The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

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archibald
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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by archibald » Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:36 am

Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:11 pm
How did you know I was writing a book?
I'm a black belt omniscient.

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by Paul the Uncertain » Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:00 am

Diogenes
So you believe that whole thing about "feet" being code for something else?
Why not literally feet? They're a good place to start. As it plays out, Mary's inexperience causes her to use too much scented oil. She stinks up the whole house and attracts gawkers, killing the mood. But what if she'd been a little more seasoned? Jesus might, in a Morton Smith kind of way, have shown both siblings the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now, that's code for something else :) .

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:13 pm

Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
I've been puzzling over these narratives for a while and have some questions.
  • Why does Luke change the anointing from the head to the feet? Is Luke uncomfortable with the anointing of the head because of its latently subversive political/regnal implications? Is he uncomfortable with a woman doing the anointing?
  • Why does Luke alone ignore the issue of the expense of the oil and change it into a lesson on slut shaming instead?
Ben C. Smith wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 8:23 am
I do not have answers for these questions, at least not for most of them. I do, however, have a few observations.
Especially the questions of „why“ may be hard to answer. We might be satisfied if some of our observations are not far away from the author’s intention.

Personally, I was always impressed how many changes Luke made in his version, but also how close some of these changes are to some aspects of Mark’s story.
- The opponents in the stories are completely different (Luke’s „Pharisee“ is an outsider and Mark’s „some“ are most likely some disciples and therefore insiders), but they show the same behavior. In GMark they speak not openly to a person, but „become indignantly to one another“. In a similar way Luke’s critical Pharisee „said to himself“.
- Mark’s Jesus said about the woman „She has done a beautiful thing to me“. Luke’s Jesus didn’t say that, but it seems that it would fit even better to his version.
- In Mark’s story the whole focus is first on the perfume. The detailed description of the perfume („alabastron with perfume of trusty spikenard, very costly“) seems to be exaggerated in relation to the many unclear points of Mark’s story (Who is Simon the leper? Who is the woman? Who are the „some“?). In a similar manner the focus of Luke’s story is first on the woman and the account of her action seems to be also completely exaggerated („As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.“) Perhaps Luke noted Mark’s literary technique to highlight the focus of the story and repeated it. Therefore he reduced the description of the perfume (Mark’s focus) and deepened the report about the woman‘s action (his own focus).
- Surprisingly, as in GMark there are also the mention of „denarii“ (only 16 occurences in the whole NT and only three times in GLuke), but - as usual in the double tradition - in a more positive role as in GMark and in the mouth of Jesus.
Luke 7:41 A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
Mark 14:5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.

- In GMark the woman seems to stand in contrast to the women at the tomb (she came beforehand, they came to late …). Luke introduced the Galilean women in Luke 8:1 after the anointing.
1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

On the other hand
- The object of criticism in Luke’s story is primarily Jesus (“If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”) Luke’s point is how people react to Jesus and that the female sinner did it better than a Jewish authority. Clearly, footwashing was a common ancient practice to welcome a guest (therefore the woman is a better „host“ than the Pharisee), but I surmise that Luke had in mind also an allusion to Isaiah 52:7.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"

In the Greek text of Luke are 7 occurences of „feet“ between Luke 7:38-46

From a different p.o.v. therefore I tend to agree with our own rakovsky about Luke’s story (what he called from his historical view „the first anointing“).
rakovsky wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 8:17 am
The first anointing is an anointing for Jesus to travel and go on his mission,

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Sat Jan 13, 2018 9:49 am

Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
  • Why does John want to tie the woman to Lazarus - a character of John's own invention (albeit appropriated from a parable in Luke)? Is John doing this to make further comment on the Parable of John and the Rich Man?
imho, the major turn in GJohn is the function of Bethany. While it may be the same village, it plays a different role in the narrative. In GMark Bethany is connected with Jesus' stay in Jerusalem und functions as the night quarter of Jesus and the twelve. In GJohn Bethany is not connected with the days in Jerusalem, but it is the last station on his way to Jerusalem.

chronologyGospel of MarkGospel of John
X11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
X11:18-19 Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
X12:1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.
Entry into Jerusalem Mark 11:1-11, John 12:12-1911:1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciplesx
11:1 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.x
11:12 On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.X
14:3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, ...X

Assuming that GJohn was the last Gospel, John may have noted what Luke has done and took over the anointing of the feet. Therefore in GJohn it is also an anointing of the messenger on his mission, but not on the mission in Galilee as in Luke. In GJohn Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and with him the good news of the raising of Lazarus.
12:17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him.


But John's major source is clearly Mark. You will find in John's text many direct quotations and allusions to Mark.

John Mark
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. … While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Therefore in GJohn almost all cards are played before Jesus comes the last time to Jerusalem.

