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Did you know that the Jewish tradition is to read the Song of Songs at Passover? While the Song is placed right smack in the middle of our Bibles, in the Hebrew Bible it had a significant placement as the first of the five scrolls, or the five megillot. These “writings” were read at the major festivals, the Song being read at Passover.

The Song is also a great text for Holy Week. The beloved disciple himself was a singer of the Song in his account of the anointing at Bethany and the resurrection. Here is small excerpt from The Sexual Reformation on John’s cover of the Song:

It is fitting that we see reverberations of the Song in the beloved disciple’s, John’s, gospel. Ann Roberts Winsor wrote a fascinating book on the allusions to the Song of Songs in the fourth gospel.[1] The book begins with a chapter on John 12:1–8, noting the allusions to the Song, including hair, a king reclining, precious nard ointment, feet, and scent, in the account of Mary of Bethany using her hair to anoint Jesus’s feet with expensive oil.

We know Mary as the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, and a friend of Jesus. Winsor notes the interpretive difficulty of this text, as commentators try to make sense of why Mary was using her hair for this expressive act. Here was a respectable woman taking down her hair in a room full of men to do something a towel would work much better for. And yet Winsor notes that it made total sense when you realize that John was activating another text here from the Old Testament.[2] While hair is rarely referenced in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, the Song has five references to it (4:1; 5:11; 6:5; 7:5). The woman’s hair is referenced twice in Song 7:5. Here we hear the Groom’s voice:

“Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel, the hair of your head like purple cloth—a king could be held captive in your tresses.”

Winsor says, “The unusual mention of the woman’s flowing hair in SS 7:[5] and Mary of Bethany’s apparently unbound hair in Jn 12:3, in both cases with the king as the object of the hair’s ‘action,’ suggests an allusive link between the texts.”[3] Winsor stresses that the wordplay is suggesting that the king is literally bound, or “tied up” by her hair. She takes us to John 18:12 and 18:24, where we see Jesus actually bound when he was arrested.[4]

John was doing a cover of the Song! And as it was resung, Mary, the sister in Bethany, anointed Jesus for his upcoming burial with her hair. As we see the Song activated, so are all of our senses again. We have this sensual visual of Mary’s flowing hair, the touch of it on the feet of the King, the taste of dinnertime at the table, and the smell of expensive perfume filling the house. Do we also not see in Mary the picture of absolute freedom in belonging? She lets down her hair and “washes” his feet (John 13:1-17). She knows the cost. In the act of anointing his feet with this expensive nard, she prefigures the glory of Christ’s death he was very soon to die. She thus models the cost and the fruit of being free for others.

 “While the king was at his table, my perfume spread its fragrance.”

Song 1:12, NIV

And Jesus is captivated by this picture of his sister-bride treasuring him, knowing he will literally become bound for her. He says her hair is like purple cloth, like that of his queen.

Behold, the queen of Holy Week, a picture of the bride of Christ in all her glory, stooping down to anoint her King with her hair.


[1] Ann Roberts Winsor, A King Is Bound in the Tresses: Allusions to the Song of Songs in the Fourth Gospel, Studies in Biblical Literature 6 (New York: Lang, 1999).

[2] Winsor, 20.

[3] Winsor, 22.

[4] Winsor, 22.