I don't really understand this part of the story in Luke 7:38. Why would Mary Magdalena use her hair to dry Jesus' feet? I have some clues, but I don't want to guide the replies.

I'd like to know both, the symbolism, and the spiritual meaning (what does it teach to us).

As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.



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    Please, let in my question the symbolisme and spiritual meaning, it's important. The editing changes completely the meaning of my question. I reverted it.
    – Quidam
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 13:21
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    And why removing the quote of the gospel verse? Please, improve the question in the grammar, with productive edits, don't change its meaning, or removing parts. It's frustrating to ask a question and to see another one.
    – Quidam
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 13:24
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    Please provide what clues you have to show what research you've done. Also, please clarify from whose perspective you are looking for as it may change the answer.
    – depperm
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 14:21
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    I must tell all the researches I've done before asking a question? I said which perspective, please read: symbolism and spiritual meaning what does it teaches to us)
    – Quidam
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 15:27
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    See christianity.stackexchange.com/help/how-to-ask (showing your research helps). this scripture could have different spiritual/symbolic meanings depending on the denomination (see christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/a/778/22319).
    – depperm
    Commented May 22, 2017 at 20:28

2 Answers 2


There are a number of possible meanings to help us understand this event, though none seem particularly compelling. It's possible that the full import of the event was clear to people living in the Levant 2,000 years ago, but are obscure to use today.

One of the most obvious meanings is that Jesus is a great King. The Hebrew Bible itself has many examples of the anointing of kings (1 Samuel 16). According to Keifer, the large amount and description of nard as "pure" implies kingly status (Oxford Commentary, 2001).

Many scholars recognize that Jesus is the "ultra" or "ultimate" in all His roles - if Moses and Elijah fasted for 40 days, Jesus spent 40 days without food or drink, making Him the "ultimate prophet." So while it's unusual to anoint the feet rather than the head of a king, the amount of nard (far too much for one person's feet), purity, and location of the anointing elevate Jesus to an ultimate status.

This also fits the cosmogony of ancient Israelites. The head is the highest and most respected part of the body, the feet the dirtiest and lowest (Hanson and Oakman, 1998). A woman's hair is her "glory" (1 Cor 11:15). When Mary used her hair to wipe Jesus' feet it may have been a shocking tribute.

It's already somewhat scandalous that Mary entered a room where men are dining, since that was a shameful violation of male space that implied she had no self-respect (Fiorenza, 1983). To lower herself by using her hair on Jesus' feet might be even more disturbing. It points to Jesus' heavenly status, a challenge to male status that might have led Judas to speak - as he couldn't wait to initiate a final showdown between Jesus and the Jerusalem authorities later, so Judas couldn't keep silent as all cultural mores were upended.

The anointing of Jesus' feet also echoes the "sinful woman's" (was her sin that she merely violated male space?) anointing of Jesus' feet with tears in Luke 7. John is considered the latest-written of the four gospels and seems to have included elements from the three earlier (Perkins, 2012). So some of the symbolism may foreshadow Jesus' death as atonement for others' sins, as that meaning was paramount in Luke 7.

Further symbolism includes the intimate nature of Mary's hair caressing Jesus' feet. Some point out that "feet" was a euphimsim for sexual organs, but that doesn't seem to make much sense here - it would be extremely strange for Judas to then object to the cost of nard! Only unqualified scholars stretching to impute sexual overtones in John's largely asexual depiction of Jesus could waste time on that possibility.

Instead, there's a stunning intimacy about stroking another's feet with hair that is in itself disruptive. Numerous scholars and anthropologists point out that outside of blood relations and marriage, male and female spaces were highly divided (for some of the best scholarship on distinct spaces, see Douglas, 1999). To allow this intimate gesture was taboo, and probably even more rare for a religious teacher. The Lukan account (probably of a separate anointing) more explicitly captures this aspect, as the host objects to the nature of the touching. Again, this points to Jesus' heavenly status - it's no problem for Jesus to accept the woman's ministrations, since they are only His due.

It's also notable that only in John does Nicodemus offer spices for the burial anointing. So the anointing by Mary of Jesus' feet is clear foreshadowing, a basic literary tool. But this particular foreshadowing helps John share his Christology: Jesus was already the fully-realized Son of God even prior to the Resurrection, which seems to be in slight tension with Mark. Since in John, Jesus' glory is fully realized on the Cross (when He is "lifted up") rather than after risen, the book-ends of royal anointings - Mary before death (right after the Sanhedrin formally decides to kill Jesus) and Nicodemus (at least in intent) after His death, helps maintain the Crucifixion as the high point of Jesus' influence.

Each of these paragraphs can lead to a lot more detailed consideration. It's worth saying that while all of these interpretations are solid not only because they make sense but also because they fit John's narrative arc very well, none of them alone seems to warrant including such an odd and potentially scandalous scene in this or any gospel.

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    If you could identify clearly which sources you are referring to, in and end note, one citation for each, it would very much improve this already well thought out answer. Thanks you, and Welcome to Christianity.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to see how to get the most out of the SE Q&A format. Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 12:24
  • Good answer. Besides giving the titles of your sources, giving the page numbers you refer to would help.
    – K-HB
    Commented Apr 2, 2019 at 12:37

We also read a similar account in the Gospel according to John at 12:3 (RSECV)

" Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment."

John goes on to quote Judas Iscariot commenting that the perfume would be worth 300 denarii (Jn:12:5). Remember that one denarius was the standard wage of a laborer in those days(Mtt:20:13) . Supposing that Jesus had left his sandals outside the house, much of the liquid perfume would have gone waste. So, the sense of economy prevailed and Mary wiped out the perfume with her hair . Was not that OK for a house-lady ?

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