At the time Jesus is thought to have been born, frankincense and myrrh may have been worth more than their weight in the third gift presented by the wise men: gold But despite their significance in the New Testament, the substances fell out of favor in Europe with the rise of Christianity and fall of the Roman Empire, which essentially obliterated the thriving trade routes that had developed over many centuries.In the early years of Christianity, incense was expressly forbidden because of its associations with pagan worship; later, however, some denominations, including the Catholic Church, would incorporate the burning of frankincense, myrrh and other aromatic items into specific rites.Because frankincense and myrrh can be collected from multiple Boswellia and Commiphora species, several different varieties are available.
“We have textual—and also archaeological—evidence that both frankincense and myrrh were used as medicinal substances in antiquity,” confirmed Alain Touwaide, a historian of medicine at the Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions and the Smithsonian Institution.
Today, researchers like the Cardiff team are drawing on this centuries-old knowledge to develop modern treatments for a variety of disorders.
Sacks of frankincense and potted saplings of myrrh-producing trees appear in murals decorating the walls of a temple dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt for roughly two decades until her death around 480 B. According to the Hebrew Bible, frankincense and myrrh were components of the holy incense ritually burned in Jerusalem’s sacred temples during ancient times.
The ancient Greeks and Romans also imported massive amounts of the resins, which they burned as incense, used during cremations and took for a wide variety of ailments.
What made frankincense so precious that the wise men of New Testament fame bestowed it upon the infant Jesus?
Scientists at Cardiff University in Wales have an answer that may have eluded the three kings of the Bible: It may help relieve and alleviate the painful symptoms of arthritis, which affects millions of people around the world.Ancient uses and value Both frankincense—also known as olibanum—and myrrh have been traded in the Middle East and North Africa for upwards of 5,000 years.It is believed that the Babylonians and Assyrians burned them during religious ceremonies.Both substances are edible and often chewed like gum.They are also extremely fragrant, particularly when burned, with frankincense giving off a sweet, citrusy scent and myrrh producing a piney, bitter odor.Frankincense and the other plant-derived treasure given to the newborn Jesus in the New Testament narrative—myrrh—have a long history dating back thousands of years.