Anointing of Jesus

And some insights from the Pepysian Gospel

by Yuri Kuchinsky

[The following consists of 4 posts that I re-edited to remove some small
errors, and to improve the presentation. The original versions are
supplied on my webpage. (Last edited July 2001.)]


Is it possible that the Anointing at Bethany (Mk 14:3-10/Mt 26:6-13/Jn
12:1-8) was a later addition to the canonical gospels? Quite a few
respected scholars indeed thinks so. Indeed, especially the phrase,

	(Mk 14:9) "I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached
	throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in 
	memory of her."

seems like it was written sometime in the 2c when the gospel was already
preached throughout the world.

Some indication of the lateness of this story may be the fact that Lk
omits it. There are also other cases when Lk seems to preserve the earlier
narrative sequence better than the other Synoptics. But now there's also
additional evidence from the Pepysian Gospel that also lacks this episode
(Mt 26:6-13), meanwhile featuring the surrounding Mt 26:1-5, and Mt
26:14ff. This sort of an omission seems revealing.

Lk 7:37ff, of course, has its own Anointing scene, and the relationship of
it to the other three versions of the Anointing remains to be clarified.

Moreover, there's also another interesting feature of the Pepysian Gospel
that seems relevant. Namely, PG has Simon the Leper, rather than Simon of
Cyrene, carry the cross for Jesus,

	"And als hij 3eden forth [as they went on], so com there a 
	straunge man by the waye passande, that hi3th [by the name of] 
	Simonde leprous. And the Jewes maden hym with strengthe to take
	the croice, and beren it vpon his bak after Jesu." p. 97

In the canonical gospels, of course, Simon the Leper is the owner of the
house where the Anointing takes place.

So what's going on with these texts? Is it possible that at some later
stage the editors of Mt/Mk reused the figure of Simon the Leper for their
newly created Anointing scene, while renaming the Simon who carried the
cross as Simon of Cyrene? Indeed, it is quite difficult to imagine the
reverse process, i.e. that some later gospel editor would have taken the
name of Simon the Leper, presumably a well-known friend of Jesus, 
and made him into a total stranger?


I will be arguing for the following basic sequence of the textual
development of this passage. Source of PG -> Lk -> Jn -> Mt/Mk. So I'll be
defending the priority of Lk's version of this passage, and of Lk's
narrative sequence over above the other Synoptics. More ammunition for the
Jerusalem School of NT research.. The following article presents
considerable support from respected biblical commentators for my version
of these textual developments.


Dear friends,

In this article, I will consider how the scene of the Anointing is viewed
in the commentaries of Loisy, Fitzmyer, and Brown. All of them seem to
support the priority of the Lukan version, although this is less clear in

Alfred Loisy, L'EVANGILE SELON LUC, Paris, 1924

In the part of his commentary on Lk where he deals with Lk 7, Loisy says
that Christian exegesis has for a long been perplexed by the problem of
three basic versions of Anointing in Mk/Mt, Lk, and Jn. Some ancient
commentators accepted that there were three Anointings in the gospels,
performed by three different women. Other commentators only accepted one.
Since Augustine, most commentators accepted two, both performed by Mary
sister of Lazarus, as identified so in Jn. And, according to Loisy, since
Gregory the Great, Mary was identified as Mary Magdalene.

Loisy also notes that the story is poorly constructed (mal construite),
and he points to various significant interpretative problems.
Theologically, the biggest problem seems to be that, paradoxically, in the
canonical version of the story, love seems to be the principle of

In my view, on the whole, Loisy's commentary on this pericope appears to
be rather inconsistent, and perhaps even self-contradictory. First, he
more or less accepts the mainstream view of Lk basing his Anointing on Mk.
But then he writes as follows about Lk omitting it in his Passion

	"Notre auteur [Lk] n'a pas reproduit ce recit de Marc [in his
	Passion Narrative], afin d'eviter le double emploi, et peut-etre
	aussi parce que le recit primitif de la passion dans Luc ne le
	contenait pas." 229

Thus, Loisy suggests that the source of Lk's Passion Narrative did not
have the Anointing. But if so, then arguably, also considering other
problems of placement of this pericope in this spot in Mk, the source of
Lk would be more primitive here than the canonical Mk. Thus, Mk's
Anointing would not be really primitive, and would rather be based on a
version similar to the one in Lk.

