Dear Straight Dope:
Whatever happened to Lazarus? As scripture says, he was the brother of Mary Magdalene (of Da Vinci Code fame) and Christ raised him from the dead. Later on he supposedly left for France with Mary and was beheaded there. Is this right? What really happened to Lazarus after he received a second life?
Unfortunately, scripture is silent on the post-mortem life of Lazarus of Bethany, who was, for the benefit of all you heathens out there, said to have been raised from death by Jesus. The story is told in the Book of John, chapter 11. Lazarus was the brother of Martha and Mary, the woman who had anointed Jesus with perfumed oil, and he had already been entombed for four days by the time Jesus arrived in Bethany. Jesus commanded that the stone blocking Lazarus’s tomb be removed, disregarding warnings about how bad a four-day-old corpse would smell. With the tomb opened, he called out, “Lazarus, come forth!” and sure enough, Lazarus, still bound in his burial clothes, came stumbling out, very much alive. Reports of this miracle soon reached Caiaphas, the high priest, and confirmed the feeling amongst the existing power structure that Jesus was upsetting the status quo to such an extent that he really had to be dealt with. This set in motion a chain of events we’re all pretty familiar with.
Lazarus simply doesn’t have much of a role after that. John 12 recounts that the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus in order to discredit the story of his resurrection, but there’s no explicit account of whether or how he avoided that fate.
Where the Bible leaves off, however, the richness of tradition takes over: early Christianity offers not one but two versions of the subsequent life of Lazarus.
We should note first that it’s not universally accepted that Mary the sister of Lazarus and Martha is in fact the same person as Mary Magdalene. Roman Catholic teachings tell us she is; most Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox churches don’t agree. In any event, the Eastern churches contend that the three siblings made their way from Judea to Cyprus, where Lazarus became the first bishop of Kition. The Church of Saint Lazarus in the modern city of Larnaca is said to be built over the second tomb of Lazarus, in which he was interred following a death from natural causes some 30 years after his initial demise. Lazarus’s bodily remains, the story goes on, were moved in 890 AD from that tomb to Constantinople at the behest of Byzantine emperor Leo VI, known as “the Wise.” This was perhaps not the wisest of moves, in that a mere 300 years later crusaders sacked Constantinople and despoiled it of various saints’ relics, Lazarus’s among them. His remains were supposedly brought back to Marseilles by the Franks, and from there lost to history.
The Roman Catholic, or Western, church holds that Lazarus ended up in France as well, but in this version he gets there while still breathing. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, along with Saint Maximin and others, are said to have been set upon by “paynims” – not literal pagans in this case, but Jews unconvinced by Christian religious claims – and cast adrift in a boat without oars, sails, or rudder. The Golden Legend, a medieval compilation of saints’ lives by Jacobus de Voragine, recounts that “by the conduct of our Lord they came all to Marseilles,” where Lazarus spread the gospel and eventually became bishop. He is said to have survived the persecution of Christians by the Roman emperor Nero by hiding in a crypt, appropriately enough, but fared worse during subsequent persecution by the emperor Domitian, when he was captured and beheaded. His body was supposedly taken to the city of Autun in eastern France and interred under the cathedral there; his head is said to have remained in Marseilles as a venerated relic.
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