Category Archives: Hot Topics
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
This year’s theme supplies a good reason: “Libraries Transform.” Over twenty years ago, some were saying libraries would go the way of VHS tapes, floppy disks, and beanie babies. But libraries are still going strong! Again, one big reason is how libraries transform people who visit. Please let me illustrate with a few examples.
One morning as the doors open to WCPL, a very focused patron marched in and went immediately to the computer center where he started searching for jobs. After 20 minutes of what he called, “Nothing,” he asked for help. He explains how he just lost his job and desperately needed to find employment. A librarian responds to his request by leading him to a few of the better job search sites, while at the same time helping him narrow his search. This was so helpful that he found three promising jobs to apply for. But he soon asks for help again, as his computer skills were challenged by the application process. The librarian takes time to help him set up a profile and become familiar with just what the applications are seeking. Upon finishing the applications, the man stops to tell the helpful librarian, “Thanks for being so kind to me and taking time. It restores my belief in human kindness.” This patron continues to come to the library, and will never forget how a librarian took time to help transform his situation.
Several weeks later a library patron approached the reference desk with a request. She had retired from two careers but, in her words, “had missed the computer age.” Her children and grandchildren asked her again and again to learn computers, but she held back. Until today. The patron wanted to “turn over a new leaf” and learn how to use a computer, so as to surprise her children by being able to look up answers online all by herself. The librarian gladly set up a one-on-one time with the patron, during which time, the patron disclosed, “I have to tell you, I have arthritis and trembling so bad that I have trouble using the mouse.” Not to be deterred, the librarian scheduled three months of one-on-one times starting with exercises on using the mouse. Although slow going at first, the patron learned to control and use the mouse, which led to creating her first email account. She learned to make and evaluate online searches as well as how to make lists and write letters in Microsoft Word. Over three months she went from being fully dependent on the librarian to semidependence to joyous independence. She reported how her children were impressed with her “entering the computer age,” but that now she uses the computer just because she enjoys it. The patron and her family were grateful that “libraries transform.”
There are many other stories I wish we could relate about patrons who experience the library as a place for transformation. They would talk about learning new skills like Excel; finding interesting books never before considered; discovering Powerspeak Languages to learn a language for their summer vacation; enjoying their first eBook; seeing a program on square foot gardening that doubled their gardening production; tailoring a resume and cover letter for a new career; finding a dyslexia friendly font; and many other stories. All would tell of how libraries transform and become very personal reasons why we celebrate National Library Week.
By Stephen McClain, Reference Department
The world is shrinking. Is Earth imploding? Have we taken so many natural resources out of the ground that the planet is actually becoming smaller? Not likely, but as global communication continues to advance; we are more connected than ever before in human history. Travelling across the Atlantic was once a dangerous trip that took months in a creaking wooden ship. Now, travelers can safely fly across the pond in under ten hours. Information can be sent around the world instantaneous by way of fax, email and cellular telephones. Fifty years ago, the chance that a child born in Appalachia would ever come in contact with someone from Southeast Asia or Latin America before leaving the region after adulthood was slim. In today’s world, because of various push/pull factors and globalization, that likelihood is high. We are in an age where it is increasingly important to understand the diverse cultures of the world as we are becoming progressively more linked. Information about the diversity of the cultural landscape was certainly available fifty years ago, but it was required that one go to a library to access the data in print form. Today, scores of data is accessible from anywhere at the click of a mouse button or tap of an icon. While there are countless websites and databases to choose from, A to Z World Culture provides an excellent resource for students who are doing a research project or anyone who is simply inquisitive about geography and world culture.
The home page of A to Z World Culture has a simple, user-friendly design that allows visitors to easily locate information, regardless of age or computer skills. Either click on a country on the interactive world map or choose one from the scrolling menu. After choosing a country, users are shown the “Cultural Overview” of that country, which includes images showing the global location, the country’s political flag and pictures of people or landscape. Here, readers will also find written information on the cultural diversity, religion, stereotypes and popular culture of the country. Much more detailed information is available within the menu on the left. For example, clicking on “Maps” gives users a list of seven thematic maps that are available to download as PDFs. Among the downloadable maps are Political and Provincial maps (showing place names and boundaries), Physical and Natural Earth maps (showing natural features and topography), Population, Precipitation and Temperature. In addition to the thematic maps, there are also two useful blank outline maps, which are often helpful in learning location and preparing for a test or quiz.
