by Ralph J. Benko
There is a historical, cultural, and even regal dignity to gold.
From the Gospel according to Matthew (King James Version):
2 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
|Tintoretto, The Adoration of the Magi, 1582|
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.
Of this passage the Biblical Archaeological Review says:
Since the early days of Christianity, Biblical scholars and theologians have offered varying interpretations of the meaning and significance of the gold, frankincense and myrrh that the magi presented to Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew (2:11). These valuable items were standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil. In fact, these same three items were apparently among the gifts, recorded in ancient inscriptions, that King Seleucus II Callinicus offered to the god Apollo at the temple in Miletus in 243 B.C.E. The Book of Isaiah, when describing Jerusalem’s glorious restoration, tells of nations and kings who will come and “bring gold and frankincense and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord” (Isaiah 60:6). Although Matthew’s gospel does not include the names or number of the Magi, many believe that the number of the gifts is what led to the tradition of the Three Wise Men.
In addition to the honor and status implied by the value of the gifts of the magi, scholars think that these three were chosen for their special spiritual symbolism about Jesus himself—gold representing his kingship, frankincense a symbol of his priestly role, and myrrh a prefiguring of his death and embalming—an interpretation made popular in the well-known Christmas carol “We Three Kings.”
Joyous Christmas to all of our Christian readers.