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

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

Post by Diogenes the Cynic » 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.



Mark 14:3-9
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.”

Matthew 26:6-13
While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor. Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.
Luke 7:36-50
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 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. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “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.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
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.”
John 12:1-8

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.”

Ok, so basically I'm just wondering what kind of work or speculation has gone into the following 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?
  • 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?
  • 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.


    Could there something historical about this? Maybe Jesus was starting to go a little bit Hollywood or show some base, human tendencies? Maybe there is memory of a real spat here? Possibly somthing that was remembered as having caused genuine conflict or generated disillusionment among some followers? What would be a reason for complete literary invention on the mythicist theory?

    If anyone could point me to some article or critical commentaries on these questions, I'd appreciate it.

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 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:45 am

This is possibly my favourite episode from the whole NT because of the latent eroticism. :)

Paul the Uncertain
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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 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:16 am

Hi, Diogenes

Working from Mark:
Jesus' self-awareness of his own death cannot be historical.
Say what? John the Baptist has been killed for pointing out the obvious about Antipas' marriage. Jesus has cast himself as the action-adventure lead in Daniel, who courts death and evades it only because of ham-fisted deus ex machina interventions. Mark's whole story revolves around Jesus' mind games with his merry men, and forecasting one's own death is a proven winner in social manipulation (and a literary staple as well).

https://youtu.be/stdi-1tIUhM
Jesus' rather lame rejoinder
Jesus' other rejoinders aren't consistently able-bodied. "House divided?" What field general would not accept the loss of some personnel to achieve an important strategic objective? "Render unto Caesar?" The face on the coin isn't a mark of ownership of the coin, period. Jesus is flatly one-upped by the Syrophoenician woman's rejoinder...

And sure, it's a reference to Deuteronomy - dude is a Jewish preacher. Quoting the Jewish Bible is a character bit.
Did he do it as a way to get Jesus literally anointed?
Mark may have been playing with that, sure. But there's also a play there between annointed as something royal, and annointed as something funerary. Mark does that again in the mockery scene, where Jesus is draped with something porphyry. That's both "royal" purple and also (according to Pliny the Elder, who makes a Homeric allusion for those who like to link Mark to Homer) the color of dried blood.

Also, Jesus' speech is what theater folk call a "forward" (anything that directs the audience's attention to action still to come). Forwards are the salt and pepper of dramatic confection. They are self-justifying, and by their nature, inherently integrated into the story. Rarely has anybody complained that a ripping yarn has too many forwards.
Is it a way to give Judas a motive for betrayal?
John sees it that way, and John may be the very height of literary commentary on Mark. So, could be. It's not developed much in that direction, however. Mark isn't otherwise big on character motivation, unless he can put it across in action or interaction.
who he has never mentioned before and now only identifies as "one of the twelve," go to the priests to finger Jesus.
Judas is mentioned as the betrayer back in chapter 3, a blatant forward, when Jesus is appointing the Twelve.
What would be a reason for complete literary invention on the mythicist theory?
Mark knows how to put a story across? In the "previously worshipped celestial Jesus" version of mythicism, everything that happens on Earth is a complete literary invention. Why not this?

archibald

That's just John. And if my gaydar is at all calibrated, Mary B. is wasting her time with John's Jesus.

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 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:39 am

Paul the Uncertain wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:16 am
That's just John. And if my gaydar is at all calibrated, Mary B. is wasting her time with John's Jesus.
And there I was nursing a proto-thesis about him (Jesus) being married.

Not that that would mean your gaydar is necessarily askew. Or is John setting off the device?

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 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 3:42 am

Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
Could there something historical about this?
Maybe yes and maybe no. How's that?

I may not be an expert, but I have a very strong feeling that's the best answer we're going to get. :)
Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
Maybe Jesus was starting to go a little bit Hollywood or show some base, human tendencies? Maybe there is memory of a real spat here? Possibly somthing that was remembered as having caused genuine conflict or generated disillusionment among some followers? What would be a reason for complete literary invention on the mythicist theory?

