Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship

Studies in the Bible and Antiquity


Julie M. Smith


In silence, an unnamed woman approaches Jesus and pours ointment on his head. Responding to criticism from his disciples, Jesus not only defends the woman's actions but states that wherever the gospel is preached, her story will be told as a memorial of her (Mark 14:9). This enigmatic story has, surprisingly, received very little comment from biblical scholars over the centuries. Yet it is a veritable treasure trove of insight into the person of Jesus and his ministry: (1) anointing was, as Jesus himself explains, a preparation for his burial. Both Jesus and the woman who anoints him understand that he will soon die; (2) anointing was also, in the biblical tradition, part of the coronation ritual for kinds (see example, 1 Samuel 10:1)--both Jesus and the woman who anoints him understand that he is the King of Kings; (3) a point where the disciples seem to understand only the glorious aspect or the suffering aspect of Jesus's mission, the anointing woman's actions show that she understands that both aspects must be integrated in the atoning mission of Jesus Christ; and (4) the Joseph Smith Translation of Mark 14:8 on first reading does not appear to add much to the story but on closer examination reveals a chiasmus that strengthens and nuances Jesus's praise of the woman.