Some stories are just too good not to share. They have to be preserved. This is one of those stories.
The raising of Lazarus was a staged, public demonstration against the Temple‘s onerous Para Aduma law, invoked for coming into contact with a dead body.
By Arch Stanton
By the time of the Mikdash, (second Temple) the priesthood’s laws had morphed into a byzantine legal structure argued endlessly over by the kohanim, rabbis, P’rushim (Pharisees) and various other Temple authorities. Life under Mikdash law had become an endless string of commandments, thou shalt and thou shalt not, governing almost every conceivable detail of a Jew’s life. One could never tell when they had sinned, for while one kohein or P’rushim would say they had, others would argue the counterpoint. The Essene sages had taught Yeshu to master such legal arguments and wrangling. As with the P’rushim who had challenged him with payment to Caesar, more than once he had rebuked them with brilliant counter point. Now he had begun to use his powers as a kohein to challenge Mikdash authority.
Originally, the law of coming into contact with a dead body, described as “the most unclean thing of all”, was developed to protect the blood marking of the ritual sacrifice. (See my article about the Tabernacle) The idea was to eliminate contact with any blood source that might be used to counterfeit the sacrificial blood marking. However, by the time of the second Mikdash, the law had become little more than a scheme to fill its coffers. Even so, a special causeway had been constructed to connect the Mikdash mount to the Mount of Olives to prevent kohanim from coming into contact with a grave.
The result of this proscription was a “Chukat” or suprarational decree; a law without logical explanation. The Chukat Para Aduma, described in the book of Numbers, is the ritual purification of the individual who had contacted a dead body, a process involving the sacrifice of an unblemished red calf along with a piece of cedar wood, a bundle of hyssop and a scarlet thread. The ashes of these elements were mixed in water and sprinkled upon the defiled person or object. The kohein performing the ritual then becomes ritually unclean, and therefore had to bathe himself and his clothes in a ritual Mikveh and was deemed impure until evening. The laws concerning this sacrifice are notoriously difficult to comprehend. Sometimes the process rendered the individual pure while at other times rendered them impure.
A gentile idolater once said to a Rebbe, “These acts which you do appear like sorcery! You bring a heifer, burn it, crush it, and mix its ashes with sticks and thread and if one of you is impure from a corpse, you sprinkle two or three drops of the concoction upon him and tell him he is pure!”
The Rebbe explained this in the following manner, “While there are many commandments that appeal directly to our sense of logic, and still others that after having been commanded make sense to us, there are other laws that entirely defy human understanding. Such a law is this curious procedure for purification from contact with a corpse. To eliminate death we need to eliminate evil, which is accomplished through cutting off its original power supply. The spiritual origins of the red heifer is connected to the last stage of divine transmission before it descends into the realms of evil to give them life. Through this amazing process of burning the red heifer, we assure that the flow of YHVH’s energy remains channeled toward holiness. Evil’s power supply is then permanently halted and the evil itself is fully eliminated.”
The existence of a red heifer conforming to the rigid requirements imposed by halakha is a biological rarity. The law states the animal must be entirely of one color and stipulates a series of tests to ensure the animal’s status. For instance, the cow’s hair must be absolutely straight, this to ensure the animal had not been previously yoked.
According to Jewish tradition, only nine Red Heifers were slaughtered between the time of Moshe to the completion of the Second Mikdash. A later Parah recounts eight of these. Moses prepared the first, Ezra the second, Simon the Just and Y’ochanan, the kohein gadol, prepared two each, and Elioenai ben HaQayaph and Hanameel the Egyptian prepared one each.
The absolute rarity of the animal, combined with the detailed ritual in which it is used, gave the red heifer special status among Hebrew traditions. It is cited as the prime example of a khok, or biblical law for which there is no apparent logic, and is therefore deemed of absolute divine origin.
