And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she broke the box, and poured it on his head.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)And being in Bethany.—See Notes on Matthew 26:6-13.
Ointment of spikenard.—The Greek word so translated is, as the various renderings in the margin show, of doubtful import. It is used by St. John (John 12:3) in his account of the same facts.
She brake the box.—As in the “breaking through” the roof in Mark 2:4, the vivid touch that brings the manner of the act distinctly before our eyes is found in St. Mark only. The Greek word implies not so much the breaking of the neck of the costly jar or flask, but the crushing it in its entirety with both her hands.
Of spikenard - The "nard," from which this perfume was made, is a plant of the East Indies, with a small, slender stalk, and a heavy, thick root. The best perfume is obtained from the root, though the stalk and fruit are used for that purpose.
And she brake the box - This may mean no more than that she broke the "seal" of the box, so that it could be poured out. Boxes of perfumes are often sealed or made fast with wax, to prevent the perfume from escaping. It was not likely that she would break the box itself when it was unnecessary, and when the unguent, being liquid, would have been wasted; nor from a broken box or vial could she easily have "poured it" on his head.
having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard—pure nard, a celebrated aromatic—(See So 1:12).
very precious—"very costly" (Joh 12:3).
and she brake the box, and poured it on his head—"and anointed," adds John (Joh 12:3), "the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odor of the ointment." The only use of this was to refresh and exhilarate—a grateful compliment in the East, amid the closeness of a heated atmosphere, with many guests at a feast. Such was the form in which Mary's love to Christ, at so much cost to herself, poured itself out.See Poole on "Matthew 26:6", and following verses to Matthew 26:13, where this piece of history is fully considered, with the differing circumstances related by our evangelist and by St. John.
in the house of Simon the leper; so called because he had been one, and to distinguish him from Simon the Pharisee, and Simon Peter the apostle, and others; See Gill on Matthew 26:6;
as he sat at meat there came a woman; generally thought to be Mary Magdalene, or Mary the sister of Lazarus:
having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard; or "pure nard", unmixed and genuine; or liquid nard, which was drinkable, and so easy to be poured out; or Pistic nard, called so, either from "Pista", the name of a place from whence it was brought, or from "Pistaca", which, with the Rabbins, signifies "maste"; of which, among other things, this ointment was made. Moreover, ointment of nard was made both of the leaves of nard, and called foliate nard, and of the spikes of it, and called, as here, spikenard. Now ointment made of nard was, as Pliny says (w), the principal among ointments. The Syriac is, by him, said to be the best; this here is said to be
very precious, costly, and valuable:
and she brake the box. The Syriac and Ethiopic versions render it, "she opened it"; and the Persic version, "she opened the head", or "top of the bottle", or "vial":
and poured it on his head; on the head of Christ, as the same version presses it; See Gill on Matthew 26:7.And being in Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster box of ointment of spikenard very precious; and she brake the box, and poured it on his head.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Mark 14:3-9. See on Matthew 26:6-13. Comp. John 12:1-8, who also has the peculiar expression πιστικῆς, either directly from Mark, or from the form of tradition from which Mark also adopted it. Luke has at Mark 7:36 ff. a history of an anointing, but a different one.
μύρου νάρδου] On the costliness of this, see Pliny, H. N. xiii. 2.
