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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Alabaster

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ALABASTER (ἀλάβαστρος or ἀλάβαστρον; in secular writers always ἁλάβαστρος [more correctly ἁλάβαστος], though with a heterog. plur. ἁλάβαστρα; in NT only in aecus, and only once with art., which is found in different MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] in all the genders—ΤήΝ, ΤάΝ, Τά [Tisch., Treg., WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] , Meyer, Alford prefer ΤήΝ]).—The word occurs four times in the Gospels: Matthew 26:7, Mark 14:3 bis, Luke 7:37. The Oriental alabaster, so called from the locality in Egypt (the town of Alabastron, near Tell el-Amarna)* [Note: The reverse supposition is possible, that the town derived its name from the material (see Encyc. Bibl. i. 108).] where it is found in greatest abundance, is a species of marble softer and more easily worked than the ordinary marble. It was so frequently used for holding precious ointment that ἁλάβαστρος came to be a synonym for an unguent box (Theoer. xv. 114; Herod. iii. 20), Horace (Od. iv. 12. 17) uses onyx in the same ways.

In all three of the Gospel narratives emphasis is laid on the costliness of the offering made to our Lord. The ointment was that with which monarchs were anointed. Judas valued it at three hundred pence. If we bear in mind that a denarius was a day’s wage for ordinary labour, it would represent about four shillings of our money. And unguent and box would have a value of something like £60. Mary ‘brake the box.’ This is generally interpreted as merely meaning ‘unfastened the seal’; but is it not in accordance alike with a profound instinct of human nature and with Oriental ideas to interpret the words literally? The box which had been rendered sacred by holding the ointment with which Jesus was anointed would never be put to a lower use.

This incident is the gospel protest against philanthropic utilitarianism. ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’ We have here the warrant for the expenditure of money on everything that makes for the higher life of man. Whatever tends to uplift the imagination, to ennoble and purify the emotions, to refine the taste, and thus to add to the spiritual value of life, is good, and is to be encouraged. Jesus claims our best. He inspires us to be and do our best, and the first-fruits of all the higher faculties of the soul are to be devoted to Him. See, further, art. Anointing i. 2.

A. Miller.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Alabaster'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/alabaster.html. 1906-1918.

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