John P. Meier, The Marginal Jew,
v.2, ch. 22: Raising the Dead,
pp 773-873

(Detailed summary)

Did Jesus even rise people from the dead?


The Gospels tell us three stories where Jesus rose from the dead, as well as a word of Jesus where the raising of the dead is part of the list of miraculous deeds he performed. Let us note right away that we are talking about resuscitation, and not resurrection, because people brought back to life will have to die again, unlike Jesus who rose from the dead, and therefore passed into the world of God never to die again.

The first story is that of the resuscitation of the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5: 21-43) which comes from the Marcan tradition. A convergence of elements leads us to say that the story goes back to an event in the public life of Jesus and is not a creation of the primitive Church, without being able to determine exactly what happened. The second story is that of the resuscitation of the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7: 11-17) which comes from the Lucanian tradition. The great difficulty in determining its historicity comes from the fact that Luke is the only one to tell this story and his account may have been influenced by the cycle of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. But in view of the unique mention of Nain and the number of Semitism, we conclude, albeit with some hesitation, that the story probably dates back to an incident related to Jesus in Nain. The third narrative is that of the resuscitation of Lazarus (Jn 11: 1-45) which comes from the Johannine tradition. The presence of proper names and the mention of a specific place leads us to think that the narrative perhaps reflects some incident in the life of the historical Jesus. Let us conclude with the Q tradition, this word addressed by Jesus to the envoys of John the Baptist where the resuscitation of the dead is part of the actions he performed (Mt 11: 5): this tradition would go back to the ministry of Jesus and would not be a Christian creation.

  1. Three Initial Observations on the Stories of Raising the Dead

    Scholars are accustomed to consider these stories as a pictorial representation of the victory of the risen Jesus over the power of evil, and in particular the ultimate evil of death, and therefore conclude that they are a pure creation of the early Church. It is therefore important to make three clarifications.

    1. What a person accepts as possible or probable depends on his or her socio-cultural context, and this context serves as a basis for judging what is true or false, real or unreal. Therefore, today we need to make an effort of imagination to enter the ancient Mediterranean world of the first century where it was considered possible or probable that a holy man would raise people. Let us think of the pagan narratives of Pliny the Elder, Apuleius, Lucius and Philostratus which contain raising from the dead scenes. We find the same thing among the first Christians: Peter raises the rich Tabitha (Acts 9: 36-43), Paul raises the adolescent Eutychus who had fallen asleep on the third floor listening to his speech (Acts 20: 7-12).

    2. Although raising of the dead are rare throughout the entire New Testament corpus, they are fairly evenly spread throughout the various literary sources, i.e. the Marcan, Lucanian and Johannine tradition. And as we shall see later, these stories are not creations of the evangelist, but come from an older tradition. To this we can add the Q tradition which presents us with a Jesus who claims to have risen from the dead (Mt 11: 5). We can therefore apply the criterion of multiple attestations.

    3. Finally, it should be remembered that our purpose is not to determine whether a miracle is involved, which only a theologian can do in faith, but rather to keep to the purely historical level and to establish whether this or that account is likely to go back to Jesus' ministry and to echo an event that Jesus, his disciples or his audience interpreted as a miracle.

  2. The Content and Form of these Stories

    Before analyzing the stories, it is first necessary to clarify the expression "rising from the dead". Note that this expression translates two New Testament Greek verbs, egeirô (to wake up) and anistêmi (to stand up). However, this expression is ambiguous because it is used to describe two realities that are quite different in content and literary form.

    1. "Raising from the dead" refers first to the action of Jesus who brought back to life people who had recently died.

      1. The content of this raising from the dead is very clear: it is simply a matter of returning to life on earth, to one's daily activities, to one's former situation, with the restriction of having to die again. Thus, the return to life is only temporary.

      2. The literary form of these stories follows exactly the same structure as a healing story: 1) presentation of the painful situation; 2) a word or gesture from Jesus, followed by confirmation of the change; 3) reaction of the audience. Thus, the raising from the dead is only a case of healing from illness, an extreme illness.

    2. "Raising from the dead" refers to the resurrection par excellence, the resurrection of Jesus

      1. The content is totally different, since Jesus does not return to life on earth or to his former situation, but he passes to another world, the world of God; he will never die again. Moreover, this resurrection is not the work of Jesus himself, but of God: the New Testament texts clearly state that it is God who raised him from death (1 Thess 1: 10; Gal 1: 1; 1 Cor 6: 14; etc.).

      2. The form is also different, since there is no narrative of Jesus' resurrection. There are two types of post-resurrection narratives: first, the discovery of the empty tomb, and second, the stories where Jesus is seen by certain witnesses. In both types, there is no description of the resurrection, only a proclamation.

        Because of the very limits of our method, we will only deal with the first type of raising of the dead.

  3. The Marcan Tradition: The Raising of the Daughter of Jairus (Mark 5: 21-43 || Matthew 9: 18-26 || Luke 8: 40-56)

    1. Mark's Redaction of the Traditional Story

      Biblical scholars agree that Mark's version of this story is the oldest, whereas Matthew abbreviated it and Luke rewrote it to fit his theological agenda. As we have seen, Mark's account is intertwined with the account of the healing of the woman with hemorrhage, but the two accounts were independent in an earlier phase.