Also, elsewhere (in his BIRTH) Loisy notes that Mk's anointing seems like
a doublet of the Last Supper, and this is yet another possible indication
of its late status in Mk.

Joseph Fitzmyer, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO LUKE, Doubleday, 1981 (volume 1).

Fitzmyer says that, similar to Jn's version,

	"the Lukan story has details that have always raised questions".

He finds the remarks of Jesus problematic, because the sins of the woman,

	"..are forgiven because of her love (v. 47b) or her faith (v. 50),
	seemingly the condition(s) of forgiveness; but v. 47c seems to
	regard love as the effect of forgiveness". 685

Thus, similarly to Loisy, Fitzmyer also finds it a problem that love is
the condition of forgiveness. But also he notes marked inconsistencies of
our passage in this area. These indicate late editorial tampering, in my

Fitzmyer says that E. Klostermann, R. Holst, and J.K. Elliot consider the
Lukan version of Anointing as the most primitive. According to this
reasoning, Jn follows next, and only then Mk as the most developed
version. Fitzmyer more or less agrees with this,

	"For my part, it is hardly likely that the Lukan story is a
	deliberate reworking of the Marcan by Luke or some tradition
	before him."

Fitzmyer thinks all three stories are based on some more primitive source,
and I agree. An important argument for this is that,

	"The anointing of the feet [in Lk] would have been the more
	primitive, since it is easier to explain the tradition shifting
	from the anointing of the feet to the head than vice versa." 686

As to the placement of the story in Mk,

	" has always been a problem to explain why the anointing of
	Jesus in the Markan Gospel should be recounted at the point where
	it occurs." 687-8

Raymond Brown, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN, Doubleday, 1966

Brown sees Jn 11:2, the unexpected early mention of the Anointing, as
problematic (423). Why does this verse refer to the Anointing scene that
has not yet been narrated in Jn as to something that is already

(In my view, the most logical explanation for this anomaly is that
probably a scene similar to the Lukan originally stood earlier in Jn. The
next step would have been the doubling of this scene, in order to create
an "Anointing for Burial" episode. But then the first scene would have
been deleted, thus leaving this introduction of Jn 11:2 hanging in

Brown writes,

	[among commentators] "No one really doubts that John and Mark are
	describing the same scene; yet, many of the details in John are
	like those of Luke's scene." 449

Importantly, in Jn, similar to Lk but not to Mk,

- the feet of Jesus are anointed
- wiped with woman's hair

Indeed, as Brown writes, Jn seems to incorporate details from the Lukan
episode. Thus, in this case, Jn seems like the middle term between Lk and
Mk. Otherwise, Brown thinks it would be incomprehensible why in Jn the
woman would proceed "to wipe off the perfume she has just applied." 451

Also, Mk's "more than 300 denarii" seems more developed than Jn's simply
"300 denarii".

Brown mentions the rather "scandalous" for Ancient Near East symbolism of
a woman letting her hair down in public. This was normally never done by
"virtuous women". While not being inappropriate for the Lukan context,
according to Brown,

	"The letting down of hair .. is out of character for the virtuous
	Mary of Bethany." 451

As to the placement of the Anointing into the text of Mk, Brown writes,

	"More than likely Mark 14:1-2 was originally joined to 14:10, and
	the account of the anointing is an interpolation. 452

But this is how Lk narrates this passage, of course.

Also, Brown writes,

	"..the Catholic liturgy came to honour in a single feast all three
	women (the sinner of Galilee, Mary of Bethany, Mary of Magdala) as
	one saint -- a confusion that has existed in the Western Church,
	although not without demur, since the time of Gregory the Great."

From my point of view, if indeed the original Anointing, as well as its
original location are preserved in Lk better than in the other three
gospels, then one may assume that Mary Magdalene was originally 
the woman who anointed (and PG supports this interpretation, of 
course). But then the Catholic liturgy, by conflating all these three 
women into one saint, would in effect tend to support the identification 
of Mary Magdalene as the anointing woman in Lk. In such a case, the 
sinner of Galilee, as well as Mary of Bethany may be seen as merely 
the characters who entered the tradition later, and were ultimately 
based on Mary Magdalene.

