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The Mysterious Myrrh & Frankincense

Posted by addisethiopia on July 30, 2009

FrankincenseOriginMyrrh and Frankincense have had spiritual significance since ancient times and they also were adopted as medicines for physical ailments. When referring to this pair of herbs, many people might immediately think of their historic importance in religion.

The herbs are best known through the story of the Three Wise Men (Magi) delivering gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the baby Jesus; myrrh was also used to anoint Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.

These herbs, valued like gold, were mentioned repeatedly in the Old Testament, in instructions to Moses about making incense and anointing oil, and in the Song of Solomon, where, among other references, are these:

Who is this coming up from the wilderness

Like palm-trees of smoke,

Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,

From every powder of the merchant?”

Till the day doth break forth,

And the shadows have fled away,

I will get me unto the mountain of myrrh,

And unto the hill of frankincense.

Frankincense (Boswellia) and Myrrh (Commiphora) species are economically and ecologically important plant species found mainly in the horn of Africa particularly in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. They are the source of aromatic gum resins, frankincense and myrrh.

Frankincense and myrrh have been valued for their sacred and ceremonial uses as well as in medicinal contexts since several millennia. Still today, they are widely used as raw materials in several industries such as pharmacology, food, beverage, flavoring, liqueurs, cosmetics, detergents, creams and perfumery, paints, adhesive and dye manufacturing.

Ethiopia is one of tropical African countries with large potentials of frankincense and myrrh resources and has been known as one of the major producers. Nevertheless, little efforts have been made at national level to explore the vegetation resources that provide these valuable products.

Both myrrh and frankincense grow as small trees or shrubs; they are of the botanical family Burseraceae. Their natural growing range is limited, but this has been extended by cultivation, and the current supplies are adequate to meet worldwide demand.

Today, most of the internationally-traded myrrh and frankincense are produced in the southern Arabian peninsula (Oman, Yemen) and in northeast Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia). The primary species relied upon today are Commiphora myrrha for myrrh and Boswellia caraterii for frankincense.

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11 Responses to “The Mysterious Myrrh & Frankincense”

  1. addisabram said

    There is a very fascinating story related to the Biblical wife of Abraham, Keturah the Ethiopian, and Frankincense, which was found exclusively in Sheba (Ethiopia) (Jer. 6:20)

    In Chronicles 1, Keturah is referred to as Abraham’s concubine, meaning a woman taken for the purpose of bearing sons. She is later referred to as a wife showing a change in status (cf. Gen. 25:1). She obviously became Abraham’s second wife perhaps on the death of Sarah, but it may have been beforehand.

    “The sons of Ketu’rah, Abraham’s concubine: she bore Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Mid’ian, Ishbak, and Shu’ah. The sons of Jokshan: Sheba and Dedan. 33 The sons of Mid’ian: Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Elda’ah. All these were the descendants of Ketu’rah.” (1Chronicles 1:32-33)

    Keturah is one of the most evocative names in the Bible. It means perfumed or incense , and brings to mind the burning aroma of the sacrifices and the incense smoke that ascended as a sweet offering to the Lord. The word qetorah, found only in Deuteronomy 33:10, also means smoke of sacrifice or incense. The Jewish Midrash explains the name “Keturah” as based on her acts, which were pleasant like frankincense.

    During the Biblical times, Frankincense was uniquely used with the sacrifice offerings along with fine flour and oil (Lev. 2:1-2), but its use was forbidden with sin offerings (Lev. 5:11) or jealousy offerings (Num. 5:15). It was to be burned for a memorial, an offering made by fire on the two piles of 6 loaves each of unleavened bread upon the ‘pure’ table within the Tabernacle and the Temple (Lev. 24:5-7).

  2. ynotoman said

    The BBC are covering the Frankincense Trail on BBC2 . They did the Oman filming in June 2008 – some of the other stuff took longer. Kate Humble is such a good presenter that anything she does is fun to watch .

  3. […] The Mysterious Myrrh & Frankincense (via AddisEthiopia Weblog) Posted on July 22, 2010 by verewig Myrrh and Frankincense have had spiritual significance since ancient times and they also were adopted as medicines for physical ailments. When referring to this pair of herbs, many people might immediately think of their historic importance in religion. The herbs are best known through the story of the Three Wise Men (Magi) delivering gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the baby Jesus; myrrh was also used to anoint Jesus’ body after the crucifixion … Read More […]

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  10. […] Myrrh and Frankincense have had spiritual significance since ancient times and they also were adopted as medicines for physical ailments. When referring to this pair of herbs, many people might immediately think of their historic importance in religion. The herbs are best known through the story of the Three Wise Men (Magi) delivering gold, frankincense, and myrrh for the baby Jesus; myrrh was also used to anoint Jesus’ body after the crucifixion … Read More […]

  11. […] — The Mysterious Myrrh & Frankincense […]

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