Wednesday 1 June 2016

Was John the Evangelist the resurrected Lazarus?

I came across this idea in the writings of Rudolf Steiner, whose Christian speculations usually strike me as convoluted, unnecessary and untrue. But this idea - that the disciple and evangelist John was actually renamed from Lazarus after he had been raised from the dead; and this is why just as the name of Lazarus disappears from the record, the name of John the disciple appears - stuck in my mind, and began to make sense...

The main evidence against the idea is that John's gospel does not explicitly mention this happening, and that no oral tradition of such a thing has come down from the early church.

In favour of the idea is that it makes sense of several aspects of John's gospel.

The strongest factor, for me, is the emphasis John gives to the fact that he calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved; but that this phrase is never mentioned until after the Lazarus raising.

But before this, there has already been a similar emphasis that Jesus loved Lazarus (and also loved Lazarus's sisters, Martha and Mary of Bethany - the Mary who anointed Christ and wiped his feet with her hair, and who I believe to be the same person as Mary Magdalen). The Evangelist goes to considerable length to emphasise both of these loves - for Lazarus and John, and no other man is so described.

If (two assumptions joined here...) John had been Lazarus, and Mary Magdalen was the same person as Mary of Bethany - this would explain why they were both together at the crucifixion. 

The other thing this helps to explain is the idea that John the disciple would never die, but would tarry until the second coming of Christ. This is discussed between Jesus and Peter, and apparently comes out of the blue; but if John was Lazarus and therefore had been resurrected then it would make sense, would be a reasonable inference, that John was not going to die as other men die.

As I said, it all fits together except that the Lazarus-John change of name isn't mentioned in the way that the Simon-Peter change is mentioned. This does not rule it out - the fact may have been so well known at the time the gospel was written that it could be taken for granted (after all, John's gospel was written in a way that does seem to take a lot of prior knowledge for granted).

Here are the relevant Biblical passages:

Ch 11 Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.

Ch 12 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead. There they made him a supper; and Martha served: but Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.

Ch 13 23 Now there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved.

Ch 19 25 Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved

Ch 21 20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? 22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? 24 This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.


Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I'd run across this idea once before, perhaps in the writings of Edgar Cayce or some similar New Age writer (not Steiner, whom I've never read). You're right that it helps explain the other disciples' idea that perhaps the beloved disciple would not die; I hadn't thought of that before.

Re the name change, the "disciple whom Jesus loved" is never actually referred to by name, so identifying him with Lazarus is no less conjectural than identifying him with John.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WM - I wondered what you would make of this. You are correct of course, that John does not name himself in the gospel, so that talking of a name change is not quite right - but you get the point, clearly.

ROYOR said...

Yes, was mentioned by Edgar Cayce, the only psychic that I trust. Cayce also tells of how Jesus healed Pilate of migranes and his son of epilepsy, another unchronicled Jesus story which I believe true.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I remember that when the Jewish authorities started plotting to kill Jesus, there was also a plot to kill Lazarus, so if Lazarus's friends stopped using his name and started calling him "John" or "the disciple that Jesus loved," perhaps it was for his own protection.

Also, when Jesus told his disciples that "our friend Lazarus" was sick, it perhaps suggests that Lazarus was one of their circle, as we would expect if he were the same person as John.

One hang-up for me, though, is the absence of James in the stories about Lazarus, and indeed in the entire gospel of John. (Aside from one passing reference to "the sons of Zebedee," neither James nor John is ever mentioned in the fourth gospel.) Lazarus's sisters are mentioned several times, but the evangelist never so much as hints that Lazarus had an elder brother as well, let alone that his brother was also one of Christ's very closest disciples.

Actually, even without the Lazarus/John theory, it's hard to account for the absence of James from the fourth gospel if John is in fact its author. In the synoptics, James and John are apparently inseparable, and one is rarely mentioned without the other. I'm almost tempted to think that the beloved disciple is indeed Lazarus but that he is not John the son of Zebedee.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - Good arguments.

One solution may be that the four gospels ought each to be read and regarded separately, rather than examined for cross references. I know that this flies in the face of the historical method as applied to secular texts (and the tradition of concordances which I think long predates the 'German scholarship of Strauss et al), but perhaps that is not appropriate for divinely inspired scriptures?

It is possible to read each gospel as having a distinct provenance and sources, inspired in different men in different ways.

In saying this, of course I am *not* assuming that any human product is inerrant or infallible - even when truly divinely inspired.

(That would only apply to a text taken by dictation in a specific language and bypassing the human altogether except as a mouthpiece - and even then there would need to be an assumption of infallible and inerrant translation/ interpretation/ understanding by each authoritative reader.)

At any rate, that is the direction I find myself pulled; although I have not gone very far as yet (and I am not in any hurry).

The 'inconsistencies' between the gospels would then not be unexpected; but a natural consequence of the different evangelists, different sources, and different ways they were written - leading to different objectives and coverage for each one.

(Of course, I am assuming that the reader is already convinced of the validity of the gospels before examining them closely, and is not reading and comparing in order to 'test' their validity - which is so different an attitude as to lead to almost opposite conclusions. One must be convinced of the truth of the gospels *first* - by some variant of personal revelation - and *then* engage with them in a trusting and faithful attitude - to understand, learn, be inspired etc.)