Tag Archives: frankincense

Why was there Myrrh at the Crucifixion of Jesus?


This is just for your intellectual stimulation.  Sometimes I ask myself questions which require that I go searching for an answer.  This is one of those times where my questions lead me down a very scenic rabbit trail. 

On Saturday night I read through the story of the Crucifixion of Jesus in preparation for celebrating Easter.  It’s a story I’ve read a bazzillion times.  But this time, one detail caught me attention.  I noticed that in Mark’s Gospel account of the crucifixion, Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh before he is crucified.  I also remembered that myrrh was one of the gifts that the wise men brought to Jesus as a baby.   So I decided to research its uses and history.  Of course I went to Wikepedia first.

Myrrh is an aromatic resin.  It is collected from a certain family of spiny trees, one of which is native to the Mediterranean.  The red-ish colored resin is what the tree bleeds when it is cut deep into the sapwood.  A tree must be wounded to collect the resin, the myrrh.

Jesus was also wounded and bled.

Myrrh is bitter.  It is used to stimulate blood flow.  But it also has numbing properties and is used for reducing pain.  It can be mixed with wine and drunk as a mild pain-killer.  It would have been an act of mercy to give Jesus something to numb the pain of his horribly bloody death.

However, he refused the wine mixed with myrrh.

Myrrh is also one of the ingredients used in ancient Egypt to embalm a body for burial.  It was a burial spice.  Jesus was not embalmed, but he was wrapped with spices.  In addition, the women among his followers prepared more spices to add to his burial.

Myrrh is a spice associated with death.  A strange gift to give a new born baby, unless he was born to die.

In modern religious services, myrrh is the incense used in every liturgical ceremony of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican/Episcopalian Churches.

So this made me even more curious and I asked, What is Frankincense?  Remember that the wise men brought baby Jesus the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Frankincense is also an aromatic resin produced by slashing the bark of the tree and bleeding it.  The resin that bleeds out is allowed to dry before it’s collected.  The dry resin is called “tears”.  Do you think that Father God shed tears for the death of his only Son?

Frankincense trees can grow in very inhospitable climates and soils.   But the most valuable resins come from trees which grow directly out of a rock.  Precious life springs from a lifeless rock.  That’s the kind of thing that God loves to do, surprise us with life where there was nothing but barrenness before.

Symbolically speaking, Frankincense represents the Divine.  It is a fragrance for the worship of God used in multiple ceremonies in the Jewish temple rituals.

Not only is it valued for its religious uses, but Frankincense is also edible.   It is used medicinally to promote healing.  Some would have considered this a very practical gift to give a family with a new baby since it can be used medicinally, but the Jews would have recognized it as a religious symbol of worship to God.  To offer a baby a fragrance normally offered to God would be very significant if the child were the Son of God.

(My source is Wikipedia for the majority of this except I already knew about the Biblical references and the thoughtful commentary and assumptions are mine.)