|Illustration of Nardostachys|
grandiflora (1881) from
Curtis's Botanical Magazine
Not to be confused with Celtic spikenard, American spikenard, lavender, or the game of backgammon, Indian spikenard (Nardostachys jatamansi or Nardostachys grandiflora) has been known since ancient times as a prized ingredient for perfumes, medicinal cures, and even gourmet recipes from De Re Coquinaria (The Art of Cooking) by ancient foodie Marcus Gavius Apicius. It is a member of the Valerian family of flowering plants with strong odors, and grows in the high altitudes of the Himalayas (i.e., India, Nepal, and the Tibetan province of China). The ancient land and sea trade routes, such as the Silk Road, the Incense Road, and the various spice roads, insured that the potent oil was made accessible to the rich and powerful of Europe, North Africa, the Near East, and the Far East, although it was extremely costly.
|Alabaster perfume jar from the tomb|
of Tutankhamun, Cairo Museum
According to John, Mary’s nard ointment weighed one Roman pound (Gr. λίτρα, litra; Lat. libra), which, considering the density of nard, works out to be approximately 337-355 milliliters (less than 12 fluid ounces). Given that a laborer’s daily wage was about 1 denarius (Matthew 20:2), Judas’ claim that Mary’s perfume was worth 300 denarii priced it close to a lower income annual wage, assuming unpaid Sabbaths and holidays. (Note: Based on a laborer’s income, the price might be comparable to $10,000-30,000. However, the same three-quarter pint would only cost about $200-300 wholesale and $500-600 retail in today’s more efficient global economy.) Because of its apparent value, some commentators speculate that the perfume had been saved for Mary’s dowry. In that case, in the eyes of onlookers, she was not only wasting what could be used to help the poor, but also throwing away her entire future as a married woman.
This devotional was written as an assignment for Robert T. Davis’ course on “Johannine Literature,” which I am currently auditing at the Southern California School of Evangelism at Buena Park Church of Christ.