It is easy to find oneself spending so much time with the vexed question of the chronological sequence of the Synoptic Gospels, and the big Synoptic Problem questions that arise, that one can forget about the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Thomas. To an extent, the relative neglect of these Gospels in this context is understandable. Whereas the Synoptic Gospels are clearly related on the literary level, there is no consensus about whether the same is true of John and Thomas. Does John know the Synoptics? Some say yes, some no. Does Thomas know the Synoptics? Again, opinions are divided. Clearly, this series of blog posts is not the place to solve this fascinating problem, but I would like to suggest a couple of ways in which we might be able to sketch out the possible lines of relationship between the Synoptics and Thomas and the Synoptics and John. I am currently in the middle of a book on the relationship between Thomas and the Synoptics, so the full argument will have to wait for its publication in the (I hope) not too distant future. As for John and the Synoptics, let me just say that I am persuaded by the evidence set out by several including C. K. Barrett and Frans Neirynck concerning John's knowledge of the Synoptics and that I would like to add an observation that may be of relevance.
So let us go to John and focus on an issue related to the phenomenon of fatigue in the Synoptics, discussed in the previous post. One of the indicators of familiarity with prior texts is a rewriting of elements in those texts in such a way that the author inadvertently creates anomalies or inconcinnities. One of the clear examples of this phenomenon in John occurs in his story of the anointing of Jesus by Mary in John 12.1-8. The story is parallel to Matthew 26.6-13 // Mark 14.3-9. The Johannine incident is clearly the same as the Synoptic incident: (1) It takes place in Bethany (2) just before Passover, (3) at a dinner where a woman has a jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard (Mark 14.3, ἀλάβαστρον μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτελοῦς; John 12.3, λίτραν μύρου νάρδου πιστικῆς πολυτίμου; (4) she anoints Jesus; (5) there are complaints about the costliness of the perfume (τριακοσίων δηναρίων) which could have been given to the poor (καὶ ἐδόθη πτωχοῖς, John 12.5; καὶ δοθῆναι τοῖς πτωχοῖς, Mark 14.5); (6) Jesus says "Leave her. . . The poor you will always have with you . . . But you will not always have me" (ἄφες αὐτήν . . . τοὺς πτωχοὺς γὰρ πάντοτε ἔχετε μεθ' ἑαυτῶν ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε, John 12.7-8; ἄφετε αὐτήν . . . πάντοτε γὰρ τοὺς πτωχοὺς ἔχετε μεθ' ἑαυτῶν καὶ ὅταν θέλητε δύνασθε αὐτοῖς εὖ ποιῆσαι ἐμὲ δὲ οὐ πάντοτε ἔχετε, Mark 14.6-7); (7) Jesus interprets the anointing in connection with his burial (John 12.7, Mark 14.8).
John appears to have crafted this account on the basis of the Marcan narrative; the structure, the story, the wording have substantial links. The only major fresh elements in John are the naming of the woman as Mary, contextually determined by his resetting of the account as a postlude to the Lazarus story, and the naming of the one who complains as Judas, which itself may be derived from Mark 14.10-11, which comes straight after the anointing, and links Judas with an unhealthy interest in money. But there is one element in John that appears not to be found in Mark, Mary's wiping Jesus' feet with her hair (καὶ ἐξέμαξεν ταῖς θριξὶν αὐτῆς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ, John 12.3). This detail appears to come from Luke 7.38 (καὶ ταῖς θριξὶν τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτῆς ἐξέμασσεν. . . ), where it forms part of Luke's story of the anointing, 7.36-50, his version of the Marcan // Matthean anointing. As there, it is an anointing by an anonymous woman in the house of a man called Simon, though Luke relocates it at an earlier point in the narrative, as often (cf. the Rejection at Nazareth, brought forward to Luke 4.16-30; Paul's first visit to Jerusalem, brought forward to Acts 9.25-6 and the Jerusalem Council, brought forward to Acts 15 from its "true" location in Acts 18.22), a move that necessitates some reworking of the details, especially the stress on the forthcoming death and burial. It is now a story about a "sinner", whose hair hangs down.
The anointing in each of the Synoptic accounts makes sense. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus' head is anointed with perfume. No hair is mentioned, no feet are are mentioned. In Luke, the woman wets Jesus' feet with her tears, an act of repentance, and she wipes them with her loose "sinner's" hair before she anoints them with perfume. But John's reminiscence of the Lucan detail about the wiping of Jesus' feet with her hair creates an anomaly. First, there is no reason for Mary, in John, to be wearing her hair like a "sinner", which is the point of the Lucan story. Second, because there are no tears in John, Mary's wiping of Jesus' feet with her hair means that the perfume ends up on her hair and not on Jesus. Jesus is the one who is supposed to be being anointed. This appears to be an example of John's secondary use of prior texts that has generated narrative inconcinnity and which helps us, therefore, to sketch John into a relationship of post-dating the Synoptics.