Did You Know?

Why was the perfumed oil used by Mary so expensive?

A few days before Jesus’ death, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, “came with an alabaster case of perfumed oil, genuine nard, very expensive,” and poured the oil on Jesus. (Mark 14:3-5; Matthew 26:6, 7; John 12:3-5) Mark and John’s accounts say that this perfume was worth 300 denarii​—about a year’s wages for an ordinary laborer.

What was the origin of this expensive perfume? The source of the nard, or spikenard, mentioned in the Bible is generally considered to be a small aromatic plant (Nardostachys jatamansi) found in the Himalaya Mountains. Costly nard was often adulterated and even counterfeited. However, both Mark and John use the expression “genuine nard.” The fact that this perfumed oil was so expensive suggests that its source may have been distant India.

Why does Mark’s account describe Mary as “breaking open the alabaster case”? An alabaster case was usually fashioned with a narrow neck that could be effectively sealed to prevent the escape of the precious scent. Alan Millard in his book Discoveries From the Time of Jesus says: “It is easy to see how the excited woman would break [the neck of the case] off, not stopping to unseal the top, releasing all the perfume at once.” This would explain why “the house became filled with the scent of the perfumed oil.” (John 12:3) A very expensive gift, indeed, but an appropriate one. Why? This appreciative woman had recently seen Jesus resurrect her beloved brother, Lazarus.​—John 11:32-45.

Jericho​—one city or two?

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record a miraculous healing that took place near Jericho. (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43) Both Matthew and Mark say it was when Jesus was “going out” of Jericho that he performed this miracle. Luke, however, says that it occurred when Jesus was “getting near” to Jericho.

In Jesus’ day, was there just one city named Jericho or were there two? The book Bible Then & Now answers: “By New Testament times Jericho had been rebuilt about a mile (1.6 km) south of the old city. Herod the Great had established a winter palace there.” This is verified by the book Archaeology and Bible History, which says: “Jericho of Jesus’ time was a double city. . . . The old Jewish city was about a mile [1.6 km] away from the Roman city.”

So perhaps Jesus performed the miracle while leaving the Jewish city and approaching the Roman city or vice versa. Clearly, a knowledge of the circumstances that existed at the time of writing helps clear up what might appear to be a contradiction.

[Picture on page 31]

Alabaster perfume bottle

[Credit Line]

© Réunion des Musées Nationaux/​Art Resource, NY