Friday, November 12, 2010


Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh

   One of the most fascinating parts of the Christmas story is the coming of the Magi.  When the Magi or Wise Men visited the baby Jesus, they brought gifts to present to Him.  It was customary that foreign emissaries and ambassadors would bring gifts to court the favor of royalty.  This was especially true of the times of royal births.  The Magi came to Jerusalem seeking the newborn king of Israel and did not find Jesus there.  The Magi were directed to Bethlehem to search for Jesus there.  Once they located Jesus they presented Joseph and Mary gifts for the birth of the King.  Each of the three gifts represented an aspect of who Jesus is and what his mission was to fulfill.  We are not given any indication of the amounts of each of the gifts or how many of the Magi were represented.  The importance of the gifts was the message that each one conveyed about Jesus.  The gold represented the fact that Jesus was royal.  The frankincense supports the claim that Jesus is divine and the myrrh was for the importance of the mortality of Jesus.

Gold:  The gift of gold was often reserved for royalty.  The Magi told King Herod that they had come to see the one born King of the Jews.  It is clear that they recognized Jesus as being royal but the question is why"  The issue is the star of Bethlehem.  The Magi had seen the star and they recognized the importance of the star in the sky as a sign of a spectacular birth.  The Magi brought gold in some form,  whether it was jewelry, coins, or just pieces, we are not told.  The importance of the gift was that it represented the fact that Jesus was royal.

Frankincense:  The gift of frankincense is somewhat unusual.  Frankincense was a highly valued commodity and somewhat rare.  The Jewish people had a common use for frankincense that was directly connected to the worship of God.  In the Temple, the Jews prayed before the Altar of Incense which was always kept burning.  The substance burned on that altar was frankincense.  When frankincense is burned it gives off a sweet smelling whit smoke, The smoke rising from the altar of incense represented the prayer of the people rising to God in heaven.  The only use of frankincense for Jews was at this altar and it was reserved for the worship of God.  The Magi presenting this gift to Jesus represents the fact that he was indeed divine.

Myrrh:  The gift of myrrh seems the most odd of the gifts.  Myrrh was extremely valuable and had a number of uses.  The most common use was a perfume.  Sometimes myrrh might be used in the homes of the wealthy to create a pleasant fragrance but was normally reserved for special instances.  The major use of myrrh was for burials.  Myrrh was placed on the cloths used to wrap bodies for burial to help prevent the smell of decay following death.  The Maji presented the gift to Jesus as a representation that he would one day die.  The gift almost seems to convey the fact that Jesus was born to die.


   We all remember our first slice of cheesecake-that gooey, delicious dessert that almost melted in our mouths.  What you may not have realized is that the original cheesecake looked and tasted nothing like what we enjoy today.  Before you grab another slice of this tasty dessert, take some time to learn about the cheesecake origins you never knew.

Cheesecake History Starts in Ancient Greece

   The first cheese cakes were thought to be made in Ancient Greece.  On the island of Samos, archaeologists reported they found cheese molds that dated back to 2,000 B.C.-that means cheesecake is more than 4000 years old!  In Ancient Greece, cheesecake was not the creamy dessert treat we recognize today.  Instead, athletes used it as an energy source before the first Olympic games in 776 B.C. and newlyweds served it at their wedding reception.
   The Greek writer Athenaeus is credited with recording the original cheesecake recipe.  The simple cake included just wheat,flour, honey and cheese.  The cheese was pounded until it was smooth, mixed with honey and wheat flour then the batter was heated and served.

Roman Influences on the Original Cheesecake Recipe

   When Romans conquered Greece, they took the opportunity to put their own twist on the cheesecake recipe.  Romans crushed the cheese, instead of pounding it, and added eggs to the mixture.  Like the Greeks, Romans served their cheesecake-or "libuma", as they called it, on special occasions.  Politician Marcus Cato was the first Roman to write down their version of the recipe.

The Cheesecake Discovery takes over Europe

   As Romans moved through Europe, they brought cheesecake along.  Soon, all of Eastern Europe and Great Britain was enjoying the cake.  Each region used ingredients unique to the area and the cheesecake we recognize began to take shape.  The biggest change to the original cheesecake recipe came during the 18th century, when beaten eggs were used instead of yeast.  This made cheesecake less like bread and more like cake.

