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5.0 out of 5 stars The gospel according to John from marketing, 2 April 2013
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This review is from: Lazarus Is Dead (Paperback)
Lazarus is Dead is the most extraordinary, intelligent and thought provoking book. It takes the story of Lazarus from John's gospel (and one of the things the less biblically familiar reader learn is that Lazarus only appears in John) and puts the resurectee at the centre of the narrative.

The style is that of a docusoap or factional biography. The author, Richard Beard takes the basic references from the bible and builds a complete back story for his hero. In an interesting device he also takes much later works and treats them as historical references. Thus, Beard's Lazarus is clean shaven, as evidenced by mediaeval paintings through which the true picture "re-emerged".

The Lazarus who emerges is a very recognisable character, a modern man, a market trader with an eye for a deal, an ambitious merchant building a career through any means at his disposal, including an advantageous marriage. This is Lazarus the chancer, the charismatic wide-boy.

By placing Lazarus at the heart of things, the author, of course throws a different light on the story of Jesus, and it is a light which illuminates the division between Jesus and the Christ. We learn of the childhood friendship between Lazarus and the very human boy Jesus. There are pre-echoes of later occurrences and questions as we see Jesus saved from falling from a great height by Lazarus and then Jesus is powerless at the death of Lazarus' brother Amos. (If there is a god of love and Jesus is his son, why does he let these things happen).

As well as telling his, story, Beard also tells the story of the story of Lazarus and how it appears in the works of different authors and in different cultures. The idea of Lazarus Saturday in Russia with the baking of bread men is particularly appealing. This includes descriptions of the modern Lazarus tourist industry.

The first half of the book tells the story of Lazarus' health deteriorating over the course of twelve months as he slides downhill into the grave from which Jesus will summon him. It is not a pleasant read as Beard graphically describes the symptoms of all of the common diseases of biblical Israel to which his hero falls victim. Lazarus almost becomes a sort of picture of Dorian Gray as the sapping of his life force and physical decay seem to power his old friend's miracles.

The period between the resurrection of Lazarus and the resurrection of Jesus is the critical section of the book, as the final identity of the Christ, between the two men, seems to hang in the balance and in the hands of a Roman agent, before the true messiah puts matters beyond doubt.

At times this seems to be an unsympathetic picture of Jesus. This is a Jesus who works through a series of resurrections in order to understand how to make maximum impact with his own. (Lazarus the trial and Lazarus the error comes very shortly in the text before I am the way and I am the life). This is a Jesus who allows the prolonged suffering of his only acknowledged friend in order to make his own intervention as dramatic as possible. In short, this is Jesus the marketing expert. But then maybe not, perhaps, and thisit is more likely, this is a critique of John the creative/manipulative story constructor.

There is a lot more in this book than I can hope to bring out in this review. There is a lot more in this book than I can hope to find or understand. I suspect that anyone who reads it will find something different in it.
I would really like to emphasise that this is a book is one for believers and unbelievers alike. It is not an overtly religious book, but rather a book which looks to find meaning in telling an extraordinary story in a very pragmatic way.

Very highly recommended.
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