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Lazarus and Dives

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Lazarus and Dives

This article is about the parable from Gospel of Luke. For the man Jesus raised from the dead, see Lazarus of Bethany. For the ballad, see Dives and Lazarus (ballad). For other uses of the name, see Lazarus (name).
Saint Lazarus
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
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Feast June 21
Patronage the poor, against leprosy
lepers, Order of St Lazarus

The Parable of the rich man and Lazarus (also called the Dives and Lazarus or Lazarus and Dives) is a well-known parable of Jesus appearing in the Gospel of Luke.

According to the

Along with the parables of the Ten Virgins, Prodigal Son, and Good Samaritan, it was one of the most frequently illustrated parables in medieval art,[5] perhaps because of its vivid account of an afterlife.

The name Lazarus (from the Hebrew: אלעזר, Elʿāzār, Eleazar - "God is my help"[6]) is also given to a second, and arguably more famous, figure in the Bible: Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Lazarus of the Four Days. He is the subject of a prominent miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus restores him to life four days after his death. However, the two are generally understood to be two separate characters.[7] Many allusions to Lazarus (particularly those involving the idea of resurrection from the dead) should be understood as referring to the Lazarus described in John, rather than to the poor beggar of this story.


Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. It happened that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. He cried and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame."

But Abraham said, "Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that none may cross over from there to us."

He said, "I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house; for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won't also come into this place of torment."

But Abraham said to him, "They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them."

He said, "No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent."

He said to him, "If they don't listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead."

— Luke 16:19–31, World English Bible


There are different views on the historicity and origin of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.[8] The story is unique to Luke and is not thought to come from the hypothetical Q document.[1]

As a literal, historical event

Some Christians view the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man as an actual event which was related by Jesus to his followers;[9] this was generally the view of the medieval Church. According to this view, this story is not a parable but literal biography. Supporters of this view point to the amount of detail in the story. For example, in no other parable does Jesus give a character's personal name, but refers to the characters as "a certain man", "a sower", etc. Critics of this view point out that "The "soul that sins, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18); "For dust you are and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). Paul (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) describes death as sleep until the Day of the Lord, when the dead will receive glorified bodies upon the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15). No scripture, other than Philippians 1:23-25 (in which the apostle expresses the confidence that on departure from this life he would be with Christ), 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (in which he affirms the possibility of being taken to paradise out of the body), 2 Corinthians 5:8, etc., accounts for a disembodied soul and its comfort or torture. Because this seems to beg the question of what kind of body is tortured in Hades as depicted in Luke, there are those who maintain that whilst the conversations took place as described, the language used in them, referring to body parts, etc., was figurative.[9]

Brownlow North

The 19th century evangelist, Brownlow North inclined to the view that the story described a literal, historical event, but did not exclude the possibility that it might be purely a parable.[10]

As a parable created by Jesus

Other Christians consider that this is a parable created by Jesus and told to his followers.[11] Tom Wright[12] and Joachim Jeremias[13] both treat it as a "parable". Proponents of this view argue that the story of Lazarus and the rich man has much in common with other stories which are agreed-upon parables, both in language and content (e.g. the reversal of fortunes, the use of antithesis, and concern for the poor).

Luther, a parable of the conscience

Martin Luther taught that the story was a parable about rich and poor in this life and the details of the afterlife not to be taken literally:

"Therefore we conclude that the bosom of Abraham signifies nothing else than the Word of God,.... the hell here mentioned cannot be the true hell that will begin on the day of judgment. For the corpse of the rich man is without doubt not in hell, but buried in the earth; it must however be a place where the soul can be and has no peace, and it cannot be corporeal. Therefore it seems to me, this hell is the conscience, which is without faith and without the Word of God, in which the soul is buried and held until the day of judgment, when they are cast down body and soul into the true and real hell." (Church Postil 1522-23)[14]

Lightfoot, a parable against the Pharisees

John Lightfoot (1602 – 1675) treated the parable as a parody of Pharisee belief concerning the Bosom of Abraham, and from the connection of Abraham saying the rich man's family would not believe even if the parable Lazarus was raised, to the priests' failure to believe in the resurrection of Christ:

"Any one may see, how Christ points at the infidelity of the Jews, even after that himself shall have risen again. From whence it is easy to judge what was the design and intention of this parable" (From the Talmud and Hebraica, Volume 3)[15]

E. W. Bullinger in the Companion Bible cited Lightfoot's comment above,[16] expanding it to include coincidence to lack of belief in the resurrection of the historical Lazarus (John 12:10, see below). Additionally, Bullinger considered that the lack of identification "parable" by Luke is because contains a parody of the view of the afterlife in the story:

"It is not called a parable because it cites a notable example of the Pharisee's tradition which had been brought from Babylon. See many other examples in Lightfoot vol.xii. pp.159-68" (Companion Bible, p.1488)

