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The Truth About Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

truth-about-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh

Children everywhere will recreate the nativity this month, and bringing up the end of the star-led pilgrimage will be the Three Wise Men in shimmering dress-up robes, carrying a gift each. The Magi are part of our Christmas traditions, but there is a lot to learn about their contribution to the nativity; especially about gold, frankincense and myrrh.

According to BibleArcheology.org:

“Since the early days of Christianity, Biblical scholars and theologians have offered varying interpretations of the meaning and significance of the gold, frankincense and myrrh that the magi presented to Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew (2:11). These valuable items were standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil. In fact, these same three items were apparently among the gifts, recorded in ancient inscriptions, that King Seleucus II Callinicus offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus in 243 B.C.E. The Book of Isaiah, when describing Jerusalem's glorious restoration, tells of nations and kings who will come and ‘bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.'” (Isaiah 60:6) (1)

The gifts of the Magi – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – were carried a great distance specifically for the new King that their star-watching indicated. Since then, scholars have mused and debated over them. Who were the Magi? What was the significance of the gifts? Were they for the infant Jesus or for a much bigger purpose?

Fact is we will never know (for sure) the truth about gold, frankincense and myrrh; nor why the Magi travelled half-way across the world to bless the Christ Child with them. We do have some ideas, though, and it's a fun topic to investigate…

Biblical Account of the Magi

The Magi – meaning something like magician but often translated wise man – appear in Matthew 2, having traveled from “the east” in search of the Baby King. They were obviously astronomers of some sort, because it was the Star of Bethlehem that indicated the birth.

When they made it into Jerusalem, they went right to Herod to ask where the Baby might be. Interestingly, Herod seems to know right away that the prophesies about the Messiah were connected, because he asked his scholars where Messiah was to be born. We don't know exactly when the visit occurred, but we do know that they had been tracking the star for some time – up to two years. This is important to note when we look at the potential uses for the gifts in a moment.

Gifts from the East – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

Unlike the images we conjure of three men with a gift each, the Magi aren't numbered. Church history and tradition have expanded on the story to name the men who actually gave the gifts – Melchior bringing gold, Caspar with frankincense, and Balthasar with myrrh. (2) Even so, depictions of the Magi vary from their earliest versions, with no one quite agreeing on the number of visitors in total.

In Matthew's account, they “opened their treasures” to give the young Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. We aren't talking about single birthday gifts here – no matter the exact names and numbers, these were clearly wealthy men in a caravan of sorts, with much reputation and much to offer.

It has also been suggested that, In addition to the honor and status implied by the value of the gifts of the magi, scholars think that these three were chosen for their special spiritual symbolism about Jesus himself—gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming.” (1)

Gold

Because the Magi were coming to hail the new king, gold makes sense as an acknowledgement of royalty. Gold was valuable, beautiful, and long-lasting. Scholars generally agree that the gift of gold represented Jesus as a king with an everlasting throne. It was a treasure befitting royalty, albeit royalty in the home of a young, poor family.

As an interesting theory that is somewhat on the fringe, some believe the gold was entirely different. Instead of precious metals, the theory explains that frankincense and myrrh were both precious resins used for fragrance and were both derived from the same region – from the east. Gold seems out of place – one of these things is not like the other – unless it was gold-en spice like turmeric, as some like to claim that it was. This line of thought can even trace to balsam oil, derived from the resin of the balsam trees in the same climate and region as frankincense and myrrh's origination.

Arabic balsam, or Commiphora gileadensis, is also considered the Balm of Gilead, used to anoint the kings of Israel and containing a compound “known for its anti-inflammatory, local anaesthetic, and antifungal properties.” (3)

In either view, the kingly connotations remain, and the message of the Magi is clear: this little baby was to be honored as royalty, no matter what the circumstances suggested!

Frankincense

There's no major surprise here – no fringe theory that suggests something shocking. Only an ancient incense that is still beneficial today.

The gift of frankincense is said to have been an acknowledgement of Jesus' priesthood, setting him apart from a typical king. Frankincense was used in the temple routines, burned ceremonially by the priests. It was not native to that region, however, so obtaining frankincense from the east was costly. This gift was precious in both meaning and value.

Because we now can analyze the properties and modes of action that substances like frankincense resin and its essential oil maintain, we can see further benefit beyond fragrance and ceremony.

Traditional healing suggests frankincense for anti-inflammatory, anti-arthritic abilities. We now see that this could be connected to immune modulating effects that might explain uses for both inflammatory illness and antimicrobial purposes. (4)

Myrrh

The most bittersweet of the gifts, myrrh had been imported to Egypt in droves for embalming rituals, and the practice filtered out through the surrounding areas. Even without the mummification process, myrrh was connected with death and burial. A disheartening gift for a new mother to hold, yet beautiful in light of her understanding of his purpose.

But was that all the myrrh was for?

While the Middle Eastern regions used myrrh ceremonially, the Far East was using it for healing purposes. Ayurvedic medicine, which dates back thousands of years, used myrrh for wound healing, digestive health, and to balance women's issues. China used myrrh for similar purposes – wound healing and to slow bleeding.

