Monday, December 24, 2012

Gold Frankinsense and Myrrh and...Syphillis?

Salon article on the Frankinsese and myrrh.

however, he gets some obvious facts wrong, so I don't know how accurate it is.

Gold is used today for arthritis, and in ancient times they used heavy metals as medicine, but saying Gold could be used as eye ointment and medicine? Gold teeth, maybe....but non physicians/non alchemists wouldn't use gold coins as medicine. The Gold was given as gold to a king, not as a medicine.

He then mentions Frankinsense as a medicine. That's about right. to purify things.

But he claims Syphillis was a problem in ancient times? Nope. A variation of Yaws or bejel could cause similar bone problems, but the present day syphillis epidemic came over with Colombus.(and all three diseases have evolved over time and may have once been the same the 1500's epidemic, syphillis could be spread by kissing and was quickly fatal,and that is not true today. Did  the Amer-Indians take a variation with them from Asia 40000 years ago, or did Africans bring yaws to the Americas before the days of Colombus?( Ah there you will get a huge argument...but Mali traders might have visited back then.).

Then he claims Christians didn't use incense, so the trade collapsed. This is only true if you are talking about Baptists, or getting your facts from Wikipedia, which cites the now obsolete and anti Christian biased historian Gibson as a source. Even back then, western Europe was not the only place it was traded,  or probably even the major destination (Byzantium was "New Rome" at that time) so why would a local prohibition that didn't last very long in one area of christianity make the trade collapse.

And not all Christians stopped using frankincense.

Catholics still use it at every High Mass (in Apalachia, Father used it at the 10 am mass, and there was a warning in the Bulletin so that those with asthma and the coal miners with black lung would go to a different mass).

And it is widely used in the Orthodox/eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East, which would be the Christians in that area of the world. And lots of others used it too:

From the Oman shop's website:
Frankincense has been known as a medicine since ancient times, when it was used in barter and for one's well-being. It is used in a sacred context in the major religions of the world, in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, throughout the Islamic world, and among the Hindus. It is also effective against body odor, is used as a perfume and wards off insects.
During the 20th century the importance of frankincense decreased. Only in recent years has frankincense become more valuable
So it is less used nowadays, when chemical purfumes can be used in it's place.

As for Myrrh: it's an antibacterial, often mixed with oil. Keeps the skin nice and fresh, and probably the ancients noted that it helped their sores/scratches to heal. But again, it's intitial use was probably for the nice smell: Myrrh is still used as medicine in the Ayuvedic and Chinese medicine, and in modern mouth washes, but before soap was invented, they used it to purfume oil to keep the skin clean. It also grows in Yemen and Somali and parts of Ethiopia.

Myrrh was often used as a purfume, mixed with the olive oil to be used in the sacraments and anointings, although now other fragrances are often used with it.

During Great and Holy Week, Great Myrrh is consecrated on Holy Thursday.  In Orthodox Churches the consecration occurs in the context of the Liturgy of St. Basil.  Unlike the Holy Chrism of the Roman Church, which is consecrated on Holy Thursday each year in each episcopal see, the preparation and consecration of Holy Myrrhon in Orthodox Churches is canonically reserved to Patriarchial Churches with the full participation of the synod of bishops.

The image above is from this year's preparations for today's consecration in the Patriarchial Church of Romania.

The oil is called Myrrhon because myrrh is the foundational essential oil for the Myrrhon.  The original formula contains myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and olive oil and was give to Moses:

An article on making various scented oils here.

and a lot of the wealth of Mycenae (the Greek empire that raided Troy) was thought to be based on their trade of scented olive oil: one professor discussing this noted that olive oil had a bad smell, so there was a huge market for nice smelling olive oil to use to bathe...

In Ancient Mycenae, tablets suggest the Greeks mostly seemed to use rose and coriander and local ingredients although some may have included myrrh (myrrh as an ingredient is noted only in the tablets of Knossos).

Knossos is Crete, and since they can't read the Linear A tablets of Minoan civilization, it means the tablet must have been Linear B, which is after the Mycenean Greeks too over Crete. And if this island used myrr, it means that   the "spice road" trade may have existed over 3000 years ago.

Americans tend to see Arabs as backward people shouting hatred (at least that's how the media usually shows them). But they forget the ancient Arab traders to the East using the monsoon winds to sail, and the Spice trading to the Mediterranean has a long history, as do the Bedouin and Arab traders on the Saudi peninsula.
Wikipedia article HERE.

a modern film on the pan Arabia trading routes can be found HERE.

 and this sad headline of a ship disaster in the Gulf of Aden shows that the trade continues:
The agency said that the incident (55 presumed dead of a ship sinking) represents "the biggest loss of life" in the Gulf of Aden since February 2011 when 57 Somali refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa drowned while attempting to reach Yemen.
Andy Needham of UNHCR told Al Jazeera that many of the men were headed to Oman and Yemen to work in the frankincense trade...
This year, some 100,000 people have crossed the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, despite warnings about the risks such trips involve, the agency said.

and if I got facts wrong, please correct me in the comments: I'm still learning about these things.

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