jerusalem temple in part
because the High Priest was evil. Some historians point to the fact
that the High Priest was appointed by Herod, contrary to Mosaic
Law (which dictated that he was to be a descendant of Aaron).
Could Lazarus represent a whole group of temple priests who have
been expelled from the temple? Such a group would surely starve
if denied their food: a portion of the sacrifices brought to the temple
(Lev. 7: 28-36).
Such an understanding, of course, makes the parable of Jesus in
Luke 16 a scathing criticism, an indictment against the High Priest.
This understanding of who Lazarus was is supported by the
observation that the name serves as an abbreviation for Eleazar,
the third son of Aaron (Ex. 6: 23; 28: 1). As the eldest surviving
son of Aaron (after Nadab and Abihu died - Lev. 10; Nu. 3: 4,
4: 16), he was the chief over the leaders of the Levites and had
oversight of those who had charge of the sanctuary. In virtually
every one of the numerous occurences of his name in Exodus,
Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua and First Chronicles,
his title as priest appears with it. Even a casual reader, when
coming across the name Eleazar would think "priest" even if it
wasn't printed there, because it always appears as "Eleazar the
priest" in scripture. Could the narrator of the FG be using an
abbreviated name, a nickname, to tell a story about temple
priests? I think so.
There are two more distinguishing characteristics of Lazarus.
(1) He never speaks. Given what we are told happens to him,
this is remarkable. Could this be a sign?
In Lev. 10: 3 Moses explains why Eleazar's older brothers have
died, serving unholy fire before the Lord. "This is what the Lord
meant when he said, 'Through those who are near me I will show
myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.' And
Aaron was silent."
"Aaron was silent." We aren't told whether Eleazar was silent.
Since, however, Aaron was not permitted to grieve the deaths of
his sons, it seems likely that Eleazar was not permitted to grieve
the deaths of his brothers. These deaths have occurred because
Nadab and Abihu served unholy fire before the Lord. They
desecrated the altar twice, once by serving unholy fire (probably
coals created outside of the sacred precinct of the Tabernacle)
and once by being dead in the vicinity of the altar! Aaron and
his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were left with the task
of re-establishing the holiness of the altar, which is why they were
not permitted to grieve. (Nothing associated with death is allowed
to come near that which is holy.) It is likely that all three were
silent, since to speak would have been to risk expressing grief.
In the FG Lazarus is silent.
He is introduced to us as a man who is ill (lit: stumbling, weak,
even morally weak). Is the message that is sent to Jesus by
Martha and Mary in 11: 3 a report regarding the state of the
temple priesthood? I think it functions that way in the narrative.
2. Lazarus is the brother of two sisters: Martha and Mary of
Bethany, and all three of them are loved by Jesus (11: 3, 5).
Brown considers the possibility, because of the fact that 11: 3
says that Jesus loved Lazarus, that Lazarus is the BD. He
concludes that Lazarus is not the BD, but then fails to apply
his own criteria for identifying the BD to either Martha or Mary.
In Let Her Keep It I have used Brown's criteria on these two
remaining (female) disciples whom Jesus loved and found that
Mary satisfies Brown's criteria.
I will terminate this message here and continue my argument
in other posts. In the meantime, any comments, critiques?
Yours in Christ's service,
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