When this problem is considered from such a perspective, one may wonder
who in this case is closer to the genuine historical tradition, the
Catholic liturgy, or the modern scholars who are in such a big hurry to
find fault with it.


To summarize, all three scholars, Loisy, Fitzmyer, and Brown agree that
Markan location of the Anointing is problematic. Thus, the common source
of Mk and Lk probably did not have the Anointing placed so late in the
ministry of Jesus.

Both Fitzmyer and Brown agree that Lk's version is probably the earliest
of the four canonical gospels. And so, Jn's version is based on Lk, and
Mk's seems to be based on Jn's. But ultimately, all the canonical versions
are probably based on a more primitive source. The problem of Jn 11:2 may
be solved by assuming that the source of Jn had the Anointing earlier on,
i.e. where Lk has it now.

Also, both Loisy and Fitzmyer see considerable problems with the text of
Lk. Thus, the view of Fitzmyer that even the Lk's version is based on some 
yet more primitive source gains weight. In this more primitive source, the love 
of God may have been expressed especially by according forgiveness to
those who sinned most, but then repented (similar to the parable of the Lost 
Sheep). And such a variant reading is in fact found in PG, as well as
in some other Diatessaronic witnesses.

All this seems to go against all major Synoptic theories today that
consider Lk as a late gospel based on Mk and/or Mt. Also the possible
dependence of Mk on Jn in this instance is rather interesting.


[This article presents some revealing new evidence from PG in
regard to this narrative.]


It may be said that Lk's version of the Anointing (Lk 7:37ff) primarily 
seems to be a moral tale about a sinner who found grace. Also, 
it seems to serve the double purpose as a scene of conversion 
(a call to discipleship), but, as I will explain further, this is veiled 
somewhat in Lk's narrative. Meanwhile, in the Pepysian Gospel 
(PG) this second purpose of this scene is completely on the surface.

On the text-critical level, there's a clear problem here in need of a
solution. Namely, either (1) Lk borrowed this scene from Mk/Mt, and,
changing it somewhat, placed it in a new location, or (2) the scene is
more original, both in its shape and in its context, in Lk, and then Jn,
Mk, and Mt borrowed it from the source of Lk and changed both the scene
and its context.

I suppose that the majority of biblical scholars today, especially if they have not
studied this rather difficult textual problem in detail, would instinctively embrace #1.
This is because currently 2SH, the 2 Source Hypothesis (asserting Markan
priority), rules, and 2SH always embraces the rigid model of Lk always
borrowing from Mk. And the similar logic applies to the rival FGH
(Farrer-Goulder Hypothesis), and 2GH (2 Gospel Hypothesis, also known as
the Griesbach Hypothesis). But I will propose that #2 is much more likely. On 
this I'm in agreement with some respected biblical scholars such as Fitzmyer, 
Brown and others. So in a sense, in such a case Jn and Mk/Mt are based on Lk.

First, I will try to show that Lk as well as PG, and PG even better than
Lk, preserve both the scene and its context in their more original shapes.
And then I will give additional arguments why the scene is probably an
interpolation where it is now in Mk/Mt.

First, let us compare the two versions of this scene in Lk and in PG. In
the following I will quote only a few parts in PG that are somewhat
different from Lk. [Now see the complete translation of this passage 
at ] The rest of PG 
narrative follows upon Lk quite closely.

Luke 7:36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with
     him, and he went into the Pharisee's house,
     and took his place at table.
37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a
     sinner, when she learned that he was at table
     in the Pharisee's house,

PG: "a womman that hadde seuene fendes [seven fiends] with innen hire, &
was alosed for [known as] a synful womman in that cite, herd telle that
Jesus ete there."

["Seven fiends" are here mentioned earlier compared to Lk.]

     ..brought an alabaster flask of ointment,
38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping,
     she began to wet his feet with her tears, and
     wiped them with the hair of her head, and
     kissed his feet, and anointed them with the
39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him
     saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a
     prophet, he would have known who and what
     sort of woman this is

PG: "he thoug3th onon in his hert [he thought now in his heart -- instead
of "said to himself"] that 3if he were verray prophete [if he were really
a prophet] he schulde wite [know] what womman sche were [what sort of a
woman that she was].."

