Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Woman Who Anointed Jesus - Comparing The Accounts

Before the prayer meeting Wednesday night (6/15/2011), we were discussing the incident where the woman anointed Jesus. The author of a book my friends had been reading identified this woman - described as "a sinner" in Luke's account - as the woman caught in adultery from John 7:53-8:11, even though the Gospels themselves never make that connection.

I mentioned that the accounts vary among themselves at points, which can be a cause of confusion for some. So here for my friends' - and your - reading and comparison are the Gospels' accounts of that incident, partly color-coded to help point out similarities and differences.
Matthew 26:6–13 (RSV)Mark 14:3–9 (RSV)
6 Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. 8 But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.” 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. 12 In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment thus wasted? 5 For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor.” And they reproached her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Luke 7:36–50 (RSV)John 12:1–8 (RSV)
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and took his place at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” 1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” 6 This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. 7 Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. 8 The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

The painting is "St. Mary Magdalene" by Carlo (or Carlino) Dolci (May 25, 1616 – January 17, 1686). I chose it for illustrative purposes only, and because it doesn't show where the woman is or whether she is anointing Jesus' head or His feet. I am not suggesting that Mary Magdalene was the woman.


  1. No conclusions Eric?

    Traditional religious art of Mary Magdalene almost always shows her with an iconic jar of the expensive perfume. This is because one of the popes decided that the woman caught in adultery was Mary Magdalene. Not only was she declred to be an adulteress, she was also declared to be a prostitute. Poor girl. I bet there are some red faces in heaven.

    The woman who annointed Jesus was more likely to have been Mary of Bethany, Martha's sister.

  2. What conclusion(s)? That there were two or possibly three different anointings? That it's most likely that John has somehow wrongly transferred or applied details of an incident at a "Simon's" house involving an unnamed woman to one at Lazarus'/Martha's/Mary's house involving "Mary" (presumably Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus - John 11:1)?

    I haven't looked at or read others' attempts at harmonizing these passages, assuming they should be harmonized. Matthew's and Mark's accounts don't need harmonization, as they're pretty much identical. It's when Luke's and John's accounts are added that difficulties from assuming these are all the same incident arise.

    What are your conclusions, Margaret?

  3. May I join in for a brief comment? Possibly...just possibly...Simon the leper and Lazarus are one and the same person. To have two names would not be unusual. That the pharisee's name is Simon does not have to be a confusion of the two stories but a common coincidence of the culture. Simon was a very familiar and popular name in Galilee and Judea at the time--much like Sasha is a very common name in Slavic countries (Alexander which is interchangeable with Sasha, as is "Sonsomich" for Alexander son of Alexander--that's three names for one person). Diminutives and nick-names are not unusual in many cultures.

    Also, if I recall previous studies--wasn't Bethany thought to be a leper colony?

    Matthew, Mark, and John are so similar as to be identical. However, the differences are dramatic between Luke's account and the other three accounts. Truth can certainly be stranger than fiction.

    Just food for thought.