      We notice Mark's editorial work in v. 21 (When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.) which serves as a transition to the above. V. 24 is another candidate for Mark's editorial work (So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him), for it simply serves as a bridge to the account of the woman with hemorrhage that is to touch Jesus by stealth. And originally v. 35 (As he was still speaking...) was to follow v. 23 (The ruler of the synagogue begged him...), since there was no account of the woman with hemorrhage. Mark also added the presence of Peter, James and John, the three favorite disciples, who are for him the witnesses of Jesus' secret revelations. It is also surprising to see Jesus going to the child not alone, but with the parents and his three favorite disciples: they undoubtedly play the role of witnesses. Finally, the finale is quite bizarre and cantilevered: to ask for silence so that no one knows is absurd, when we see all the crowd around the house watching the child walking; it is Mark's hand repeating one of his themes.

      But Mark's editorial work and the inconsistencies in the narrative that it entails show that he is repeating an older story. In addition, the presence of the Aramaic word talitha koum (girl, get up), which is to be translated for the Greek audience, indicates that Mark is reusing a story he did not create.

    2. The Basic Form and Content of the Traditional Story

      22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live". 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe". 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping". 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43b And Jesus told them to give her something to eat.

      It is impossible to reconstruct the oldest form of the story, especially since the presence of an Aramaic word points to an original Aramaic. Nevertheless, the content and original form are clear enough to identify the three usual parts of a miracle story: 1) the encounter with Jesus and the presentation of the problem (vv 22-23.38-40); 2) the action of Jesus and the results (vv 41-42ab); 3) the reaction of the crowd (42c).

      It is difficult to determine whether 43b was part of the original story. But since the story was from the beginning about the raising of the dead, one can think that the request to give him food was part of the story, a way of showing that she is not a ghost, but a living being. We can also think that the original form of the story was shorter in the first part and that it was lengthened as the story was repeated. Finally, let us note that the three evangelists agree on one thing in spite of their difference: at the very beginning, no one dared to ask Jesus to raise a dead person from the dead; the original story had to have a kind of transition so that we could pass from someone who was sick to someone who had died.

    3. A Still Earlier Form of the Story

      We believe we have reached the earliest form of storytelling as permitted by critical study. Nevertheless, some biblical scholars claim to be able to go further by isolating a healing narrative before it has been transformed into a narrative of the resurrection of the dead. One is R. Pesch, who believes that the symbolic name of Jairus and the cycle of the prophets Elijah and Elisha influenced the original story to become a story of the resurrection of the dead.

      1. In the ancient Jewish world it is very common for people to bear theophoric names, i.e. names that concisely express faith in a particular action of God, such as Jairus (God enlightens), Isaiah (God saves), Ezekiel (God gives strength). It is difficult to see how the name Jairus, well known in the Old Testament, contributed to transforming a healing story into a raising from the dead. According to Pesch, when Jesus invites Jairus to have faith, he implicitly tells him to believe in the name he bears, i.e. God will awaken. Frankly, that's a bit of a stretch.

      2. Pesch is wrong to claim that Jairus' story is otherwise not attested anywhere else. He forgets the account of the raising of Lazarus which begins with the announcement of his illness and continues with the announcement of his death. And thorough research of the Lazarus account shows that the original account was a raising from the dead.

      3. As for the parallel with the cycle of Elijah and Elisha, Pesch himself acknowledges that it is not clear and is indirect. We might add that we are in a different register, since the people are already dead when the petitioners ask the prophets to intervene. Rather, the cycle of Elijah and Elisha should be brought closer to the raising of Tabitha by Peter in the Acts of the Apostles.

        iv. Our final objection comes from the fundamental question: Of all Mark's healing stories (and one might add: Of all the Gospel stories), why is it only this one story that was transformed from a healing story to a story of the raising of the dead?

      In the narrative, there is no evidence to support the idea of a transformation of a healing story into a story of the raising of the dead. Some critics make a mistake in method, because behind their heads they carry the question: what really happened? This is a completely different question. Our approach is to begin by first examining the text in its present form and then try to identify older stages, and finally ask the question of reference to events in the life of Jesus. Of course, it is possible that the original event was a healing and that in its various stages the narrative was transformed into a raising from the dead. But in the present state of research, the oldest form of the narrative is one of raising from the dead.

    4. Does the Story Go Back to Jesus' Ministry?

      A number of elements in the story support the idea of a very ancient tradition that probably dates back to the time of Jesus.

      1. i. It is a rather unique feature that the applicant is named: Jairus. No such case will be found throughout the rest of the New Testament, even though the petitioner sometimes plays an important role. Moreover, we learn that he is a synagogue ruler, a role not much appreciated by Christians who were in conflict with Jewish synagogues. Matthew did not hesitate to change his title to the vague one of "ruler".

      2. Jesus pronounces the Aramaic words: "talitha koum" (girl, get up). In the stories of miracles, with "ephphata" (open up, Mk 7: 34), these are the only Aramaic words, the language of Jesus. It may be added that this is probably a popular Aramaic, since correct Aramaic required that one say "koumi", the feminine form of the imperative verb; everyday language had finally stopped pronouncing the final "i". Moreover, the ancient narrative contains a number of semitims.

      3. The basic narrative contains no Christological titles which the early Christians tended to add after the fact. Jairus gives Jesus the title of Master, a common title at the time.