     ..who is touching him, for
     she is a sinner."
40 And Jesus answering said to him, "Simon, I
     have something to say to you." And he
     answered, "What is it, Teacher?"

PG: "And tho [then] ansuered Jesus to that Phariseu & seide, "O thing j
haue to telle the [one thing I have to tell thee]. & he bisou3th hym &
seide, "Gode maister, telle onon."

[Here Lk names the Pharisee as "Simon" earlier, compared to PG.]

41 "A certain creditor had two debtors; one
     owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
42 When they could not pay, he forgave them
     both. Now which of them will love him

Thus, in the canonical version this question is preserved as follows,

	"which of them will love him more?"

But PG preserves this question in a very different sense,

	"Whether loued he most?" (p. 32. line 30), i.e. "Which of them he
	loved most?" 

It needs to be added here that this translation is also supported by a 
number of scholars, and is hardly in doubt. Also, some other Diatessaronic 
witnesses support PG version of this passage.

The difference is quite important since, according to PG, the focus is 
shifted from the one who is forgiven, to the one who forgives. And, as 
we shall see further, this will have quite significant implications for the 
whole meaning of this story.

[[If indeed PG preserves an earlier version of this whole episode, 
then the way this question is formulated in PG is clearly
co-ordinated with PG's conclusion of the story, and the whole story is
then quite coherent in PG. So then in the canonical Lk, both the question
and the conclusion would have been changed in a co-ordinated way.

The difference is very important because this question in PG is quite in
accord with the conclusion of the story as given in PG, i.e. indicating
that love will be primarily the consequence of forgiveness of a sinner. As
mentioned above, both Loisy and Fitzmyer find it a problem that, in the
canonical Lk, love seems to be the condition of forgiveness. Thus, this
seems like an additional important pre-canonical element PG preserves from
its Latin source. The story as presented by PG is more logical and
coherent, compared to the canonical Lk. (Below, I will also produce
considerable external support from other Diatessaronic witnesses for this
PG text.)

43 Simon answered, "The one, I suppose, to
     whom he forgave more." And he said to him,
     "You have judged rightly."
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to
     Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered
     your house, you gave me no water for my
     feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears
     and wiped them with her hair.
45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I
     came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
PG: "Simond, seestou this womman? Jch entred in to thine hous and thou ne
3eue no watere to my feete, & sche wette my feete with hire teres & wiped
my fete with hire here. And thou ne kissedest nou3th my mouth, & sche ne
letted nou3th suththe [since] that sche com in forto kisse my fete."

TRANSLATION: "Simon, do you see this woman? I entered your house 
and you did not even give me water to [wash] my feet, & she wet my feet 
with her tears & wiped my feet with her hair. And you did not even kiss 
my mouth, but she has not ceased, since the time she came in, to kiss 
my feet."

[PG, while being quite similar to Lk in most other
respects, has "You never kissed my mouth" instead of "You gave me no
kiss". Clearly, PG version goes better with the following "but she has not
ceased, from the time she came in, to kiss my feet ". So the narrative in
PG appears to be smoother in this place.

And also, there's another small but important difference here. While, in
this PG passage, the woman has not ceased to kiss the feet of Jesus "from
the time she came in", in the canonical Lk 7:45, she has not ceased to
kiss his feet from the time _he_ came in. Obviously the canonical version
seems rather confused, and is probably corrupt, since it is difficult to
assume that the woman was there before Jesus came in, or that she came in
together with Jesus. In fact Lk 7:45 contradicts with Lk 7:37, "..a woman
of the city .. when she learned that he was .. in the Pharisee's house
.. brought  .. ointment..". So this seems like a poorly incorporated 
insertion made by a later editor.]

46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she
     has anointed my feet with ointment.

PG: "And thou ne wessche nou3th myn heued ne myne ei3en [my eyes], and
sche hath smered [smeared, or anointed] myne feete with oynement""

TRANSLATION: And you did not wash my head or my eyes, but she has 
anointed my feet with ointment.

