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10 January 2009

The Woman with the Alabaster Jar


Margaret Starbird, The Woman with the Alabaster Jar (Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co., 1993).

The previous six posts contain the only Biblical mentions of Mary Magdalene. But in Mark 14: 1-9, an unnamed woman with precious nard in an alabaster vial comes to the house of Simon the leper in Bethany in order to anoint Jesus:
1 Now the Passover and Unleavened Bread was two days off, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to seize Him by stealth, and kill Him;

2 for they were saying, "Not during the festival, lest there be a riot of the people."

3 And while He was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, and reclining at the table, there came a woman with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume of pure nard; and she broke the vial and poured it over His head.

4 But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted?

5 "For this perfume might have been sold for over three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they were scolding her.

6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me.

7 "For the poor you always have with you, and whenever you wish, you can do them good; but you do not always have Me.

8 "She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.

9 "And truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her."

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Mark 14: 1-9," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 147-148. NASB version.

The corresponding passage in Luke occurs in chapter 7 before the Magdalene is introduced:

36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him. And He entered the Pharisee's house, and reclined at the table.

37 And behold, there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee's house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume,

38 And standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet, and anointing them with the perfume.

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner."

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Luke 7: 36-39," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), pp. 188-189. NASB version.

Then Jesus proceeds to tell the Parable of the Two Debtors and forgives the woman's sins. In Matthew 26 we have the following version:

6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, at the home of Simon the leper,

7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume, and she poured it upon His head as He reclined at the table.

8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw this, and said, "Why this waste?

9 "For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor."

10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, "Why do bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me.

11"For the poor you have with you always; but you do not always have Me.

12 "For when she poured this perfume upon My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial.

13 "Truly I say to you, whereever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her."

SOURCE: Alfred Marshall, trans. "Matthew 26: 6-13," The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1993), p. 86. NASB version.

Following this episode we have the betrayal of Judas. How did the sinner get to be associated with the Magdalene? Susan Haskins (1993: 17-18) states that:

It may have been because the sinner rushed into the Pharisee's house with her alabastron to ask forgiveness for her sins and to anoint Christ in gratitude that she was associated with the female disciple who had seven devils cast from her, and who went to anoint Christ in his death. That the second woman, Mary Magdalen, is first described by Luke immediately after the scene in the Pharisee's house may have given rise to the idea that they were one and the same woman, and the fact that she was also numbered amongst the women "healed of evil spirits and infirmities" could have reinforced her identification with a sinner, despite the fact that possession by evil spirits is nowhere else equated with sin. It is because Mary Magdalen went to anoint Christ that she is also associated, as we shall see, with Mary of Bethany.

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