Also Known As: al-Eizariya, Saint Lazarus, Lazarus
Born Country: Palestinian Territories
Born in: al-Eizariya, Palestine
Famous as: Saint
siblings: Martha, Mary of Bethany
place of death: Palestine
Who is Lazarus of Bethany?
Lazarus of Bethany is a biblical character who appears in the Gospel of John of the New Testament. He lived in Bethany, near Jerusalem, with his sisters, Martha and Mary. He and his sisters were quite close to Jesus. When Lazarus died of an illness, Jesus was called by his sisters and eventually resurrected him from the dead. This caused a lot of priests to connive against Jesus. Though the Bible does not contain any information about Lazarus’s later life, various religious traditions mention different versions of his life and death after the resurrection. He is often confused with the beggar named Lazarus in the parable of the “rich man and Lazarus” from the Gospel of Luke. He is venerated by various religious institutions and is also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days.
Early Life & Origin
Lazarus of Bethany is a biblical character mentioned in the Gospel of John (11:1–45). “Lazarus” means “God helps.” He was initially introduced as Eleazer (Hebrew for Lazarus) and had two sisters, Martha and Mary.
Lazarus lived in Bethany, near Jerusalem, which was located south-east of the Mount of Olives. Bethany is currently the Palestinian town of Al-Eizariya. The name of the town means "the place of Lazarus."
He and his family were good friends of Jesus. However, though Lazarus is known for being resurrected from the dead by Jesus, not much is known of him as a character.
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The story of Lazarus’s resurrection, found in the Gospel of John, stated how Jesus was close to the entire family. When Lazarus died of an illness, his sisters informed Jesus. Jesus was disturbed but delayed his trip to Bethany deliberately and began his journey after 2 days. When Jesus arrived at Bethany, Lazarus had already been buried for 4 days.
Jesus first met Martha and then Mary. Martha regretted that Jesus had not arrived in time to cure Lazarus, to which Jesus replied by saying, "I am the resurrection, and the life…”
While Martha initially objected to the process of resurrection, Jesus requested the people gathered to roll the stone away from the entrance of Lazarus’s tomb and said a prayer. He then called Lazarus to “come forth.” Jesus thus performed a miracle and resurrected him.
Lazarus emerged from his own tomb wearing his burial cloths. Jesus soon asked people to remove Lazarus’s burial clothes. Scores of Jews who had come to Bethany to grieve with the family witnessed this miracle and spread the message, thus making others believe in Jesus.
Lazarus is mentioned again in chapter 12 of the Gospel of John. Six days prior to the Passover on which Jesus was crucified, Jesus went back to Bethany. Lazarus and Jesus attended a supper that Martha served.
This event attracted the attention of many Jews. Before long, the chief priests, such as Sanhedrin, connived to put Jesus to death because people had started believing in his miracles.
The Gospel of Luke (16:19–31) also mentions a certain Lazarus, who is a beggar in the parable of the “rich man and Lazarus.” The two characters (of Luke and John) are sometimes thought to be the same, but most believe they are two separate characters.
Another similar tale of resurrection is found in the Secret Gospel of Mark, although the young man mentioned there is unnamed. Some scholars are of the opinion that the Secret Mark version narrates an earlier version of the tale found in John.
Many scholars and critics believe the story of the resurrection of Lazarus was of a man who was in a trance. Some even believe it could have been an attempt of fraud arranged by Mary and Martha.
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Others reject the idea of a literal resurrection and consider the whole event an allegory or a symbolic portrayal of Jesus’s ability to raise people from their spiritual deaths (sin).
The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, too, have different accounts of events surrounding Lazarus.
Later Life and Death
According to the Eastern Orthodox Church, soon after the Resurrection of Christ, Lazarus was forced to leave Judea because of supposed plans of his assassination.
He then moved to Cyprus, where he was appointed as the first bishop of Kition (modern-day Larnaka), by Barnabas and Paul the Apostle.
For the next 30 years, Lazarus stayed there. After his death, he was buried there for the second time.
Another tradition (in the West) believes Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were forced out to sea by the Jews who were averse to Christianity. They were apparently put in a boat without sails or oars. However, they reached a place in Provence that is now known as the Saintes-Maries.
The three siblings then separated and went to different regions of south-eastern Gaul to preach. Lazarus went to Marseilles and converted many to Christianity there, eventually becoming the first bishop of Marseille.
During the persecution of Domitian, he was put in prison. He was eventually beheaded in a cave located beneath the Saint-Lazare prison. He was later buried in the Autun Cathedral, which is now dedicated to Lazarus (as Saint Lazare). However, people in Marseilles claim they still have his head, which they venerate to this day.
Following the miracle, Lazarus came to be known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days.
In 890, a tomb was discovered in Larnaca that bore the inscription "Lazarus the friend of Christ.” Emperor Leo VI of Byzantium had apparently moved Lazarus's remains from Cyprus to Constantinople in 898. The transfer was apostrophized by the bishop of Caesarea, Arethas, and is commemorated on October 17 every year.
It is said that the first tomb of Lazarus is located in the Leitrim (the biblical Bethany) and is a site of pilgrimage. In 390, a church dedicated to Saint Lazarus, called the Lazarium, was found. Egeria confirmed its existence in 410. In the 6th century, the Lazarium was flattened by an earthquake and was replaced by a bigger church. This church remained till the Crusades. In 1143, the remaining structure was purchased by King Fulk and Queen Melisende of Jerusalem. A Benedictine convent dedicated to Martha and Mary was built near Lazarus’s tomb. Following the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, the convent was transformed into ruins. By 1384, there was a mosque at the same site. In the 16th century, the Ottomans built the Al-Uzair Mosque there.
The Roman Catholic Church of Saint Lazarus, built between 1952 and 1955 by Antonio Barluzzi, stands tall to this day. In 1965, a Greek Orthodox church was established west of the tomb.
The Eastern Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Catholic Church celebrate Lazarus Saturday on the day before Palm Sunday. Lazarus is also commemorated by the Eastern Orthodox Church on March 17 every year, which is his fixed feast day.
While the General Roman Calendar does not have any specific day dedicated to Lazarus, the Church of England and the Lutheran Church celebrate his feast day (along with that of his sisters’) on July 29. In Cuba, San Lázaro is a major festival celebrated on December 17.
It is believed Lazarus never smiled for the 30 years he survived after his resurrection, as he was pained by the sight of the unredeemed souls that he had come across during his 4-day stay in Hell. However, when he once saw a person stealing a pot, he had smiled and said: "the clay steals the clay.”
The scientific term “Lazarus taxon” refers to organisms that reappear in the fossil records after being thought of as extinct.