Who was Saint Lazarus?

Lazarus and Dives, illumination from the Codex Aureus of Echternach. Top panel: Lazarus at the rich man's door. Middle panel: Lazarus' soul is carried to Paradise by two angels; Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. Bottom panel: Dives' soul is carried off by two devils to Hell; Dives is tortured in Hades [1]

The Bible depicts two characters named "Lazarus", which has on occassion been conflated historically. The most recognized character is that of Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days, who was a friend of Jesus, the brother of Martha and Mary. The miracle of Jesus in the Gospel of John, whereby Jesus restores Lazarus to life four days after his death (John 11). [2] In the various narratives on this character, he is sometimes vested as an apostle, or a bishop. This particular version of "Lazarus" has been frequently used in science and popular culture in reference to his apparent restoration to life, including forming the main plot of the film, "The Lazarus Effect".

The second character, Lazarus found in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:19-31) tells of the relationship in life and in death, between an unnamed rich man (the traditional name for a rich man is "Dives") and a poor beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus was venerated as a patron saint of lepers [3] and forms the basis of one of two missions of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem which is dedicated to two ideals: aid to those suffering from the dreadful disease of leprosy and the defense of the Christian faith. Lazarus is often depicted as a starving beggar at the foot of the stairs leading up to a rich man's house, and who was covered in sores that even the dogs came to lick those sores. [4]

  1. The Codex Aureus of Echternach (Codex aureus Epternacensis) is an 11th-century illuminated Gospel Book, created in the approximate period 1030-1050, with a re-used front cover from around the 980s. It is now in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, Germany. Wikipedia. Last accessed: April 18, 2016.
  2. The Gospel of John can be divided into four sections: a) Prologue (John 1); b) Jesus' ministry (the "book of signs" - John 2-12): A narrative of Jesus' public ministry consisting of seven miracles or "signs" culminating with the raising of Lazarus form the dead; c) passion and resurrection (the "book of glory" - John 13-20); d) Epilogue (John 21). For convenience and interest, the paragraph describing Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead follows:
    John 11:38-44
    38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.
    39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
    40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
    41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.
    42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
    43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
    44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.
  3. CatholicSaints.Info. Saint Lazarus. Last accessed: March 21, 2016.
  4. Luke 16 is the sixteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It records the teachings and parables of Jesus Christ, including the famous parable of the "rich man and Lazarus". For convenience and interest, the paragraph describing the rich man and Lazarus follows:
    Luke 16:19-31
    19 There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.
    20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores
    21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
    22 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.
    23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
    24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
    25 But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
    26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
    27 He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
    29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
    30 ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
    31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’