by miriam berg
Chapter XI

(John 11:1-16)
The eleventh chapter of John relates the tale of the raising of Lazarus from the dead after four days of being buried. Now this is a miraculous tale, ranking with the survival of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace told of in the book of Daniel. But apart from whether such a supernatural event, most assuredly not duplicated since in history, and more than likely never having occurred previously, actually ever happened, or is even believable, we can ask once more how it fits with the stories in the Synoptics, and, in view of its more spectacular nature than any other miracle attributed to Jesus or anyone else, how it figures in the rest of the New Testament, especially the Book of Acts, or the writings of the earliest apostolic fathers.

So we will observe once again that Jesus claims it as a sign, as does the narrator, against Jesus' saying in the Synoptics, that there should be no sign given, and that the kingdom of God was not coming with visible signs, nor would anyone be able to say, Lo, Here! or Lo, there! for the kingdom of God is within us; and we are told by John that many believed on him because of it. We must add that the Synoptics report two instances of Jesus' raising someone from the dead: Jairus' daughter, about whom Jesus' own comment was that she was merely asleep (Mark 5:35-43), and which he did not claim as a sign, but merely told them to give her something to eat, and "charged them much to tell no man of this"; and the son of the widow of Nain, appearing in Luke only (Luke 7:11-17), and more than likely patterned after the similar event attributed to Elijah (I Kings 17:17-24); so that from the Synoptics we can gather no support for Jesus' having raised someone after four days.

But it is of more significance that Lazarus is not mentioned anywhere in the Synoptic Gospels, even though Luke reports an event in the house of Mary and Martha, whom John tells us were the sisters of Lazarus; nor is he mentioned anywhere in the Acts of the Apostles, though we would think that such a person raised from the dead would have become a most ardent disciple and spokesman for Jesus as the Messiah and would have been well-known throughout early Christendom -- "This is the man whom Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead for a sign unto us." Also, Lazarus is not mentioned in any of the epistles of Paul or any other New Testament writer, not even in the book of John itself; nor is he mentioned as evidence or in any other wise in any of the writings of the first and second century church Fathers, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenaeus. Of course we don't have everything they wrote, and references may merely not have survived; but Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians is specifically about the Resurrection of the Body, and it would seem to be appropriate to have mentioned the resurrection of Lazarus in that context, but Clement shows no knowledge of it. We can note finally that the story does not occur either in the recently discovered Gospel of Thomas, considered by many scholars to be on a par with the four canonical gospels.

Thus we are forced to conclude that the story of the raising of Lazarus is a fable, a legend attributed to Jesus, or outrightly invented by the author of John as the final argument he could present in his story about Jesus to convince people of Jesus' divinity. It is the last miracle reported in John attributed to Jesus; and in recapitulation we may note again that John reports only four miracles of healing, each one claimed as a sign: the nobleman's son, the lame man by the pool of Bethesda, the blind beggar of Jerusalem, and Lazarus, in contrast to the dozens of healings and reported occurrences on which he "healed many" found in the Synoptics. Then what are we to think? John presents four healings, all claimed as signs, contradicting the words of Jesus in the Synoptics; whereas the Synoptics report 21 healings and eight miracles, not a single one of which is claimed as a sign, and most of which Jesus attributes to the faith of the healed person, and many about which he adjures them to go and tell no one. What do you think? whose report is the more credible? or shall we persist in believing in magic, against the words of Jesus in the Synoptics, and our own experience, out of a wishful desire for supernatural intervention in history, or a blind belief that Jesus was God? And in conclusion, even if Jesus did raise someone from the dead, or perform any other miracle, why should it have any effect on our conduct or our beliefs, since we did not see it ourselves, and we have only the report of others that they saw it?

(John 12:1-11)
At the beginning of the twelfth chapter we are told how Mary and Martha serve a supper for Jesus at Bethany, at which Mary anoints Jesus' feet and wipes them with her hair. Now this story looks very much like an interesting meld of three different events found in the Synoptics, but each one told precisely there: in Matt. 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, which, however, occurs after Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem, and the house is stated as that of one Simon the leper, and the woman is not named; in Luke 7:36-38, this time in the house of Simon the Pharisee, and the woman is again not named, and it is an occasion for Jesus to tell a little parable and expose the Pharisee rather than making remarks about anointing his body for burial, and it occurs at the beginning of Jesus' career anyway; and a possibly unrelated event in Luke 10:38-42, where Mary and Martha have Jesus to their house and Martha is "cumbered with much serving" while Mary sits at Jesus' feet and listens to him, and after Martha's complaint Jesus speaks approvingly of Mary as having chosen the "good part".

Now many of the details are strikingly similar between the story in Matthew and Mark and that in John, but Mark's report is much more complete and more like that of an eyewitness. The only similarity between the story in Luke and that in John is that the woman wiped Jesus' feet with her hair, which does not occur in the version told by Mark and Matthew, where the woman dumps the ointment on Jesus' head, not his feet. We may note also that the reference to Mary and Martha in Luke is the only place in the Synoptics where they are mentioned, and Lazarus is not mentioned at all.

All of this makes John's report look like a concocted tale based on several rumors which had reached him; and it is much more likely that John combined such rumors than that a single original event was reported by Matthew, Mark, and Luke in such different ways. John places the event before Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem, whereas Mark and Matthew place it definitely after the entry, just before the so-called "Last Supper"; Luke's report of the visit with Mary and Martha does not specify a time or a place. The only conclusion we can draw for sure is that Jesus was no doubt at some point in his career treated in this fashion by a woman, and that he made at this point or some other point during his career his famous comment about the poor being always with them but "me ye have not always". This remark may be related to another statement found in the Synoptics: The days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away, and then will they fast in that day (Mark 2:20). But neither here nor in John is this statement made as having anything to do with his rising again.

John concludes his report of the raising of Lazarus with the statement that the chief priests began to plot to put Lazarus to death as well, for making people follow after Jesus. Why? Jesus has raised him once; why not again? This seemingly historical comment in John instead reveals the legendary nature of the story.

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