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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
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Feast June 21
Patronage the poor, against leprosy
Order of St Lazarus

Dives and Lazarus, also called Lazarus and Dives or The Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus, is one of the parables of Jesus. Recorded only in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 16:19-31), it tells of the relationship (in life and in death) between an unnamed rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. In the text of the Latin Bible, the Vulgate, since the rich man is not named, he is referred to as Dives from dives, the Latin word for rich man.[1] The story has been a favorite for artists and theologians, as it is the most vivid account of an afterlife to be found in the New Testament.

The name Lazarus (from the Hebrew: אלעזר, Elʿāzār, Eleazar - "God (has) helped") 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. While the two characters have sometimes been conflated historically, they are generally understood to be two separate characters. 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 begger of this story.


The story

The story is as follows:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's Side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell,[2] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 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.' 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. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 'No, Father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' 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.'

New International Version

Views of historicity

There are different views on the historicity and origin of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus.[3] The story is unique to Luke and does not appear to come from the putative Q document, and therefore there have been questions about sources.


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;[4] 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 name.

As a parable created by Jesus

Other Christians consider that this is a parable created by Jesus and told to his followers.[5] 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).

O. Sellers holds this account as a satirical parable which represents a masterful expose of the Pharisees. Through satire, Jesus effectively strips the Pharisees of any pretense of righteousness and thoroughly discredits their justification for ignoring the poor in Israel. The thought here is that when examining Luke 16:19-31 in the light of history, we note a rather suspicious resemblance between Jesus’ story of The Rich Man and Lazarus, and the traditional teachings of the Pharisees. Sellers' concludes that Jesus was not setting out to confirm Pharisaic beliefs about Bosom of Abraham.[6] True, he told their story; the same story they had told a thousand times before, but with one important difference; a rather ironic twist you might say, that sees the Rich Man waking up in torment in Hades and being denied the slightest assistance by application of the same logic whereby he had regularly denied the poor and destitute while on earth. It would not take much imagination to visualize the headlines in the Jerusalem Gazette the morning after Jesus told His version of their story, humorously conveying how the Lord had turned the tables on the Pharisees in the afterlife.

An alternative explanation of the parable is a satirical parable against the Sadducees. The arguments in favour of identification of the Rich Man as the Sadducees are (1) the wearing of purple and fine linen, priesty dress, (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, (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) [7]

As a mixture of Jesus and early Christian material

A third view says that the bulk of the parable was told by Jesus but was supplemented with later additions of material composed by others after Jesus' crucifixion. In this view, the early part of the story (Luke 16:19-26) is a parable told by Jesus, while the concluding verses (27-31) represent material added to the story by early Christians. In these verses, the rich man requests Lazarus be raised from the dead so as to serve as warning to the rich man's living brothers. For proponents of interpolation, this is an allegorical reference to the rejection of early Christianity by mainstream Judaism.

As originated by Luke

A fourth view holds that the story was not told by Jesus. Proponents of this view suggest that it is significant that only the Gospel of Luke mentions Jesus telling the story (see Synoptic Gospels). The story fits well with Luke's emphasis on care for the poor and therefore they suggest that it may be an authorial insertion.


The parable illustrates a theme common to several of Jesus' parables: the treatment of the least of society is the true measure of piety. The rich man's claims to external virtue and legal satisfaction could not compensate for his neglect of the poor man. Jesus taught, repeatedly, that the Kingdom of God is within the soul and not in the law, in contrast to the Pharisean understanding of the Messiah.

What makes this parable even more poignant is that the author of the Gospel is apparently also the author of the Acts of the Apostles, which relates the events after the Resurrection (or at very least, is aware of the resurrection). The readers are aware that not only do they have the words of Moses and the Prophets but that someone returned from death, too. Further, for early Christians, the parable answers the question of why, after the resurrection, Jesus did not preach and give new warnings to the living.

The parable is unique in that, unlike others where Jesus referred to the characters as "a certain man", "a sower", etc., one of the characters was referred to by name. There is a minority view which holds that, because of this, the story isn't a parable, but a reference to a real beggar named Lazarus and a real wealthy individual. There is also a third view that both are true, that the parallel between Luke 16:26 and John 12:10 indicates that it was a parable told about a real Lazarus, possibly when news came to Jesus that Lazarus had died.

Afterlife doctrine

Christians debate what the story says about the afterlife. Most Christians believe in particular judgment and see the story as consistent with it. Eastern Orthodox Christians see the story as consistent with their belief in Hades, where the righteous and unrighteous alike await the resurrection of the dead. Similarly, Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), believe in a Spirit World, where the righteous wait in peace and the unrighteous with a consciousness of their sins. (The word translated as Hell in the King James Version of this story is Hades.) Western Christians usually interpret Lazarus as being in Heaven or Limbo and the rich man in Hell.