With this in mind, one wonders whether the Magi were bringing healing substances for Jesus' after birth – cord healing, etc. – as well as for Mary in her postpartum discomfort. Prophetic words often had both immediate and long term connotations, so these gifts could have followed a similar dual pattern.

Of course, if they arrived two years after he was born, as the text may suggest, this theory loses a bit of weight. In any case, it's interesting to entertain – the intricacies of Scripture never cease to amaze! (5)

It's worth noting that frankincense and myrrh together – both used in temple rituals – comprise a synergistic antimicrobial combination. (6) While both the temple and Jesus' makeshift cradle were filled with aromatic substances, they were also fighting disease and protecting the inhabitants. What joy there is in seeing the beauty of God's design underscored with practical protective measures!

Some early church history writings claim that the three named Magi came together years later to celebrate Christmas together, shortly before they died. I imagine a delicious meal, the laughter of old friends, and a fragrant incense burning to remind them all of that one, incredible journey when they carried gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a newborn king.

Resources:

  1. http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-magi-bring-gold-frankincense-and-myrrh/
  2. http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/catholic-contributions/the-magi.html
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22567036
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15879017
  5. http://www.itmonline.org/arts/myrrh.htm
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22288378


This post currently has 34 comments.

  1. Ted Hickiox
    April 20, 2017

    The Bible never states that the magi gave Jesus only three gifts. I wonder how many gifts the magi gave to Jesus.

      Reply
  2. janice
    December 25, 2016

    Where did the wise men get the precise gifts they gave to baby jesus. ?

      Reply
  3. Michael
    September 17, 2016

    What oils are recommended for depression? My wife has suffered for over 20 years and is currently well. However, I want to see what i can do to help get better and stay well.

      Reply
  4. Tracey Rollison
    August 26, 2016

    About gold: there have been gold mines in the Arabian Peninsula for at least 5,000 years, and the biggest mine is not too far from what is now Jordan. The best frankincense is light green/yellow and is found further south. And myrrh is fairly common further south. The spice roads from India, which already had an active civilization, came both overland through the Arabian peninsula from ports in Yemen, what is now ADammam, and Aqaba, so spices would be a possibility as well, but usually when the Bible mentions a spice, it just says the name, not the color.

    Not that gold, frankincense and myrrh wouldn’t be precious outside their native area, but very likely Jesus was indeed given actual gold.

      Reply
  5. Marsha
    June 17, 2016

    My grandfather is diabetic with high BP. He is 82 and recently diagnosed with colon cancer. Is it safe for a diabetic to ingest frankincense?

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      June 20, 2016

      Hi Marsha, it all depends. Definitely something to ask his MD and pharmacist about because of possible drug interactions. Check out the article on diabetes in my EO database for a reference –> DrEricZ.com/essential-oils

        Reply
  6. jacqui beattie
    May 5, 2016

    Hey i watched you on fmtv last night. Amazing. Are we allowed to name brands here? I understand how frustrated and confused people must be not knowing. Especially if they or a loved one is suffering with a chronic illness (like myself)..some may be running out of time….

    I have built up a few the top being frankincense. It literally can cure cancer. So imagine what else it can cure. When I fell I’ll (not life threatening in itself) i believe God led me to this awakening. I was a slob….a smoker….depressed….ate junk….drank a lot….etc….and laughed at people who I now seek out to talk with…..I then became Ill to the point I had to leave my job.. and was suicidal as I was in so much pain…I never would have done it as I have a son and I know my bible!…..I was on 10 different meds..I stumbled across fmtv….I’m now clean eating using essential oils….growing my own herbs..making my own beauty products..juicing…..off all medication….and my mental state has amazingly improved also. I am now going back to work. I’m not cured but I’m absolutely getting ther. Not to mention my bad back and headaches are gone. I’m now focusing on healing my auntie as she has just had radiation. And I believe with the education from fmtv.com that I’m her best chance now and it’s thanks to God and people like Dr eric z. God bless you x

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      May 6, 2016

      Hi Jacqui,

      Sorry, I try to keep my site “brand neutral.”

      Love your comment and thanks for stopping by! 🙂

        Reply
  7. Nancy
    April 30, 2016

    Do you need food grade essential myrrh and frankensense for oil pulling.

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      May 1, 2016

      Yes, in my opinion, we need GRAS, therapeutic grade oils for every application.

        Reply
  8. Sandy King
    February 20, 2016

    Love your information, as always! Thanks again!

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      February 20, 2016

      Thanks Sandy! <3

        Reply
  9. Kamna
    December 29, 2015

    Doctor, is there any essential oil which can help in healing parapharangeal synovial sarcoma in a patient who has undergone surgery, radiotherapy, injectable chemotherapy as well as oral chemotherapy but to no avail? I desperately need an answer to help my brother in any way I can. Thanks.