      4. The criterion of embarrassment and discontinuity can also be used to show how old the story is. First of all, the scene depicts a crowd mocking (gr. kategelôn) Jesus, he who has done so many wonders. Never before have other miracle stories alluded to such mockery, even from unbelievers. Then, Jesus makes a surprising gesture, that of throwing everyone out (autos de ekbalôn pantas), like a pugilist or, to use an English term, a "bouncer". This detail was so embarrassing that Matthew simply said that the crowd was thrown out, without specifying how, and Luke eliminated this detail.

      None of these elements in itself is sufficient to demonstrate the age of the story. Rather, it is rather their convergence that leads us to say that the narrative goes back to an event in the public life of Jesus and is not a creation of the early Church. It is possible that the daughter of Jairus was very close to death, and that enthusiastic disciples interpreted the event as a raising from the dead. But we'll never know that. The historical approach we have taken forces us to remain vague and to say: the oldest layer of the story shows that Jesus or his disciples perceived this action as a raising from the dead.

  4. The Lucan Tradition: The Raising of the Son of the Widow of Nain (Luke 7: 11-17)

    1. The Place of the Miracle Within Luke's Larger Story

      Let us note right away that this story is unique and peculiar to Luc. The context is that of Jesus' ministry in Galilee where Jesus, through his miracles, shows God's compassion for people. Just before our story, Jesus healed the centurion's slave from a distance in Capernaum. And now, at the gate of the village of Nain, he is moved with compassion before a widow who has just lost her only son. The resurrection of the only son leads the crowd to cry out: "A great prophet has risen among us, God has visited his people". This scene is followed by Jesus' reply to the envoys of John the Baptist, who asks him if he is really the strongest who is to come as prophesied by the Baptist: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see... the dead are raised..." And the context ends with the scene where Jesus is invited to the home of a Pharisee and where he says to a weeping sinful woman who is sprinkling her feet with ointment: your sins are forgiven, to the great scandal of her audience.

      In this context, Luke develops important theological themes, and in particular his vision of salvation history. He takes up the prophet Isaiah (Is 40) to show that the salvation foretold is now being realized in Jesus, a great prophet who surpasses the great prophets of history such as Elijah and Elisha who also performed resuscitations, a salvation that is addressed first of all to the poor like the widow and to sinners like the woman in the Pharasee's house, a salvation that is not only addressed to the Jews, for it also reaches out to Gentiles like the centurion. Jesus' action shows that God is visiting his people, a theme dear to Luke.

    2. Tradition and Redaction in the Nain Story

      Observing how well the account of the widow of Nain fits in with Luke's literary and theological purpose, we may wonder whether he did not invent this story himself, for example by reusing the resuscitations of Elijah and Elisha or the account of the daughter of Jairus or the raising of Tabitha by Peter found in the Acts of the Apostles. Let's take a close look at these three points.

      1. The cycle of the prophets Elijah and Elisha in the book of the Kings of the Old Testament presents us with two itinerant prophets of Galilee famous for having risen from the dead.

        1. On the one hand, we have Elijah (1 Kings 17: 7-24) who meets a widow in distress at the gate of Sarepta, whose son (probably the only one) has just died and to whom the prophet will give life and restore his mother, which will make her say that he is a true prophet. On the other hand, we have Jesus who meets a widow in distress at the gate of Nain, whose only son has just died and to whom Jesus will give life and give back to his mother, which will make the crowd say that a great prophet has risen among them.

        2. The account of the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 4: 8-37) does not offer us the same parallel: a married woman sees her son die, a son that Elisha had promised her when she was barren, and after the failure of the prophet's envoy to bring him back to life, it is the prophet himself who will come to raise him.

      2. In the story of the daughter Jairus, which Luke borrowed from Mark, there are certain parallels:
        • In both cases, it's an only child
        • In both cases, Jesus asks those in distress to stop crying
        • In both cases, the raising occurs in the presence of the parents and others
        • In both cases, Jesus similarly enjoins the deceased person to come back to life: young man/girl, I tell you, get up.

      3. Finally, the account of Tabitha in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9: 36-43) contains certain similarities with the account of the widow of Nain:
        • Peter calls out to the deceased saying: Tabitha, get up
        • The first thing the person comes back to life does is sit down

      Despite the value of all the parallels we have just noted, a number of objections must be raised to the idea that Luke would have simply reused all these stories.

      1. Similarities can't erase the big differences
        1. In the cycle of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the relationship between the woman and the prophet has existed for some time and the prophet will only intervene at the insistence of the woman. On the other hand, Jesus meets the widow of Nain for the first time,and it is he who takes the initiative to intervene without her asking him.

        2. The way in which the miracle takes place is completely different: on the one hand, the prophet goes alone to the room of the deceased person, prays first to God before lying down a few times on the child in order to revive him; on the other hand, Jesus is accompanied by his disciples and a large crowd, he touches the catafalque and, without saying a prayer, he orders the child to get up.

      2. The differences between the daughter of Jairus and the widow of Nain are also striking.
        • There is no request on the part of the widow, unlike Jairus, because it is Jesus who is moved with compassion and takes the initiative to intervene.
        • There is no expression of faith on the part of the widow, unlike Jairus.
        • The crowd cheers Jesus to Nain, as they mock Jesus in the story of the daughter of Jairus.
        • Finally, we don't know the widow's name, but we know the name of the resurrected daughter's father, Jairus...

      3. The narrative of the raising of Tabitha by Peter is mostly similar to that of the Elijah-Elisha cycle rather than that of the widow of Nain, except for the mention that the raised child sits down and the event spreads throughout the region. But above all, Luke modeled the Acts of the Apostles on the Gospel account, rather than the other way around.