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by Kunigunde Kreuzerin » Sun Jan 14, 2018 10:52 am

Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
I've been puzzling over these narratives for a while and have some questions. I'll just quote them all first.
  • What do you suppose Mark's purpose was in telling this story in the first place? It has to be at least partially invented because Jesus' self-awareness of his own death cannot be historical. In fact, it has an apologetic feel to it, as does Jesus' rather lame rejoinder about the poor always being with you (a line which may be an allusion to Deuteronomy 15:11 - "For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’') Since no part of Jesus' response appears to be historical, why did Mark invent the first part? It doesn't seem necessary merely as a means to have Jesus predict his own death. Mark has already had him do that in 9:31. Did he do it as a way to get Jesus literally anointed? Why bother with adding extraneous conflict to that? Is it a way to give Judas a motive for betrayal? Possibly, but it's interesting to note that Mark only says that "there were some [ἦσαν δέ τινες] who were indignant within themselves." He does not specify Judas, although he does have Judas, who he has never mentioned before and now only identifies as "one of the twelve," go to the priests to finger Jesus. If he had specifically wanted to prosecute Judas, it seems like he would put a little more on the front end.
Diogenes, what do you suppose?

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by DCHindley » Sun Jan 14, 2018 12:16 pm

archibald wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:12 am
I have a theory. On his first visit to the big smoke, Jesus went to a prossie for a 'massage' and the gospel writers covered up this embarrassing incident by making it all symbolic.
I look at it as "repurposing" a story that Jesus had allowed a woman to anoint his head. That story could have been interpreted as Jesus accepting tokens of royalty (the anointing by this woman would be his royal anointing). It become his feet because, well, that seems un-royal. Oh, no, you got it all wrong! Jesus wasn't accepting royal anointing, but simple a good foot cleaning.

Now the salacious side of such a story would make more sense if the episode took place in a bath. There one could get a "massage" where scented oils and perfumes would be rubbed onto the skin. Even Essenes, men and women, entered the public baths, although partly clothed, but they skipped the oils and probably also the massages. There is a story somewhere in Roman literature (couldn't find where it was that I saw it) where a wealthy man was in the public baths, when one of his slaves opened a vial of costly perfume and poured it out over the man. Of course the perfume trickled down into the bath water, and people seeing this, rushed toward where the man sat in order to let some of the scented water splash over their bodies, thanking him for his generosity. He made many points with the common folks.

Now it does not seem the Jesus story was associated with a bath, private or public. One of the extracanonical gospel fragments, though, has Jesus complain: "Thou hast cleansed and anointed the outside skin which also the harlots and flute-girls oil and wash and anoint and beautify the skin." The skin is that of the harlot or flute girl, as these were temple prostitutes and probably did the massages. Hmmmm. So the story most likely would have been a political statement. "This is your destiny!" the woman was saying "Go, kick some Roman a**!" When he instead gets arrested (maybe for not repudiating this anointing as ill advised, or tried to stop it) and executed as a royal claimant (and let's face it, that is what happened), the story just won't go away. Backpedaling, the excuse is rationalized: "You got it all wrong! it was his *feet* that were anointed. No king is consecrated by an anointing of the feet! Duh! The only hair that got anointed was the woman's." So what does that make *her*? The (future) Queen Mary ... ? :scratch:

DCH

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by neilgodfrey » Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:28 pm

Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
  • Why does Luke change the anointing from the head to the feet? Is Luke uncomfortable with the anointing of the head because of its latently subversive political/regnal implications? Is he uncomfortable with a woman doing the anointing?
  • Why does Luke alone ignore the issue of the expense of the oil and change it into a lesson on slut shaming instead?
I find many of the differences in Luke's gospel can be explained by studying the themes in the opening chapters. The overarching theme is reversal. Jesus comes to exalt the lowly and debase the high.

Reading through that lense we find a ready explanation for the substitution of shepherds for royalty-hob-nobbing magi, Matthew's sermon on the mount being lowered to the plain; the poor in spirit become the literally poor versus the rich . . . are three examples.

We see the same here. Mark's and Matthew's versions flies in the face of Luke's theme. M and M have Jesus effectively saying "Stuff the poor for a moment, just think of me and my greatness for a few minutes."

So the scene is removed to a place and occasion where Jesus shows once again his exaltation of the sinner and the lowly.

The woman is anointing Jesus' feet, not his head. She is acting as the lowest servant, not someone with a fortune in her hand who has the honorable task of proleptically anointing the future king.

It's a theological narrative. The author evidently understood that what he was reading in Mark or Matthew was not some historical record but contrary theological tales so that he felt quite within his rights to change them into what he believed was a more fitting lesson and portrayal of Jesus. (Or else he knew he was a conspirator deliberately rewriting history.)

Thomas Brodie points out some striking echoes of 2 Kings 4:1-37: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42707092 Luke was creating a new tale from recent and old sources.

