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Lazarus is a name found in two separate contexts in the New Testament. Lazarus of Bethany is the subject of a miracle recounted only in the Gospel of John,[1] in which Jesus restores him to life four days after his death. Another Lazarus appears as a character in Jesus' parable of Lazarus and Dives, or Lazarus and the Rich Man, recorded in the Gospel of Luke.[2]

The English variant of the name comes directly from the Latin, itself derived from the Greek Lazaros, which in turn came from the Aramaic Lazar. The ultimate origin is the Hebrew name Eleazar (אלעזר, Elʿāzār), meaning "God's assistance" or "God (has) helped".. An alternative proposed etymology equates the name and myth of Lazarus with Osiris, for instance as mentioned by Gerald Massey in Ancient Egypt: The Light of the World [3][4].

The beggar Lazarus of Lazarus and Dives

The Parable of Lazarus and Dives, illuminated manuscript, Codex Aureus of Echternach, c. 1035-1040 (Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nürnberg)

In the Gospel of Luke 16:19–31, Jesus tells of one Lazarus, a beggar who lay outside the gate of a rich man, whom later tradition has given the name Dives— from the Latin for 'rich'— who dressed in fine clothing and dined sumptuously every day, but gave nothing to Lazarus. Both men died, and the beggar received his reward in the Hereafter, in Abraham's bosom at the everlasting banquet, while the rich man craved a drop of water from Lazarus' finger to cool his tongue, as he was tormented with fire. Lazarus is the only person in a New Testament parable given a name; the rich man of the parable has been named Dives by tradition, although the name does not appear in Luke.

For the last century, "Catholic exegetes now commonly accept the story as a parable... The purpose of the parable is to teach the evil result of the neglect of others. Lazarus was rewarded, not because he was poor, but for his virtuous acceptance of poverty; the rich man was punished, not because he was rich, but for vicious neglect of the opportunities given him by his wealth."[5]

In the section In paradisum, which often appears embedded in the Catholic Requiem, the deceased is wished to ParadiseIn paradisum deducant te Angeli— with Lazarus, who once was poor (cum Lazaro quondam paupere).

Lazarus of Bethany

The Resurrection of Lazarus by Vincent van Gogh (after Rembrandt), 1889-90 (Auvers-sur-Oise, Paris).

Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days, is the subject of a prominent miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus restores him to life four days after his death. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions offer varying accounts of the later events of his life.

The Raising of Lazarus

The biblical narrative of the Raising of Lazarus is found in chapter 11 of the Gospel of John.[6] Lazarus is introduced as a follower of Jesus, who lives in the village of Bethany near Jerusalem.[7] He is identified as the brother of the sisters Mary and Martha. The sisters send word to Jesus that Lazarus, "he whom you love," is ill.[8] Instead of immediately traveling to Bethany, according to the narrator, Jesus intentionally remains where he is for two more days before beginning the journey.

When Jesus arrives in Bethany, he finds that Lazarus is dead and has already been in his tomb for four days. He meets first with Martha and Mary in turn. Martha laments that Jesus did not arrive soon enough to heal her brother and Jesus replies with the well-known statement, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me shall live, even if he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die in eternity".[9] Next encountering Mary, Jesus is moved by her sorrow. The narrator here gives the famous simple phrase, "Jesus wept".[10]

In the presence of a crowd of Jewish mourners, Jesus comes to the tomb. Over the objections of Martha, Jesus has them roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb and says a prayer. He then calls Lazarus to come out and Lazarus does so, still wrapped in his grave-cloths. Jesus then calls for someone to remove the grave-cloths. The narrative ends with the statement that many of the witnesses to this event "believed in him." Others are said to report the events to the religious authorities in Jerusalem.

The Gospel of John mentions Lazarus again in chapter 12. Six days before the Passover on which Jesus is crucified, Jesus returns to Bethany and Lazarus attends a supper that Martha, his sister, serves.[11] Jesus and Lazarus together attract the attention of many Jews and the narrator states that the chief priests consider having Lazarus put to death because so many people are believing in Jesus on account of this miracle.[12]

Additional traditions about Lazarus of Bethany

While there is no further mention of Lazarus in the Bible, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions offer varying accounts of the later events of his life. In the East, Lazarus is most commonly thought to have gone to Cyprus, where he became the first bishop of Kittim (Larnaka). Some Western traditions have Lazarus and his sisters journeying to Provence, France, where Lazarus is said to have been the first Bishop of Marseille.

Liturgical references

The Resurrection of Lazarus, Byzantine icon (late 14th — early 15th Century).

