Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Her Memorial: An Alternative Reading of Matthew 26:13

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Her Memorial: An Alternative Reading of Matthew 26:13

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

In Matt 26:6-13, an unidentified woman performs an extravagant act that stirs up controversy among the disciples. Jesus defends the woman, declaring the underlying significance of her deed: ... (Matt 26:13).

In the history of scholarship, rendering ... as an objective genitive-that is, interpreting the feminine pronoun aiiT% as the object of the head noun ...-is virtually unanimous.1 Accordingly, Jesus's saying in Matt 26:13 identifies the woman as the object of memorial: "wherever this gospel is preached throughout the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her"2 On this reading, the anonymous nature of the woman's identity is called into question. Why, when Jesus intends to memorialize the woman, is she left unnamed by Matthew?

Recent answers have varied considerably. Mainstream scholarship of the 1980s and 1990s has generally downplayed the woman's anonymity by limiting her comprehension of the deed's scope and significance. Although the woman performed a generous act, she did not necessarily intend to anoint Jesus.3 If the woman's act of pouring oil is differentiated from Jesus's interpretation of her act as an anointing, her role remains coincidental to the narrative. In this way, the problem posed by her anonymity is minimized.

Feminist biblical scholars have taken a much more critical stance on the issue.4 That the woman is stripped of her identity, so it is argued, is clear evidence of androcentric bias. Not only does Matthew fail to record the woman's speech, but her actual name is also omitted, which precludes the possibility of a proper memorial.5 These interpretations, however divergent, depend on reading ... as an objective genitive.

The objective genitive, however, is not the only viable rendering of ... Another possibility is to take ... as a subjective genitive-the probability for which, at least based on New Testament usage, is statistically greater than the probability for the objective genitive.6 To be sure, what differentiates the two is not always obvious, nor does statistical probability necessarily settle the matter. Herein lies the tension. A. T. Robertson explains, "[The subjective genitive] can be distinguished from the objective use only by the context. Sometimes the matter is not clear. This genitive is the common possessive genitive looked at from another angle. In itself the genitive is neither subjective nor objective, but lends itself readily to either point of view."7 Robertson's point is especially relevant for this study since it supplies the basic premise for the argument that follows: identifying the use of the genitive in Matt 26:13 should ultimately appeal to evidence in the surrounding context.

Despite the pliability of the genitive, most translations and commentaries on the First Gospel do not give any indication that a subjective genitive reading of ... is a possibility. There are a few exceptions that are worthy of mention.8 In New Testament in Modern English, J. B. Phillips offers the following rendering: "this deed of hers will also be recounted, as her memorial to me"9 A. T. Robertson's translation also gestures toward a subjective genitive: "For a memorial of her.... This monument to Jesus fills the whole world with its fragrance, greater than even permanent memorials"10 But the scholar who has most explicitly argued for a subjective genitive reading is J. Harold Greenlee. His remarks are suggestive, if underdeveloped, in a one-page note published in I960.11 The paucity of references in the history of interpretation and the brevity of Greenlee's remarks provide the occasion for the present study. Building on Greenlee's suggestion but departing slightly from his translation, I present a case for an alternative reading of Matt 26:13.

I argue that a subjective genitive reading of ... is not only plausible based on Matthew's redaction of Mark 14:9 but also favorable, given Matthew's deliberate omission of the anointing of Jesus's body for burial as in Mark 16:1 (cf. …

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