      Thus, all these differences make it unlikely that Luke would have composed his story by eclectically choosing here and there from the details of these other stories, and dropping others. But there is more. One can find in the account of Nain's widow elements in favor of a pre-Lucanian tradition, called L.

      1. The first element is the very name of the village of Nain, south of Galilee, an otherwise totally unknown village. How would Luke, who is otherwise unfamiliar with Palestine, know of the existence of this obscure village? How did he also know that the city had walls (i.e. the story takes place at the gate of the village), as revealed by the archaeological excavations.

      2. Another element is that of all the Semitism that runs through the story, starting with its simple sentences joined by a simple "and". This is all the more surprising since Luke tends to improve the style and vocabulary of the sources he borrows from Mark.

      3. When the crowd writes, "A great prophet has risen up among us," they are putting Jesus in the same basket as other great prophets like Elijah and Elisha, but this does not at all reflect the Christology of Luke, for whom Jesus is not just "a" prophet, but the greatest of all, as is shown by his rather peculiar use of "Lord" to refer to Jesus.

      4. Finally, Luke in his Gospel avoids double stories, i.e. variants of the same story. For example, for the feeding of the crowd, even though his source in Mark contains two accounts of feeding, he keeps only the first account. It is the same for the two stories of a woman who anoints Jesus with ointment. Also, it seems unlikely that someone who avoids doublets would have deliberately created a doublet of a raising from the dead.

      In short, the most likely hypothesis to explain that Luke's Gospel contains two accounts of the raising from the dead is to postulate the existence of two different sources. And in the case of the widow of Nain, Luke would have had a special source L in his hands and would not have created this account out of thin air.

    3. Does the Story Go Back to Jesus

      The great difficulty comes from the fact that Luke is the only one to tell this story and his Gospel dates from the end of the first century. Moreover, the influence of the cycle of the prophets Elijah and Elisha on his story cannot be denied. Also, a number of biblical critics conclude that Luke invented this story. On the other hand, we note that the accounts of the raising of the dead are very rare, that the other evangelists have only one account and do not tend to multiply them. And with regard to the unique mention of Nain and the number of Semitism, we conclude, albeit with some hesitation, that the account probably goes back to an incident related to Jesus at Nain.

  5. The Johannine Tradition: The Raising of Lazarus (John 11: 1-45)

    1. The Place of the Miracle Within John's Larger Story

      1. This account represents a culmination and the greatest sign in the totality of the signs of the fourth Gospel. When we look at the above, we see that the Gospel has created a well-orchestrated crescendo.

        1. From a literary point of view, John gradually moved from isolated accounts of miracles (Cana, healing of the son of the royal officer) to broader narratives ending with a theological dialogue, and finally to a long narrative of which the theological dialogue is an integral part. In this last narrative we find the great themes of the evangelist: the glory of God, light and darkness, resurrection and life, and union with the Father.

        2. From a theological point of view, all physical healings are aimed at a main message which is clearly proclaimed by the last sign: Jesus is the giver of life, a full and happy life, the very life of God.

      2. When we look at what follows, we see the fundamental role of this story

        1. From a literary point of view, the story of Lazarus will seal the fate of Jesus: his death. Indeed, in the synoptic narratives it is Jesus' purification of the temple that will bring the Jewish authorities to bring him to justice, but here it is the raising of Lazarus that is the immediate cause of his arrest and execution.

        2. From a theological point of view, the raising of Lazarus is only a reprieve from death, for he will have to die again at some future date, for death has still taken hold of him as is shown by the presence of the strips from which he must be removed. By contrast, by his resurrection Jesus will reach a full and divine life over which death will no longer have taken hold, as the shroud left behind him in the tomb testifies. The raising of Lazarus thus symbolizes:
          • Jesus' own resurrection on Easter Sunday
          • The spiritual resurrection of the believer who receives the Spirit
          • The resurrection of believers in the last days

    2. Tradition and Redaction in the Lazarus Story

      1. Can We Get at the Underlying Tradition?

        The challenge of rediscovering this tradition is all the greater as the story is full of typically Johannine vocabulary and theology. Many biblical scholars recognize an ancient tradition behind this composition, but feel powerless to isolate it. For our part, we will not attempt a precise reconstruction, but rather try to reconstruct the general outline. Our plan of attack is first to obtain a general view of the literary outline, then to articulate and apply criteria for isolating the tradition from the writing, and finally to try to offer an approximation of the tradition in the hands of the evangelist.

      2. The Contours of the Text

        The story can be divided into 7 parts:

        1. Introduction: the double problem of Lazarus' illness and the waiting for Jesus (1-6)
          1. Lazarus has two sisters, Martha and Mary, and he is ill
          2. When Jesus learned of Lazarus' sickness, he strangely replied that this sickness does not lead to death, but will manifest the glory of God and of His son.
          3. Jesus stays two days where he is.

        2. Two dialogues of Jesus with his disciples (7-16)
          1. First dialogue: by inviting his disciples to go to Judea, Jesus meets their opposition
          2. Second dialogue: Jesus announces that Lazarus sleeps and he rejoices about it, for this will make his disciples believe; then when he invites them to go, Thomas responds by inviting others to go and die with him.

