Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And ... He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with grave clothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” (John 11:39-44 NKJV)

What time of the year did this happen? Commentaries that I have read tend to place the event in the winter shortly before Jesus' crucifixion in early spring.

However, Martha’s panic concerning the stench from her brothers corpse, suggests a summer scenario. A pre-Passover date for Lazarus’ death would have been in cool weather, and the 'decompose' issue not as bad. When we consider his thorough embalming, a cool tomb, and a winter season, Martha's reaction seems unwarranted. It would be no exaggeration later in the year though.

Moreover, the quoted '4 days' would have reflected Jewish inclusive counting; it would have been 2 full, plus 2 part days - about three days by our reckoning. So, are there any alternative options to the usual winter timeline?


The best indication is that late winter early spring from the reading of the text. The average March temperature in Jerusalem is mid 50's Fahrenheit and April is 60F. A Morgue on the other hand is usually below 40F. The Jews do not embalm their dead and so the putrefaction is not slowed by a chemical process. The average estimate for smell to be noticeable by humans is 24-36 hours. It can be accelerated or slowed obviously by temperature and humidity. The temperatures even for late winter in the Jerusalem area however are not so low that it would slow that process down significantly enough to expect no smell at all after three to four days. Furthermore Martha could have been wrong just based on her experiences or what she had been told growing up about dead people smelling quickly after death. There is no indication by Martha's statement alone that would place this a lengthy time period prior to the crucifixion. Verse 54 and 55 could certainly allow for a longer period of time to have elapsed since we don't get any clues as to how long they stayed away.

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