Mar 16, 2008

The Myrrhbearers

In our church, we have an icon of "The Myrrh-bearing Women". Seven women are portrayed with their flasks or bottles of myrrh. There are several accounts in scripture concerning specific women anointing Jesus with perfume or myrrh - Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:1-11, Luke 7:36-50, and John 12:1-7. There are also accounts of other women who ministered to Jesus and his disciples throughout their ministry and specifically after Christ's death and burial. As I reread some of these passages, I noticed that those who were upset with the women who anointed Christ were not critical of the act of anointing. They were upset with the waste of a very expensive commodity or with the reputation of the person doing the anointing. Therefore, I am inclined to think that the ritual of anointing someone was not uncommon in the ancient world. As Westerners we have difficulty getting past someone pouring perfume or oil on our hair or feet! We would tend to be totally embarrassed or annoyed.

Conducting some unofficial research on the topic of myrrh in ancient times, I found that having a "supply on hand" was common among those with the means to purchase it. Myrrh was used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes and to bring comfort and healing to a person's soul and body. The woman of the house, if she had the financial means or could set aside money to secure a little at a time, would consider having an bottle of myrrh on hand as necessary as having a fully stocked medicine cabinet or first aid kit.

Frankincense and Myrrh in Ancient History

  • Myrrh was used in embalming the Egyptian pharaohs and is listed in the Ebers Papyrus (16th century BC), one of the world’s oldest medical texts.

  • The Greeks considered myrrh a sacred substance and those who could afford the resin used it as incense and to treat virtually every illness. The Greeks began using myrrh to replace living sacrifices in the 3rd century AD.

  • Frankincense was used in ancient times and throughout the Middle Ages by the Christian church as holy anointing oil.

  • Both frankincense and myrrh have a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, African healing, and Indian Ayurvedic practices.

  • Myrrh is the most often repeated aromatic essential oil in the Bible.

In his book Healing Oils of the Bible, Dr. David Stewart suggests that essential oils and their uses were well known at the time the Bible was recorded. Although healing oils such as myrrh and frankincense were very valuable and not commonly used except by the rich, most people would have known exactly what they were and how they could be used – which is why the Bible could refers to these and other herbs and oils without explaining their use.

Antibiotics, penicillin, cortisone, and pain medication weren't available remedies. However, there were some wonderful and very powerful natural ingredients that gave healing and comfort through difficult times. These women were giving the very best they had, the very best they could buy, in order to bless those they loved dearly. That is a timeless message.

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