Lazarus of Bethany is honored as a saint by those Christian churches which keep the commemoration of saints, although on different days, according to local traditions.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as the Byzantine Catholic Church, the day before Palm Sunday is celebrated as Lazarus Saturday. This day, together with Palm Sunday, hold a unique position in the church year, as days of joy and triumph between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.[13] During the preceding week, the hymns in the Lenten Triodion track the sickness and then the death of Lazarus, and Christ's journey from beyond Jordan to Bethany. The scripture readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the resurrection of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ, and a promise of the General Resurrection. The Gospel narrative is interpreted in the hymns as illustrating the two natures of Christ: his humanity in asking, "Where have ye laid him?" (John 11:34), and his divinity by commanding Lazarus to come forth from the dead (John 11:43). Many of the Resurrectional hymns of the normal Sunday service, which are omitted on Palm Sunday, are chanted on Lazarus Saturday. During the Divine Liturgy, the Baptismal Hymn, "As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Romans 6:3), is sung in place of the Trisagion. Although the forty days of Great Lent end on the day before Lazarus Saturday, the day is still observed as a fast; however, it is somewhat mitigated. In Russia, it is traditional to eat caviar on Lazarus Saturday.

No celebration of Saint Lazarus is included on the General Roman Calendar of the Roman Catholic Church, but his memorial is traditionally celebrated on December 17. In Cuba, the celebration of San Lázaro on December 17 is a major festival.

He is commemorated in the Church of England and in the Lutheran Church on July 29 together with Mary and Martha.

In Christian funerals the idea of the deceased being raised by the Lord as Lazarus was raised is often expressed in prayer.

Tombs of Lazarus

Reputed tomb of Lazarus in al-Eizariya

Tomb of Lazarus in Bethany

The reputed first tomb of Lazarus at al-Eizariya (generally believed to be the biblical Bethany) continues to be a place of pilgrimage to this day (Lazarus is also considered a saint by the Shi'ite faith). A Franciscan church, the Church of Saint Lazarus, designed by Antonio Barluzzi was built in 1954 at the site of the former Lazarium.

File:Larnaka eklisia.jpg

Agios Lazaros Church in Larnaca, Cyprus, built over the reputed second tomb of Lazarus.

Tomb of Lazarus in Cyprus

According to Eastern tradition, Lazarus died for the second (and last) time on Cyprus. In 890, a tomb was found in Larnaca bearing the inscription "Lazarus the friend of Christ". Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium had Lazarus' remains (or the majority of the remains) transferred to Constantinople in 898. The transfer was apostrophized by Arethas, bishop of Caesarea, and is commemorated by the Orthodox Church each year on October 17. In recompense to Larnaca, Emperor Leo had the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Lazarus, which still exists today, erected over Lazarus' tomb. The relics were later stolen from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and transferred to France as part of the booty of war.

Conflation of the two saints named Lazarus

Historically within Roman Catholicism, the begging Lazarus of Lazarus and Dives (feast day June 21) and Lazarus of Bethany (feast day December 17) have sometimes been conflated, with some churches celebrating a blessing of dogs, associated with the beggar, on December 17, the date associated with Lazarus of Bethany.[14]

Another example of this conflation can be found in Romanesque iconography carved on portals in Burgundy and Provence. For example, at the west portal of the Church of St. Trophime at Arles, the beggar Lazarus is enthroned as St. Lazarus. Similar examples are found at the church at Avallon, the central portal at Vézelay, and the portals of the cathedral of Autun.[15]

The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem

The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem (OSLJ) is a religious/military order of chivalry which originated in a leper hospital founded by Knights Hospitaller in the twelfth century by Crusaders of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Order of Saint Lazarus is one of the most ancient of the European orders of chivalry, yet is one of the less-known and less-documented orders. The first mention of the Order of Saint Lazarus in surviving sources dates to 1142. The Order is run by two distinct channels of authority, referred to as the Malta Obedience and the Paris Obedience.[16]

The Order was originally established to treat the virulent disease of leprosy, its knights originally being lepers themselves.[17] According to the Order's official international website, "From its foundation in the 12th century, the members of the Order were dedicated to two ideals: aid to those suffering from the dreadful disease of leprosy and the defense of the Christian faith."[18] Sufferers of leprosy regarded the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 19:19-31) as their patron saint and usually dedicated their hospices to him.[18]

The order was initially founded as a leper hospital outside the city walls of Jerusalem, but hospitals were established all across the Holy Land dependant on the Jerusalem hospital, notably in Acre. It is unknown when the order became militarised but militarisation occurred before the end of the twelfth century due to the large numbers of Templars and Hospitallers sent to the leper hospitals to be treated. The order established ‘lazar houses’ across Europe to care for lepers, and was well supported by other military orders which compelled lazar brethren in their rule to join the order on contracting leprosy.