      Reply
  10. Judi O'Brien
    December 24, 2015

    I appreciate your Biblical wisdom, which is spot on with my 30 years of Biblical research!! I too, have found that 100% Pure,Therapeutic grade Essential Oils, for my health and wellness, have changed my life these past 6 years! Again, you are spot on for warning your readers about different grades of essential oils and different uses of those grades.(food grade and perfume grade,have NO MEDICINAL VALUES) Only true, guaranteed, 100% PURE Therapeutic Grade Oils from God’s plants given in The Garden, have the ability to heal our body and help us to live young for a long time! You are a wealth of information and I thank you for sharing all you have invested to bring us TRUTH! May our Lord and Saviour continue to use and bless you above and beyond all you could ask or think!

      Reply
  11. Kim T
    December 22, 2015

    It would be interesting to know what Mary and Joseph actually did with these gifts

      Reply
    • Debbie Ebert
      July 27, 2016

      If the magi brought a caravan, then Jesus would have been rich. Remember he had a treasurer? His garment was seamless. Only the wealthy had a garment like that. Feeding the multitudes his disciples asked about going to town to buy food. Second Co. 8:9

        Reply
  12. Judy
    December 14, 2015

    I was given some myrrh and would like to use it, but don’t know for sure how to take the myrrh and get the oil from it! Can you tell me how, I would like to add it to soap or lotion bars. Thank you. Judy

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      December 14, 2015

      Hi Judy, you’d need to steam distill it. Way outside of my expertise, but I’m sure there are some cool contraptions out there that can help…

        Reply
    • Tracey Rollison
      August 26, 2016

      This is my question, too. I’m a host parent for students from Saudi Arabia, and they’ve brought me frankincense and myrrh resins. The trees it’s grown from is common there, so it’s not terribly expensive locally, but it becomes very expensive when exported.

      I chew the frankincense resin, which has a kind of herbal, woodsy taste that isn’t very strong. The myrrh, though, tastes terrible.

      One thing I was told was to dissolve a chunk in some warm water and honey, and that can be used as a paste on skin things. Not sure if it could be drunk that way or not. Most of their moms send them with a small container of it, but none of them seem to know what to do with it!

        Reply
      • Dr. Z
        August 28, 2016

        You can easily bring some frank/myrrh resin in a pot of water to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Like a bone broth kind of thing. Then cool, and enjoy the day after. 🙂

          Reply
  13. Gizelle W
    December 14, 2015

    That was a very interesting article and also thought-provoking. It is also very helpful in bringing the mind back to the real meaning behind “Christmas” It had become so commercialized that the true significance has been almost forgotten. Have a blessed holiday season.

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      December 14, 2015

      You too Gizelle. Merry CHRISTmas!

        Reply
  14. Cheryl Greene
    December 14, 2015

    Some scholars believe the wise men were trained by Daniel who instructed them that after he died to take the inheritance (gold,frankincense myrrh) he’d set aside (being a eunuch and not having children of his own) to take to the Jewish King who’s be born according to prophecy in Numbers 24 :17 that a star shall come out of Jacob in the East and the scepter shall rise out of Israel. Which was the sign Daniel had taught them to look for.

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      December 14, 2015

      Interesting…

        Reply
  15. LindaLindaLinda
    November 30, 2015

    I recently heard your presentation on The Essential Oil Revolution and found it to be very helpful. My husband has prostate cancer and we have been using many other natural approaches however was not aware that essential oils was an option as well. You mentioned that, in most cases, the oils we buy over the counter are not effective. What brands have you found to be the purest? Thank you in advance for your help and I look forward to hearing from you.
    Regards,
    Linda Ballesteros

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      November 30, 2015

      Hi Linda, the information published on my website is for educational purposes only, and I do not sell supplements & essential oils. To ensure that I continue to provide unbiased, evidence-based material I must remain “brand neutral,” and I cannot recommend specific companies to purchase products from. I trust that you understand.:)

        Reply
  16. Amy Sandgren
    November 30, 2015

    Thank for this article! It was a fascinating, deeper look into the magi gifts–something I’d not come across before now. Very thought provoking, and yes, joyful in seeing the beauty of God’s perfect plan and design…

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      November 30, 2015

      Amen! Merry CHRISTmas!!

        Reply
  17. yvonneyvonyyne durand
    November 29, 2015

    Thank you, very informative, Blessings,yvonne

      Reply
    • Dr. Z
      November 29, 2015

      You’re very welcome! Isn’t this topic fun to study?!?

        Reply
      • Greg Allen
        December 23, 2015

        Very interesting to study for sure!
        Thank you for sharing this with us!
        Greg Allen

          Reply
        • Sylvia Allan
          June 12, 2016

          My youngest son was called Greg Allan, why I say was, he was killed in a car accident Christmas 2001 aged 20, he was 4 months short of his 21st birthday. reading your name made my heart jump, & brought his memory back to life. Hope you do not mind me telling you this, I think it so special that you share the same sounding name & I wish you a long healthy happy life. Sylvia Allan

            Reply

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