Frankincense, Gold and Myrrh
Do You Know?
I was watching the news this morning and a reporter was asking people on the street what three gifts were brought by the three wise men to celebrate the birth of baby JesusI
Most people could only name one or sometimes two, but they really knew few details of the birth of Jesus. The three wise men brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. So I started thinking about it, and while I knew the answers I realized I really didn’t know anything about frankincense or myrrh. Gold is the one item that everyone recognizes.
3 Wise Men
Biblical Story of the Magi
The Magi are referred to as the three wise men, which in a Christian view is a denoted a group of distinguished foreigners. In the second chapter of Matthew, verses one through nine, this event is fully described. King Herod secretly sent the Magi to search for the baby that was reportedly born to be the king of the Jews. At that same time a bright star appeared which they followed until they found the baby. Then, they bowed down and presented the gifts.
Many scholars think these three gifts were chosen because gold represented kingship, frankincense was a symbol for the priestly role of Jesus and myrrh was the pre-figuring of the death in embalming of Jesus.
Interestingly enough, the word myrrh appears in the Bible 17 times. At that time in history, which includes the Old and New testament, it was used as one of the ingredients to make holy anointing oil, and it was also mixed with wine and offered to Christ when he was on the cross.
Why were Myrrh and Frankincense so Valued?
Theologians and Biblical scholars have offered different views on the significance of the three gifts. Basically they were standard gifts often given to honor some king or deity at that point in history. Gold is a precious metal, as we all know. Frankincense was used as perfume or incense and myrrh as an anointing oil. As an example, these gifts were offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Milentus in 243 B.C.
Both frankincense and myrrh are derived from tree sap, and they are valued for their alluring fragrance. Frankincense is a milky white resin, which is extracted from trees that thrive in arid and cool areas of the Arabian Peninsula. Myrrh is a reddish resin, which is found in North East Africa and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. The way these resins are extracted and processed are identical.
Frankincense Growth Area
Myrrh Area of Growth
Uses of Frankincense and Myrrh
The people that lived in these areas have been extracting these resins for 5000 years. They were used for personal, religious and medicinal purposes throughout time. As they did not bath daily, the people would use the sweet smoke from the residence to make themselves smell better, and women actually use the ash of frankincense for personal use and even mixed it into their eye shadow.
Both of these resins were also used for medicinal purposes, particularly for treatment of wounds. They were used to cure leprosy, hemlock poisoning, worms, snakebites, diarrhea, scurvy, plague and even baldness. There was such a high demand for each of these resins that a booming trade in the Middle East was created that lasted several hundred years.
We Three Kings of Orient Are
Frankincense was also valued in religious ceremonies as it was burned, which symbolized prayer that was rising to heaven just like the smoke. Myrrh symbolized death and was often used for burials.
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Today’s use of Frankincense and Myrrh
While these resins are not as popular as they once were, they are still used today in some unexpected ways. They are common ingredients in perfumes and cosmetics. Scientists are working to find new ways to use these substances for medical treatments.
In addition to treating osteoarthritis, frankincense may be beneficial to people with asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cancers, Chron’s disease and collagenous colitis. Myrrh may benefit people with gastric ulcers, tumors and parasites.
Scientist at Cardiff’s University in Wales have been studying frankincense for its medicinal properties for some time. Apparently frankincense contains an ingredient that helps to relieve arthritis as it inhibits the inflammation that breaks down the cartilage tissue, which causes the arthritic pain. It has been used for hundreds of years as an herbal remedy to treat arthritis in many communities in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula where it grows.
A study in 2009 suggests that myrrh may lower cholesterol. Frankincense has also been investigated as a possible treatment for anxiety. Currently there is a great deal of scientific study on each of these tree resins.
Many people use these resins in the form of essential oils to enjoy their aroma. There are numerous items on Amazon for each of these resins or essential oils.
Now you know the history and purpose of frankincense and myrrh, in case you didn't have this information before. Tis the season, so the topic seemed appropriate.
© 2013 Pamela Oglesby