Traditions: Gifts of the Magi

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1 year ago

The presentation of the gifts of the Magi ~ the wise men who came "from the east" bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh ~ is an integral part of the story of the birth of Jesus.

Every year during the month of December, many people direct their minds to the story about the birth of Jesus, revered by faithful Christians as the Savior of the world. Although the nativity scene always shows the three wise men (also called the three kings) adoring a newborn baby and bearing gifts, the biblical account indicates that their visitation did not occur on the night that Mary gave birth. It was a few years later. Yet the erroneous tradition persists.

There is also a question or debate as to whether or not there were three men at all. Because three gifts are mentioned, the assumption was made that there was one wise man bringing one gift. 3 gifts must equal 3 gift-bearers. The fact is that the number of men from the East who were led by the Star of Bethlehem was not recorded in the scriptures. Though one can question the total number of men that comprise what we refer to as “The Magi”, everybody accepts that there were 3 gifts and these offerings were gold, frankincense and myrrh.

  • Gold: one of the first precious metals known to mankind; a symbol of great wealth; often presented as a donation to a king’s treasury in exchange for his goodwill. 

  • Frankincense: a useful gift for a holy man, as it was often used by those who served in a temple or other place designated as a worship center. 

  • Myrrh: an ingredient in anointing oil but also used for embalming to prepare a body for burial. An “anointing” is when a person is set apart to perform a specific task or mission. A mixture of myrrh and aloes was used by those who wrapped the body of Jesus and laid Him to rest in the tomb. Each one of these gifts was very costly. But there is nothing in the gospel accounts to indicate that Jesus or his parents, a humble carpenter and his wife, lived an extravagant lavish lifestyle. Do suppose they took the gold and frankincense and gave it to those in charge of the temple treasury? After all, they were very devout Jews. Do you ever wonder if Mary, the mother of Jesus, saved the gift of myrrh to be used for her Son’s burial? It seems like something a loving mother would do; especially if she knows, in advance, what will happen to her child.

* * * Additional REFERENCES:

  • Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh? — Bible History Daily.” Biblical Archaeology Society. Ed. Biblical Archaeology Society Staff. N.p., 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2014. This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in December 2011. It has been updated. — Ed.

  • Myers, Clara. “Bible Herbs — Writedge.” Writedge. Harlow-McGaw Media, 13 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 Jan. 2015. (The site of the original publication was shut down. Replacement link).

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1 year ago


Well done. My research shows it was anywhere from 6 months to 2 years before the wise men visited Jesus. He was no longer in the manger for one thing so that bogus tradition is somewhat offensive to me because it is untrue. Then we have the fact that Herod ordered that all infants 2 years of age and under be killed. Good job here with your writing and explanation.

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