After Jesus’ death on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea went to the Roman governor Pilate to request Jesus’ body. Nicodemus, the Pharisee who had visited Jesus at night to ask questions about God’s Kingdom, accompanied Joseph. The two men were granted custody of Jesus’ body, and they immediately began to prepare the body for burial. Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spices for use in preparing the body for burial and then assisted Joseph in wrapping the body and placing it in the tomb. The sheer amount of burial spices would seem to indicate that Nicodemus was a rich man and that he had great respect for Jesus:

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight (John 19:39).

Following Jewish custom, they wrapped the body in strips of linen and mixed in myrrh and aloe. However, it was the Day of Preparation—the sixth day of the week, just before the Jewish Sabbath—and it was late in the day. So Joseph and Nicodemus hurriedly placed Jesus in Joseph’s own tomb, located in a garden near the place of Jesus’ crucifixion.

It was not until early on the first day of the week (our Sunday) that the women came to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus:

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him (Mark 16:1).

Did the women not know that Joseph and Nicodemus had already prepared Jesus' body for burial? Or was the act of anointing Jesus' body different from the Jewish tradition of preparing a body for burial?

What is the significance in the women wanting to anoint the body of Jesus?

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    Did you notice how much the exposition of that Question obscured the subject? After Jesus’ death… Joseph of Arimathea went to governor Pilate and was granted custody of Jesus’ body. Nicodemus brought a preposterous 75 pounds of spice to assist Joseph's preparations… clearly not about wealth or respect though it might (just, at a huge stretch) represent an effort to preserve the body over the extra sabbath day. This being late on the sixth day, just before the Sabbath suggests Joseph and Nicodemus failed to finish their work… which the women knew, and set about correcting ASAP. – Robbie Goodwin Apr 8 at 22:33
  • @RobbieGoodwin - Actually, no, I didn't think that the exposition obscured the subject. I thought (perhaps foolishly) that the exposition showed evidence of my own research and helped by placing the events into context. I wondered if there was any significance behind the word "anoint" as opposed to preparing a body for burial. Jesus was anointed at his baptism (by the Holy Spirit) and before his death he was anointed with precious perfume. After all, Jesus was no ordinary man! To anoint (even a body) seems to me to be significant, but perhaps I'm mistaken. – Lesley Apr 9 at 15:15
  • Of course anointment is never a mere function; always a ceremony with ritual significance. Everything about preparing a body for burial is necessarily significant, whether the significance is religious, spiritual or merely hygienic and that’s hardly the point. Still another time, perhaps less detail? – Robbie Goodwin Apr 10 at 23:57

There is a parallel account in Matthew 27:

57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

The wrapping itself was a common practice.

Act 5:5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

The amount of spices mentioned in John 19:39 was uncommon:

Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight.


“Aloes” are not elsewhere mentioned in the New Testament, but they are joined with myrrh in the Messianic Psalm 45:8. The aloe is an Eastern odoriferous wood—to be distinguished from the aloes of commerce—and chips of the better kinds are now said to be worth their weight in gold. The myrrh and aloes were probably pulverised and mixed together, and then placed in the linen in which the body was wrapped.

The quantity is clearly much more than could have been placed in the linen which surrounded the body; but the offering was one of love, and part of it may have been placed in the sepulchre.

Joseph and Nicodemus were in a hurry because of the approaching Sabbath evening. Later in Mark 16:1

When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.


This verse records a further stage in the embalming. What had been done on the Friday evening had been done in haste, and yet sufficiently for the preservation of the sacred body, if that had been needful, from decay. The remaining work could be done more carefully and tenderly at the tomb.

Why did the women want to anoint Jesus after his body had already been laid in the tomb?

Before the Sabbath, the men Joseph and Nicodemus did what they could quickly to wrap Jesus' body and spread the spices on the body and inside the tomb. After the Sabbath, the women intended to perform more meticulous work on Jesus' body.

  • fascinating background information and details. What I would like to know is whether embalming a body is the same as anointing a body. In the Bible, anointing is done for kings and priests - obviously, while they live. But could there be something more behind the desire of the women to anoint Jesus' body? – Lesley Apr 9 at 15:29
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    Matthew 6:17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, There was also the practice of ordinary anointing. – Tony Chan Apr 9 at 15:39

It appears the anointing the women want to perform is the same as what Nicodemus helped Joseph do. The main possibilities then are:

  1. They were unaware the men had performed the burial rites;
  2. The men, being hurried, had not completed the process;
  3. The women wanted to add their honour to the honour given by the men, much as if there were 20 bouquets at a friends' funeral, you would still want to add your bouquet.
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    How do you read Matthew 27:61? – Tony Chan Apr 9 at 15:34

I think the OP has answered the question. Jesus died late on Friday and the preparation for burial takes some time. Since the Sabbath was almost there, they did not have enough time to finish preparing the body.

Thus, the women came Sunday morning at first light to finish the job of embalming Jesus' body.

On Friday, the body had only been hurriedly wrapped. Two wealthy mean, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus provided the expensive materials - linen and aloes but the women were to do the work.

These women were NOT from wealthy families and could not have provided such grand funeral arrangements including a grave cut from the rock, expensive linen and such a large amount of expensive aloes. This was to fulfill the prophecy in Isa 53:9 -

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,

and with a rich man in His death,

  • Thanks for quoting Isaiah 53:9. Question for you - you suggest the women turned up early on Sunday morning "to finish the job of embalming Jesus' body". However, Scripture says they came to "anoint" the body. Is that the same as embalming? Any thoughts? – Lesley Apr 9 at 15:24
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    @Lesley - the word "anoint" ἀλείφω means to smear with oil and was part of the preparation for the dead and embalming process. – Dottard Apr 9 at 21:05

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