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The Fly in the Ointment: What does Myrrh foreshow in Matthew 2:11 E-mail
Written by Michael Tait   
Wednesday, 01 July 2009 00:00

The Visit of the Wise Men (public domain)Michael Tait holds the Licence in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the PhD from the University of Manchester

Popularised by Prudentius, the traditional threefold significance of the gifts of the Magi has a long history going back at least as far as Irenaeus. But does it go back to Matthew? His Infancy Narrative is pervaded with quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. Yet the latter never shows any interest in the funerary significance of myrrh. Rather it shows myrrh as a commodity so precious that it is frequently associated with royalty. This fits in with the emphasis in Matthew 1-2 on Jesus as the 'king of the Jews'. However, the Old Testament also shows myrrh being used in sacral and erotic contexts. Under the ruling significance of kingship, therefore, the gifts may have other levels of meaning: priest, God, and, in the case of myrrh, lover.

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