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The Busted Halo Question Box
Ask our spiritual experts virtually anything!
This is the place where you can ask all of those burning questions that you wouldn't dare ask in person. We will post questions here (using your byline only with permission); we guarantee an answer to everyone.

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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Mary
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Bible
Mike Hayes
Swingman/Editor
 
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Our readers asked:

Was it Martha’s sister Mary or Mary Magdalene who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair?

Ann Naffziger Answers:

It takes some detective work to parse out the information about the various Marys mentioned in the gospels. The episode you mention is particularly confusing because there are four different accounts with varied details in each of the four gospels.

Mark and Matthew both mention an unnamed woman who anoints Jesus’ head with either nard or ointment. Luke tells us of an unnamed woman “who was a sinner” who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, anointed them with ointment, and dried them with her hair. Then, to add even more confusion, John describes Mary of Bethany, aka Martha’s sister, anointing his feet with nard and wiping them with her hair. Only in John’s gospel is the woman named as Mary of Bethany.

That said, none of the accounts suggest any involvement by Mary Magdalene. If indeed there was a historical event of a woman anointing Jesus in a particularly extravagant way, we will simply never know who it was that enacted such a loving gesture for Jesus. Perhaps it was Mary, Martha’s sister, or perhaps it was done by another woman whose name has been lost to us forever.

 
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The Author : Ann Naffziger
Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
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