        3. Arrival at Bethany and two meetings with the sisters (17-32)
          1. When Jesus arrives, Lazarus has been at the tomb for four days.
          2. Jesus meets Martha: When Jesus declares to her that he is the resurrection and the life after she had friendly reproached him for being absent, Martha replies, "You are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into this world".
          3. Jesus meets Mary: Jesus calls her and she takes up his sister's reproaches.

        4. Jesus comes to the tomb, full of emotion (v.33-39a)
          1. Jesus is deeply moved
          2. He asks to remove the stone

        5. Jesus' second meeting with Martha (39b-40): she mentions the smell, Jesus invites her to believe.

        6. The raising of Lazarus (41-44)
          1. Jesus prays to the Father, then calls Lazarus
          2. Lazarus comes out with the strips and the shroud

        7. Reactions (45-46)
          1. Positive: many Jews who came to Mary believe
          2. Negative: some report the miracle to the Pharisees (transition to the meeting to decide his death)

        Let us first note that we have here the usual structure of a miracle: (1) presentation of the problem; (2) miracle accomplished by a word or an action, with confirmation of its reality; (3) reactions or conclusions.

        Then, the lengthening of the usual structure of a miracle occurs here completely in the first of these three parts (presentation of the problem). Moreover, the whole Jn 11: 1-45 is held together by a series of key words and phrases which appear throughout the narrative and create an effect of Semitic inclusion, characteristic of the 4th Gospel: the dominant role of Martha (vv 1:5, 20-26, 39-40), the invitation to go to Judea (vv 7-10, 11-16), the theological leitmotif of glory (vv 4:40) and faith (vv 15, 26-27, 40, 45).

      3. Criteria for Discerning the Evangelist's Hand

        1. Since the original form of the narrative probably circulated as an independent unit, any reference to earlier or later elements of the Gospel text comes from the pen of the evangelist or final writer.

        2. The theological statements put into the mouth of Jesus, especially themes found in a form developed elsewhere in the Gospel, are most likely the work of the evangelist.

        3. The presence of various sutures or explanatory interruptions, or the somewhat awkward repetition of certain fundamental affirmations, all this is a sign that the evangelist is reworking a received tradition.

        4. Finally, the important presence of the vocabulary and literary style that the editorial criticism associated with the 4th Gospel can indicate the work of the evangelist's pen.

      4. Using the Criteria to Distinguish Tradition from Redaction

        1. Criterion 1: References to earlier or later elements of the evangelist's work

          1. Jn 11: 2 interrupts the narrative to identify Mary as the woman who poured myrrh on Jesus' feet, which is in fact an anticipation of what will happen later in Jn 12: 1-8; this anachronism presupposes the general composition of the Gospel and the particular composition of Jn 12: 1-8. Some biblical scholars even suggest that the presence of the word "Lord" in the narrative betrays the hand of the final redactor (the one who wrote Jn 21), since the evangelist usually avoids this word in his third person narratives.

          2. The dialogue of Jn 11: 7-8 between Jesus who invites the disciples to go to Judea and the astonished disciples is incomprehensible without knowledge of the previous account of Jn 10 : Jesus proclaims there in the Temple that he and the Father are one, which provokes the anger of the Jews who want to stone him and force Jesus to flee to Jordan; moreover, the expression "the Jews" here refers to the hostile authorities in Jerusalem, as is found almost everywhere in his Gospel, whereas in the rest of the Lazarus account the expression is more neutral, so that it will designate a certain number who believe in him.

          3. v. 16 where Thomas shows himself ready to die with Jesus forms an inclusion with vv. 7-8 where Jesus invites his disciples to go to Judea despite the risk of stoning, and is only understandable in the light of chapter 10. All this reveals the editorial work of the evangelist and is a little out of step with the second dialogue of Jesus and his disciples in vv 9-15 where all the attention is focused on the misunderstanding of Lazarus' sleep-death.

          4. The last candidate to be considered as an editorial addition is the reaction of the Jews in vv 36-37 at the sight of his tears (v. 35). While some see this as a sign of his friendship, others reproach him for not having acted as he did for the blind man born in chapter 9. This reference to a later account is a construction of the evangelist, as is v. 36, which served as the setting for this reaction.

            The application of this criterion gives us the following: vv 2.7-8.16 and 36-37 as editorial additions by the evangelist to connect his account to chapters 9 (the born-blind man), 10 (the hostility of the Jews who wanted to stone him) and 12 (Mary's anointing at Bethany).

        2. Criterion 2: Mini-discourses or dialogues announcing major theological themes developed elsewhere in the Gospel are probably the work of the evangelist.

          1. The first candidate is found in vv 9-10 where Jesus speaks of the importance of walking in the light to avoid stumbling. Without vv 7-8 (danger of being stoned to death on the way to Judea), which we have regarded as editorial, these verses would be meaningless, so they form a certain unity with them. The key to understanding them is to be found in the "law of the hour", that obligation from God to accomplish certain things in time, typical of the 4th Gospel (While it is day, we must work at the works of the One who sent me, Jn 9:4). Thus, Jesus must continue his work, even if it involves risks.

            But as is also typical of the 4th Gospel, the light/darkness metaphor moves to a second, deeper level, that of faith in Jesus, light of the world. Whoever seizes the opportunity of Jesus' presence to believe in him, does not stumble. Whoever refuses to do so, finds himself without light in him and stumbles. But this theological theme of light/darkness, important for the evangelist and related to vv 7-8, is in conflict with the context of the Lazarus account where the dominant theme is rather that of death/life, and is therefore an insertion by the evangelist.