Instead of particular judgment, some Christians believe in soul sleep and general judgment only. Proponents of general judgment, for example Seventh-day Adventists and Christian Universalists, argue that this is a parable referring to Jewish and Gentile views of the Messiah. Other advocates of general judgment simply say that it is a parable that is devoted to morality, not the afterlife.

In the secular view, and in the views of some Jews, the story represents the 1st-century Jewish belief in Sheol. Sheol is where all the dead go. In Sheol, the dead are unaware of their situation. Some among the Jews believed in the hope of the resurrection from the dead, others believed death was final. In sheol there is no pleasure or pain as the dead can experience neither ["For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten" (ECC 9:5) and "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest" ECC 9-10]

References 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.[8] 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.

The story was frequently told in an elaborated form in the Medieval period, and, as the story was believed to be factual rather than a parable, Lazarus was venerated as a patron saint of lepers by the Roman Catholic Church.[9] In the twelfth century, crusaders in the Kingdom of Jerusalem founded the Order of Saint Lazarus.

It 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), promoting their cause. There is a surviving stained-glass window at Bourges Cathedral.[10]

Chaucer's Summoner observes that "Dives and Lazarus lived differently, and their rewards were different."[11]

In literature

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. (Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. pp. 11–12.  )

Dives' stifled desire to revisit Israel to warn his brothers of his torment resembles Jacob Marley's successful and celebrated manifestation to similarly steer Ebenezer Scrooge from the path to suffering after death in "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens.

In song

  • The story appeared as an English folk song whose oldest written documentation dates from 1557[12], with the depiction of the afterlife altered to fit Christian tradition. The song was also published as the Child ballad Dives and Lazarus in the 19th century.[13]
"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."
  • North American slaves of the 19th century sang a spiritual about Lazarus and Dives called "Poor Man Lazarus.".[14]
  • Both names 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 raids on London in 1940. The poem is dark, full of the disillusions of World War II. It speaks of the failure of man, and of the yet unconditional love of God. Benjamin Britten set Sitwell's text to music in his third Canticle in a series of five. The names appear in Verse IV: "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." The setting clearly depicts the common suffering of both sinner and saint, especially during a time of war.
"Only a tramp was Lazurus by fate
He who lay down at the rich man's gate
He begged for some crumbs from the rich man to eat
He was only a tramp found dead on the street"
The song goes on to compare the death and resurrection of Jesus to the death of Lazarus, and to ask the listener if he or she would turn Jesus away or invite him in to eat.
  • The Christian metal band Whitecross performed a song called "No Second Chances" telling the story of Lazarus the beggar.
  • The alternative rock band, Flyleaf, released their 2009 album, Memento Mori, which features a sing titled "Chasm". Front-woman Lacey Mosely seems to be in Hell, begging for water and wishing to warn her loved ones. She seems to be in denial, claiming "The Chasm Isn't Fixed Yet".

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 twelfth 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.[15] 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."[16] Sufferers of leprosy regarded the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 19:19-31) as their patron saint and usually dedicated their hospices to him.[16]

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 twelfth 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 on contracting leprosy.

See also

External links


  1. ^ "Luke, chapter 16 verse 19". The Bible - Latin Vulgate. Vatican. Retrieved 2006-06-30.   - "homo quidam erat dives et induebatur purpura et bysso et epulabatur cotidie splendide"
  2. ^ Greek: Hades
  3. ^ Multiple sources summarized at Jesus Database
  4. ^ e.g. Webpage which argues that Lazarus and the rich man is literally true.
  5. ^ eg The IVP Bible Background Commentary, Tom Wright's Luke for Everyone and Joachim Jeremias's The Parables of Jesus all refers to it as a "Parable"
  6. ^ Apocalypse of Zephaniah
  7. ^ Whittaker, H.A. Studies in the gospels. Biblia, Staffordshire 1984, 2nd Ed. 1989 p495
  8. ^ Against Plato, On the Cause of the Universe
  9. ^ Lazarus on the Catholic Community Forum.
  10. ^ Emile Male, The Gothic Image , Religious Art in France of the Thirteen Century, p 200, English trans of 3rd edn, 1913, Collins, London (and many other editions)
  11. ^ The Summoners's Prologue and Tale , line 1877 - "Lazar and Dives lyveden diversly, And divers gerdon hadden they therby."
  12. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish popular Ballads, Part IV, 1886; referring to (inter alia) Arber, Registers of the Company of Stationers
  13. ^ anonymous; from Child ballad 56 A, from Sylvester: a Garland of Christmas Carols, from an old Birmingham broadside. "Dives and Lazarus". The Oxford Book of Ballads, 1910. Retrieved 2006-06-29.  
  14. ^ "Poor man Lazarus". Repertoire. Retrieved 2006-06-29.  
  15. ^ David Marcombe, Leper Knights: The Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem in England, c. 1150-1544 (Rochester, NY: Boydell) 2003; Chapter 1 gives the general history.
  16. ^ a b "History", official international website of the Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem. Retrieved on 2009-09-14.


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