‘A finely crafted and strangely addictive novel’ – Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard

“The chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus”

What do we know about Lazarus only that he died and after four days Jesus raised him back to life. Lazarus had two sisters Mary and Martha. Most importantly he is mentioned in the bible as being a friend of Jesus. And that is where the story ends apparently. But who is Lazarus? Using a variety of sources including the Bible, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Sagramento, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis not to mention various references in both film and art Richard Beard creates a highly plausible life of Lazarus from his birth, through to death, resurrection and beyond.

Far from Lazarus being a peripheral figure Beard places Lazarus at the centre of the Jesus story. Since childhood Lazarus has lead the way while Jesus has followed. It is Lazarus who’s the innovator while Jesus is the disciple. This is the way it’s been since the two were children in Nazareth.

Taken to its conclusion the resurrection of Lazarus is seen as being a dry run for the resurrection of Jesus. Beard imagines that it takes a whole year for Lazarus to die. He graphically, but in a style that it both highly medical and coolly observant, describes the agonies that Lazarus endures before he finally succumbs to death. The Bible mentions seven plagues in Israel at the time, Lazarus endures each. It is Beard’s use of characters historical, biblical and fictional which lends further credibility to the novel. For example Yanav the healer is hired by Lazarus’s family. A John the Baptist like character who is little more than a charlatan. Cassius is a Roman officer and head of intelligence in Jerusalem he will stop at no ends to maintain the Roman power base. The reader gets an intimate sense of what Jerusalem was like at time of the death of Lazarus and Jesus. A city suffering under the weight of Roman imperialism. A city fermenting with revolutionary zeal. A city waiting for its messiah.

Throughout the novel Jesus is eclipsed by Lazarus. Cassius is convinced that Lazarus is about to claim he is the Messiah. Jesus remains in Lazarus’s shadow. Lazarus is the main event, Jesus the sideshow. We never hear Jesus speak and know him only from his actions. Lazarus in contrast is a more sympathetic human character with all the accompanying faults and failings of a human being. He wants to marry Saloma the daughter of the high priest. Such a marriage would secure his business interests in the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is distant and aloof, he is protected by his disciples and in order to see him you talk to them first.

By the end of the novel the reader can’t help but empathise with Lazarus. He died, came back, yet but for one reference in the gospel of St. John was all but written out of the bible story. What happens to Lazarus after Jesus’ resurrection remains a mystery though Beard through local myth and legend creates a highly plausible history for him. According to Beard, Lazarus ends his days on the island of Cyprus as a bishop for the nascent church.

Any Cop?: Lazarus Is Dead is a finely crafted and strangely addictive novel and one which finally puts flesh and bones on the shadow of a character we know as Lazarus.

Joe Phelan

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