Editorial Photocolor Archives

The raising of Lazarus (John 11) from the Via Latina catacombs. In the structure on the right stands the mummy-like body of Lazarus. To the left Jesus tells Lazarus to come out while the Disciples and the people of Bethany watch. In the background are two scenes from the Exodus: the Column of Fire which guided the nation of Israel through the desert at night (Exodus 14:21–22) and Moses receiving the Law from God (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5).

It has been recently suggested that the main scene should be identified as yet another event from Exodus, namely, Moses gathering the bones of Joseph for the Israelites to take from Egypt (Exodus 13:19). (Before his death, Joseph requested that his bones be moved from Egypt to Israel—Genesis 50:24–26.) In the hope of finding treasure, tomb robbers in the Middle Ages broke through the plaster surface which covered the loculus that had been concealed by the painting, leaving the burial niche exposed in the center of the picture.

With its thirteen decorated rooms and halls, the Via Latina catacombs contain the single richest collection of catacomb art in Rome. In these rooms scenes from the Bible are juxtaposed with those from the classics and mythology. These juxtapositions indicate the extreme degree to which Christian and Roman culture had blended during the fourth century A.D.