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This is an odd question I know and I'm not very hopeful I'll find a good answer. But has it ever stricken you odd that in Luke 7, the woman who comes to see Jesus just straight walks into the Pharisee's house unannounced? I'm an American, and I could never imagine a random stranger walking into anyone's house and it be acceptable.

So, was this a normal thing in Jewish culture at this time period?

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    This is a good question, and I'm looking forward to a solid answer. But I also wanted to just comment that I think you are assuming quite a bit. For instance, there may have been many women coming in and out serving the meal. It could have been a larger dinner party, with guests coming and going (similar to a wedding reception). The woman may also have visited the Pharisee as one of her clients, and so she was known to be in the house from time to time. There are quite a few scenarios where culture has nothing to do with it. – NoChinDeluxe Jun 29 '16 at 19:31
  • Thank you so much for the comment and thank you for looking into a solid answer. I would say you are correct that I am assuming a lot. I did not realize this and this just goes to show how much I don't understand about the cultural context of this passage. Sadly, we don't get that many clues. @NoChinDeluxe – Lin Wang Jul 2 '16 at 19:21
  • Also the bible does not record every minute detail, she could've knocked and asked to see/talk to Jesus – depperm Sep 8 '16 at 16:28
  • That is another plausible scenario. Thanks for the thought. @depperm – Lin Wang Sep 8 '16 at 23:35
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Many of the homes of the time had a courtyard around which were situated various rooms. The courtyard was used for cooking and eating. In John McCray's book Archaeology and the New Testament, he has some diagrams of typical houses of the period.

The point being that to "enter" someone's house was not like it is today. The courtyard was open and people could, conceivably, wander in. In fact, later in Luke's Gospel when Jesus is brought to the high priest's house for questioning you get the sense that there are quite a few people lingering in the courtyard (see Luke 22:54 and following). For example, Peter is in the courtyard, seemingly uninvited; i.e. he doesn't converse with the high priest, but also denies knowing Jesus. No one seems to think it odd that he's there, per se.

One other note is the eating position during feasts ("reclining at table"). The participants would have leaned forward on their left arms, eating with their right hands (the left hand being reserved for sanitary uses, which is why it is considered rude in some cultures even today to use one's left hand for food). The point, though, is that Jesus' feet would have been behind him, making it easy for the woman to anoint them.

A fascinating article about eating customs of the time is at this link.

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Maybe I cannot address exactly your questions, but some point to consider:

  1. The woman was not a strange in that house
    Simon, the pharisee known her;
  2. Wasn't obvious that she was a sinner
    This because Simon questioned if Jesus was really a prophet to "guess" who is the woman;
  3. Jesus was well-know for being in company with sinners

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