LAZARUS—the man Jesus raised from the dead in one of the most extraordinary encounters with The Living Savior in all of Scripture. But the life of Lazarus holds interest well beyond this miraculous event. Living in Bethany, near Jerusalem, Lazarus witnessed many of the most important events of Jesus’s life and ministry.
Lazarus owned a vineyard and devoted his life to caring for its vines and fruit. But he encountered another man—Jesus—whose vineyard was the world, its fruit the eternal souls of men. When Lazarus’s story and the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection touch in When Jesus Wept, we are offered a unique vision into the power and comfort of Christ’s love.
I had never read a Thoene book prior to reading When Jesus Wept. I feel that should be some big confession since the husband and wife writing team have written over 60 novels. I can’t exactly explain why I’d never read any, but I can say that I was intrigued by the description of their newest work. I missed the opportunity to receive a copy to review when it first came out, so I took advantage of a Kindle deal.
The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead appears only in the Gospel of John. Although it is extensive, we know little about the man himself. We know he had two sisters – Mary and Martha – but did not appear to be married. Because he was buried in a cave, scholars have concluded he and his sisters were wealthy. We also know that after Lazarus was returned to life, the Temple Council wanted him dead. They feared what this walking proof of Jesus’s power could mean for them, their riches, and their status in society. The Bible, however, is short on other details. The Gospel writer focused on the miracle and not the man. The Thoenes, therefore, have imagined a backstory and a life for this dear friend of the Lord.
As a novel, When Jesus Wept is excellent. It’s beautifully written and incredibly detailed. Granted, at times it does read like a manual for vineyard owners. We get paragraphs on pruning, and yes I get the allegory which is the only reason I didn’t skim those parts. We get to understand what it must have been like living under Roman rule, where the slightest thing could get you enslaved or executed. The first person scenes of Lazarus in heaven are written without sounding like a science fiction cliché. While reading about the Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, I could feel the excitement and the power mixed with the undercurrent of fear that Lazarus felt. But then, it stops. There’s this amazing build-up, along with the sadness Jesus and Lazarus have over the knowledge that some of the Jewish people will never accept Jesus as Messiah. I knew I was near the end, but when I pushed the little button to turn the electronic page I didn’t expect to get the Notes section! Where’s the Passover meal, the arrest, the trial, the crucifixion and the resurrection?
And that’s where this novel falls short. Because I’ve read the New Testament, I knew there were more events after the parade arrives in Jerusalem. The publisher’s write-up also includes the crucifixion and resurrection. So where are those events? There are other Biblical elements as well that I found problematic. Our Lazarus is given the full name of David ben Lazarus. I’d always presumed Lazarus to be a first name; after all, I don’t think there were many who were given a last name in the Gospels, and if they were, they weren’t known by it. Consequently, I thought at first I was reading from the point of view of Lazarus’s son! Then there’s the convenience of Lazarus being at so many of the important events that took place during Jesus’s three year ministry. He sees Jesus being baptized, the turning of water into wine, the feeding of the 5000, Jesus walking on water, and so forth. My biggest disappointment, however, is the portrayal of Lazarus’s sister, Mary. The writers have combined her with Mary of Magdala, and then presumed she’s the same woman who was accused of adultery. Even if you accept that she is Mary of Magdala, there is no mention of immorality when that woman is introduced. Instead, it is written that she had been freed from seven demons that resided in her (Luke 8:2). There is no mention of demons in When Jesus Wept. As a result, I had difficulty in reading and accepting this character. It’s a shame I had problems with these elements because otherwise I might have given it a perfect review.
Interestingly, When Jesus Wept is listed as being a book of The Jerusalem Chronicles. I presume this means it is the first of a series, but I can find no information regarding a follow-up.
Publication Date: 19 March 2013
Page Count: 336