          2. A second candidate is found in vv 21-27. We have here a theological masterpiece in which the 4th Gospel excels. First of all, in blaming Jesus for his absence, Martha perceives Jesus as a miracle-worker. Then, when Jesus tells her that her brother will rise again, Mary responds by repeating Israel's faith of a general resurrection at the end of time. It is at this point that Jesus eliminates the ambiguity and offers her a much deeper level of faith: what was promised for the end of time is realized today, since he is the resurrection and the life, that the life he offers through faith is the very life of God, a life over which physical death has no control. We are before the theological vision of the evangelist, a theology called high, since it emphasizes the realized eschatology and the pre-existence of Jesus, which is what the expression "he who comes into the world" means. Through Martha's confession of faith, the evangelist presents us with the ideal Christian person, the one for whom he wrote his Gospel.

          3. In v. 4, we have a typical construction of the evangelist, i.e. a negative statement followed by a "but... so that" (This disease does not bring death, but aims at showing the glory of God, so that through it you may see the glory of the Son of God). The author wants to give his interpretation of the Lazarus story at the outset. We find the same structure in v. 15 (I rejoice for you that I was not there, that I might lead you to faith). Finally, in v. 40 the author associates two words, glory and faith (Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?) which were associated only with the wedding at Cana (2:11: He manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him). This is a way for the evangelist to make an inclusion with both v. 15 and the wedding at Cana. One must also see the hand of the editor in v. 39b which only aims at introducing v. 40.

          4. v. 5 would also be the hand of the evangelist, as it seeks to dispel a misunderstanding caused by v. 4 where Jesus does not hurry to go to Lazarus' aid: Jesus loved (imperfect, to emphasize the duration in time) Martha and her sister and brother Lazarus.

          5. vv 4-16 would probably be the work of the creative thought of the evangelist. The disciples play no role in the narrative and suddenly reappear in v.7 (absent since Jn 9: 2) to simply play the role of making a point of the theology of Jesus. This set reflects the ideas and vocabulary of the 4th Gospel, the only exception being v.6 which could be part of the tradition (So when Jesus was told of his illness, he stayed for two days in the place where he was).

        3. Criterion 3: Signs of contradiction, tension, awkward repetitions and interruptions in the course of the narrative, or confusion in the text could indicate the hand of the writer reworking a tradition.

          1. v.5 (Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother Lazarus), as already mentioned, interrupts the flow of the narrative and only aims to dispel the ambiguity about Jesus' unwillingness to go to Lazarus.

          2. v. 18 (Bethany is located near Jerusalem, about fifteen stadia (three kilometers) away) is a parenthesis serving as an explanatory note. According to several biblical scholars, the original account of Lazarus first circulated in the midst of Jerusalem, and therefore did not need any precision about the location of Bethany. But later this account circulated in the Middle East, and it was at this point that the need was felt to specify the place. When the author of the fourth Gospel had this account in hand, it probably already contained this precision.

          3. The references to the deep feelings of Jesus are repetitive. In v. 33 Jesus was angry in spirit (enebrimēsato, literally: to snort) and was troubled in himself. Then in v. 38 the same idea is repeated: Jesus was wrathful within.

        4. Criterion 4: The heavy presence of the vocabulary and style typical of the evangelist can help to confirm the results obtained by the application of the first three criteria. This vocabulary has already been identified: the Jews as a hostile group, the light, the glory associated with faith, the hour, Jesus as the one coming into the world.

      5. Drawing Some Further Conclusions

        1. The character of Martha appears as a secondary addition to the story. Note that it is Mary who is named at both the beginning and the end of the story and the conclusion insists that it is because of Mary that the Jews came and believed in Jesus because of what he did.

        2. v.5 (Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother Lazarus) appears as an effort by the writer to overturn this central role of Mary by keeping her name silent, to promote the role he wants Martha to play.

        3. By recognizing that the final editor of the 4th Gospel added the episodes about Martha because of his theological agenda, and thus by eliminating from our narrative any reference to the character of Martha, we find ourselves with a much more flowing text, and especially the scene of the meeting of Jesus and Mary regains its full meaning : Mary gently reproaches him for his absence, then her cries and those of her relatives lead Jesus to ask where the tomb is and to remove the stone, and the scene ends with the miracle and the reaction of the crowd. This is the typical structure of a miracle story.

      6. The Resulting Reconstruction of the Pre-Gospel Tradition

        We are now able to reconstruct the pre-evangelical story. The verses in brackets represent those whose status is unclear. They may have been added at a later stage in the formation of the tradition, but before the evangelist began his editorial work.

        There was a sick man, Lazarus of Bethany, from the same village as his sister Mary. His sister sent him this message: "Lord, the one you love is sick. "When Jesus heard of his illness, he stayed where he was for two days.

        [A possible secondary addition to the tradition: Then, after this, he said to his disciples, "Lazarus, our friend, has fallen asleep, but I am going to go and wake him up. "His disciples then said to him: "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right. " Jesus had in fact spoken of his death. But they thought he was talking about falling asleep. Then Jesus made it clear to them: "Lazarus is dead. Let us now go to him".]

        And when Jesus had gone [to Bethany], He found him again after he had been in the tomb four days. Many of the Jews had come to Mary to support her in mourning for her brother. When she heard [the arrival of Jesus], she immediately got up and walked towards him. Now the Jews who were with her in the house to support her, when they saw Mary suddenly get up and go out, followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

        And when Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she threw herself at his feet, saying: If thou hadst been there, my brother would not have died. "And when Jesus saw her weeping thus, and the Jews with her, he was angry in spirit. Then he asked: "Where have you laid him? "And they answered him, "Lord, come and see.