Adding Cream Cheese to the Mix

   When Europeans came to America, they brought the cheesecake recipe along.  Little did they know, they were opening this recipe up to one of its most distinctive changes.  In 1872, a New York dairy farmer was trying to make Neufchatel at his home.  Instead of recreating the French cheese, the farmer made the first cream cheese.  The distinctive cheese was packaged under the Philadelphia brand and sold in 1875.  More than 50 years later, the Kraft Company purchased the cream cheese recipe and is still making it today.

The Original New York Style Cheesecake

   New York cheesecake is a favorite for its smooth texture that comes from extra egg yolks.  In the 1900's, cheesecake was the hot dessert at New York restaurants-just about every restaurant had its own version on the menu.  However none of these were the New York cheesecake we know today.  The unique cheesecake is said to have its origins with a sandwich maker.  According to the story, sandwich shop owner Arnold Reuben (1883-1970) attended a dinner party at which the hostess served a cheese pie.  Rueben said he was so intrigued by the pie that he kept experimenting with the recipe until New York cheesecake was born.

More American Additions to Cheesecake History

   New York is not the only place in America to claim a distinct way to make cheesecake.  Pennsylvania Dutch cheesecake uses farmer's cheese, which has bigger curds and more water than other kinds of cheese.  The "country-style" version of cheesecake uses buttermilk to get more texture and increase the cake's shelf life.

Cheesecake Variations Around the World

   Countries around the world are still putting their own spins on the classic dessert as well.  In Bulgaria, a cheesecake will be made with cream cheese and a heavy souring cream known as smetena.  French cheesecake used Neufchael cheese and gelatin to keep the cheese together.  Meanwhile in Poland, cheesecakes are made with fresh cheese known as quark.


   The visit of the Magi is an incredible and fascinating event that is one of the favorite parts of the Christmas story.  The coming of the Magi or Wise Men has been clouded in mystery and intrigue for thousands of years.  One reason for this intrigue is that because of the many misconceptions surrounding their visit.  Today we hold many aspects of their visit to be true but in reality are unknown or untrue.  Here are just a few of the misconceptions involving the visit of the Wise Men.

Misconception #1:  The Wise Men were Kings

   Nowhere does the Biblical record describe these men as kings.  We hear the song We Three Kings and take it for gospel.  The Wise Men were Magi, a class of advisers that were part of the Babylonian society.  The Magi were well known for various skills such as diplomacy, the interpretation of dreams, the use of sorcery and politics.  The word magi is where we derive our English word magic or magician.  The Magi were often wealthy and held great influence in their culture but they were not kings.

Misconception #2:  The Wise Men arrived on Christmas Day

   Matthew records that the Wise Men found the child after following the star.  The word for child is different than the word for baby.  A child was no longer considered an infant.  Clearly the language shows that Jesus was not a newborn.  There are a number of Christmas plays and programs that depict the Wise Men arriving with the shepherds and giving their treasures to the baby Jesus.  There is no way that the Wise Men arrived with the shepherds.

Misconception #3:  There were three Wise Men

   Nowhere does Matthew tell us that there were three Wise Men and there are no names given.  In the Middle Ages, names were attributed to the Wise Men but there is no scriptural basis for this.  The Wise Men created an incredible stir when they entered Jerusalem and this implies that there was a large group of people traveling with the Wise Men.  The Wise Men traveled from the East and likely from the area of Babylon.  This would have been a journey of nearly 900 miles and would have taken months of travel time.  These Magi would have not traveled alone and would have likely been accompanied by an armed caravan.  The only time that the number three is even implied is with the three treasures, gold, frankincense and myrrh.
   Even with the mystery and intrigue that the visit of the Wise Men created there is something that we can know for sure, they gave more than three gifts.  There were only three earthly treasures as I mentioned above, but there was the gift of personal worship.  However many Wise Men there were, they bowed down and worshipped Jesus.  The fourth and often forgotten gift is one that we need to remember because it was more important and far more valuable than any of the treasures.  This Christmas take the lead from the Wise Men, join in giving and give the gift of prayer for Jesus.