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When asked about the research processes involved in creating all this, Richard cited the internet and Google as a huge boon. He was able to search for quotes using specific words, and choose which quotes apply to his story. For example, if Yeshua and Lazarus are discussing chance and improbability, quotes related to these key words (and variants of them) can be used to help Yeshua and Lazarus navigate their discussions.
The decision to make Yeshua and Lazarus literate was intentional. Zimler has encountered work that constructs Jesus as illiterate and he does not find this convincing, so he sought to offer a contrasting version in his novel. From his research, Zimler believes that young Jewish men who showed ability in Jerusalem will have been educated. He believes that the historical Jesus’ magnetic charisma was developed by a good education, because he must have been an articulate and moving speaker. Who would teach this young, promising man? The ancient rabbis, of course. Ergo, a key text in his learning will have been the Old Testament.
Zimler believes this construction of Jesus is evidenced in the New Testament itself. Jesus arrives to Jerusalem on a donkey, which fulfils the Old Testament Prophecy of Zechariah (Zechariah 9:9: “your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey…”). To Zimler, this is the intentional decision of a learned man who wants to evoke the Old Testament in his actions.
What if your beloved friend brings you back from the dead, and you see nothing of any afterlife? And what if that friend is the Jewish mystic Yeshua, who will come to be known as Jesus?
Yeshua’s miracles are stirring the authorities in Jerusalem, and Lazarus finds himself scrambling after his childhood companion during Passion Week, the turbulent final chapter in Yeshua’s life. Meanwhile Lazarus struggles to return to his work and family, feeling a great sense of fragility and lost identity since his return to the living world. He can’t help but wonder if he was resurrected to save Yeshua in his time of dire need…
Richard Zimler’s impeccably researched novel draws you into to Roman-controlled Jerusalem, the Jewish communities within it and the permeating Greek cultural influences. A cast of biblical figures, from Mary and Joseph to Mary Magdalene, are restored to their Jewish roots. Jesus is presented as a mystic within the practises and traditions of ancient Judaism. Zimler brings us a fascinating and highly moving read.
Richard Zimler’s eleven novels have been translated into twenty-three languages and have appeared on bestseller lists in twelve different countries, including the UK, United States, Australia, Brazil, Italy and Portugal. Richard is Jewish and American. He grew up in New York and since 1990 has lived in Porto, Portugal with his husband.
The Lost Gospel of Lazarus was partly inspired by the death of his brother by AIDS. He would return to Richard in recurring dreams as a resurrected but deeply changed and troubled man. This was the genesis for Richard’s Lazarus. The novel was also inspired by a desire to return biblical characters to their Jewish cultural roots, and deals with how Jesus’ legacy was handled by early Christians.
A note from the Author:
My goal with The Lost Gospel of Lazarus was to create an immensely moving and insightful page-turner. I wanted to breathe new life into the New Testement story of Lazarus, turning it into a fast-paced tale of deep friendship, murderous betrayal, magical beliefs and – in the end – redemption.
The Jerusalem of this novel – and indeed of this time – is multicultural. Lazarus and Jesus (who in this book is called Yeshua), have an interesting command of Latin, Greek and Aramaic words. Zimler constructs puns and wordplay that enrich the story and reveal the close connection between the two men.
Richard identifies ancient graffiti as a key inspiration. During this time, there was graffiti on monuments and public furniture, which demonstrated regular people using language in comedic, clever, and satirical ways. To replicate this himself, Richard made lists of Greek, Latin and Aramaic words and would play with them as a poet would.
It was important for this wordplay not to become a distraction to the story. If it didn’t make sense in the context, or didn’t further the story, Richard cut it. He dislikes writing by overly-clever authors who always bring attention back to their own intelligence or sensitivity, and so was careful when using wordplay.
In Richard Zimler’s The Lost Gospel of Lazarus, Jesus – in this novel known as Yeshua – is a Jewish mystic who is presented as a bringer of revolution. He seeks to lift up the oppressed peoples in Roman Jerusalem through social uprising.
Richard tells us that presenting Jesus this way is not new; in fact, in the bible Jesus frequently defied power structures. For example, when he casts out the merchants from the temple in Matthew 21:12–13.
“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
However, Yeshua’s position as a revolutionary is just as important as his spiritual leadership. In The Lost Gospel of Lazarus, Yeshua is presented as having a unique relationship with Jewish faith and the ‘Palace of the Lord’. It’s these two parts of him that makes Yeshua a special and captivating figure, and also what got him into trouble in the end.
Richard Zimler explores the intimate relationship of Jesus and Lazarus in his novel The Lost Gospel of Lazarus.
In the clip, Richard tells us that the relationship between Jesus (who in this book is the Jewish mystic Yeshua) and Lazarus is many things; it’s homoerotic and romantic in some ways, in other ways it’s divine and metaphysical, and in others it’s a simple, cherished childhood friendship. It doesn’t have clear boundaries, and this reflects the nature of social relationships during this period. It is not easy to define Yeshua and Lazarus’ relationship, and that is part of its richness and beauty.
Back in April, Barbican Press partnered with Paper-Works Books & Print to host an online event to launch Richard Zimler’s The Lost Gospel of Lazarus.
Here’s the full recording – Richard is interviewed by George Biggs about the book’s inspiration, his writing and research process and much more. It’s a non-spoiler deep dive into the most famous story in the world. Sit back and learn how to make historical fiction vital.
How do you take perhaps the best-known story of all time, the crucifixion of Jesus, and make it thrillingly new? Lazarus, in the wake of being brought back from the dead, offers us live, inside commentary as the authorities hunt down the new ‘messiah’.
Richard Zimler, a gay Jewish American writer long resident in Portugal, applies keen scholarship to unearth telling details.
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