12.04.09 Jn. 12:1-2; Mt. 26:7b; Jn. 12:4-6; Mt.26:10-13; (Mk. 14:9) Bethany
MARY ANOINTS JESUS
Jn. 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.
Mt.7b A woman approached Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil. She poured it on His head as He was reclining at the table.
Jn. 4 Then one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot(F) (who was about to betray Him), said, 5 “Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” 6 He didn’t say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of the money-bag and would steal part of what was put in it.
Mt. 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a noble thing for Me. 11 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me. 12 By pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she has prepared Me for burial. 13 I assure you: Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her.”
A cultural commentary is important to review at this point: In the history of the Jewish people, kings and priests were anointed in the coronation or dedication ceremony. These were individuals who were set apart and chosen by God for a special service. They were heavily anointed with olive oil that was perfumed with expensive spices that was placed not only on the head, but also on the clothing. This created an aroma that was noticed by everyone near the king, the priest, and later Jesus. The English word “Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos. The Hebrew equivalent is Mashiach from where the English word Messiah originated, and it means the Anointed One. This adds significance to the anointing that Mary gave to Jesus.
Spikenard, a/k/a nard, was the expensive perfume used in this encounter. It was used for anointing in both religious and civic feasts and celebrations. In this culture a woman would never do this, but she willingly broke cultural traditions because she was determined to honor Jesus.
12.04.09.Q1 How could Mary have afforded expensive perfume such as Indian Spikenard (Mt. 26:7)?
Women of wealth were rare in ancient times. Those privileged with high incomes generally were the wives of government officials, merchants or high priestly families, unless of course, they were expensive “call girls” for the rich and famous clients. Unfortunately, many scholars have implicated Mary to have been a prostitute, who may have been personally known to the religious leaders. However, she could have simply have been a wealthy woman who realized her need for salvation.
Mary brought “an alabaster jar of very expensive fragrant oil” for Jesus that was known by the full plant name of Indian Spikenard. Some translations read this phrase as, “pure, an expensive perfume.” Pliny the Elder said, “Perfumes are best kept in alabaster flasks” (13.4). While Jesus ministered to the poor and destitute, He was also clearly interested in the rich and famous and, at times, without comment about their wealth. This was to be her last feast of fellowship with her good Friend and Savior.
“Because he was a thief.” No doubt all the disciples considered Judas to be the most trustworthy, since Jesus permitted him to be in charge of the financial affairs of the group. However, Jesus was evidently aware of his dishonesty and intentions, as evidenced by His foreknowledge of the coming betrayal. Yet He did not confront Judas on this issue. Jesus still loved him, wishing to win him into the kingdom. It is interesting that Judas, who knew that Jesus recognized the attitudes and thoughts of His critics, for some reason must have assumed that Jesus would not realize that he was going to betray Him.
“A noble thing.” This phrase is a Jewish idiom meaning she performed a great work; a great deed. Some scholars point to four narratives of Mary anointing Jesus, and concluding that these were the same event but written incorrectly in the Bible. The similar accounts found in Luke 7, Mark 14, and Matthew 26, bear some resemblance to the story of the anointing by Mary (there were several Mary’s) of Bethany found in John 12. Even though there are some similarities of all four accounts, the apparent differences between Luke 7 and Mark 14 are indicative of two separate events.
Finally, on an interesting side note, critics in the past three or four centuries have often argued that the gospels were written two or three centuries after the events they describe. Then three small papyrus fragments were discovered that include sections of Matthew 26:7 and 10 and became known as the Magdalene Papyrus fragments. The discovery shocked many New Testament scholars because these are now dated to the first century.
Researchers today have scientific resources and measuring instruments that were considered science fiction merely twenty years ago. For example, a scanning laser microscope can measure the height and depth of the ink upon layers of papyrus. In fact, the composition of the ink can also be determined. The Magdalen papyrus was dated on the basis of physical evidence and letter style rather than literary analysis or historical suppositions. And that silences the critics!
12.04.09.A. THE “MAGDALENE PAPYRUS” FRAGMENTS. Papyrus fragments, a/k/a the “Jesus Papyrus,” are believed to have been written in the second half of the first century or earlier. The three small pieces, written on both sides, reveal portions of Matthew 26:7-8, 10, 14-15, 22-23, and 31-33. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
12.04.09.Q2 Is there a conflict between John 12:1-3 and Mark 14:1-3?