[PG version includes different details here.]

47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many,
     are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who
     is forgiven little, loves little."
48 And he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."

PG: ""-- for which thing ich telle it the that many synnes ben hire
for3iuen. And therfore ich loue hire mychel; for whi to wham that most is
for3iuen, most is loued." And tho seide Jesus to the womman that hire
synnes were for3iuen."

TRANSLATION: "-- and because of this, I tell you that many sins have been
forgiven her. And so I love her much; for to whom most is forgiven, is
most loved." And then Jesus said to the woman that her sins were

The important difference here is in the conclusion to this moral tale. In
PG Jesus loves her much, which sounds more natural
in the context of this passage compared to Lk's "she loved much" which
appears somewhat out of context. The conclusion in PG is "to whom 
most is forgiven, is loved most", an apparent reference to the lost and 
found sheep that is loved more than the sheep that had not been lost. 
This conclusion appears
logical in the context. 

And later on there are some further differences between Lk and PG.
Although seemingly small, they appear to indicate that Lk edited a source
similar to PG to produce his gospel.

Lk 7:49  Then those who were at table with him
     began to say among themselves, "Who is
     this, who even forgives sins?"
50 And he said to the woman, "Your faith has
     saved you; go in peace."

Luke 8:1 Soon afterward he went on through cities
     and villages, preaching and bringing the
     good news of the kingdom of God. And
     the twelve were with him,
2 and also some women who had been
     healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary,
     called Mag'dalene, from whom seven
     demons had gone out,
3 and Joan'na, the wife of Chuza, Herod's
     steward, and Susanna, and many others,
     who provided for them out of their means.

PG: "And Jesus hire seide: "Goo, womman, and be in pes [peace]." -- For
hir bileue [her belief] hadde hire saued [saved]. And sche 3ede [went] and
dude [did] hire with other men that Jesus hadde heled of her sekenesses &
that hem seweden [served] and founden hem [funded him], spendynge of 
her owene propre goodes -- [names of disciples follow, and Par. 31 ends].

Among the disciples, PG names at the end of this Paragraph Johan (or
Johanna), Susanne, and "many other". But, unlike in Lk, Mary is not
mentioned specifically. And the next Paragraph 32 begins with Jesus
selecting and instructing the "72 disciples", following on parallel to Lk 10:1ff.

One may observe that the "seven demons", are in different locations in the two 
texts. In PG, they served as part of an introduction for the sinful
woman who will proceed to anoint, whereas in Lk 8:2 they are mentioned 
specifically in reference to Mary Magdalene. This is quite an interesting 
puzzle. I think it can be explained if one supposes that Mary was originally 
the woman who anointed, but that later Lk tried to disguise this identification 

Also PG never names the anointing woman in its text, although she is named
in the heading of Par. 31: "Hou Jhesus conuertred the Maudeleyne". (But we
don't really know who added the Paragraph headings to PG and when,
although it may be that they are original and belong to the text.) But,
unlike in Lk, the woman is clearly the same woman who is mentioned 
further on among the other disciples and followers of Jesus. So, unlike 
in Lk, in PG this serves as a model conversion story.

Mary is mentioned by name in the follow up of the story in Lk 8:2, but
Lk's editing process clearly makes an attempt to dissociate her from the
unnamed anointing woman. This seems like an additional indication that
Lk's version is secondary, because in later times there may have been some
resistance to associating the beloved disciple of Jesus Mary Magdalene
with the sinful woman in Lk 7.

In this comparison between PG and Lk, PG seems to preserve better both
the story itself, and its context.

Before drawing some further conclusions from this analysis, I will now
proceed to examine how the Anointing story fits in what I believe is its
new context in Mk/Mt. It appears to be foreign to the context in both Mk
and Mt where it is currently found.

When I look at Par. 94 of PG, its narrative flows very naturally.
Basically it follows Mt's Chapter 26 in this whole narrative, continuing
well into Par. 95.