According to tradition, the ceremony took place on the Mount of Olives. A ritually pure kohein slaughtered the heifer, and sprinkled its blood in the direction of the Mikdash seven times. The Red Heifer was then burnt on a pyre, together with crimson dyed wool, hyssop, and cedar wood.
Obtaining such an animal was impossible outside the Mikdash, for only a kohein could declare the animal ritually pure. Thus, one had to buy the ashes of the animal from the Mikdash. However, since only nine of these animals had been sanctified since the time of Moses, only the ashes from a previous sacrifice were available. When one purchased the ashes from a kohein, they simply had to trust that these were actually the ashes from one of these animals. Herein lay tremendous, hypocritical, chutzpa. While the original law of contacting a dead body was implemented to prevent the counterfeiting of the blood mark, the sacrificial ashes used to ritually purify one who broke the law could easily be counterfeited! This assured an endless supply of these sacred ashes to the Mikdash kohanim.
The rarity of the animal, combined with the complexity of the ceremony related to a proportional increase in expense, therefore one can only guess what this ceremony cost first century Jews. Obviously, tight control over the system taxed the means of even wealthy Jews. It is telling that Yeshu’s first resurrection was the daughter of a wealthy Mikdash official who feared the cost of the purification ceremony. Thus, even the upper classes of Judean society were not exempt from the Para Aduma.
Because of this onerous penalty, people had resorted to burying their loved ones alive. The crux of the problem lay in a kohein’s authority to declare the state of quietus. Under the law, death was not a matter of the actual physical state of an individual, but a tricky legal issue. By law, one might be declared legally dead, although physically they were still among the living. The trick to avoiding the sacrificial penalty lay in the disposal of the body before invoking the penalty incurred by an official proclamation of death.
Special beds were developed with handles. These “death beds” allowed the transport of the body to the grave. The dying would be cleaned and wrapped in a burial shroud and then transported to the sepulcher were the individual would die of dehydration and/or starvation. The final stage of dehydration is shock. This is characterized by blue-gray skin that’s cold to the touch, a condition noted in both descriptions and depictions.
After three days, the body was inspected to verify an actual state of death, as it was exceptional for an individual to survive three days without water in Judea’s hot climate. After decomposition, the bones were collected and buried, opening up a space in the sepulcher for the next body. Needless to say, by the time of Yeshu, a very real fear of being buried alive had arisen among the Mikdash faithful.
There was however, another subtle twist in the complicated process. Over the centuries, the priests’ sacrificial bloodlust had developed a certain pathological state among the kohanim whereby members derived a perverse pleasure from witnessing the suffering of others. Centuries of bloody butchering in the sacrifice of animals had created a breed of coldblooded psychopaths who felt no remorse or empathy towards those over whom they ruled. Thus, the official proclamation of death was often delivered with perverse pleasure to both rich and poor alike. For the kohanim it was, so to speak, a win/win situation. Either loved ones invoked and paid the excessive penalty imposed by the Para Aduma or the kohanim would be able to savor the sounds of misery and suffering that was sweet savor to their ears.
For this reason, death represented not only a legal issue, but a moral one as well. Yeshu had already “raised” two others from the dead by using his priestly power to reverse the Temple’s decree of death. Tellingly, his first admonishment to the families was to feed the revived “corpse.” However, these acts of resurrection were simply to relieve the pain and suffering of family members. The raising of Lazarus was different. Lazarus would provide a public spectacle, bringing into question Temple law that governed the death process.
Jesus’ “lament” over Lazarus was due to his late arrival on the fourth day. Typically a Temple priest would enter the sepulcher after the third day, unwrap the head of the victim for a secondary validation of death and make his final proclamation of death.
The idea for the demonstration was to have Lazarus lay in the sepulcher for three days, at which time Jesus would appear and rescind the proclamation of death, thereby negating the Para Aduma law. Remember, Jesus was a priest with the authority to rescind the law. This would have been known by the witnessing crowd.