        Jesus went to the tomb. There was a cave, and a stone laid on it. Jesus said, "Take away the stone. "So they took away the stone. Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out here! "He that was dead came out [with his hands and feet bound with strips, and his face wrapped tightly in a shroud]. Jesus said to them, "Untie him and let him go. "Then many of the Jews, who had gone to Mary and seen what he had done, believed in him.

        Despite some differences, there is a consensus among biblical scholars on the heart of this reconstruction.

      7. A Still Earlier Version of the Lazarus Tradition?

        It is possible that there is an even shorter story at the beginning than the one we reconstructed. This is what Gérard Rochais proposes. But some of his presuppositions are difficult to accept, such as a fixed narrative put in writing in a source of signs, or the presence of totally anonymous characters. It is true that the presence of personal names, apart from the immediate disciples, is extremely rare in synoptic miracles: there is only Bartimaeus as the recipient, and Jairus as the petitioner. In the Gospel of John, the master of the meal and the bridegroom at the wedding at Cana, and especially the blind man who plays such an important role, remain anonymous. However, the criterion of discontinuity leads us to believe that the names of Lazarus and Mary were not added after the fact, but are part of the original story.

      8. Influence from the Lucan Tradition

        Proponents of a narrative that does not go back to an event in the life of Jesus and includes only anonymous characters use the tradition of the Evangelist Luke, called "L", to explain the origin of the names of Lazarus and Mary.

        1. First there is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16: 19-31). Let us remember the story. A poor man named Lazarus, covered with ulcers, lies before the porch of the house of a rich man who is bombing. When they die, their situation is completely reversed: Lazarus lives happily with Abraham, while the rich man, in suffering, asks Abraham to send him Lazarus with a little water, which is refused on the pretext that an impenetrable wall exists between the two situations. Again the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers of what awaits them if they do not convert, but Abraham replies that the word of a dead man who has come back to life will not be able to convince them if they do not first listen to Moses and the prophets. Thus the supporters of Luke's influence on John's account pinpoint to points of connection: the name of Lazarus, the fact that Lazarus does not say any words and does not perform any actions, but is simply someone who is spoken of, and the mention of a dead man who comes back to life.

          This argumentation has a certain merit, all the more so since there is also a certain cross-fertilization between the two Gospels (for example, the account of the miraculous fishing that is peculiar to them). However, the similarities end here, and the differences are significant: First, Lazarus is not poor at all, since his house is large enough to accommodate an extended family, he can afford a sealed tomb when he dies, and Mary allows herself to pour on Jesus' feet a perfume worth 300 days of a worker's wages; moreover, one will look in vain in John's account for an antithetical character as in Luke's parable; finally, everything happens in this world in John's account, while part of the account takes place in the afterlife in Luke. Let's look at two points of Luke's influence.

          1. Let's look at the name Lazarus first. It is a shortened version of Eleazar, an extremely common name in the Jewish world of Jesus' time. It means: God helps. It is a precedent that a parable gives the name of one of the characters, as we see in Luke. It is unique throughout the New Testament. Would Luke have wanted to invent a thematic name based on the theme of the story? If so, he would have chosen a name like Menahem (God consoles) or Tobias (the goodness of God) instead. But in any case, Luke was addressing a Greek audience that would have understood nothing about names. In short, the name Lazarus in the parable is more of a problem than a solution.

          2. The second strong point of the argument is the mention of a dead man coming back to life in the Lucanian parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Several points of observation are necessary here:

            1. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus has two independent parts, first the fact of a rich man and a poor man whose situation is completely reversed in the afterlife, a theme found in Egyptian folklore, followed by a narrative which asserts that a hardened heart which does not listen to the Scriptures will not be convinced to change its life by a dead man coming back to life, a theme found in late Jewish literature; these two parts could exist without each other.

            2. This difference in the two parts is accentuated if one observes that the first part contains no moral exhortation: it does not say that the rich man has done wrong, it simply says that in the afterlife situations are reversed, as it seems that in summer the northern hemisphere is warm, and in winter it is its turn to be cold. On the other hand, the second part contains a clearly moral vocabulary: but the problem is not at all that of wealth, but that of a bad man, rich or poor, who will be punished if he does not repent.

            3. Noting the difference in the themes of the two parts, the difference in the folkloric background, and the difference in the moral tone, we are led to think that the two parts existed independently and that it was Luke who put them together when he wrote his Gospel. And since this Gospel was written almost at the same time as John's, it is hard to see how it could have influenced the account of Lazarus' raising from the dead.

            4. A greater difficulty comes from v.31 of the parable (If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, even if someone rises from the dead they will not be convinced). First of all, this verse of Luke is in complete contradiction with v. 45 of the raising from the dead of Lazarus, which states on the contrary that many Jews began to believe when they saw him come back to life. Moreover, Luke's parable never speaks of bringing Lazarus back to earth, he who is with Abraham, but of warning the five brothers in some form of premonitory appearance; v.31 which mentions the raising of the dead makes no reference to Lazarus. Finally, the vocabulary of v.31 of the parable is typically Lucanian, like the word "raise" (anistēmi), one of his favorite words, the word "be convinced" (peisthēsontai), the expression "Moses and the prophets". In short, this finale is clearly the result of Luke's editorial work, and since he wrote his Gospel almost at the same time as John, it is hard to see how he could have influenced the account of Lazarus' resurrection.

