Mark 14:3 - ἀλάβαστρον

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Jean-Michel Colin
Posts: 17
Joined: August 15th, 2013, 4:54 pm

Mark 14:3 - ἀλάβαστρον

Post by Jean-Michel Colin » September 8th, 2015, 1:29 am

Mark 14:3 wrote: ἦλθεν γυνὴ ἔχουσα ἀλάβαστρον
I wonder why almost all translation give :
- an alabastar jar/vial/box/vase/flask

when the text means (in my eyes) that she wears an "alabastron", which is an object, namly a small vase, and not a material, as found in the Thayer's Greek Lexicon :
Thayer's Greek Lexicon wrote: STRONGS NT 211: ἀλάβαστρον
ἀλάβαστρον, , τό (...), a box made of alabaster
The confusion comes probably from the fact that alabastra (the vases) were originally made of alabaster (the material). But at least since the 5th century BC some of them were poteries or made of glass (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alabastron and especially : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File ... CA1920.jpg).

I have also checked in italian, spanish, french and german http://biblehub.com/multi/mark/14-3.htm + more modern (paper) versions : same.
I have found only 2 exceptions :
Spanish: Sagradas Escrituras 1569 wrote: una mujer teniendo un alabastro de ungüento de nardo
German Luther 1912 wrote:da kam ein Weib, die hatte ein Glas
Luther gets it not totally right, because in no case an alabaster can be a "Glas" = jar made of glas.

I'm interested in your opinion :
- are the 2 readings ok or is it right, as I personnaly hold, to understand "a vase of type alabastron (maybe made of alabaster)" and not "a vase made of alabaster" ?
- is Thayer not the good reference here ?
- in the case there is only one correct reading, why this "mistake" in so many translations ?
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Stephen Hughes
Posts: 3323
Joined: February 26th, 2013, 7:12 am

Re: Mark 14:3 - ἀλάβαστρον

Post by Stephen Hughes » September 8th, 2015, 3:15 am

One of the difficulties in archeology is that things that are unearthed are usually out of their linguistic and social contexts to a large degree, and mummies (even of rulers) don't routinely have their names written on them. There is a slight margin for educated guessing, both for individual things and even the names of cities. There is also the possibility that different implements or structures served different purposes at different times. That process of change is not recorded, when an object is preserved only in one moment. Modern uses - such as tourism and museum dusplay - can also affect our appreciation of artifacts.

The interaction between the recorded language and the artifacts preserved from the world in which the language was used is an interesting field for those interested in it.
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Γελᾷ δ' ὁ μωρός, κἄν τι μὴ γέλοιον ᾖ
(Menander, Γνῶμαι μονόστιχοι 108)

Tony Pope
Posts: 121
Joined: July 14th, 2011, 6:20 pm

Re: Mark 14:3 - ἀλάβαστρον

Post by Tony Pope » September 15th, 2015, 3:24 am

Jean-Michel Colin wrote: - are the 2 readings ok or is it right, as I personnaly hold, to understand "a vase of type alabastron (maybe made of alabaster)" and not "a vase made of alabaster" ?
- is Thayer not the good reference here ?
- in the case there is only one correct reading, why this "mistake" in so many translations ?
Here are my thoughts on your three questions:

1. It is correct that ἀλάβαστρα were not necessarily made of alabaster. The Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon defines the word as "globular vase without handles for holding perfumes, often made of alabaster". Prof. Donald Wiseman, writing in the Illustrated Bible Dictionary (1980), art. Glass, states: "In the late Iron and Israelite periods Egyp[tian] glass vessels, now imitating alabaster vessels (hence Gk. alabastron) were imported into Syria and Palestine. ... The Hellenistic period brought the additional technique which resulted in gold glass, millefiore and coloured glasses found at many Palestinian sites. The alabastron broken open as a gift for our Lord was probably a long-necked glass ointment bottle ..."

2. The New Testament lexicons do not appear to have caught up. Danker's Concise Lexicon (2009) has: alabaster container.

3. There are two factors that would, in my judgment, hinder translations from breaking away from the traditional rendering.
First, the lack of a clear statement in authoritative NT lexicons.
Secondly, the supposition that the container in question, filled with very precious perfume, might have been made of alabaster (presumed more costly than pottery or glass). Whether that is plausible for the Roman period I do not know.
That said, I could name half a dozen published translations that avoid the word "alabaster", two of which are to be seen on the website you linked, but as this forum is not for discussing the relative merits of various translations I won't go further on that.
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Jean-Michel Colin
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Joined: August 15th, 2013, 4:54 pm

Re: Mark 14:3 - ἀλάβαστρον

Post by Jean-Michel Colin » September 19th, 2015, 11:42 am

Tony Pope wrote:Here are my thoughts on your three questions:

1. It is correct that ἀλάβαστρα were not necessarily made of alabaster. The Liddell-Scott-Jones lexicon defines the word as "globular vase without handles for holding perfumes, often made of alabaster". Prof. Donald Wiseman, writing in the Illustrated Bible Dictionary (1980), art. Glass, states: "In the late Iron and Israelite periods Egyp[tian] glass vessels, now imitating alabaster vessels (hence Gk. alabastron) were imported into Syria and Palestine. ... The Hellenistic period brought the additional technique which resulted in gold glass, millefiore and coloured glasses found at many Palestinian sites. The alabastron broken open as a gift for our Lord was probably a long-necked glass ointment bottle ..."

2. The New Testament lexicons do not appear to have caught up. Danker's Concise Lexicon (2009) has: alabaster container.

3. There are two factors that would, in my judgment, hinder translations from breaking away from the traditional rendering.
First, the lack of a clear statement in authoritative NT lexicons.
Secondly, the supposition that the container in question, filled with very precious perfume, might have been made of alabaster (presumed more costly than pottery or glass). Whether that is plausible for the Roman period I do not know.
Worthwhile to know the differences between Bible dictionaries and New Testament lexicons (when will them catch up ?).

I'm not sure to understand your last point :
Tony Pope wrote:That said, I could name half a dozen published translations that avoid the word "alabaster", two of which are to be seen on the website you linked, but as this forum is not for discussing the relative merits of various translations I won't go further on that.
My intent is not about avoiding the word "alabaster", as a semi-precious material. My point is that I think the greek text designates the object as an alabastron, so let's understand this : "[a woman having] an alabastron [[possibly/probably/presumably made of alabaster]]. Well, it's a question in fact ...

(edited : minor wording changes)
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