Drioux, a parable against the Sadducees

An alternative explanation of the parable is a satirical parable against the Sadducees. One writer to identify the Sadducees as the target was Johann Nepomuk Sepp.[17] The arguments in favour of identification of the Rich Man as the Sadducees are (1) the wearing of purple and fine linen, priestly dress,[18] (2) the reference to "five brothers in my father's house" as an allusion to Caiaphas' father-in-law Annas, and his five sons who also served as high priests according to Josephus,[19] (3) Abraham's statement in the parable that they would not believe even if he raised Lazarus, and then the fulfillment that when Jesus did raise Lazarus of Bethany the Sadducees not only did not believe, but attempted to have Lazarus killed again: "So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well" (John 12:10). This last interpretation had wide circulation in France during the 1860-'90s as a result of having been included in the notes of the pictorial Bible of Abbé Drioux.[20]

Perry, a parable of a new covenant

Simon Perry has argued that the Lazarus of the parable (an abbreviated transcript of 'Eleazer') refers to Eleazer of Damascus, Abraham's servant. In Genesis 15 - a foundational covenant text familiar to any 1st century Jew - God says to Abraham "this man will not be your heir" (Gen 15:4). Perry argues that this is why Lazarus is outside the gates of Abraham's perceived descendent. By inviting Lazarus to Abraham's bosom, Jesus is redefining the nature of the covenant. It also explains why the rich man assumes Lazarus is Abraham's servant.[21]

Afterlife doctrine

Main article: afterlife

Christians debate what the story says about the afterlife:

Most Christians believe in the immortality of the soul and particular judgment and see the story as consistent with it. Others believe that the main point of the parable was to warn the godless wealthy about their need for repentance in this life and Jesus did not intend to give a preview of life after death.[22] The parable teaches in this particular case that both identity and memory remain after death for the soul of the one in a hell.[6] Eastern Orthodox Christians and Latter Day Saints see the story as consistent with their belief in Hades, where the righteous and unrighteous alike await the resurrection of the dead. Western Christians usually interpret Lazarus as being in Heaven or Limbo and the rich man in Hell.

Some Christians believe in the mortality of the soul ("Christian mortalism" or "soul sleep") and general judgment ("Last Judgement") only. This view is held by some Anglicans such as E. W. Bullinger.[23] Proponents of the mortality of the soul, and general judgement, for example Advent Christians, Conditionalists, Seventh-day Adventists, Christadelphians, and Christian Universalists, argue that this is a parable using the framework of Jewish views of the Bosom of Abraham and is not definitive teaching on the intermediate state for several reasons.[24]

Literary provenance and legacy

Jewish sources

We have in fact one of the cases where the background to the teaching is more probably found in non-biblical sources.
I. Howard MarshallThe New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Luke, p. 634

Some scholars—e.g., G. B. Caird,[25] Joachim Jeremias,[26] Marshall,[27] Hugo Gressmann,[28]—suggest the basic storyline of The Rich Man and Lazarus was derived from Jewish stories that had developed from an Egyptian folk tale about Si-Osiris.[29][30] Richard Bauckham is less sure,[31] adding:

In any case, [Jesus] has used [motifs also found in the Egyptian and Jewish stories] to construct a new story, which as a whole is not the same as any other extant story. ...[Of course] comparison with the way they function in other stories can help to highlight their function in the parable. In this sense, the parallels and contrasts with the Egyptian and Jewish story of the rich and the poor man can be instructive...[32]

Steven Cox highlights other elements from Jewish myths that the parable could be mimicking.[33][34]

Legacy in Early Christianity and Medieval tradition

Hippolytus of Rome (ca. AD 200) describes Hades with similar details: the bosom of Abraham for the souls of the righteous, fiery torment for the souls of wicked, and a chasm between them.[35] He equates the fires of Hades with the lake of fire described in the Book of Revelation, but specifies that no one will actually be cast into the fire until the end times.

In some European countries, the Latin description dives (Latin for "the rich man") is treated as his proper name: Dives. In Italy, the description epulone (Italian for "banquetter") is also used as a proper name. Both descriptions appear together, but not as a proper name, in Peter Chrysologus's sermon De divite epulone (Latin "On the Rich Banquetter"), corresponding to the verse, "There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day".

The story was frequently told in an elaborated form in the medieval period, treating it as factual rather than a parable. Lazarus was venerated as a patron saint of lepers.[36] In the 12th century, crusaders in the Kingdom of Jerusalem founded the Order of Saint Lazarus.

The story was often shown in art, especially carved at the portals of churches, at the foot of which beggars would sit (for example at Moissac and Saint-Sernin, Toulouse), pleading their cause. There is a surviving stained-glass window at Bourges Cathedral.[37]

In the Latin liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, the words of In paradisum are sometimes chanted as the deceased is taken from church to burial, including this supplication: "Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere aeternam habeas requiem." (May the ranks of angels receive you, and with Lazarus, who was poor, may you have eternal rest.")

