Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?

Medicinal uses of frankincense may help explain the gifts of the magi

Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?

Were the gifts of the magi meant to save Jesus from the pain of arthritis? It’s possible, according to researchers at Cardiff University in Wales who have been studying the medical uses of frankincense.

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). Although Matthew’s gospel does not include the names or number of the Magi, many believe that the number of the gifts is what led to the tradition of the Three Wise Men.
 


 
Learn more about the history of Christmas and the date of Jesus’ birth in the free e-book The First Christmas: The Story of Jesus’ Birth in History and Tradition.
 

 
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—an interpretation made popular in the well-known Christmas carol “We Three Kings.”

Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?

The traditional gifts of the magi—gold, frankincense and myrrh—may have had symbolic as well as practical value. Researchers believe the medicinal uses of frankincense were known to the author of Matthew’s gospel.

Still others have suggested that the gifts of the magi were a bit more practical—even medicinal in nature. Researchers at Cardiff University have demonstrated that frankincense has an active ingredient that can help relieve arthritis by inhibiting the inflammation that breaks down cartilage tissue and causes arthritis pain. The new study validates traditional uses of frankincense as an herbal remedy to treat arthritis in communities of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, where the trees that produce this aromatic resin grow. Did the Magi “from the East” know of frankincense’s healing properties when they presented it to young Jesus?
 


 
Explore the date of Christmas in Andrew McGowan’s popular Bible Review article “How December 25 Became Christmas,” available for free in Bible History Daily.
 


 

Based on Strata, “The Magi’s Gifts—Tribute or Treatment?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2012.

Posted in Jesus/Historical Jesus.

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  1. Elias says

    Please watch emmanuel tv

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Wisdom for the Holidays: The Gifts of the Wise Men « Christian Mission Control linked to this post on December 5, 2012

    [...] 3. Why Did the Magy Bring Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? Online article at http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did…. [...]

  2. Wisdom of the Magi: A Special Journey | Chicago Citizens Inspiration Initiative: NO SIDES CHICAGO! linked to this post on December 6, 2012

    [...] 3. Why Did the Magy Bring Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? Online article at http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did…. [...]

  3. Swaddling clothes, gold, frankincense and myrrh | Science on the Land linked to this post on December 22, 2012

    [...] gold, frankincense and myrrh? In the ancient world those three gifts were given to newborn kings and gods. Being more practical, the gold isn’t hard to explain: this baby was born into poverty. [...]

  4. The Christmas Magi | Third Millennial Templar linked to this post on December 25, 2012

    [...] Although the symbolism of these gifts may be obscure, I once heard that the three gifts symbolize Kingship (Gold), Priesthood (Frankincense), and Death (Myrrh), and this interpretation has become very popular. Myrrh symbolizes death because it was the very thing customarily used to embalm dead bodies, thus pointing ahead to Jesus’ vocation to die on a tree. In any case, the Gospel author, Matthew, does not let us in on what symbolism he might have perceived, if indeed he intended to recount anything other than history. Perhaps he as well wondered about the significance of such gifts, but could not himself discern a satisfactory account of all three gifts, and so wrote them into his narrative without writing in some interpretation of his own. Moreover, Isaiah had prophesied the Gold and the Frankincense:  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). ~Why did the Magi bring Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? [...]

  5. Atlas Sound Money Project » Blog Archive » “Gold, and Frankincense and Myrrh” linked to this post on December 26, 2012

    [...] Of this passage the Biblical Archaeological Review says: [...]

  6. The St. George Jerusalem Society linked to this post on January 3, 2013

    [...] were also offered to the god Apollo in Greece, reminding us of the influence of that empire.   (http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did…)  Frankincense is produced from the resin of trees that grow in North African and the Arabian [...]

  7. EMPATHY AWRY « CREDO Spiritual Blog — VENI linked to this post on January 25, 2013

    [...] dubiously practical gifts could signify anything from a genuine and sincere generosity, to a ritual protocol expected of anyone paying court at the crib of newborn [...]

  8. Empathy Awry « CREDO Collection linked to this post on January 25, 2013

    [...] dubiously practical gifts could signify anything from a genuine and sincere generosity, to a ritual protocol expected of anyone paying court at the crib of newborn [...]

  9. Gideons Win – For Now linked to this post on March 16, 2013

    [...] the three Gideon wise men had decided to emulate the three Wise Men of Christian myth and hand out gold, frankincense and myrrh, they would have made a greater contribution to [...]

  10. Churches are to burn incense in His Name - Page 5 - Christian Forums linked to this post on April 2, 2013

    [...] [Lett Appl Microbiol. 2012] – PubMed – NCBI Myrrh – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh? – Biblical Archaeology Society Other benefits as antimicrobial, etc. __________________ To view links or images in signatures [...]

  11. We Give Gifts | MicahGallant linked to this post on December 25, 2013

    [...] Posted by Micah on Dec 25, 2013 in General | 0 comments (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/all.js#xfbml=1&appId=483160225082125"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, "script", "facebook-jssdk")); We give gifts, and its a pile of fun for sure. Why do we give gifts? We’re in a way doing what was done the first Christmas day , I suppose not technically when Jesus was born but the day the 3 wise men in the bible found the Christ child. They brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. 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—an interpretation made popular in the well-known Christmas carol “We Three Kings.”  www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did-the-ma… [...]

  12. It’s Three Kings Day: Time for Fèves | No No Julia linked to this post on January 6, 2014

    [...] the Baby Jesus with three portentous gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A recent article in Biblical Archaeology [...]

  13. Epiphany Season and How We Can Celebrate It. - Mommahopper linked to this post on January 8, 2014

    [...] We talked about why they brought those gifts! [...]

  14. Matthew 2 – The birth of Jesus and the death of Herod | Come Thou Count of Every Blessing linked to this post on April 3, 2014

    […] but what about frankincense and myrrh? It seems like there’s a wide range of theories as to the meaning - from symbols of status/honor to items of practical importance. What I’m taking […]

  15. Frankincense Oil Kills Cancer and Boosts Immunity - DrEricZ.com linked to this post on August 4, 2014

    […] Bible History Daily. Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh? Available at: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/jesus-historical-jesus/why-did…. […]


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