Many people are unsure whether Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) happened or whether it is only a parable (a Jewish story with a deeper meaning). Typically, parables do not include personal names like Lazarus and Abraham, but on the other hand, the concepts of “Abraham’s bosom” or dialogue with souls in Hades that we find in the Lukan parable are unattested elsewhere in the Bible. Plenty of Jewish sources outside of the Bible, however, indicate that these themes were common beliefs at the time: that the bosom of Abraham and other patriarchs is the resting place for the righteous, and that there was a fiery holding realm for the wicked until the final judgment (cf. 4 Maccabees 13:17; Apocalypse of Zephaniah; b. Kiddushin 72b).

Jesus describes the main character of the parable as (1) rich, (2) dressed in purple and fine linen (spoiler alert: see Exod 28:5), (3) living in luxury, (4) receiving good things, (5) living in his father’s house (6) with five brothers (7) who all had Moses and the prophets (8) though they did not listen to them, such that (9) they would not repent even if someone were resurrected. This nine-pointed description may be too detailed not to refer to someone specific.

For many reasons, including the testimony of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who stated that Caiaphas’ father-in-law Anas had five priestly sons (Antiquities XX, 9i; John 18:13), it is likely that Jesus had someone very specific in mind!

Rereading the nine points about the rich man reveals that Caiaphas as the high priest is an excellent candidate for Jesus’ parabolic “rich man” insofar as he fits the first seven criteria perfectly. But did he and his family refuse to believe even after someone was raised from the dead? Twice, actually!

After Jesus resurrected his friend Lazarus, the priests collaborated to kill him (John 12:10). Later, after Jesus was raised from the dead, their hard hearts remained unchanged as they persecuted Jesus’ apostles and denied Jesus’ own resurrection (Acts 4:1-3).

So, was the “Rich Man and Lazarus” parable based on real life events? It most certainly seems so!

By Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg and Jared Seltzer

BEGIN YOUR JOURNEY OF DISCOVERY

114 COMMENTS

  1. Dr.Eli,
    thanks for your insights
    Iam curious to know whether any of the five sons of Annas the high priest die during Jesus' time?
    • Ananus ben Seth (6-15 CE) is the father who, though eventually deposed, remained highly influential.
      His five sons (in addition to Caiaphas) along with the dates they served (according to David Flusser) were:

      Eleazar ben Ananus (16-17)
      Joseph Caiaphas (18-36, Son-in-law)
      Jonathan ben Ananus (36-37)
      Theophilus ben Ananus (37-c.41)
      Matthias ben Ananus (42)
      Ananus ben Ananus (62)

      To answer your question, then, Eleazar and Caiaphas served as High priests in Jesus' lifetime, but Ananus' other sons were considered "priests" (John 12:10) because of their pedigree even if they had not yet been high priests.
  2. Thank you Dr Eli for this item. I must admit though I did believe that this parable was based on a real truth but I haven't before associated it with Caiaphas. That's food for thought. I can see the reasoning Thank you Dr.

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    • This happens 3000.Years after written. Rev 20:11-14 says the 2nd resurrection is for those who are not Christians who go into the fire and instant death. Couldn't literally have happened . Malachi4:3 showing the space between us and others cannot be spanned. A huge stretch to living 3000 years ago.
    • My apologies, Robert. I honestly don't remember you writing or your questions. There hundreds of comments that I respond to each day. But I can tell you that some I simply delete if I find them disrespectful of either me or others on the forum. So if you can kindly restate the question I will try to make sure not to miss it this time.

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    • I have taught Hebrew for about 50 years. Part of it I still struggle with, but have done a comparison of the 4 Gospels with the 4 "levels" of Jewish Interpretation. I would like your feedback on it. I am writing a commentary on Genesis 1-11 from an exegetical, phenomenological, rabbinic, and scientific perspective--for the common man. I would also like your feedback on that. I know your time is very limited, so I keep my hopes under control. Query: Do you have an elementary course for beginners? If so, what would it cost? I've had several who want to learn the basics of Hebrew. Thank you for your comments on "Dives and Lazarus." I've struggled with that one over the years, too. You may well be right. G-d bless you and your work. -mb

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  3. Dr. Eli,

    If this was not a parable how do explain Mar. 4 since he was addressing the Pharisees(those outside of the kingdom). Mar 4:11
    And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables,
    • Joel, the cool thing about a parable is that it can be based on a real time events. No contradiction here. Not to mention that many among Pharisees were in fact the children of the Kingdom! :-)

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    • Joel Steinhauser What version bible you use but Mark 4:10 in the KJV Jesus in NOT talking to Pharisees but multitudes . : 11IN FACT that knowledge was given ONLY to His disciples. In the reply it calls Lazarus real time when the time is 1000 years ahead not Priests28-30'sAD.
  4. Sounds quite intriguing and imaginative! I guess they caught on to that fast because they were living it out so to speak!
  5. Well thank you for making me do some thinking because this parable is one that there is even more to it than what you have brought out in this little bit I have read and rereading Acts 4:1-3 I seen what you meant. yes I would love to take your course but at this time it would have to be 100% free for me because I am not working and it cost to take the course and i know i would learn a lot of new meanings of scriptures but it will not be at this time because I need to find a job.
    If you do not mind i would like to pass this information on to my Bible study group I have. Please
    thank you

    deb dumler
  6. Just a thought.... to have 5 brothers wouldn't there have to be 6 sons? Although interestingly Leah was the mother of 6 of Israel's sons.
    Thanks for you ongoing thought provoking insights.
  7. Dr. Eli, I always find your comments interesting, but I don't always agree with you.
    Your statement that the account of the rich man and El'azar ( Lazarus ) is not a parable runs smack dab against the Bible's teachings on the state of the dead and the fate of the wicked.
    My question is; would heaven and hell be in close proximity to each other and whether the redeemed in heaven or anyone for that matter would be within the range of sight and sound of the wicked always screaming and suffering in hell for all eternity?
    Also just because real names are used doesn't necessarily mean that it is not a parable. There are stories even fictional ones that use real names. I think the focus should be on the main point of the account, or in my view, parable. That even a resurrection couldn't convince the Jewish authorities to believe in Yeshua as the true Messiah.
    Not all Jews believed in an intermediate state of existence after death. Certainly, that is the case even to this day.
    I consider your comment on the rich man and El'azar speculative interpretation which doesn't harmonize with the rest of Scripture. If you believe in the unity of the Bible, you would weigh and take into account what the rest of the Scriptures say.
    • James, shalom. I speculate a lot and I think it is a good idea to speculate as long as one is aware of it and is openly acknowledges that he or she is thinking out loud without having all information to make a definitive judgement (in the end this is what speculation in our context means). :-) Now... the difficulty is that most people when speculating (like what you are actually are doing in your email) :-) are not aware of it :-). No offense intended. Truly.

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    • The basic thing is that after death all stages or states are spiritual and not materialistic. The Do not need specific space. Over and above with no physical body as ours. The what so ever burning or tormenting is not like we feel during burning. ...
    • James, the comment you made is provoking thoughts. I have gone through your explanation, I agree with you for a large percent. Disagreeing on some points is very healthy for the discussion of this group.
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