Conflation with Lazarus of Bethany

Historically within Christianity, the begging Lazarus of the parable (feast day June 21) and Lazarus of Bethany (feast day December 17) have often been conflated, with some churches celebrating a blessing of dogs, associated with the beggar, on December 17, the date associated with Lazarus of Bethany.[38]

Another example of this conflation can be found in Romanesque iconography carved on portals in Burgundy and Provence. For example, at the west portal of the Church of St. Trophime at Arles, the beggar Lazarus is enthroned as St. Lazarus. Similar examples are found at the church at Avallon, the central portal at Vézelay, and the portals of the cathedral of Autun.[39]

In literature and poetry

Chaucer's Summoner observes that "Dives and Lazarus lived differently, and their rewards were different."[40]

In William Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I, Sir John Falstaff alludes to the story while insulting his friend Bardolph about his face, comparing it to a memento mori: "I never see thy face," he says "but I think upon hell-fire and Dives that lived in purple; for there he is in his robes, burning, burning" (III, 3, 30-33).

In his novel Moby-Dick, Herman Melville alludes to Lazarus and Dives in Chapter Two as part of a metaphor describing a cold night in New Bedford.

"Now, that Lazarus should lie stranded there on the curbstone before the door of Dives, .." ( 1786)

References to Dives and Lazarus are a frequent image in socially conscious fiction of the Victorian period.[41] For example:

"workers and masters are separate as Dives and Lazarus" "ay, as separate as Dives and Lazarus, with a great gulf betwixt" (Elizabeth Gaskell; Mary Barton a tale of Manchester life 1848)
"Between them, and a working woman full of faults, there is a deep gulf set." (Charles Dickens; Hard Times 1854)

Although Dickens' A Christmas Carol and The Chimes do not make any direct reference to the story, the introduction to the Oxford edition of the Christmas Books does do so.[42]

Richard Crashaw wrote a metaphysical stanza for his Steps to the Temple in 1646 entitled, "Upon Lazarus His Tears":

Rich Lazarus! richer in those gems, thy tears,
Than Dives in the robes he wears:
He scorns them now, but oh they'll suit full well
With the purple he must wear in hell.[43]

Dives and Lazarus appear in Edith Sitwell's poem "Still falls the Rain" from "The Canticle of the Rose", first published in 1941. It was written after The Blitz on London in 1940. The poem is dark, full of the disillusions of World War II. It speaks of the failure of man, but also of God's continuing involvement in the world through Christ:[44]

Still falls the Rain
At the feet of the Starved Man hung upon the Cross.
Christ that each day, each night, nails there, have mercy on us—
On Dives and on Lazarus:
Under the Rain the sore and the gold are as one.[45]

Robert Frost’s poem "In Divés' Dive" is linked to the parable. Frost describes the plight of a loser in a long poker game, where the abyss between winning and losing players is huge (and financial), yet the loser still has hopes for a reversal of fortune. The juxtaposition of an all-night poker game with the Biblical parable makes for rich humor.

The poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot contains the lines: 'To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all", in reference to Dives' request to have Beggar Lazarus return from the dead to tell his brothers of his fate.

Benjamin Britten set Sitwell's text to music in his third Canticle in a series of five.[46]

In music and song

The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem

The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem (OSLJ) is an order of chivalry which originated in a leper hospital founded by Knights Hospitaller in the 12th century by Crusaders of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Order of Saint Lazarus is one of the most ancient of the European orders of chivalry, yet is one of the less-known and less-documented orders. The first mention of the Order of Saint Lazarus in surviving sources dates to 1142.

The Order was originally established to treat the virulent disease of leprosy, its knights originally being lepers themselves.[57] According to the Order's official international website, "From its foundation in the 12th century, the members of the Order were dedicated to two ideals: aid to those suffering from the dreadful disease of leprosy and the defense of the Christian faith."[58] Sufferers of leprosy regarded the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 19:19-31) as their patron saint and usually dedicated their hospices to him.[58]

The order was initially founded as a leper hospital outside the city walls of Jerusalem, but hospitals were established all across the Holy Land dependant on the Jerusalem hospital, notably in Acre. It is unknown when the order became militarised but militarisation occurred before the end of the 12th century due to the large numbers of Templars and Hospitallers sent to the leper hospitals to be treated. The order established ‘lazar houses’ across Europe to care for lepers, and was well supported by other military orders which compelled lazar brethren in their rule to join the order upon contracting leprosy.[59]

See also


External links

  • Biblical Art on the WWW:
    • Purple and Poverty
    • In Hades
  • An In-Depth Look at the Rich Man and Lazarus from a Universalist Perspective
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