The Cosmology of the Raising of Lazarus (John 11-12)

Troels Engberg-Pedersen


The aim of this essay is to bring out the function of chapters 11–12 within the overall structure of the Fourth Gospel in order to elucidate the precise manner in which this text imagines the “por­osity” between death and life, of which Jesus’ raising of Lazarus is a striking example. The theses will be (i) that the two chapters are so closely connected in strictly literary terms that they constitute a single, coherent tract within the Gospel, (ii) that they have a single theme, which is that the raising of Lazarus points directly forward to, and is to be understood and explained in the same way as, not only Jesus’ own re­surrection but also that of all Christ believers, (iii) that the text half-pre­supposes and half-articulates a cosmological framework along the lines to be found in contemporary Stoicism that explains the very possibility of raising and re­sur­rection and hence the ap­parent “porosity” of death and life that the text is pointedly ad­dres­sing, and finally (iv) that these ideas are brought together in a claim that constitutes a climax of the whole Book of Signs: that in order to “believe in Jesus” in the full, proper way one must understand him not just as somebody who has come from God, but also as somebody who will now literally return to God when he is resurrected from death. That—and only that—belief will lead to the resurrection of believers, too. In argu­ing for these theses, the essay addresses the con­ceptual rela­tionship between “believing” (πιστεύειν), “hear­ing” (ἀκούειν), “speech” or “words” (ῥήματα), “reasoning” (λόγος) and “spirit” (πνεῦμα) in John, using a Stoic, philo­soph­ical frame­work for elucidating the inner connec­tion be­tween these notions in John. Here the essay argues that there is an intrinsic con­nection in both John and Stoicism between matters of understanding (cogni­tion, epistemology) and matters of event (fact, ontology). This is the reason why the overarching theme of the text is not just the con­nection between the events of the raising of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus and be­lievers (thesis [ii] above), but also the understanding of that connection (thesis [iv] above). While the essay aims to lay bare an underlying cos­mo­log­ical framework that accounts for the apparent “porosity” of death and life, it also em­pha­sizes that this possibility of “radical transformation” transcends the normal frame­work of human life, both in John and in Stoicism. Here the role of πνεῦμα in both John and Stoicism is emphasized. A possible difference remains. In John more than in Stoicism, while the “porosity”—the very possib­il­ity of trans­cend­ing death—is there, its ac­tualization appears to require direct divine intervention from above. 

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Copyright (c) 2017 Troels Engberg-Pedersen

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