An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician Analysis

Robert Browning

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician” is presented in the form of a letter from a garrulous physician to his mentor. Correspondence in the first century c.e. was an uncertain affair: Karshish is entrusting his letter to a Syrian vagabond who promises to deliver it in return for medical treatment.

The document at first has the appearance of a mere historical curiosity, a scrap preserved by chance for nearly two thousand years. Then it becomes apparent that this eccentric “absent-minded professor” had accidentally encountered Lazarus, the man who had reportedly been brought back from the dead by Jesus of Nazareth, hailed by many Jews as their Messiah and executed like a criminal by crucifixion. Karshish’s unworldliness lends credibility to his report; he is too guileless to be able to invent such a story. Robert Browning has made his speaker an Arab, an outsider, so that he has no ulterior motive in helping to extend the reputation of Jesus as a prophet and miracle worker.

The story of Lazarus being raised from the dead is told most fully in the Gospel of Saint John in the New Testament. The biblical account does not tell what happened to Lazarus after he emerged from the tomb or how his experience of being dead for several days had changed him. These are questions on which many creative writers have speculated. In recent times, there has been considerable...

(The entire section is 557 words.)