Mark: the Anointing at Bethany

  • Patrick Grant


Mark is preoccupied with signs and with the problem of their indeterminacy. Jesus is repeatedly called upon to provide signs to legitimate his claim, and refuses to do so. When the Pharisees question him, ‘seeking of him a sign from heaven’ (8:11), he replies even with a degree of vehemence: ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation’ (8:12). Later, when the disciples ask what signs will precede the last days, Jesus delivers an apocalyptic discourse (13:5–37). I will deal more fully with apocalyptic writing in the chapter on Revelation: suffice it now to say that the genre flourished at the time of Christ, and basically offered visionary interpretations of the world’s end and of judgement whereby the elect would be separated from the damned, and would reign in paradise. The apocalyptic mood is especially intense in Mark’s gospel, whether in his distinctive depiction of human turmoil and confusion, or in the sense that in such strange times as he records we are urgently under the burden of portentous promises, and judgement is soon to come on our disoriented and amazed humanity. The so-called ‘little apocalypse’ of chapter 13 expresses this mood directly, as Jesus responds to the request for a sign. But we should notice how much of the discourse is taken up with warnings against false messiahs, rumours, and prophets who will ‘show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible the elect’ (13:22).


Messianic Secret Christian Doctrine Arian Interpolation Public Fact Unspecified Amount 
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    See further, Monica D. Hooker, The Son of Man in Mark (London: SPCK, 1967) pp. 148ff., on the ‘confusion’ of historical and supernatural events;Google Scholar
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    D. E. Nineham, The Gospel of St. Mark (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1963, rev. 1968) p. 346, suggests that the best commentary here is 2 Thessalonians, especially ch. 2, which shows that some Christians had been persuaded by events that the end had arrived: ‘The aim of 2 Thess. is to persuade such people that the end is not yet.’Google Scholar
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    Augustine of Hippo, On Psalm 12, Exposition 2, Expositions on the Book of Psalms (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1847) I, 150: ‘Who was the woman who came in with the ointment? Of what was she the type? Was she not of the church?’Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Patrick Grant 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Grant
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaCanada

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