πιστικῆς] See on this word, Fritzsche in loc. and in the Hall. Lit. Z. 1840, p. 179 ff.; Lücke on John 12:3; Winer, p. 89 [E. T. 121]; Wichelhaus, Leidensgesch. p. 74 f.; Stephani Thes., ed. Hase, VI. p. 1117. πιστικός, in demonstrable usage, means nothing else than (1) convincing, persuading (Xen. Cyrop. i. 6. 10 : πιστικωτέρους … λόγους, Plato, Gorg. p. 455 A: ὁ ῥήτωρ ἐστι … πιστικὸς μόνον), thus being equivalent to πειστικός; (2) faithful, trustworthy (Artemidorus, Oneir. ii. 32, p. 121: γυνὴ πιστικὴ καὶ οἰκουρός, comp. πιστικῶς, Plut. Pel. 8; Scymn. orb. descr. 42), thus equivalent to πιστός. The latter signification is here to be maintained: nard, on which one can rely, i.e. unadulterated genuine nard, as Eusebius, Demonstr. ev. 9, calls the gospel the εὐφροσύνη τοῦ πιστικοῦ τῆς καινῆς διαθήκης κράματος (where the contextual reference to the drinking lies not in πιστικοῦ, but in κράματος). The opposite is “pseudonardus” (Plin. H. N. xii. 12. 26), with which the genuine nard was often adulterated (comp. also Dioscor. mat. med. i. 6 f.). This is the explanation already given by Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus (both of whom, however, add that a special kind of nard may also be intended), and most of the older and more recent commentators (Lücke is not decided). But Eritzsche (following Casaubon, Beza, Erasmus Schmid, Maldonatus, and others of the older expositors quoted by Wolf, who deduce it from πίνω) derives it from πιπίσκω, and explains it as nardus potabilis. Certainly anointing oils, and especially oil of spikenard, were drunk mingled with wine (Athen. xv. p. 689; Lucian, Nigrin. 31; Juvenal, Sat. vi. 303; Hirtius, de bell. Hisp. 33. 5; Plin. H. N. xiv. 19. 5; and see in general, Hermann, Privatalterth. § 26. 8, 9); but the actual usus loquendi stands decidedly opposed to this view, for according to it πιστός doubtless (Aesch. Prom. 478; Lobeck, Technol. p. 131) has the signification of drinkable, but not πιστικός, even apart from the facts that the context does not point to this quality, and that it is asserted not of the ointment, but of the nard (the plant). The usus loquendi, moreover, is decisive against all other explanations, such as that of the Vulgate (comp. Castalio, Hammond, Grotius, Wetstein, Rosenmüller): spicati; and that of Scaliger: pounded nard (equivalent to πιστκῆς), from πτίσσω, although this etymology in itself would be possible (Lobeck, Paralip. p. 31). Others have derived πιστικῆς from the proper name of some unknown place (Pistic nard), as did Augustine; but this was a cutting of the knot.
πολυτελοῦς] belongs to ΜΎΡΟΥ, not to ΝΆΡΔΟΥ, which has its epithet already, and see Mark 14:5. Comp. Matthew 26:7.
ΣΥΝΤΡΊΨΑΣΑ] neither: she rubbed it and poured, etc. (Kypke), nor: she shook the vessel (Knatchbull, Hammond, Wakefield, Silv. crit. V. p. 57), but: she broke it (Sir 21:14; Bar 6:17; Dem. 845, 18; Xen., et al.), namely, the narrow (Plin. H. N. ix. 35) neck of the vessel, for she had destined the entire contents for Jesus, nothing to be reserved.
τὴν ἀλάβ.] ἈΛΆΒΑΣΤΡΟς occurs in all the three genders, and the codices vary accordingly. See the critical remarks.
ΑὐΤΟῦ Τῆς ΚΕΦΑΛῆς] (see the critical remarks) on him upon the head, without the preposition usual in other cases (Plato, Rep. iii. p. 397 E), κατά before Τῆς ΚΕΦΑΛῆς (Plato, Leg. vii. p. 814 D; Herod, iv. 62).
Mark 14:4. But there were some, who grumbled to one another (uttered grumblings to one another). πρὸς ἐαυτ., as at Mark 11:31, Mark 10:26, al. What they murmured, is contained in what follows, without καὶ λέγοντες. Comp. the use of ΘΑΥΜΆΖΕΙΝ, mirabundum quaerere, in Sturz, Lex. Xen. II. p. 511 f.
Mark 14:5. ἐνεβριμ. αὐτῇ] they were angry at her. Comp. Mark 1:43.
Mark 14:7. καὶ ὅταν θέλητε κ.τ.λ.] certainly an amplifying addition of tradition, found neither in Matthew nor in John.
