Maddie Science: Fit for a King

by Kathleen Freeman

Maddie Science: Hey there, science fans. Maddie Science here. Christmas is right around the corner, and that means presents! My guests today are history’s most famous gifts. These three treasures traveled with the wise men to honor Jesus. Please welcome gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Frankincense: Thanks for having us, Maddie. Myrrh and I don’t get around as much as we used to.

Myrrh: (sighs) I used to be worth my weight in gold. Merchants would travel across vast deserts to buy my incense and perfumes.

Maddie: You sound bitter, myrrh.

Myrrh: I can’t help it. My name comes from the Aramaic word for “bitter.”

Maddie: Interesting. If you don’t mind my asking, what are you exactly? We all know gold’s a rock.

Gold: Excuse me! I’m not just some rock. I’m an element, one of the building blocks of nature.

Maddie: Like oxygen or carbon, right?

Gold: Yes, except not as reactive. I prefer to be myself, pure gold.

Maddie: That’s why we find whole nuggets of you underground. What about you two—are there frankincense and myrrh mines somewhere?

Myrrh: Actually, we come from trees. When plants in the Burseraceae family reach 8 or 10 years old—about the same age as your readers—they produce a sweet-smelling, sticky substance called resin. Farmers slash at the papery bark of the tree, down to the sapwood, and resin oozes out in clumps called “tears.”

Maddie: Ouch! That must hurt.

Frankincense: We come from tough roots. Myrrh trees are covered with thorns. Boswellia sacra, my tree, grows on rocky slopes. I cling to the rock!

Maddie: Sounds like a Bible verse.

Gold: Oh, we appear all throughout the Bible. Since I’m soft and malleable, I can be hammered into all kinds of shapes. I covered the ark of the covenant and the Holy of Holies.

Frankincense: I’m a key ingredient in the Ketoret, temple incense. It’s a sacred recipe—God forbade the people from making any scent like it (Exodus 30:37-38).

Myrrh: I’m used in the holy anointing oil. I was also part of Queen Esther’s beauty treatments.

Gold: Hey guys, remember Solomon? God blessed him so much, “gold [was] as common in Jerusalem as stones” (2 Chronicles 1:15).

Maddie: Kings throughout history have valued gold. What makes you so special?

Gold: I’m unaffected by air or moisture. I don’t rust like iron or tarnish like silver and copper. That makes me a smart choice for coins, jewelry and other wealth that has to last for centuries.

Frankincense: It also helps that you’re pretty.

Gold: Aw, thanks.

Maddie: I have to ask, what’s with the “carats”? Any connection to bunnies?

Gold: Because I’m so soft, jewelers sometimes melt me down and mix in other metals (usually copper) to form a harder alloy. Pure gold is 24-carat, while smaller numbers indicate a blend.

Maddie: What other uses do you three have?

Frankincense: Myrrh and I soothe the body and reduce swelling. When Jesus was crucified, they offered Him “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark 15:23) to help with the pain.

Myrrh: The ancient Egyptians used me to embalm mummies. I was part of several burial rituals—even the one for Jesus (John 19:39-40).

Frankincense: Ooh! Speaking of Egyptians, you know that black eye makeup they wore? It was burned-up frankincense.

Gold: I have lots of interesting uses. Heat shields for old space helmets. False teeth and fillings. I’m also one of the colors in stained-glass windows.

Maddie: Let me guess—yellow?

Gold: Nope. When you mix gold powder into melted glass, my shape changes and I reflect a glorious red instead.

Maddie: Fascinating. You all sound like excellent gifts. I can see why the wise men chose you.

Frankincense: We like to think God chose us.

Maddie: What do you mean?

Frankincense: In Isaiah 60, the prophet sees God’s glory return to Zion. He writes, “Caravans of camels will cover your land. ...They will carry gold and frankincense and proclaim the praises of the LORD.”

Maddie: Wow! That’s a pretty accurate description of an event that would happen hundreds of years later.

Myrrh: Yeah, but he could have at least mentioned me.

Frankincense: Not this again! Back then, “frankincense and myrrh” went together like peanut butter and jelly. We complement each other’s fragrances—my sweetness goes well with your dark, bitter scent. That’s why we’re listed together in five different Bible verses.

Myrrh: I guess.

Gold: Cheer up, myrrh. It’s Christmas—the time of year when we thank God for His most amazing gift, Jesus.

Maddie: Well said. Merry Christmas, everyone! I’m sure we’ll find more super science to explore next year.

This story first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2013 by Kathleen Freeman. Photo © Cathy Walters.