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12. INJUDICIOUS RELIANCE ON THE SYNOPTICS.

How is it that the circumstances of many events are so obscurely sketched in the Fourth Gospel? We can some times explain this quite definitely. It is because the author starts in a careless way from an account in the Synoptics. Thus we had an instance (p. 51) already in vi. 3, 15, where Jesus twice ascends the mountain, without in the meantime having come down. This again explains a fact we noted as far back as p. 12, that in vi. 1, Jesus betakes himself to the other shore of the Lake of Galilee, whereas in the whole of the fifth chapter we have found him in Jerusalem. Without any further explanation, the Synoptics (Mk. vi. 32), and they alone, can represent him as crossing the Lake, because in the Synoptics he is always in Galilee; Jn. has carelessly followed them, without reflecting that he should have told us first how Jesus came from Jerusalem to Galilee—a matter which he reports quite appropriately in other places (iv. 3, 43).

But the most important example of his following the Synoptics and at the same time carelessly tacking his story on to theirs, is found in Jn.’s account (xii. 1-8) of the anointing of Jesus. Several striking features in it we have already noticed (p. 77 f .); we must now explain how these originated. Jn. found an anointing of Jesus reported twice in the Synoptics j in Mk. (xiv. 3-9) and Mt. (xxvi. 6-13), one in Bethany near Jerusalem shortly before his death, in Lk. (vii. 36-50) one in Galilee, a long time before it. And yet in both cases the master of the house is called Simon. Moreover, in Mk. and Mt. he is (had been) a leper; in Lk. he is a Pharisee. But the fact that the names were 82alike seems to have been sufficient to lead Jn. to believe that in both cases the same event was intended. The woman therefore who anointed Jesus in this case must have been the same sinful woman who did so in Lk. (Mk. and Mt. tell us nothing beyond the fact that a woman anointed Jesus). But Jn. is prepared to say that it was that pious Mary who, according to the beautiful story in Lk. (x. 38-42), sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him, while her sister Martha busied herself more than was necessary with the household affairs. How did he obtain this knowledge? Not from Lk. , for in this Gospel the two sisters live in an unnamed village at which Jesus stops on his way through Samaria. We know already from xi. 1 f. that Jn. believed they lived in Bethany near Jerusalem and that Lazarus was their brother. Comparing the account of Lk., which Jn. drags in here, it suits the circumstances when at the meal Martha undertakes the serving and Mary anoints Jesus; this quite harmonizes with the fact that in Lk.’s Gospel she listens to him so attentively.

Must we indeed believe that all this was really observed by an eye-witness John? Or have events which, according to the Synoptics, happened at three different places with quite different persons and in a quite different way been simply worked up into one in the style of the writer of Jn.? That may be best decided by a consideration of the last fact which he reports: Mary anointed Jesus’ feet and dried them with her hair. She could hardly have done anything more awkward. The ointment was too precious to be used for her hair. On this point Judas, who afterwards betrayed his Lord, was right; the ointment should have been sold and the proceeds (about 240 shillings) given to the poor (xii. 5). No; no such anointing was observed by any eye-witness; it owes its origin simply to a wrong use of the 83two accounts in Lk. There the sinful woman moistens Jesus’ feet with her tears and then dries them with her hair; she anoints them afterwards, not before. But the tears of a sinful woman do not suit the case of Mary. Jn. therefore omits them. And, having done this, the anointing has to come first; otherwise there would be nothing to wipe away. We see then that there is really no reason to think the Synoptics wrong. We see also that Mary is not the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet; the name of the woman will always be unknown to us. The same is true of the dwelling-place of Mary and Martha. That this was Bethany is a fact which existed only in the imagination of the Fourth Evangelist.

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