If anyone could point me to some article or critical commentaries on these questions, I'd appreciate it.
I have heard that one reason for possibly taking it to be not completely fictional, as per the mythicist theses, is that it doesn't, apparently, have any strong parallels with mythical characters, and ditto for 'as it was writtens' from the OT. Except for vague ones, but I reckon any fool could find those almost anywhere and possibly even start to parallel my life with such texts. Jason of the Argonauts would do me nicely in fact and might play well with the ladies.

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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 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:55 am

archibald
I have heard that one reason for possibly taking it to be not completely fictional, as per the mythicist theses, is that it doesn't, apparently, have any strong parallels with mythical characters,...
At least in Mark, the criticism is directed at her, not him. Jesus is being a "white knight" here. That role has a few mythical parallels.

Not that I accept that Mark would be required to restrict himself to his antecedents under a mythicist scenario. Artists don't just use myths, they make myths their own.

That's what Mark's Jesus says, whenever the story Mark is now telling is retold, as it will be, then this incident and character will be celebrated in it. Reflecting back on Mark, that's an author's self-congratulations, even shamelessly so.

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 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 5:29 am

Paul the Uncertain wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:55 am
Jesus is being a "white knight" here. That role has a few mythical parallels.
So does almost everything men do. I've read up on Feminism . :)
Paul the Uncertain wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 4:55 am
Not that I accept that Mark would be required to restrict himself to his antecedents under a mythicist scenario. Artists don't just use myths, they make myths their own.

That's what Mark's Jesus says, whenever the story Mark is now telling is retold, as it will be, then this incident and character will be celebrated in it. Reflecting back on Mark, that's an author's self-congratulations, even shamelessly so.
So what, if anything, do you reckon a real Jesus might have got up to? You can do weekdays first and the Sabbath separately if you like.

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

Post by Paul E. » Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:45 am

Just a couple thoughts...

The anointing story makes lack of a proper burial more likely if Mark cannot or is constrained not to invent a burial that includes anointing the body. I.e., Mark is giving Jesus a proper burial in advance. It could also be that Mark viewed it as the beginning of Jesus’ Davidic Messiahship in light of subsequent events. There is a theme of the willingness of the spirit (unto death) but the weakness of the flesh (ditto), and the Gethsemene narrative in which Jesus is depicted as emotionally tortured and pleading for deliverance but ultimately submissive to the will of God. Therefore some awareness of impending death or at least suffering may well be historical.

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

Post by perseusomega9 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 6:48 am

While being the first written of the canonicals, I believe this story indicates Mark was using an earlier gospel given that the woman's name has been omitted.

Robert M. Price also sees parallels to the anointing and resurrection of Osiris and believes this may have been originally part of Jesus' resurrection story later placed earlier in the gospel (like the Transfiguration).

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Skeptical Criticism Healing's Good For You

Post by JoeWallack » Thu Jan 11, 2018 8:04 am

Diogenes the Cynic wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:40 pm
  • 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.
JW:
First of all, you ask a lot of questions for someone from New Jewsy. I think the default for any individual story in GMark is fiction and therefore we should be spending relatively more effort looking for evidence of fiction than evidence of historicity (and this is what The Skeptical Critical Commentary on "Mark" will do).

"Mark" (author) has major themes of:
  • 1) Presenting his Jesus as a failure at the narrative level.

    2) Paralleling his Jesus story with stories from The Jewish Bible.
These themes intersect with Saul, who everyone would agree was a failed King of Israel. CBS (Christian Bible Scholarship) has not wanted to go there because of the latter but as evidenced by my Award winning Thread:

Donkey King by Intendo. Saul/Jesus King Parallels.

I tell you the truth, the parallels are so strong it's enough to make you turn Jew. Specifically for "Mark's" anointing of Jesus see Saul/Jesus Anointing Parallels.


Joseph

Skeptical Textual Criticism

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