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by Diogenes the Cynic » Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:15 am

Kunigunde Kreuzerin wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 10:52 am
Diogenes, what do you suppose?
I honestly can't come up with a conclusion that I would bet money on, but my first intuition has always been that it remembers some kind of genuine historical spat that is now being apologized for, This assumes historicity for Jesus, of course, but my hypothesis is that Jesus did something or started living in such a way that caused one or more of his followers to became disillusioned. An Elijah Muhammed/Malcolm X moment. I can see an overnight sensation exorcist maybe getting a swelled head and living some of the good life, maybe, eating at rich people's houses, accepting fancy gifts, maybe even carousing with fallen women. I am not bound by any faith commitment to say or believe that a historical Jesus was necessarily an altruistic or virtuous individual and pretty much all known cult leaders use it for sex sooner or later.
Last edited by Diogenes the Cynic on Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by Diogenes the Cynic » Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:23 am

DCHindley wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 12:16 pm
archibald wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:12 am
I have a theory. On his first visit to the big smoke, Jesus went to a prossie for a 'massage' and the gospel writers covered up this embarrassing incident by making it all symbolic.
I look at it as "repurposing" a story that Jesus had allowed a woman to anoint his head. That story could have been interpreted as Jesus accepting tokens of royalty (the anointing by this woman would be his royal anointing). It become his feet because, well, that seems un-royal. Oh, no, you got it all wrong! Jesus wasn't accepting royal anointing, but simple a good foot cleaning.

Now the salacious side of such a story would make more sense if the episode took place in a bath. There one could get a "massage" where scented oils and perfumes would be rubbed onto the skin. Even Essenes, men and women, entered the public baths, although partly clothed, but they skipped the oils and probably also the massages. There is a story somewhere in Roman literature (couldn't find where it was that I saw it) where a wealthy man was in the public baths, when one of his slaves opened a vial of costly perfume and poured it out over the man. Of course the perfume trickled down into the bath water, and people seeing this, rushed toward where the man sat in order to let some of the scented water splash over their bodies, thanking him for his generosity. He made many points with the common folks.

Now it does not seem the Jesus story was associated with a bath, private or public. One of the extracanonical gospel fragments, though, has Jesus complain: "Thou hast cleansed and anointed the outside skin which also the harlots and flute-girls oil and wash and anoint and beautify the skin." The skin is that of the harlot or flute girl, as these were temple prostitutes and probably did the massages. Hmmmm. So the story most likely would have been a political statement. "This is your destiny!" the woman was saying "Go, kick some Roman a**!" When he instead gets arrested (maybe for not repudiating this anointing as ill advised, or tried to stop it) and executed as a royal claimant (and let's face it, that is what happened), the story just won't go away. Backpedaling, the excuse is rationalized: "You got it all wrong! it was his *feet* that were anointed. No king is consecrated by an anointing of the feet! Duh! The only hair that got anointed was the woman's." So what does that make *her*? The (future) Queen Mary ... ? :scratch:

DCH
This is how I see Luke's motives too. He seems to want to avoid even the possibility of a political interpretation.

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Re: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Some questions about the Bethany/Anointing narratives in the Gospels.

Post by Diogenes the Cynic » Wed Jan 17, 2018 12:29 am

neilgodfrey wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 11:28 pm
Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
  • Why does Luke change the anointing from the head to the feet? Is Luke uncomfortable with the anointing of the head because of its latently subversive political/regnal implications? Is he uncomfortable with a woman doing the anointing?
  • Why does Luke alone ignore the issue of the expense of the oil and change it into a lesson on slut shaming instead?
I find many of the differences in Luke's gospel can be explained by studying the themes in the opening chapters. The overarching theme is reversal. Jesus comes to exalt the lowly and debase the high.

Reading through that lense we find a ready explanation for the substitution of shepherds for royalty-hob-nobbing magi, Matthew's sermon on the mount being lowered to the plain; the poor in spirit become the literally poor versus the rich . . . are three examples.

We see the same here. Mark's and Matthew's versions flies in the face of Luke's theme. M and M have Jesus effectively saying "Stuff the poor for a moment, just think of me and my greatness for a few minutes."

So the scene is removed to a place and occasion where Jesus shows once again his exaltation of the sinner and the lowly.

The woman is anointing Jesus' feet, not his head. She is acting as the lowest servant, not someone with a fortune in her hand who has the honorable task of proleptically anointing the future king.

It's a theological narrative. The author evidently understood that what he was reading in Mark or Matthew was not some historical record but contrary theological tales so that he felt quite within his rights to change them into what he believed was a more fitting lesson and portrayal of Jesus. (Or else he knew he was a conspirator deliberately rewriting history.)

Thomas Brodie points out some striking echoes of 2 Kings 4:1-37: http://www.jstor.org/stable/42707092 Luke was creating a new tale from recent and old sources.
Thanks for the article, and I agree that Luke does have a more political view than matthew. Luke is talking about a literal reversal of the social order, not abstractions about rich and poor "in spirit." Do you see this as having been part of the original/Marcionite Gospel of Luke or as part of the post-Marcionite expanded version? I am assuming the redaction, of course, but so does Bart Ehrman, so it can't be that crazy.

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