Few among the ill survived three days in a sepulcher without food and water. Dehydration was the usual cause of death in these situations. Had Lazarus actually been dead, it would have ruined the planned public demonstration against the Temple‘s Para Aduma. Not to mention how Lazarus would have felt about his failure. See, even Jesus fucks up sometimes, after all he’s only human.
Let’s take another look at the story from John eleven.
Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby.
It’s clear from this description Lazarus was sick, but not unto death. The “glory of god” ranting was John’s religious interpretation of the idea that rebuking the Para Aduma would help glorify Jesus’ efforts and further his ministry refuting sacrificial law.
When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again?
These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.
Instead of rushing to his beloved friend’s side, Jesus intentionally waits two more days, what is he waiting for? Jesus bides his time saying “Lazarus is sleeping,” but what else would Lazarus be doing while laying wrapped in a burial shroud lying in a sepulcher? Suddenly, out of the blue, Jesus declares Lazarus is dead despite the fact he is still two days away from bet ‘anya and there were no smart phones. So Jesus arrives four day after the fact. Again one must understand Temple custom to understand the timing here.
Three days after a body was interred in the sepulcher, the stone would be “rolled away” (most were actually square) so the state of quietus could be determined by a Temple priest who would then perform the last rites. For this purpose, the body was wrapped separately from the head so it could be unwrapped and checked for breath. Most everyone died after there days interment in Judea’s hot climate. So day four was late arrival for Jesus.
This custom brings to light an interesting point about the fabled “Shroud of Turin. Since the shroud was a single piece of cloth, this could only mean one of two things. (1) Most likely the shroud is a fake or (2) Jesus was not yet dead and they did not want to take a chance of smothering him in his weakened state by wrapping his head with a Corona virus mask. A third possibility is that both other possibilities are the case.
Now Bethany was nigh unto Jerusalem, about fifteen furlongs off: And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.
Note how Jerusalem, home of the Temple, is a couple of miles outside bet ‘anya. Coincidently, this is the same bet ‘anya, (“house of alms” or “house of the poor/beggar,”) where John performed his modified Mikveh called “baptism” to forgive sin at no charge and initiate Jesus into the priesthood. Really now, could Lazarus and his sisters, living outside Jerusalem in place called “house of the poor” (alms) been that big of a social item for urbane citizens of Jerusalem? Or was it more likely a crowd is persuaded to come over from Jerusalem to bear witness to an event that would have been somewhere on the scale of a superbowl playoff? “Hey Manny! Did you hear a renegade priest called Yeshu is going to rebuke Temple law at sacrificial half-time by raising some guy from the tomb? This I gotta’ see!”
Jesus therefore again groaning in himself cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.
“Groaning in himself” is Aramaic for “sweating bullets” What really stinketh is the traditional Christian interpretation of this story.
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by, I said it that they may believe that thou hast sent me.
What Jesus actually meant was, “Father I thank thee that thou hast heard my prayers and Lazarus is still alive! But none in the crowd shall know of my error, because they will believe thou has sent me.
And now, the grand finale.
And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go
Standing outside the sepulcher, Jesus picks up his bullhorn and says, “Lazarus drop the sandwich and come out with your napkin up.” And lo, Lazarus stumbles from the tomb fit to be tied.
Pretty trick way of raising the dead if you ask me. No laying on of hands, no serious prayer for help or guidance, just a loud yell and Lazarus comes stumbling out of the Tomb. What was not recorded was Lazarus words to Jesus, to wit, “Where were you Jesus? I waited for you in that damn tomb for four days, FOUR DAYS! Jesus, get your act together, be on time will ya? I might have died in there!”
Yet the ultimate key to understanding this story is found in the kohein gadol’s response.
And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; [. . .] But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death;
“Kill them both” is not the kind of response one would expect from priests for the act of raising the dead. Why would they want to kill a man that just stepped from a sepulcher unless they were really, really pissed off at these guys for staging their demonstration?