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The Rich Man and Lazarus: The Parable and the Parallels

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009

Extract

The interpretation of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16. 19–31) shows both how misleading extra-biblical parallels to biblical motifs can be when misused, and also how enlightening they can be when correctly used. The parable makes use of two major narrative motifs which can be paralleled in other ancient literature: (1) a reversal of fortunes experienced by a rich man and a poor man after death; (2) a dead person's return from the dead with a message for the living. Since Gressmann's monograph drew attention to one important example of (1) – the Egyptian story of Setme and Si-Osiris (together with later Jewish stories derived from it) – much discussion of the parable has been dominated by this one parallel. Both the way in which this parallel has been used in the interpretation of the parable and the restriction of interest to this one parallel have had unfortunate consequences.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1991

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References

1 Gressmann, H., Vom reichen Mann und armen Lazarus: eine literargeschichtliche Studie (Abhandlungen der königlich preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften: Philosophisch-historische Klasse, 1918 no. 7; Berlin:Verlag der königlich Akademie der Wissenschaft, 1918).Google Scholar

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7 In a Jewish context it is not likely that even the body of a beggar would go unburied, but the burial would be unceremonious. A rich man's burial would be a much more notable feature of the end of his earthly life.

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34 The theme of mistaken identity continues in later Christian stories: Augustine, De cura pro mortuis gerenda 15; Gregory the Great, Dial. 4.36. Even modern instances are reported from India: Zalesky, Otherworld Journeys, 239 n. 45.Google Scholar

35 For this kind of necromancy (reviving a corpse), see also Apuleius, , Met. 2.2829Google Scholar; Cumont, F., Lux Perpetua (Paris: Librairie Orientaliste Paul Geuthner, 1949) 101–2.Google Scholar

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43 Apuleius, , Met. 8.4; Aelian, fragment 82Google Scholar; Cicero, , De divin. 1.27.57Google Scholar; Gaster, , The Exempla of the Rabbis, 130–1Google Scholar (no. 353). This is motif no. E231 in Stith Thompson, Motif-Index.

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46 Herodotus 5.92; Lucian, , Philops. 27Google Scholar; cf. b. Ber. 18b.Google Scholar

47 Sumerian text translated in Gadd, C. J., ‘Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet XII’, Revue d'Assyriologie 30 (1933) 127–43Google Scholar; Akkadian version (which forms tablet 12 of the Gilgamesh epic) translated in Heidel, A., The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: University Press, 2 1949) 93101.Google Scholar

48 Cumont, , Lux Perpetua, 93.Google Scholar

49 The Latin fragment, the Vienna papyrus fragments and the Chester Beatty papyrus fragments are translated by Pietersma, A. and Lutz, T. R. in Charlesworth, J. H. ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 2 (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1985) 437–42Google Scholar, but the text of the Chester Beatty fragments has not yet been published. According to Charlesworth, J. H., The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research with a Supplement (SBLSCS 75; Chico, California: Scholars Press, 1981) 134, further fragments from the Rainer collection still await publication.Google Scholar

50 The possible indications of a Christian origin which Pietersma and Lutz, , in Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2.433, point out are not at all conclusive.Google Scholar

51 Pietersma, and Lutz, in Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2.432.Google Scholar

52 Latin fragment translated by Pietersma, and Lutz, in Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2.440–1Google Scholar; cf. James, M. R., The Lost Apocrypha of the Old Testament (London: SPCK, 1920) 32–3.Google Scholar

53 Numbers refer to the Chester Beatty fragments, as translated in Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2.441–2Google Scholar. These numbers, as Pietersma, and Lutz, point out (p. 432), are provisional.Google Scholar

54 Pietersma, and Lutz, in Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2.435.Google Scholar

55 Oepke, A. in TDNT 1.369–71.Google Scholar

56 Cf. Evans, C. F., Resurrection and the New Testament (SBT 2/12; London: SCM Press, 1970) 22–5.Google Scholar

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58 Contra Jeremias, , The Parables of Jesus, 186.Google Scholar

59 Contra, e.g., Mealand, , Poverty and Expectation in the Gospels, 48.Google Scholar

60 Contra Jeremias, , The Parables of Jesus, 186Google Scholar; Bultmann, , The History of the Synoptic Tradition, 196 and n. 1.Google Scholar

61 Other examples are Lucian, Cataplus, which has no pretension to be anything but a satirical fiction, and Eccles. Rab. 1.15.1, which tells a parabolic story in which two men go to differing fates after death and the wicked man, seeing the other, asks about the difference in their fates. In this latter case, the lack of a name for either man shows there is no intention of referring to historical individuals.