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(Heb. pak, (2 Ki 9:1,3); Gk. alabastron, <Mark 14:3>). A container usually
narrowed toward the outlet and used for holding liquids such as oil, ointment, or
perfume. . The KJV uses "box of oil" or "box of ointment," whereas the NASB
rendering is "flask of oil" or "vial of . . . ointment," and the NIV, "alabaster
(Gk. alabastron, (Mark 14:3); Heb. shesh, (1 Chr. 29:2); translated "marble"
in the KJV and NIV). Identified with the substance now called oriental (or
Egyptian) alabaster, also "onyx marble."
The most common form of alabaster is a fine textured variety of massive gypsum
(sulfate of lime). It is very soft and therefore excellent for carving. The
color is usually white; but it may be gray, yellow, or red.
Large quantities of gypsum were quarried in the Jordan Valley in the days before the Hebrew people occupied this territory. Many
articles were fashioned from this stone, including vases, jars, saucers, bowls,
lamps, and statues. Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with costly oil from a flask made of alabaster (Mark 14:3).
The ancient variety of alabaster is known as "oriental alabaster" (carbonate
of lime), a form of marble. It is much harder than the gypsum variety but is
used for the same purpose. Ancient alabaster was found only in Egypt.
Today the name alabaster is applied to a still softer stone, the compact
variety of gypsum, or sulphate of lime, used for small statuettes, paper weights,
and little ornaments of no great value.
The alabastrites of Theophrastus, Pliny, and the ancients generally was
largely quarried and worked at Alabastron, a well-known locality near Thebes, and was
the favorite material for the little flasks and vases for ointment and
perfumery that are so abundant in Egyptian tombs and almost all ancient collections.