Pop culture is currently celebrating the Age of the Undeath. Vampires, zombies, and hauntings continue to enjoy staggering levels of popularity across the media. Dead characters in TV shows and movies are constantly brought back to life via magic, time travel, or Divine intervention with a nose-thumbing to plausibility. Dead shows are being rebooted and re-imagined, their stories put on life extension via spinoffs.
You can’t talk about resurrection without ultimately cycling back to the original Comeback King, aka Lazarus of Nazareth. Of all the miracles performed by Jesus Christ prior to his crucifixion, none capture the imagination as completely as the feat of raising the dead. While Lazarus wasn’t Christ’s first resurrection attempt, he was definitely the most spectacular - at least until the Ascension.
Interestingly enough, while Lazarus continues to inspire from beyond the grave, everything from classical paintings to contemporary pop songs, details about his life, death, and resurrection are relatively spotty. Only one of the four gospel writers mention him, and even then the account is viewed with skepticism.
British author Richard Beard explores exactly that in his novel Lazarus is Dead
. Drawing from many sources and inspirations past and present, Beard zooms in on and amplifies the friendship that reportedly existed between Lazarus and Jesus. While the Messiah has several well-documented disciples, Lazarus is the only person named as his friend.
Beard traces the relationship back to the childhood days in Nazareth, when the two boys were inseparable. He reimagines Lazarus as the bolder one, taking risks where Jesus cautious, the follower. Upon reaching adulthood, however, their paths diverge. Jesus becomes a spiritual shepherd, guiding his growing legions of followers into the light, while Lazarus turns to business as a sheep trader, "underpaying the shepherds and overcharging the priests".
Then, as the son of Mary and Joseph begins to perform his miracles, his childhood friend, the once hale and hearty Lazarus mysteriously falls ill, and continues a dramatic decline unto death. The author creates a tense, graphic, suspenseful countdown to the demise, merging it with a character study in a way that creates a fairly unlikeable character, and then makes him pitiful in his suffering. When death arrives, even despite the spoilers posted from the get-go, it feels like a shock.
The narrative tone balances the gravitas of the material with moments of dark humour, so that you’re surprised into smiling at certain parts, and it makes the gut-punch of the death that much darker. This is the story of friendship, betrayal, and reconciliation. It is a story of faith being tested to the breaking point, and then restored. It deals with lofty themes such as God’s experiment with humanity, the silence of the infinite, and the place and purpose of mere mortals, but does so with a deft hand, teasing out the story, making it matter whether or not you subscribe to the faith.
If you’re looking for a read that’s slightly challenging (Beard’s prose isn’t for the faint of heart), but ultimately very rewarding, this book is definitely worth a try. Lazarus is Dead
can be found at The Bookworm.
The reviewer is feaures editor, Dhaka Tribune.