Mark 14:8. What she was able (to do) she has done; the greatest work of love which was possible to her, she has done. Comp. Xen. Mem. ii. 1. 30: διὰ τὸ μηδὲν ἔχειν, ὅ τι ποιῇς.
ΠΡΟΈΛΑΒΕ Κ.Τ.Λ.] Beforehand she hath anointed my body on behalf of embalming (in order thereby to embalm it). A classical writer would have said προλαβοῦσα ἐμίρισε (Xen. Cyr. i. 2.3; Thuc. iii. 3; Dem. 44, 3, al.). Passages with the infinitive from Josephus may be seen in Kypke, I. 192. We may add that the expression in Mark already betrays the explanatory tradition.
Mark 14:9. εἰς ὅλον τ. κόσμον] as in Mark 1:39. The relation to ὍΠΟΥ is as at Matthew 26:13.
 Holtzmann, p. 95, attributes to this episode the significant purpose of introducing the attitude of the betrayer, whose psychological crisis had now set in, in making advances to meet the Sanhedrim. But this could only be the case, if Mark and Matthew had named Judas as the murmurer. Now Mark has τινές in general, and Matthew designates οἱ μαθηταί as the murmurers. John is the first to name Judas.
 Mark having retained the Latin word, but having given to it another form. See also Estius, Annot. p. 892.—Several codd. of the It., too, have the translation spicati; others: pistici, Verc.: optimi.
 Still the possibility of its being the adjective of a local name may not be called in question. In fact, the Scholiast, Aesch. Pers. 1, expressly says: τάδε μὲν Περσῶν πιστὰ καλεῖται … πόλις ἐστι Περσῶν Πίστενρα καλουμένη, ἥν συγκόψας ὁ ποιητὴς Πίστα ἔφη. Lobeck, Pathol. p. 282, remarks on this: “Somnium hoc est, sed nititur observatione licentiae popularis, qua nomina peregrina varie et multipliciter interpolantur.” On the taking of it as a local designation depends the translation pistici, which the Vulgate also, along with codd. of It., has in John 12:3, although in the present passage it gives spicati.Mark 14:3-9. The anointing in Bethany (Matthew 26:6-13).3–9. The Feast in Simon’s House. The Anointing by Mary
3. And being in Bethany] Meanwhile circumstances had occurred which in their result presented to the Jewish authorities a mode of apprehending Him which they had never anticipated. To relate these the Evangelist goes back to the evening before the Triumphal Entry, and places us in the house of
Simon the leper] He had, we may believe, been a leper, and possibly had been restored by our Lord Himself. He was probably a near friend or relation of Lazarus. Some suppose he was his brother, others that he was the husband of Mary.
as he sat at meat] We learn from St John that the sisters had made Him a feast, at which Martha served, while Lazarus reclined at the table as one of the guests (John 12:2).
there came a woman] This was Mary the sister of Lazarus, full of grateful love to Him, who had poured back joy into her once desolated home.
having an alabaster box] “hauynge a box of precious oynement spikanard,” Wyclif. At Alabastron in Egypt there was a manufactory of small vases for holding perfumes, which were made from a stone found in the neighbouring mountains. The Greeks gave to these vases the name of the city from which they came, calling them alabastrons. This name was eventually extended to the stone of which they were formed; and at length the term alabaster was applied without distinction to all perfume vessels, of whatever materials they consisted.
of ointment of spikenard] Or, as in margin, of pure (= genuine) nard or liquid nard. Pure or genuine seems to yield the best meaning, as opposed to the pseudo-nardus, for the spikenard was often adulterated. Pliny, Nat. Hist. xii. 26. It was drawn from an Indian plant, brought down in considerable quantities into the plains of India from such mountains as Shalma, Kedar Kanta, and others, at the foot of which flow the Ganges and Jumna rivers.
