Rich man and Lazarus

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a well-known parable of Jesus appearing in the Gospel of Luke.
In the parable, Jesus tells his audience – his disciples and some Pharisees – of the relationship, during life and after death, between an unnamed rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. The traditional name Dives is not actually a name, but instead a word for "rich man", , in the text of the Latin Bible, the Vulgate. The rich man was also given the names Neuēs and Fineas in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Anonymity and naming play an important role in this parable. Ordinarily, poverty is anonymous, and wealth is acknowledged. Yet Lazarus is named, and the rich man is anonymous, anticipating the reversal that occurs at the end.
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, perhaps because of its vivid account of an afterlife.


Luke 16:19–31, New International Version:


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

As a literal historical event

Some Christians view the story not as a parable, but as an actual event which was related by Jesus to his followers. This was generally the view of the medieval Church.
Supporters of this view point to a key detail in the story: the use of a personal name not found in any other parable. By contrast, in all of the other parables Jesus refers to a central character by a description, such as "a certain man", "a sower", and so forth..
Critics of this view point out that "The soul that sins, it shall die" ; "For dust you are and to dust you shall return". Paul describes death as sleep until the Day of the Lord, when the dead will receive glorified bodies upon the resurrection. No scripture, other than Philippians 1:23–25, 2 Corinthians 12:2–4, 2 Corinthians 5:8, etc., accounts for a disembodied soul and its comfort or torture. Because this seems to raise 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.

As a parable created by Jesus

Other Christians consider that this is a parable created by Jesus and told to his followers. Tom Wright and Joachim Jeremias 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.

Jesus using parable against the High Priest

According to Josephus, Caiaphas was appointed High Priest in AD 18 by the Roman prefect who preceded Pontius Pilate, Valerius Gratus.
One identification is that the man in torment in the parable is Caiaphas the High Priest. Caiaphas met the criteria Jesus gives in the parable to the identity of the Rich Man. He was rich, and as the high priest was dressed in purple and fine linen, he had five brothers, and was well versed in Moses and the Prophets, but according to Jesus, were ignoring what they wrote.

Luther: a parable of the conscience

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:

Lightfoot: a parable against the Pharisees

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:
E. W. Bullinger in the Companion Bible cited Lightfoot's comment, and expanded it to include coincidence to lack of belief in the resurrection of the historical Lazarus. Bullinger considered that Luke did not identify the passage as a "parable" because it contains a parody of the view of the afterlife:

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. The arguments in favour of identification of the Rich Man as the Sadducees are the wearing of purple and fine linen, priestly dress, 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, 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". This last interpretation had wide circulation in France during the 1860s–1890s as a result of having been included in the notes of the pictorial Bible of Abbé Drioux.

Perry: a parable of a new covenant

Simon Perry has argued that the Lazarus of the parable refers to Eliezer of Damascus, Abraham's servant. In Genesis 15—a foundational covenant text familiar to any first century Jew—God says to Abraham "this man will not be your heir". Perry argues that this is why Lazarus is outside the gates of Abraham's perceived descendant. 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.

Afterlife doctrine

Most Christians believe in the immortality of the soul and particular judgment and see the story as consistent with it, or even refer to it to establish these doctrines like St. Irenaeus did. 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. The parable teaches in this particular case that both identity and memory remain after death for the soul of the one in a hell. 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 Paradise and the rich man in Hell. The belief in a state of Limbo is less common.
Some Christians believe in the mortality of the soul and general judgment only. This view is held by some Anglicans such as E. W. Bullinger. Proponents of the mortality of the soul, and general judgment, for example Advent Christians, Conditionalists, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christadelphians, and Christian Universalists, argue that this is a parable using the framework of Jewish views of the Bosom of Abraham, and is metaphorical, and is not definitive teaching on the intermediate state for several reasons. In hades is itself thrown into the "lake of fire" after being emptied of the dead.

Literary provenance and legacy

Jewish sources

Some scholars—e.g., G. B. Caird, Joachim Jeremias, Marshall, Hugo Gressmann,—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. Richard Bauckham is less sure, adding:
In any case, has used to construct a new story, which as a whole is not the same as any other extant story.... 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...

Steven Cox highlights other elements from Jewish myths that the parable could be mimicking.

Legacy in Early Christianity and Medieval tradition

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. 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 is treated as his proper name: Dives. In Italy, the description epulone 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, 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. 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, pleading their cause. There is a surviving stained-glass window at Bourges Cathedral.
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".

Conflation with Lazarus of Bethany

The name Lazarus, from the Hebrew: אלעזר, Elʿāzār, Eleazar—"God is my help", also belongs to the more famous biblical character Lazarus of Bethany, known as "Lazarus of the Four Days", who is the subject of a prominent miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus resurrects him four days after his death.
Historically within Christianity, the begging Lazarus of the parable and Lazarus of Bethany 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.
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.

In literature and poetry

's Summoner observes that "Dives and Lazarus lived differently, and their rewards were different."
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". When recalling the death of Falstaff in Henry V the description of Lazarus in heaven is parodied as "He’s in Arthur’s bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom."
References to Dives and Lazarus are a frequent image in socially conscious fiction of the Victorian period. For example:
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.
In Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, Ishmael describes a windswept and cold night from the perspective of Lazarus and Dives.
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.
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.

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:

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.

In music and song

"Vater Abraham, erbarme dich mein, SWV 477 ", a work by Heinrich Schütz, is a setting of the dialog between Abraham and the rich man dating to the 1620s. It is notable for its virtuosic text-painting of the flames of hell, as well as being an important example of the "dialog" as a step towards the development of the oratorio.
"Dives Malus" also known as "Historia Divitis" by Giacomo Carissimi is a Latin paraphrase of the Luke text, set as an oratorio for 2 sopranos, tenor, bass; for private performance in the oratories of Rome in the 1640s. Mensch, was du tust a German sacred concerto by Johann Philipp Förtsch.
The story appeared as an English folk song whose oldest written documentation dates from 1557, 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. Ralph Vaughan Williams based his orchestral piece Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus on this folk song, and also used an arrangement as the hymn tune Kingsfold. Benjamin Britten set Edith Sitwell's poem "Still Falls the Rain" to music in his third Canticle in a series of five.
The traditional US gospel song "Dip Your Fingers In The Water" has been recorded in various versions by a number of artists, notably by folk singer and civil rights activist Josh White on his 1947 album "Josh White – Ballads And Blues Volume 2". The lyrics contain the recurring refrain "Dip your finger in the water, come and cool my tongue, cause I'm tormented in the flame".
Lazarus American soft rock band releasing their first, self-titled album in 1971. The trio of musical friends met as students in a Texas college, and are noted as early artists in the Contemporary Christian movement.
"No Second Chances" by Whitecross, a Christian band's musical interpretation of the parable.
"Diversus and Lazarus" by Steeleye Span on the album They Called Her Babylon is based on the Child Ballad.
"Crumbs from Your Table" by U2 on the album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb references this passage.
"Chasm" was a music video performed by Flyleaf, a Christian band, referencing the parable.
"Lazarus" by Circa Survive on the album Appendage refers to this passage.
"Lazarus" was the last single that David Bowie released before his death.

The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem

The Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem 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. 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." Sufferers of leprosy regarded the beggar Lazarus as their patron saint and usually dedicated their hospices to him.
The order was initially founded as a leper hospital outside the city walls of Jerusalem, but hospitals were established all across the Holy Land dependent 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.