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What’s in This?: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

Purported ‘wise’ men should have known better than to give baby Jesus a definite choking hazard and two doses of poison

We’re often told that you should never eat anything (or put anything on your body) if you don’t recognize everything on the ingredients list. But since most of us have no idea what xanthan gum or potassium benzoate are — or more importantly, what they’re doing to our bodies — we’re decoding the ingredients in the many things Americans put in (and on, or near) themselves.

This edition: Gold, frankincense and myrrh, each of which have been examined in detail down below. First, though, as I learned in Catholic school, a few alleged wise men gifted these three items to a newborn Jesus (as a quick aside, while we celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th and assume that he was given these presents on the same day, he was likely born on a different day altogether, which must have made Christmas shopping a fucking nightmare). I question the wisdom of these men, however, seeing as they gave a literal baby goods of considerable monetary value, while seemingly ignoring the fact that his parents were so poor that they were giving birth in an actual cow’s food bowl. You’d also think they’d bring some nice socks or something for Joseph to make up for the emotional agony of being cucked by God. Wise men, more like wiseguys, amiright??

Anyway, let’s figure out exactly what all these things are…

The Gifts

Isolated Large Gold Ingot.

1) Gold: Gold, as most of us already know, is a natural metal that humans decided should be expensive because it gleams and glimmers. This was the case back in Jesus’ time, too: The wise men are believed to have gifted him gold as a symbol of wealth, worldly power and kingship. Plus, back in those days, gold was often used to decorate structures of worship, so it made sense to present a glistening nugget to an angelic being.

While shiny earrings and the like are pretty cool, how gold is thought to have actually come to be is even cooler. Gold, like most heavy metals, is believed to have been forged inside stars through a badass and extremely complex process called nuclear fusion, where atoms basically smash together to produce energy and various chemical elements, some of which allegedly streamed down to Earth in the form of meteorites over the course of millions and millions of years. Unlike many other metals, though, gold has incredible electrical conductivity capabilities, which is why a small amount of gold is used in the majority of electronic devices we use today, including our precious cell phones.

As for whether gold is a reasonable gift for a newborn child, that kind of depends. On one hand, since infants have a penchant for putting everything in their mouths, gold could be a serious choking hazard. That said, the Bible never mentions how large of a lump Jesus was presented with, a factor that could affect the choke potential. Moreover, gold is generally harmless when consumed, so if Jesus were to swallow it, the nugget would have eventually ejected out of his other end, where Mary and Joseph could have retrieved it to use at the bar because frankly, you’re going to need a drink after watching your newborn shit a literal gold nugget. All things considered, while you could absolutely find worse gifts to give a baby, gold is still a phenomenally bad choice — three out of ten, max.

A close-up of a piece of frankincense.

2) Frankincense: Frankincense is something of an essential oil, which could mean that one of those wise men was part of an OG multi-level marketing company (and since Jesus and his parents escaped to Egypt shortly after, you can insert your own “pyramid scheme” joke here). Whatever the case, frankincense is the dried sap of certain trees that grow primarily in the Arabian peninsula. The sap can be burned as incense, used in perfumes or combined with oils thought to have several medicinal properties, with some modern studies even suggesting that frankincense might have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.

In the times of Jesus, frankincense was particularly valued for its sweet smell, since people rarely bathed and often wore the same crummy clothes for weeks on end. Frankincense was also burned in many places of worship, alongside numerous other incenses.

As for whether frankincense is a decent gift for babies, big nope! Animal studies found that frankincense can be poisonous, and human studies show that it can cause nausea and stomach pain. Therefore, I give frankincense a one out of 10. Do better, wise men.

Brown Myrrh isolated on white

3) Myrrh: Similar to frankincense, myrrh is a sort of resin, again extracted primarily from trees in the Arabian peninsula. Myrrh can be used as incense, perfume and holistic medicine, with several studies showing that it can help heal skin sores, ease pain and reduce swelling. Myrrh was also used back in the Jesus days during temple worship and in burial processes to help mask the smell of decaying flesh. In fact, scientists have since discovered that myrrh has antibacterial properties that slow the process of decay.

When Jesus was nailed to the cross, he was also offered wine mixed with myrrh, which he refused. That was a good move, since myrrh is noxious when consumed and should only be inhaled via a diffuser or applied to the skin with a carrier oil. Therefore, needless to say, myrrh is a terrible present for a baby, since consuming it can make them intensely sick. This one gets a negative 10 out of 10.

The Takeaway

Yes, these gifts were largely symbolic, but still — shit job, wise men. Trust me, no amount of “these gifts symbolize the child’s status as a future king and the sacrifice he will make for us” will make up for the fact you got him a mixed bag of poison and choking hazards. If they’d spent less time following stars and more time planning, they could’ve made it to the store in time to get one of those luminous NogginStick rattles instead.

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