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[Synoptic-L] three commentaries on Lk's Anointing

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  • Yuri Kuchinsky
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2000
      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 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 justification.

      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 Narrative,

      "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". 685

      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 or our
      passage in this area. These indicate late editorial tampering, in my view.

      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,

      "..it 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 well-known?

      (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 based on Mk. But then the first
      scene would have been deleted, thus leaving this introduction of Jn 11:2
      hanging in mid-air.)

      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." 452

      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. 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

      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 big hurry to find fault
      with it.

      My previous posts on this subject containing additional evidence of Lk's
      version being earlier,

      -- Anointing at Bethany (Apr 19, 2000),

      -- Anointing Scene (Apr 25, 2000),

      -- more about the Anointing pericope (Jul 6, 2000),


      To summarise, 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 Lk's version is based on some yet
      more primitive source gains weight. In this more primitive source, the love
      of God was probably expressed by according forgiveness especially to those
      who sinned most, but then repented. Also, the love on the part of the
      forgiven would have been the consequence, rather than the condition of
      forgiveness. And such variant readings are in fact found in a number of
      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.

      Best wishes,


      Yuri Kuchinsky | Toronto | http://www.trends.ca/~yuku/bbl/bbl.htm

      Biblical history list http://www.egroups.com/group/loisy - unmoderated

      The goal proposed by Cynic philosophy is apathy, which is
      equivalent to becoming God -=O=- Julian
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