Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Science 8: Myrrh

In the run up to Christmas, Communicate Science offers you 20 Christmas Science Facts. We'll post one every day until the 25th December.

"Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea...behold, wise men from the east came...and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh." (Matthew 2:1,11)

Myrrh is one of the three gifts brought by the Magi, along with gold and frankincense. It is similar to frankincense in that it is the dried resin of a tree, this time it is trees of the Commiphora species, particularly C. myrrha.

It is valued for its fragrance and is used in incense and historically it was used as a wound dressing. In Ancient Egypt as part of the process of embalming bodies in mummification.

Although C. myrrha is the modern day preferred source of Myrrh, in ancient times, C. erythraea was the principal tree used to source this product.

Biblical scholars place significance on the choice of girfts used: gold for royalty, frankincense for divinity and myrrh for suffering (given its use in the embalmimg process). Myrrh was also in the last drink offered to Christ on the cross: "And they gave Him to drink wine mingled with myrrh; but he received it not" (Mark 15:23)

In recent research, some components of myrrh have been shown to have analgesic (pain-relieving) qualitites, which explains the use of myrrh mixed with wine in this instance. It is now also used in mouthwashes and toothpastes, but is toxic in large quantities.


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