Lazarus as Babalu Aye in Santeria

Via syncretism, Lazarus (or more precisely the conflation of the two figures named Lazarus) has become an important figure in Santeria as the Yoruba deity Babalu Aye. Like the beggar of the Christian scriptures, Babalu-Aye represents someone covered with sores licked by dogs who was healed by divine intervention.[19][20] Silver charms known as the crutch of St. Lazarus or standard Roman Catholic-style medals of St. Lazarus are worn as talismans to invoke the aid of the syncretized deity in cases of medical suffering, particularly for people with leprosy .[19]

In Santeria, the date associated with St. Lazarus is December 17,[20] despite Santeria's reliance on the iconography associated with the begging saint whose feast day is June 21.[14]

In science

In allusion to the account of the resurrection of Lazarus in John, the name is often used to connote apparent restoration to life. For example, in the scientific term "Lazarus taxon", which denotes organisms that reappear in the fossil record after a period of apparent extinction. The Lazarus phenomenon refers to an event in which a person spontaneously returns to life (the heart starts beating again) after resuscitation has been given up. There are also numerous literary allusions to the resurrection story.

In art and popular culture

Well known in Western culture from their respective biblical tales, both figures named Lazarus have appeared countless times in music, writing and art.

The majority of the references are to Lazarus of Bethany, including the following:

  • In religious art, the Raising of Lazarus has been a popular subject. Two the most famous paintings are those of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (c. 1609) and Sebastiano del Piombo (1516). Among other prominent depictions of Lazarus are works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Lazarus Breaking His Fast by Walter Sickert.
  • In literature, allusions to Lazarus are made in several notable works. A few prominent examples include Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, several novels of Robert A. Heinlein, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr., a short story entitled 'Lazarus' by Russian writer Leonid Andreyev,[21] and "Lady Lazarus", a poem written by Sylvia Plath.
  • In music, a popular retelling of the biblical Lazarus story from the point of view of Lazarus in heaven is the 1984 gospel story-song "Lazarus Come Forth" by Contemporary Christian Music artist Carman.[22][23] A modern reinterpretation of the story is the title track to the album "Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!" by the Australian alternative band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Several other bands have composed songs titled "Lazarus" in allusion to the resurrection story, including Porcupine Tree, Chimaira, moe., and Placebo.
  • Lazarus is alluded to in other media, including the movie Casper, the television series The X-Files ("Lazarus"), Doctor Who (The Lazarus Experiment), and the Batman comic books.

The story of Lazarus and Dives appears as an English folk song whose oldest written documentation dates from 1557,[24] with the depiction of the afterlife altered to fit Christian tradition. The song was also published as the Child ballad Dives and Lazarus in the 19th century.[25] In 1939, Ralph Vaughan Williams based his orchestral piece Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus on the song. North American slaves of the 19th century also sang a spiritual about Lazarus and Dives called "Poor Man Lazarus".[26]

Literary allusions to the beggar Lazarus appear in Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick (as part of a metaphor describing a cold night in New Bedford)[27] and in the poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot (which contains the lines: 'To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all", in reference to Dives' request to have Beggar Lazarus return from the dead to tell his brothers of his fate).


  1. John 11:41-44
  2. Luke 16:19-31
  3. Massey, Gerald. "Gerald Massey". World Wide Web edition, based on the 1907 edition. Also available as a reprint. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  4. Massey, Gerald. "Gerald Massey". Google books. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  5.  "Lazarus". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  6. John 11:1-46
  7. John 11:1
  8. John 11:3
  9. John 11:25, KJV
  10. John 11:35, KJV
  11. John 12:2
  12. John 12:9-11
  13. Archimandrite Kallistos Ware and Mother Mary, Tr., The Lenten Triodion (St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, South Canaan, PA, 2002, ISBN 1-878997-51-3), p. 57.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Money talks: folklore in the public sphere December 2005, Folklore magazine.
  15. Richard Hamann, "Lazarus in Heaven" The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs 63 No. 364 (July 1933), pp. 3-5, 8-11
  16. The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus
  17. David Marcombe, Leper Knights: The Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem in England, c. 1150-1544 (Rochester, NY: Boydell) 2003; Chapter 1 gives the general history.
  18. 18.0 18.1 "History", official international website of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. Retrieved on 2009-09-14.
  19. 19.0 19.1 Lazarus
  20. 20.0 20.1 With sackcloth and rum, Cubans hail Saint Lazarus, December 17, 1998. Reuters news story.
  21. Lazarus
  22. Carman Bio, MPCA promotional material.
  23. Comin' On Strong discography.
  24. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish popular Ballads, Part IV, 1886; referring to (inter alia) Arber, Registers of the Company of Stationers
  25. anonymous; from Child ballad 56 A, from Sylvester: a Garland of Christmas Carols, from an old Birmingham broadside. "Dives and Lazarus". The Oxford Book of Ballads, 1910. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  26. "Poor man Lazarus". Repertoire. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 
  27. Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. pp. 11–12. 

External links

Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Lazarus. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.