• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Thursday, February 01, 2007

    Gospel Comparison: Jesus Anointed by a Woman

    Yesterday's post got me thinking about the story of the woman who anoints Jesus. I mentioned this incident last year when looking at From the Manger to the Cross. I've always found the varying accounts and the way they vary a bit confusing. There are numerous details in each telling and they all seem to vary significantly from each other. It's also strange because the story is one of the few that is in all four gospels, and because it is Luke's account that is the most different rather than John's as we would normally expect.

    Anyway, yesterday I decided to tabulate all the incidents and see how they compare across the four gospels. The results are below, and you can view all four stories in parallel using the Synoptic Parallels page.

    DetailMatt 26:6-13Mark 14:3-9Luke 7:36-50John 12:1-8
    Before Passover
    2 Days Before


    6 days Before

    At BethanyYY
    House of SimonYYY
    (The Leper)YY

    (The Pharisee)

    Lazarus present

    Martha serves

    A WomanYYYY


    Alabaster JarYY

    A pint

    Broke jar




    Wipes Feet

    With Hair

    Kissed Feet

    Smells Fills House

    Some objections..YYYY
    Pharisees object

    Disciples objectY

    Judas objectsY

    Why not soldYY
    Year's wages

    Judas a thief

    Kind of Woman

    Leave Her AloneYY
    Parable & Rebuke

    Beautiful ThingYY

    Day of BurialYY
    Always Have PoorYY
    Wherever Story ToldYY


    By doing this on a spreadsheet I was able to do a few comparisons. Firstly, the number of elements of the story that are common to all four gospels are startlingly few. Essentially, Jesus goes for a meal, a woman puts ointment on him and when some present object Jesus rebukes them. There are however a stack of differences. Where and when does this take place? Does the woman anoint his feet, his head or both? Who objects, and what do they object about? And what is Jesus's response.

    Some of these details amalgamate quite nicely. Simon could have been a Pharisee who had contracted a skin disease at some point in his life, perhaps when he was much younger. The woman could be Mary of Bethany, who could have had a sinful life. Other details flat out contradict themselves, such as whether this took place two days before the Passover or six days before. Others could possibly co-exist, but would seem unlikely to do so. Perhaps the disciples objected because of the waste, AND Simon objected because of the woman's character.

    There are a number of ways to respond to all these details. Firstly, one could decide it was all one incident. The details over timing are minimal and perhaps the woman, who was Mary of Bethany, anointed both his head and his feet with both ointment, and her tears, and wiped his feet wit her hair as well. There were two sets of objections to this behaviour, and Jesus dealt with both. This is the way the majority of harmonised Jesus films try to go, with the woman performing multiple anointings. The major problem with this is that none of the gospels describe the event in this way.

    The other possibility is that there were two such events. One recorded in Matthew, Mark and John, and the other recorded in Luke. Certainly, of the 14 details mentioned by the third evangelist, the only one it shares with the other three accounts (other than those elements common to all four as listed above) is that it took place at the house of someone called Simon.

    This version of events is how the film From the Manger to the Cross chooses to show things, with two different events. There are, however, additional problems with this. Firstly, it is difficult to know how likely this is. The action seems to have been fairly shocking in it's time. Would two such women have had such a similar response, given how few similar incidents of woman responding in dramatic ways to Jesus are recorded?

    Secondly, the details of the other three accounts still don't match up all that well. Of almost 40 individual details, no single account contains more than 23 (John), and Matthew only contains 17. Furthermore, if we compare them we find that although they agree the incident took place at Bethany, and that the conflict and Jesus's reprimand concerned the potential sale of the ointment for the poor, there are only 9 details which they have in common. Comparing them in pairs, Matt/Mark share 15 details, Mark/John share 11, and Matt/John share just 10.

    On the other hand there is still a good deal of conflict. Mark and John conflict over when this took place, John implies (at least) that this took place in Lazarus's house, whereas Matthew and Mark say it was Simon the Leper's house. Matthew and Mark only mention Jesus's head being anointed, whereas John only mentions the feet and so on. There is of course the possibility that there were three such events (Mark/Matt's, John's and Luke's), but that would just be getting ridiculous.

    Thirdly, it seems reasonably clear that when Luke is writing he is familiar at least with Mark's gospel, and possibly Matthew's as well, yet he erases their story and brings in his own. If he was aware of their incident, and another one which he prefers, why not include both? Mark was happy to do that with the two feedings of multitudes (4000, and 5000 in Mark 6 & 8), as was Matthew, although perhaps the fact that Luke was not has some significance.

    Fourthly, there is again the point that none of the gospels record there being two separate incidents. Such a theory is purely conjecture, based on trying to tie up the details of the four different accounts.

    How does all this relate to the films, comments about From the Manger to the Cross not withstanding? Well firstly, what is remarkable is the number of films that add a new detail all of their own, namely that this woman is Mary Magdalene. In fact, as programmes such as The Secrets of Mary Magdalene have pointed out, it is the confusion between this story, and those of the unnamed adulteress of John 8, and Jesus's exorcism of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), that led to Magdalene being labelled a repentant sinner.

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    • At 6:36 pm, April 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said…

      The only persons who have the authority to anoint are prophets, priests or kings. A "sinful woman" has no authority to anoint anyone. A proper anointing requires a specific formula of oils from a specific vessel from a specific place of storage. It is smeared on the HEAD during a specific ceremony. Perfumes, ointments, spikenard, etc. are not valid. jesus christ was NOT properly anointed and was NO messiah. Read the Book of Exodus to see what a proper anointing is.

    • At 3:33 am, August 17, 2017, Blogger Unknown said…

      Same woman, two different Events. One act she performed out of repentance with tears (she used the purfume in her occupation of prostitution, and This was to show she was giving up that life). She did this at his feet. A couple years later She poured the whole bottle on his head And it ran down to his feet. Probably with her last bottle of perfume, very expensive, To show she believed that Jesus was going to die for her sins.

    • At 5:48 pm, December 27, 2021, Blogger fuzfire said…

      That is a ridiculous conclusion, Jesus not being The Messiah. Find the book by "Reading Moses Seeing Jesus" by Set Postell, Eitan Bar, and Erez Soref: How The Torah Fulfills Its Galina Yeshua. You will see He was, is, and always will be Jesus/Yeshua The Real Messiah!

    • At 5:52 pm, December 27, 2021, Blogger fuzfire said…

      One thing I know for sure is that if there is a conflict, it is I who am not understanding the Biblical account, and not the fault of Scripture as erreant!

    • At 5:56 pm, December 27, 2021, Blogger fuzfire said…

      John 21:25
      "English Standard Version
      Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written"

    • At 9:25 am, January 29, 2022, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Hi Fuzfire,

      Sorry it took so long for me to post your comments - they ended up in my spam filter for some reason.


    • At 2:21 am, March 04, 2022, Blogger Unknown said…

      Hello sir matt! I am fascinated!
      I know this is just one of several events written in the Gospel with loads of similarities and differences. But can I know how these similarities and differences affects the meaning of the text and that are these significant to be really understood in dealing with these text?

    • At 8:43 am, March 07, 2022, Blogger Matt Page said…

      I think there is strong evidence that some of the Gospel writers knew and borrowed from each others' work (or used mutual sources). Some of the errors are simply mistakes, either by them or copyists, but others are deliberate changes made to tell the story in a way that was more suited to their purposes (plus it's possible some things may have happened twice). Due to our culture there can be an assumption that what the Gospel writers say has to be an exact account of unfolded to be "true" or of value, but I don't think that is necessarily how things were universally perceived back then.

      Not sure if that helps,


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