The Historical Jesus in Context

By Amy-Jill Levine; Dale Allison Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

21
Anointing Traditions

Teresa J. Hornsby

The account of Jesus' anointing is one of the few events recorded by all four Evangelists (Matthew 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–8). Although the Gospels agree in basic details, such as Jesus' being anointed by a woman in the presence of others, they are inconsistent about where, with whom, how, and why the anointing happens. Matthew's, Mark's, and John's anointings take place in Bethany, whereas the Lucan scene appears set somewhere in Galilee. Matthew, Mark, and Luke place the event in the home of Simon, and John tells us it is in the home of Lazarus. John names “Mary” as the anointer, Luke identifies the unnamed woman as “from the city” and as a “sinner”; Matthew and Mark leave her nameless and otherwise unidentified. The host, Simon, is a leper in Matthew's and Mark's versions, but he is a Pharisee according to Luke, and according to John he is Lazarus, a man Jesus recently raised from the dead. According to John and Luke, the woman anointed Jesus' feet; according to Matthew and Mark, she anointed his head. Matthew, Mark, and John all associate the anointing with Jesus' death and burial; Luke uses the story to comment on hospitality and forgiveness.

As we look at other anointings that occur in literature roughly contemporary with the Gospels, it becomes apparent that Jesus' anointing has its familiar circumstances and its unique ones. My concern is here, primarily, with the anointings in Luke and John; to the numerous students who read the Gospels and conclude, “That's what all the women did with their hair things back then,” the evidence suggests rather something unexpected has occurred between Jesus and the anointing woman.


Anointing in the LXX and the New Testament

The Septuagint records various types of anointing. It uses the term christM (Hebrew: mashach) exclusively to denote a ceremonial anointing, such as the ritual installation of kings and priests (see, e.g., Exodus 28:41; 29:36; Judges 9:8; 1 Samuel 9:16; 15:1). I have located no other example where a kiss is a part of the

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