View Full Version : Mark 14.3 - Alabaster (jar) of what?

10-10-2007, 09:55 AM
The issue of what was in the alabaster (jar) of Mark 14,3 is notoriously difficult. Here's the phrase in question:

avla,bastron mu,rou na,rdou pistikh/j polutelou/j(

A few English versions, such as the ESV ("...an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly,..."), simply avoid taking a position on what the πολυτελους is doing in the phrase and simply render it separately.
Most English versions, however, want to take it as something like:
"...an alabaster jar of expensive ointment of pure nard..."

Note that this rendering decides to take the πολυτελους as modifying μυρου, but if this is the case, then the proper analysis of πολυτελους should be a genitive NEUTER (not FEM) singular. (Note that πολυτελους could be either FEM or NEUT.)

My point: none of the Greek morphological schemes acknowledge that it could be a NEUT even though most English renderings treat it as such. I'm thinking this is one of those cases where an either FEM or NEUT should be provided in the analysis.

BTW, I usually like the NRSV, but their rendering here is really not satisfactory: "...an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, ..." The problem here is that it seems to be omitting πιστικης altogether.

10-10-2007, 01:11 PM
Mark, could it be that pistikh/j and polutelou/j( are both feminine because they are attracted to the gender of the first and last nouns in the chain they modify? Both the jar and the nard are feminine, and so the nard is pure and the jar with its contents is expensive. It just seems symmetrical to keep that closing adjective feminine. "an alabaster jar of ointment made from nard, pure and expensive"

10-10-2007, 01:53 PM
I agree with your translation, Skip:
"an alabaster jar of ointment made from nard, pure and expensive"

I understand, then, but are you taking "pure and expensive" as modifying what? Both modifying nard? Or do I understand you to say that the "pure" describes the nard and the expensive describes the ointment, employing something of a chiastic scheme.

Here's what I see:
avla,bastron is a feminine accus sg noun
mu,rou is a neuter genitive sg noun
na,rdou is a feminine genitive sg noun
pistikh/j is a feminine genitive sg adj
polutelou/j is a feminine OR neuter genitive sg adj

Clearly pistikh/j modifies the na,rdou
If polutelou/j is taken as a feminine then it also modifies na,rdou and the translation would be:
alabaster of ointment of (pure, expensive nard)

If polutelou/j is taken as a neuter then it modifies mu,rou and the translation would be:
alabaster of expensive ointment of pure nard

It can be either, but my point is simply that most English versions adopt the latter option, but all the Greek morphologies adopt the former by identifying polutelou/jonly as feminine.

Maybe your suggested translation leaves things just vague enough so that people will have to check the Greek!

10-10-2007, 03:36 PM
I like the idea of symmetry more than chiasm, but it is pretty much the same thing. Since avla,bastron as well as na,rdou are both construed as feminine, polutelou/j can be connected all the way back and imply that the jar and its contents are all together costly.

Mark Eddy
10-11-2007, 10:39 PM
This looks like a good discussion for the b-greek list, since it is only tangentally related to BibleWorks. You can subscribe to the b-greek discussion at http://www.ibiblio.org/bgreek/. I was on that list for a couple years a few years ago, but it got too much to keep up. Yet every once in a while I think of re-subscribing, to ask questions such as yours.
Mark Eddy