What Is Myrrh?

An Expensive Spice Fit for a King

What Is Myrrh?
In preparation for burial, Jesus' body was packed in myrrh, then wrapped in linen cloths. Alison Miksch / FoodPix / Getty Images

Myrrh is an expensive spice, used for making perfume, incense, medicine, and for anointing the dead. In biblical times, myrrh was an important trade item obtained from Arabia, Abyssinia, and India.

What Was Myrrh Used for in the Bible?

Myrrh frequently appears in the Old Testament, primarily as a sensuous perfume in the Song of Solomon:

I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. (Song of Solomon 5:5, ESV)

His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. (Song of Solomon 5:13, ESV)

Liquid myrrh was part of the formula for the anointing oil of the tabernacle:

"Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil."  (Exodus 30:23–25, NIV)

In the book of Esther, young women who appeared before King Ahasuerus were given beauty treatments with myrrh:

Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women—when the young woman went in to the king in this way... (Esther 2:12-13, ESV)

The Bible records myrrh showing up three times in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Matthew states that the Three Kings visited the child Jesus, bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Mark notes that when Jesus was dying on the cross, someone offered him wine mixed with myrrh to stop the pain, but he did not take it.

Finally, John says Nicodemus brought a mixture of 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to anoint Jesus' body when it was laid in the tomb.

Myrrh, a fragrant gum resin, comes from a small bushy tree (Commiphora myrrha), cultivated in ancient times in the Arabian Peninsula. The grower made a small cut in the bark, where the gum resin would leak out. It was then collected and stored for about three months until it hardened into fragrant globules. Myrrh was used raw or crushed and mixed with oil to make a perfume. It was also used medicinally to reduce swelling and stop pain.

Today myrrh is used in Chinese medicine for a variety of ailments. Likewise, naturopathic doctors claim several health benefits associated with myrrh essential oil [Buy from Amazon], including improved heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function.

Pronunciation of Myrrh

mur

Example

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus packed Jesus' body in myrrh, then wrapped it in linen cloths.

(Sources: itmonline.org and The Bible Almanac, edited by J.I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, and William White Jr.)