John 12:3 Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume 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 perfume.

I understand the significance of Mary letting her hair down - Jewish women seldom ever did this. What I don’t get is why she used her hair to wipe his feet. Hair is not absorbent nor is it useful for wiping anything. Why wouldn't she use her dress or scarf? QUESTION: Why hair and not the cloth of her dress, even her forearm would have been more useful for this task if a towel was not available.


3 Answers 3


Ref to Song of Songs 1:12-14 (NIV)

While the king was at his table,
my perfume [nard] spread its fragrance.

My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
resting between my breasts.

My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
from the vineyards of En Gedi.

Mary used her hair to spread the fragrance of the nard, עַד שֶׁהַמֶּלֶךְ בִּמְסִבּוֹ נִרְדִּי נָתַן רֵיחוֹ. That was the usual way that upper class women used nard.

Here the nard is also being used as an anointing oil, which was necessary by Jewish tradition for the appointment of both high priests and kings. Jesus is being anointed King in this passage from John, through the parallel to Song of Songs. (Though it is not clear to me why Mary did not pour the oil on his head in this passage. Perhaps that would have been too subversive given the social context.)

Since the time of King Hezkiyahu, before the exile (who sequestered the original anointing oil that was diluted from the oil that Moses made) the Jews used persimmon oil and other fragrant oils to anoint high priests and kings.

  • @Bʀɪᴀɴ Ammended my answer slightly to address this. I was referring only to John 12. In this text it is clearly his feet, not his head.
    – user17080
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 21:45
  • 1
    (+1) way up for suggesting the allusion which contains a woman, a king, a table and fragrant ointment! However, it doesn't contain any reference to "hair". Do you have any ideas for that?
    – user10231
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 21:51
  • In Matt 26:13 there seems to be an odd allusion to Psalm 45:17 LXX.
    – user10231
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 0:06
  • And Psalm 45:12 might be an alluded to as well.
    – user10231
    Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 0:46

I don’t know exactly why she used her hair, but some ideas come to mind:

  1. It was practical. She may not have wanted to waste any of the ointment. By using her hair she not only anointed Jesus feet, but got to oil her hair and hands as well. Now that is pretty efficient. I use my hands when I put my beard oil in, not some rags or gloves, because I want the oil to work on my hands as well. On the flip side, I am sure rags were available to her, but using one would have soaked up some of the ointment, not allowing that portion to be used. Jesus said she saved it against the day of His burial, so she wanted to make sure every bit of it was used, and none of it wasted. Think about money, we often waste it on frivolous things, but when it comes to things of the heart, things that really matter to us, we find the best deal we can. We do what we can to maximize our dollar, and it is no different here when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with the ointment.
  2. Also people wanted to touch Jesus. There were many times where people went up to Him by faith, and touched Him knowing that they would be healed. Mary may not have needed physical healing here, but she has suffered emotional turmoil and was able to touch Him by using her hair. Jesus even hinted that she had some idea of His future death in John 12:7 when He said “…against the day of my burying hath she kept this”. I imagine that she was in some emotional distress at the moment, and she wanted to touch Him again, to feel close to her Savior. She desired to be close to Him, and you can’t get any closer to the Lord than by serving Him, especially the way that Mary just did. Again, rags (towels or whatever) were most likely available, but they would have gotten in the way of touching Him.
  3. It showed self sacrifice. Let’s face it, our feet are not the most beautiful body parts we have (most of us try to keep them covered at all times), yet that is a part of the body that the Bible mentions on two occasions as being beautiful. God sees things differently than man, and what God calls beautiful, man calls ugly. When you see that Mary chose to use her hair to wipe Jesus’ feet, you see that she risked getting all kinds of nasty in it from Jesus walking around in sandals all day. I don’t know about you, but my feet get pretty dirty when I wear sandals all day. She didn’t know whatever dirt or grime may have been on His feet, nor did she care. If there was some funk on His feet, it would have been in her hair until she had time to go somewhere and wash it out. She didn’t care about that. She didn’t know if her hair would have gotten something on it that would make her have to cut it off, but guess what? She didn’t care. She wanted to anoint Jesus’ feet, and wanted to show her sacrificial love for Him by using her hair.
  4. Most of the time when we do things for the ones we love, we use our best. We make our tastiest dish for people when they come, we make sure to do our best when fixing things for loves ones, we even let guests use the fancy towels in the bathroom when they stay over, and Mary used the absolute best material that she had for spreading the ointment on Jesus’ feet. She wanted to use her hair so that the softest and most gentile material would touch His skin. Not only was it the softest, it was also something that she had taken care of for all her life, so she knew that it was the best material for the job. It wasn’t just some random rag that was pulled out of a cabinet. No, it was her personal covering that God had given her, and she chose to use it for the glory of God. Nothing else would have been good enough to her to spread the ointment on Jesus’ feet. Folks, the best thing that we have available to give to the Lord is always ourselves, and Mary knew this.
  5. It was an act of humility. Again, we don’t like feet. Feet are gross, and we don’t like to touch other people’s feet, yet Mary not only touched Jesus’ feet, but she rubbed ointment on His feet using her hair! Men are not as self-conscience about our hair as women. If we get something in it, no big deal, but our hair wasn’t given to us as a covering. Women’s hair was given to them for a covering, and long hair is their glory. They take care of it, they brush it, they wash it, they condition it, they go to great lengths to keep it clean and smelling good. Mary just used this precious thing to rub some ointment on some tired dirty feet. People would not be lining up to wipe some tired dirty feet with rags, let alone with their hair! That especially isn’t something that a proud person would do. Mary wasn’t a proud person, but even she had to humble herself to wipe the Lord’s feet with her hair. She wasn’t in a room alone with Jesus, the disciples were in the room as well. She knew that they would be watching this odd take on one of their customs, and that they would be questioning her and scoffing. She didn’t care. She was willing to lower herself in front of the Lord’s disciples, people that she would see often, not worrying about what they would think or say. She loved the Lord, and this act of humility beautifully showed it.

Like I said before, these are just some thoughts, not exactly why. I am sure there are more, and better reasons, but this is what the Lord has given me. I know this isn’t a straight up doctrinal thesis, but when you think about these few reasons and the love she had for Jesus, it is no wonder why she used her hair and not not a rag.


Im going to offer a somewhat different answer, although it echoes the previous response, and say that a woman's hair had a certain value and significance.

"In Judaism (and in many other cultures in the ancient world), hair was associated with woman’s glory, her self-worth and respect. Not only did Mary pour an extremely expensive ointment on Jesus’ feet, she also used her hair to wipe the oil that did not get absorbed into Jesus’ skin. In other words, she placed her self-worth at his feet; she gave him her riches and her glory."


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