This is how the story unfolds. The worthies of Jerusalem gather together
and consult how they may kill Jesus. (While for Mt that assembly included
only "the chief priests and the elders of the people", PG includes here
"the princes, & the maistres, the preestes, & the elde men of the Law3e".)
But they are afraid of the people stirring trouble during the Passover

Here is where the Anointing is located in the canonical versions. But
after the Anointing, the narrative returns to the assembly of the rulers,
which Judas then decides to visit,

Mt 26:14 Then one of the twelve, who
was called Judas Iscariot, went to the
chief priests..

PG: "And tho [then] herde Judas tellen that hij [they] weren assembled to
gedre [together], and went hym to hem, "

Mt 26:15 ..and said, "What will you give
me if I deliver him to you?" And they
paid him thirty pieces of silver.

PG: "& asked hem [them] what hij [they] wolden 3iuen hym, e schulde
bitaken hem Jesu pryuelich [for helping to arrest Jesus privately] that
the folk ne wisten it nou3th [without the people knowing it]. And hij
[they] weren tho alle gladde, & biheten hym thritty pens.."

So the Anointing scene does look like an insertion here after Mt 26:5,
because it clearly breaks the natural sequence of the narrative. The scene
appears foreign where it is. The visit of Judas after having heard about
the assembly of the ruling elite is placed more naturally in PG, and thus
the story follows more smoothly.

Of course, as mentioned previously, some additional indications of an
insertion are also certain late-looking elements of the content, plus the
presence of Simon the Leper, who in an earlier version, apparently
preserved better in PG, was a passing stranger recruited to carry the
Cross for Jesus.

To summarize. 

It appears that, compared to Lk, PG preserves better 

- the shape of the anointing story,
- its immediate context,
- and also its general context within the story of Jesus, where the call
  to discipleship naturally would belong in its early part.

Compared to Mk/Mt, the above three items are also better preserved in Lk
(although the call to discipleship motif is somewhat veiled in Lk compared
to PG).

And, to add to the above, compared to Mk/Mt, both PG and Lk (22:1ff)
preserve better

- the original uninterpolated sequence of the narrative of the assembly of
the rulers, and their contact with Judas.

Lk preserves the Anointing primarily as a moral tale, but its conclusion
appears to have been changed rather abruptly and arbitrarily in Lk, where
the conclusion does not really agree so well with the tale itself, while
it is preserved better in PG. And in the source of PG this was not only a
moral tale, but a call to discipleship as well.

The narrative in PG appears to flow somewhat more naturally than in Lk, so
it seems like in this case PG preserves better the source of Lk. But also,
especially in Lk 22:1-6, the narrative appears to flow rather more
naturally in Lk than in Mk/Mt.

Since it's present in all four gospels, this scene may well have been a
part of the Jesus narrative from very early times. But originally
it appears to have been a moral tale cum a conversion story, and its
location seems to be preserved better in Lk and in PG. 

Thus it appears that some second century editors of Jn, Mk, and Mt, had
transformed this moral instruction scene cum a conversion tale into their
Anointing for Burial scene, and moved it so that it closely precedes the
crucifixion. But unfortunately it does not really seem to fit its new
context so well, thus betraying the interpolation.


Additional textual substantiation for the above ideas is also available.
Indeed, there is very substantial external confirmation that this whole
episode existed in the Diatessaron in the shape very similar to PG. This
evidence can be found in G. Quispel, DIATESSARON AND THE GOSPEL OF THOMAS,
Brill, 1975, p. 135.

Quispel assembled evidence from a few other versions of DT, and also from
Irenaeus, supporting the existence of PG version of this question in
Tatian's DT. While these DT variants are mostly from the medieval European
versions of DT, importantly, Quispel also found this variant in one of the
Eastern versions of DT, the Persian DT. Thus, this appears to be strong
confirmation that this variant existed in Tatian's DT. Which seems to
increase the chances that this was indeed a pre-canonical version of this
story, before it was included in the canonical Lk, and later inserted into
Jn, Mt, and Mk where it precedes the Passion Narrative. The existence of
such a variant in Irenaeus also seems like additional good evidence to
support this theory.

Quispel's additional evidence is from the Old High German DT, Munich DT,
Saelden Hort (a poem of the life of Jesus, ca 1320), and also from a
Gothic ms.

Copyright 2000 by Yuri Kuchinsky.

Click here to go one level up in the directory.