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The Woman Who Anoints Jesus

I’ve done some work on Mark 14:3-9, where I’ve looked at it in relationship to a number of other texts in Mark’s gospel and also the other synoptic gospels.  But particularly this story in Mark, I think, is very interesting, because it’s normally been interpreted that the woman is anointing Jesus.   I think, there the interesting aspect is that when oil is poured out, over the head of someone or over a vessel, etc., oftentimes the verb that’s used will be anoint.

In Mark’s gospel and also in Matthew’s, the vocabulary is really interesting because the material that the woman uses is myron or a perfume.  It’s normally translated perfume or ointment.  The verb that is used in relationship to Jesus’ interpretation of what the woman is doing, it uses the same root word, myrizo, which means to ointment, in actual fact, or to put myron onto the body.

 And so, in discovering that interesting language, what I did then, was to look and see if there were any other intertexts or other texts that might throw light on that.  There’s a whole book, Book 15 in Athenaeus’s Deipnosophistai which deals with myron and when you look at it there, a pouring of myron over the head is said to bring good odors or good healing to the brain or to the head.

And so, I think given a number of other aspects in that story that, in fact, that we can read it as this woman offering a healing action to Jesus at a time when he’s going to his Passion. And if you look at [Bruce] Malina and [Jerome] Neyrey’s notion of the head as the site of the emotions, then I think it works there as well, because Jesus is facing this highly charged emotional situation of being threatened with death. So, I think, the woman is presented as doing a healing action to Jesus just as he has to others earlier in the gospel. So it’s a fascinating story, actually, from that point of view.

  • Elaine Wainwright

    Elaine Wainwright is professor and head of the School of Theology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is a New Testament scholar specializing in the Gospel of Matthew. Her latest book is Women Healing/Healing Women (Equinox, 2006). Her revision of the Matthew volume of the Sheffield Phoenix New Testament Guides will be published early in 2014. Along with Sueng Ai, she is preparing the feminist commentary on The Gospel of Matthew for the new Wisdom Commentary Series.