The following are accounts of the events, or of one event, that transpired during what is now known as “Holy Wednesday”. The female person of the anointing was not named by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in their accounts. Some theologians/ interpreters of the Gospels say it was Mary Magdalene; others say it was Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus (many women were named Mary at that time). The accounts of the four also vary in the description of the place (who hosted the dinner at whose house) and the guests in said dinner —
here is a sample of the debate:
From agapebiblestudy.com: “There is controversy among Bible scholars over how many times Jesus was anointed and the apparent discrepancy over what day St. John recorded Jesus’ dinner in Bethany as opposed to the Synoptic Gospels. The accounts agree that there were two different dinners at Bethany the last week of Jesus’ life recorded in the Gospels and 3 different anointings at 3 different times by 3 or possibly 2 different women (Mary of Bethany may have anointed Christ twice: once on Saturday and a second time on Wednesday of the last Passover holy week). xxx
“Anointing # 1: Early in Jesus’ ministry an unnamed “sinful” (quotes supplied by blog admin) woman at the home of the Simon, a wealthy Pharisee, anointed His feet with ointment and wiped His feet with her hair (Lk 7:36-38). “Anointing #2: Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair on Saturday, Nisan the 9th. The next day on the 10th of Nisan, the day the sacrificial lambs or kids were to be chosen (Exodus 12:3), Jesus rode into Jerusalem-the sacrificial Lamb of God, there for all to see and judge His perfection (Jn 12:1-3). “Anointing #3: An unnamed woman anointed Jesus’ head at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany two days before the Passover. As the ancients counted this is Wednesday, Nisan the 13th (Matthew 26:1-16: Mark 14:1-11) There are similarities and differences between the two accounts of Jesus being anointed His last week in Jerusalem in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark during the dinner at Bethany two days before the Passover sacrifice compared with the Gospel of John’s account of the dinner at Bethany six days before the Passover:
“John 12:1-13 “The event takes place six days before Passover at Bethany before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm [Passion] Sunday (Jn 12:1; 12-19).
“The event takes place two days before Passover (Mt 26:2) at Bethany (Mt 26:6) after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm [Passion] Sunday (Mt 21:8-11).
“The event takes place two days before Passover at Bethany (Mk 14:1) after Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm [Passion] Sunday (Mk 11:1-10).” xxx
In the interest of balance and fairness, here are the apostles’ versions of the event … plus an investigation by the National Geographic (in video format from Youtube) on the background of Mary Magdalene (second video, at the foot of the apostles’ account. The first video, “Jesus of Nazareth” clip, depicts the dinner as described by St. Luke)
“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor. Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
“While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
From the National Geographic: “Published on Mar 13, 2014 The Real Mary Magdalene: The true life of Mary Magdalene is revisited in this Nat Geo documentary. For 1,500 years, Christians regarded the woman so close to Jesus as a reformed prostitute. Now, evidence suggests this may have been part of a devious smear campaign by the early church to remove women from the clergy. Who was the real Mary Magdalene?”