The JST of Mark 14:8

October 7, 2006 | 8 comments
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At first blush, the Joseph Smith Translation for Mark 14:8 doesn’t appear to do anything:

Here’s the KJV text of Mark 14:8-9, which is Jesus’ commentary on the woman who has just anointed him:

She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

Here is the JST text for those verses:

She hath done what she could: and this which she has done unto me, shall be had in remembrance in generations to come, wheresoever my gospel shall be preached; for verily she has come beforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.

You’ll notice that, unlike most JSTs, this one doesn’t correct false doctrine, add information, or clarify the existing information. In fact, it seems to simply repeat words that are already in the passage. But, I discovered, what it does is create a chiasmus that is not otherwise in the text:

A she hath done what she could . . . had in remembrance
B in generations to come
C wheresoever my gospel shall be preached
D for verily she has come beforehand
E to anoint my body to the burying
D’ verily I say unto you
C’ wheresoever this gospel shall be preached
B’ throughout the whole world
A’ this also that she hath done . . . for a memorial of her

This structure suggests several interesting things:

(1) The focus of this story is on the anointing; not on the objection (“Why was this waste of ointment made? For it could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.”) and the response. It is easy to get sidetracked into thinking that the real issue here is whether the woman (and possibly Jesus) has exercised wise stewardship over some very expensive nard, but the real point of the story is not that it is a controversy story but rather that it is the anointing of Jesus’ body.

(2) the ‘verily I say unto you’ in the D and D’ lines is a formula saying that emphasizes what Jesus says next; it is the ancient equivalent of “you might want to write this down because this might be on the test.” The two ‘verily’ sayings serve to emphasize the central point of the chiasmus by literally surrounding it; they also serve to make an interesting comparison between the phrases that follow them: Jesus’ words are compared to the woman’s actions. This is especially significant in a passage where Jesus is physically passive but speaks frequently in contrast to the anointing woman (who does not speak at all) but is described in v3 with three very active verbs and is described in v6, 7, and 8 with active verbs as well. The theological implications of a comparison between her actions and his words are staggering.

(3) The B and B’ lines are also noteworthy in that they extend the scope to include not just space but time–not just the whole world but throughout all generations.

As I said on the BCC thread, I’m not terribly interested in using chiasmus apologetically, but I find that using it literarily can yield rich dividends; in this case, it ensures that we don’t miss the key ideas that this story is about the anointing, not the objection, and that the woman’s deeds are parallel to Jesus’ words. More on this pericope here.

8 Responses to The JST of Mark 14:8

  1. Robert C. on October 7, 2006 at 2:43 pm

    Very interesting Julie. I think also, in light of the emphasis on words vs. action, that the remembrance addition in the chiasmus (first A) is provocative. What is the significance of remembering in Mark and does it relate to the way he employs words (often hypocritical) vs. action? This inner-outer theme is important in the temple (esp. in Isaiah), as is annointing: is this explored elsewhere in Mark?

  2. J. Stapley on October 7, 2006 at 7:20 pm

    This reminds me of something I recently read in Willford Woodruff’s journal:

    At 6 oclock I Called to see my wife Phebe who was vary low. I laid my hands upon her head & Blessed her And anointed her for her burial and at 2 oclok she died. Thus we part after living together 48 years & 6 months in the Marriage Covenant. (vol. 8, p.342)

    I find things like this bit of chiasmus and the early revelations on Elijah fascinating when contrasted against the development of esoteric doctrines of the Temple, which occured much, much later.

  3. Jacob on October 8, 2006 at 12:54 am

    A JST change which simply adds chiasmus to the text…fascinating. I know you don’t like the apologetics angle, but I have a feeling both sides of that debate could make an argument based on this. Nice post.

  4. ed42 on October 8, 2006 at 1:28 am

    Solve my LDS burial ignorance. I know we put the dead in temple clothes, but do we also annoint them with consecrated oil?

  5. J. Stapley on October 8, 2006 at 11:07 am

    I know we put the dead in temple clothes, but do we also annoint them with consecrated oil?

    Not really.

  6. Adam Greenwood on October 8, 2006 at 2:10 pm

    Not the dead, though. But recall that the D&C says that when the elders of the church are called to bless an anoint the sick, one of the results is that if they die they are sealed up unto God or anointed unto God or something like that.

  7. Josh M on October 8, 2006 at 5:42 pm

    I believe this text and anointing for burial is likely referring to the higher ordinance in which husband and wife lay claim upon each other and are anointed kings and queens as opposed to anointing to become such. see dialogue article by Berger on 2nd anointing for a decent overview although wrong in certain areas IMHO.

    BTW great insight on the chiasm here emphasizing the anointing

  8. Joe Spencer on October 9, 2006 at 10:59 am

    Josh M is right on this. Is it in Heber C. Kimball’s diary that the connection between this present text and the “higher ordinance” is drawn? I believe so. Julie, wonderful insights, thanks much!

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