The Baptismal Raising of Lazarus

A New Interpretation of John 11

In: Novum Testamentum
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  • 1 Universität Paderborn, Germany

Though well hidden, the theme of baptism informs the whole story of the raising of Lazarus (John 11). The note about Jesus’ sojourn at the very place where John the Baptist had previously been active (John 10:40-42) forms the introduction to the Lazarus story. Just as a musical clef dictates pitch, this passage announces the theme: baptism. Once readers are set on this track, they cannot miss the hidden point. Ritually, the person being baptised is pushed into the realm of death, so that he can emerge to a new life.

  • 1

    R.A. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 151.

  • 4

    W. Wilkens, “Die Erweckung des Lazarus,” ThZ 15 (1959) 22-39.

  • 5

    C.H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963) 232.

  • 6

    R. Bultmann, Die Geschichte der synoptischen Tradition (2nd ed.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1931) 236-241.

  • 9

    G. Theißen, Urchristliche Wundergeschichten (StNT 8; Gütersloh: Mohn, 1974) 94-125.

  • 10

    R. Chambers, “Commentary in Literary Texts,” Critical Inquiry 5 (1978) 323-337.

  • 11

    G. Stewart, Dear Reader: The Conscripted Audience in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).

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  • 12

    Chambers, “Commentary in Literary Texts,” 331.

  • 13

    R.A. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 149-202.

  • 17

    Kerényi, “Tod und Auferstehung,” 24.

  • 18

    M. Biraud, “La dévotion à Aphrodite dans le roman de Chariton,” in Hommage au doyen Weiss (ed. M. Dubrocard and C. Kircher; Nice: Université de Nice, 1996) 137-146.

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  • 19

    R. Petri, Über den Roman des Chariton (Meisenheim: Hain, 1963) lists numerous echoes of the mysteries in Chariton’s novel, though he fails to understand their religious implication. He rashly asserts that they are all meant ironically, an assumption based upon the misleading idea that Chariton was a “secular” author; Petri’s study must be corrected in the light of Biraud, “La dévotion à Aphrodite dans le roman de Chariton,” and D.A. Edwards, “Pleasurable Reading or Symbols of Power? Religious Themes and Social Context in Chariton,” in Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative (ed. R. F. Hock et al.; Atlanta, Ga.: sbl, 1998) 31-46.

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  • 20

    R. Merkelbach, Die Hirten des Dionysos: Die Dionysos-Mysterien der römischen Kaiserzeit und der bukolische Roman des Longus (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1988) 138.

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  • 21

    Chariton, Callirhoë 1.8.1. For the terminology and notion of “new birth” in mystery contexts, see K.E. Hammer, Disambiguating Rebirth: A Socio-Rhetorical Exploration of Rebirth-Language in 1 Peter (Ph.D. diss., University of Toronto, 2011) 183-209.

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  • 24

    R. Merkelbach, Isis regina—Zeus Sarapis: Die griechisch-ägyptische Religion nach den Quellen dargestellt (2nd ed.; Leipzig: Saur, 2001) 343.

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  • 25

    Merkelbach, Die Hirten des Dionysos, 100.

  • 28

    J.R. Michaels, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010) 624.

  • 37

    Acts Pet. 13; see R.F. Stoops, The Acts of Peter (Early Christian Apocrypha 4; Salem, Oreg.: Polebridge, 2012) 62-63.

  • 39

    M. Smith, Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973) 174: “The Lazarus story, in both its Johannine and [Secret] Markan forms, was connected with baptismal resurrection.” M. Smith is the only one who has recognised the baptismal meaning of the Lazarus story, though he does not elaborate the point. Otherwise, I found only two casual references to the theme of baptism in the literature about John 11: (1) John 11:25-27 may echo a ritual dialogue that formed part of the baptismal liturgy; M. Labahn, Jesus als Lebensspender: Untersuchungen zu einer Geschichte der johanneischen Tradition (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1999) 422. (2) “I make no claim that the performance of John 11 was linked with baptism; but the story must clearly be brought into relation with Romans 6:1-11,” R. Griffith-Jones, “Apocalyptic Mystagogy: Rebirth from Above in the Reception of John’s Gospel,” in John’s Gospel and Intimations of Apocalyptic (ed. C.H. Williams and C. Rowland; London: Bloomsbury, 2013) 274-299, 294 n. 48.—Finally, mention must be made of T.J. Talley, The Origins of the Liturgical Year (2nd ed.; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1991) 203-214 who, on the basis of M. Smith’s Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, explores the possibility of connecting the “Lazarus Saturday” of Eastern Christianity with a commemoration of Jesus as the baptiser of one of his disciples.

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  • 40

    Chambers, “Commentary in Literary Texts,” 337.

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