If you have read my posts so far on David Seccombe’s The King of God’s Kingdom, you have noticed that he uses John’s gospel as a more accurate source for the chronology of Jesus’ life than the other gospels. That is unusual among scholars today, but not unprecedented. Paula Fredricksen, a much more liberal scholar than Seccombe, also takes chronological cues from John’s gospel. The argument is that Jesus is quite likely to have gone to Jerusalem for several feasts, as John has it. The synoptics mention no feasts except the final Passover (Luke does have him in Jerusalem as a child).
However, Seccombe goes beyond more secular scholars when he argues that the resurrection of Lazarus really happened and is an event that played a crucial part in the lead-up to the crucifixion.
He admits that Lazarus is the most widely doubted of Jesus’ miracles. He even admits that there are solid reasons for being suspicious about it. For one thing, you have to explain why, if it played a major role in the final events, none of the synoptics mention it. The line taken by many scholars is that the story was manufactured out of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke. It didn’t happen. It is just a symbolic story.
But Seccombe asks if the use of the name of Lazarus in Luke might run the other way. Luke’s use of the name might be influenced by the story of raising Lazarus. The two are related, but the dependence could run either way.
The story in John uses many names and relationships that were well-known in the early church. His sisters, Mary and Martha, seem to have been real people familiar to the Jerusalem church.
The effect that the report of Lazarus’s resurrection seems to have had on the authorities in Jerusalem also seems credible and explains some otherwise puzzling facts.
As to why the event does not get mentioned in the other gospels, the real question is why Mark omitted it since Matthew and Luke just follow Mark. Seccombe thinks this comes from the same reason that Mark omitted all the earlier visits by Jesus to Jerusalem. Acts 10:36-43 gives us a pattern that early preaching about Jesus probably followed. Mark followed that evangelistic outline because it was effective in its simplicity. It did not complicate maters by introducing a bunch of other travels of Jesus.
“To have had Jesus coming and going from Jerusalem in between times would have destroyed the stylization that was familiar to those who had heard the gospel preached, and would have called for explanations which were not possible in the compass of Mark’s short work” (p. 488).
Now comes the crucial thing for Seccombe. He argues that the resurrection of Lazarus happened six weeks before the final Passover. It was not the immediate cause of Jesus crucifixion. For John it was an important part of the story because it caused the divide in public opinion about Jesus that carried into the Passover week. The other gospel writers could be aware of it, but treat it as one of the complex events that they chose to leave aside.
So Seccombe accepts Goguel’s scenario that Jesus left Jerusalem for Perea, perhaps because of anger caused by his prediction of the Temple’s fate. But he adds to it that while in Perea word came of the illness of Lazarus. Jesus traveled the thirty miles or so to Bethany, just outside Jerusalem. Many people from Jerusalem saw something happen there that caused them to believe in him. But this also galvanized the powers in Jerusalem (John 11:47-50 and 53).
Because of the Lazarus incident, the Jerusalem authorities began to take Jesus very seriously as a threat. The Talmud says:
“On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forth and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forth in his favour he was hanged on the eve of Passover” (p. 490).
If the mention of sorcery refers to the resurrection of Lazarus, the Talmud report fits Seccombe’s scenario.
John says Jesus went to Ephraim (John 11:54). Seccombe argues that this was a place known today as Ein Samiya, an “isolated and inaccessible oasis about twenty kilometres north-east of Jerusalem, surrounded by steep hills pockmarked with cave entrances” (p. 491). Jesus took his disciples into hiding.