Swaddling clothes, gold, frankincense and myrrh

Myths about the birth of Jesus say that ‘three wise men’ visited him as he lay, ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes,’ in a manger in Bethlehem. The myths say that the wise men gave him ‘gold, frankincense and myrrh’.

Swaddling means tight wrapping. I’ve never seen a baby swaddled because it’s no longer fashionable to do it, at least not where I grew up in Britain. Now some people are doing it again but it may be a very bad idea. Rebecca Smith at the Telegraph says that swaddling can cause hip problems.

Why gold, frankincense and myrrh? In the ancient world these three gifts were given to newborn kings and gods. Being more practical, the gold isn’t hard to explain: this baby was born into poverty. Frankincense and myrrh are resins that smell nice.

Amy Anderson at the Mail says these famous resins are useful as treatments for arthritis. Do you think the Wise Men saw baby Jesus’ joints being damaged by swaddling, and handed over some remedies just in case?

These resins are extracted from the sap of two kinds of tree. Here’s some science about treating inflammation, including arthritis, with Boswellia serrata (frankincense) and about treating infection, pain and some kinds of cancer with Commiphora myrrha (myrrh).

I still think that cancer patients shouldn’t inject mistletoe (Viscum album) but we know that many plants contain useful drugs. For instance the the horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) contains an anti-inflammatory drug. It seems that, for some diseases, frankincense and myrrh may be useful too.


About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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4 Responses to Swaddling clothes, gold, frankincense and myrrh

  1. Haha … the bit about the wise men foreseeing the future health problems of baby jesus…hah, they didn’t know the worst of it 😉

  2. narf77 says:

    Who would know what they were thinking back then…hedging their bets maybe? 😉

    • argylesock says:

      Yes maybe they were. Or maybe there were no Magi! Since the first gospel was written iirc in about the year 400, it was an oral tradition. Whoever wrote it down will have had a vested interest in promoting Jesus=God. Perhaps the myth of the Magi’s 3 Gifts was an Ancient World advertising ruse: if Wise Men bore those particular gifts, the baby must have been a deity, QED.

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