very precious] It was the costliest anointing oil of antiquity, and was sold throughout the Roman Empire, where it fetched a price that put it beyond any but the wealthy. Mary had bought a vase or flask of it containing 12 ounces (John 12:3). Of the costliness of the ointment we may form some idea by remembering that it was among the gifts sent by Cambyses to the Ethiopians (Herod. iii. 20), and that Horace promises Virgil a whole cadus (= 36 quarts nearly) of wine, for a small onyx box of spikenard (Carm. iv. xii. 16, 17),
“Nardo vina merebere;
“Nardi parvus onyx eliciet cadum.”
brake the box] i. e. she broke the narrow neck of the small flask, and poured the perfume first on the head, and then on the feet of Jesus, drying them with the hair of her head. She did not wish to keep or hold back anything. She offered up all, gave away all, and her “all” was a tribute worthy of a king. “To anoint the feet of the greatest monarch was long unknown; and in all the pomps and greatnesses of the Roman prodigality, it was not used till Otho taught it to Nero.” Jeremy Taylor’s Life of Christ, iii. 13.Mark 14:3. Πιστικῆς, genuine) French veritable [So marg. of Eng. Vers., pure, or else liquid; but its text, ointment of spikenard”]. Pliny, on the contrary, mentions Pseudo-nardum. Nonnus lengthens the middle syllable in πιστικῆς; viz. as if formed from Pista, a city of the Indians in the region of Cabul; a region from which most of the aromatic perfumes even already at that time used to be derived; see Lud. de Dieu, in Act, p. 133. But πιστᾶιος; would rather be the form, if derived from the proper name, [συντρίψασα, having broken) That none of the ointment might remain in the vessel, which, had it been of glass, would have burst asunder into a number of fragments.—V. g.]Verse 3. - And while he was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at meat, there came a woman having an alabaster cruse (ἀλάβαστρον) - literally, an alabaster; as we say, "a glass," of a vessel made of glass - of ointment of spikenard very costly (μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτελοῦς); and she brake the cruse, and poured it over his head. This anointing of our Lord appears to have taken place on the Saturday before Palm Sunday (see John 12:1). The anointing mentioned by St. Luke (Luke 7:36) evidently has reference to some previous occasion. The narrative here and in St. Matthew and St. John would lead us to the conclusion that this was a feast given by Simon - perhaps in grateful acknowledgment of the miracle which had been wrought upon Lazarus. He is called "Simon the leper," probably because he had been a leper, and had been healed by Christ, although he still retained the name of "leper," to distinguish him from others named Simon, or Simeon, a common name amongst the Jews. There came a woman. This woman, we learn from St. John (John 12:2, 3), was Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. The vessel, or cruse, which she had with her was made of alabaster, a kind of soft, smooth marble, which could easily be scooped out so as to form a receptacle for ointment, which, according to Pliny ('Nat. Hist.,' 13:3), was best preserved in vessels made of alabaster. The vessel would probably be formed with a long narrow neck, which could easily be broken, or crushed (the word in the original is συντρίψασα so as to allow of a free escape for the unguent. The ointment was made of spikenard νάρδου πιστικῆς). The Vulgate has nardi spicati. If this is the true interpretation of the word πιστικῆς, it would mean that this ointment was made from a bearded plant mentioned by Pliny ('Nat. Hist.,' 12:12), who says that the ointment made from this plant was most precious. The plant was called by Galen "nardi spica." Hence πιστικῆν it would mean "genuine" ointment - ointment made from the flowers of the choicest kind of plant, pliny ('Nat. Hist.,' 12:26) says that there was an inferior article in circulation, which he calls "pseudo-nard." The Syriac Peshito Version uses an expression which means the principal, or best kind of ointment. The anointing of the head would be the more usual mark of honor. It would seem most probable that Mary first wiped the feet of Jesus, wetting them with her tears, and then wiping off the dust, and then anointing them; and that she then proceeded to break the neck of the cruse, and to pour its whole contents on his head.
See on Matthew 26:7.
Spikenard (νάρδου πιστικῆς)
The meaning of πιστικῆς greatly disputed. The best authorities define it genuine or unadulterated: pure nard.
Possibly by striking the brittle neck of the flask. This detail is peculiar to Mark.
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