According to the gospel of John, Mary anointed Jesus in Bethany six days before Passover, but in Mark she anointed Him two days before the national festival. Why is there an obvious difference? This again is reflective of the significant differences in the thinking processes between Greeks and Jews.
Today, scholars examine all the details before coming to a conclusion. But the ancient Jews considered events and concepts of far superior importance to chronological order of an account. In fact, the latter point was considered relatively insignificant. The fact that Mark placed this event in the 14th chapter indicates that he was aware of the anointing, but he felt it was important not to write particular features modern scholars think are necessary. Note that modern scholarship is based upon Greek patterns of thinking, not Hebraic patterns of thinking.
Information omitted by Mark does not imply an event did not occur. Furthermore, the gospels were written several decades after these events. One would certainly become suspect, if every detail was in perfect agreement. This derails the argument of modern critics, who have proposed that this account was added later by church fathers to create a theological story. Such apparent difficulties occur in historical chronology, not in theological matters.
Both Jews and Christians think of Passover as a ritualistic meal on a specific day. However, Passover is essentially a week-long celebration with culmination at the Passover (Seder) meal. They chose the Passover lamb on the 10th day of Nissan and killed it on the 14th day. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was seven days (but fell under the “Passover” name). Where the text has the term “Passover,” the term was applied to all three feasts that were celebrated at that time. Therefore, the phrase, “After two days was the feast of the Passover,” it could mean that it may have been the 8th day of the month, two days before the lamb was chosen, not two days before the lamb was killed.
The reason Mark may have placed this event in this portion of his text is that it is adjacent to the following episode in which Jesus washed the feet of His disciples during the Last Supper. He did not record the feet-washing event of Jesus, yet everyone in the early church was aware of it. This would provide a literary contrast for his readers between Mary, the humble servant, and Jesus, the humble servant to His disciples.
The act of anointing must have highly irritated the religious leaders who, no doubt, looked upon the episode in 2 Kings 9:6 and discounted the scene before them. In this Old Testament passage, one of Israel’s greatest prophets, Elisha, told the son of another prophet (2 Kgs. 9:1) to take a flask of oil and anointed Jehu as King of Israel (2 Kgs. 9:6). Now the religious leaders experienced a truth they could not escape: in the room with Jesus were the greatest leaders of Israel, who had almost unanimously rejected Him, when suddenly, in walked a woman who broke her flask of oil and anointed Jesus as her Lord. She did what the ordained men of God refused to do. Furthermore, she broke the Jewish custom and let her hair down to anoint the feet of Jesus.
This encounter not only demonstrated the heart of the Gentiles and Jewish leaders, but also the status of women in the culture. Normally, religious leaders would not have accepted anointing by women and, if they did, the authors would not have mentioned it. But the disciples were functioning within the framework of the Kingdom of God.
. Spangler and Tverberg, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. 16.
. Ex. 30:25-30; Josephus, Antiquities 3.8.6 (205) and 19.9.1 (358).
. Farrarm, 326; Alexander, 14.
. Ben-Dor, “Alabaster.” 1:75-76.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 356.
. Bock, Jesus According to Scripture. 355-56.
. Traditionally, scholars have had a wide range of opinions concerning the date of the Magdalen Papryus. However, recent scholarship that applied laser technology has revealed identical writing styles with a copy of the book of Leviticus from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other writings from within twenty years of the life of Jesus. For more information, see Eyewitness to Jesus. (DVD) Discovery Communications, 2011.
. The “Jesus Papryus,” a/k/a the “Magdalene Papyrus,” are fragments which have been the subject of considerable scholarly debate and scientific testing. For more information, see Thiede and D’Ancona, The Jesus Papyrus.
. For more information on the differences of Greek and Hebraic ways of thinking, see Unit 02, Chapter 04 “Differences between First Century Roman-Greek and Jewish Worldviews.”
. See “Levitical Feasts as Prophetic Reflections of Jesus” in Appendix 5.
. Major, Manson, and Wright, The Mission and Message of Jesus. 855.
. Jehu is among fifty biblical names whose existence has been verified by archaeological studies in a published article by Lawrence Mykytiuk titled, “Archaeology Confirms 50 Real People in the Bible.” Biblical Archaeology Review. March/April, 2014 (40:2), pages 42-50, 68. This archaeological evidence confirms the historical accuracy of the biblical timeline. For further study, see the website for Associates for Biblical Research, as well as Grisanti, “Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Lend Credence to the Historicity of the Scriptures.” 475-98.