How old was Lazarus? Robert Browning, in a poem written in 1855—An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician—suggests that he would have been about ten years old. We learn from the poem that Karshish is touring the Near East in A.D. 70 as a student of medicine, sending back in a series of letters to his master, Abib, what he has been able to discover, including, e.g., “Three samples of true snakestone—rarer still,/One of the other sort, the melon-shaped.” In the course of his travels he visits Bethany, where he encounters Lazarus, then a man of fifty. That would make him ten years old in A.D. 30, which is the date Jesus brought him back to life. Indirect evidence for this view can be found in the Gospel of Luke, which states that “a woman named Martha received Jesus into her house.” It seems, then, to have been a household managed by women, with little Lazarus dependent on his older sisters.
In the first century Arab medicine, however primitive by modern standards, was much admired and resorted to. Karshish represents the sceptical, scientific mind, interested and intrigued by the story of a man raised from the dead. In the poem, as in the Gospel, Lazarus himself never speaks, although during the interview he is surrounded by town folk eager to answer Karshish’s queries:
Some elders of his tribe, I should premise,