        2. As for the account of Martha and Mary of Luke (Lk 10: 38-42), it may have exerted an influence through oral tradition on the account of Jesus' anointing in Bethany (Jn 12: 1-8), but not on our account of the resurrection of Lazarus: first of all the account of Luke does not mention Lazarus, then the original tradition of the resurrection of Lazarus did not have the character of Martha.

      9. Conclusion

        The account of the resurrection of Lazarus is not a pure creation of the evangelist. It circulated independently and underwent several modifications before reaching the evangelist. The presence of proper names and the mention of a specific place leads us to think that the account may reflect some incident in the life of the historical Jesus. However, we cannot answer the question: what exactly happened? It is possible that it is a story of healing by Jesus of Lazarus from a fatal illness that evolved into a story of rising from the dead. But there is no indication in the history of the tradition that the story existed as a healing story rather than a raising from the dead story. We believe that the story of John 11: 1-45 dates back to an event involving Lazarus, a disciple of Jesus, and that Jesus' disciples believed at this same time that this event was a miracle of raising from the dead. And it is not surprising that this account is unknown to the Synoptics: John and the Synoptics are mutely ignorant of each other.

  6. The Q Tradition: Jesus Affirms That "The Dead Are Raised" (Matthew 11: 5 || Luke 7: 22)

    Throughout our analysis of the various miracle stories, we have referred to this source as a criterion for multiple attestations. The same applies here to the raising of the dead. Thus, this fact can be based not only on multiple sources (Mark, L, John and Q), but also on multiple literary forms (narratives and discourses). And it cannot be said that it is a secondary element in the Q document, since there is no account of the raising of the dead in this source, and therefore cannot come from the influence of such a narrative. Thus, this tradition would go back to the ministry of Jesus and would not be a Christian creation.

    Nevertheless, some academic circles have tried to neutralize this source using three different approaches.

    1. All these words (Mt 11: 5-6) would be the work of the first Christian generation. Against this idea, we have already demonstrated earlier that this pericope is authentic. Let us content ourselves with summarizing our arguments.

      1. The messianic terminology used by the first Christians is absent from the text and only the eschatological hope is found.
      2. There is no indication in the text that the Baptist would consider Jesus as the one to come.
      3. Jesus' response does not contain any of the Christological titles used by the early Christians, but is limited to the effects of his ministry on Israel.
      4. Behind the beatitude that concludes Jesus' words (Blessed is he who will not refrain from believing for my sake), there is a discreet but urgent appeal to John to overcome his disappointed hopes.
      5. The scene ends with an embarrassing silence about the Baptist: we do not know if he has accepted Jesus' arguments.

      Thus, there is no evidence that Christian preaching had any influence on this text. The burden of proof is therefore on the proponents of a pure Christian creation.

    2. An attempt has also been made to neutralize this passage by saying that much of it is authentic, but that the mention of the raising of the dead would be secondary. This argument does not hold water for several reasons.

      • If it is a secondary element, it must have been added very early, since it is found independently in Matthew and Luke.
      • How to explain such an addition after the fact, when the Q source has no raising from the dead narrative to influence such an addition?
      • To the argument of discontinuity from the text of the prophet Isaiah (Is 35: 42) which he seems to take up again, it can be answered that the healing of lepers mentioned in the list of healings is not found in Isaiah; it can also be added that another passage from Isaiah (Is 25) speaks of victory over death.
      • The rhythmic structure of the present text presents itself as a well constructed unit and not at all disturbed by the mention of the raising of the dead.

    3. Finally, an attempt has been made to neutralize this passage by saying that this list of miracles should be interpreted in a metaphorical or spiritual sense. This argument suffers from a number of difficulties.

      1. At the same time as this passage from Q document, stories of Jesus' healing from the pre-Marcan, pre-Lucanian and pre-Johannic sources circulated in Christian circles. How could people who received and passed on these healing stories suddenly interpret this Q-source passage in a purely metaphorical way?

      2. There is not elsewhere in the Gospels, either in the words of Jesus or in the stories about Jesus, a list of miraculous actions of Jesus that need to be interpreted metaphorically. When a word must be interpreted metaphorically, the context makes this clear, for example Mk 4: 12 when Jesus refers to the blindness of the crowds who do not understand his parables.

      3. As we have already analysed, the context of this passage is John the Baptist's astonishment at his disciple Jesus who proposes a different message from his own by emphasising the good news of God's reign rather than God's judgement, and therefore sends out disciples to clarify things. Jesus' response is to demonstrate that what the prophets had foretold is really being fulfilled through his ministry, especially his healings. If the healings were only spiritual, there would be no difference between the ministry of the Baptist and that of Jesus. On the contrary, it is because of this difference that Jesus invites the Baptist not to be scandalized and affirms that the least in the Kingdom is greater than he is.

    The criteria we have used lead us to conclude that a Jew from Palestine in the first century performed astonishing deeds which he and his audience interpreted as powerful and miraculous. In the mind of Jesus, these actions were an expression of the coming, albeit imperfect, of the reign of God. To remove these actions from Jesus' ministry is to empty his mission of all meaning.

Next chapter: Should the so-called miracles of nature be rejected outright as non-historical?

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