The Demographics tab under Country Profile is a valuable resource for population data. This page shows the total population for the selected country, the age structure, life expectancy, birth, death and migration rates and the population of major cities. Most of the data is relatively current, with estimates from at least the last year or two. This is useful information and an easy means for acquiring demographic data for comparative or survey purposes.
Exploring the other tabs reveal general geographic information about the selected country such as Climate, Culture, Education, History, Language, Music and National Symbols, just to name a few. Clicking on the Country Profile tab is a good place to start. Here, users can learn about the demographics of the country, its economy and government, and its current leaders.
For teachers, the Lesson Plan tab provides valuable resources for introducing place-specific geographic issues and topics to students in grades 7 – 12. Some could also be used in the college classroom for introductory social science courses. Most of these lessons involve role playing that allows students to learn interactively. All lesson plans are available to download as either a Microsoft Word document or as a PDF.
Finally, if you are using any of this information in a paper or project, you will need to cite your sources. A to Z World Culture has made this easy by providing a link that generates Chicago Manual of Style, MLA and APA citations for the A to Z World Culture website. Additionally, there is a “Print this Document” button that opens the document for printing.
As our world becomes smaller and more global communication barriers are permeated, we are experiencing less friction of distance and an increase in space-time compression. Resources like A to Z World Culture are powerful tools in bridging the cultural divisions that we more frequently encounter. In today’s global landscape, understanding cultures other than one’s own is essential in defeating xenophobia, increasing our knowledge and being successful in the new global economy. Visit www.atozworlculture.com and pick your destination.
By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department
Protests have been in the news for several years, coming out of the blue in Tunisia and spreading to the Arab nations becoming the Arab Spring. We all should remember Ferguson and the horrible continuous deaths that sparked anger, indignation and the Black Live Matter movement.
Well, 2017 is gearing up to be another year of protests. The world witnessed the Women’s March of Washington last month, and the marches around the world in solidarity of this cause. There were protests at airports after President Trump’s Executive Order on immigration went into effect. Scientists are planning to march on Earth Day in April. The protest against building two new pipelines is heating up again. Tunisian lawyers were protesting against a new tax that required them to pay a tax on each case they worked on. Students in South Africa are protesting higher fees for college education, which is similar to what happened here in recent years too. There’s even a website https://popularresistance.org that assists in organizing protests and getting the word out about them. And the protests don’t seem to be going away any time soon. The website www.change.org is also helping people find ways to protest by creating and circulating petitions.
In honor of Black History Month, let’s take a look at one of America’s most famous protestors and his belief in nonviolent resistance. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929 to a Black middle class family. His father had grown up on a plantation to share cropper parents, but he left as soon as he was able. He worked his way through school and was able to attend Morehouse College, which is an all-black men’s college. He became a preacher, and then married the daughter of Reverend Williams. Reverend Williams was the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church; MLK, Sr., “Daddy King” took over the duties when Williams died.
Both Reverend Williams and Daddy King stood against ill treatment, segregation and violence against African-Americans and MLK, Jr. followed in their footsteps. After several instances of facing white prejudice, Martin began to read about the history of his people, about slavery and the Civil War. Martin had always been taught that all people were equal, but reality was quite different, and it was his fervent desire to set it right.
He graduated from high school when he was fifteen, and attended his father’s alma mater, Morehouse College. He and other students were able to discuss prejudice and liberation of the Negroes long into the night and in many of the classes. On one of his summer vacations during college, he and some friends went to Connecticut to work on a tobacco farm, and it amazed them that they could freely go into stores, movies and restaurants.
After seriously considering a law career, he ended up majoring in sociology. But, he then began to realize that being a minister would allow him to have a closer relationship with his fellow man, and it was a good way to impart information. His friends would ask him to lead them in prayer, plus both his father and grandfather had been pastors. He hadn’t planned to become a minister, but he felt the call.
After he graduated from Morehouse, he went to Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. It was here that he first heard in depth about what Mahatma Gandhi was doing in India, using non-violent resistance to get the British out of India. He had heard of Gandhi’s protest in India, but this time it was first-hand information from the president of Howard University. His interest in this type of non-violent protest had been piqued when he first read Henry David Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience. He was very interested in this idea of just refusing to cooperate with the entrenched system in place. As King looked deeper into the philosophy of Gandhi and civil resistance, he came to see for the first time its potency in the area of social reform. … It was this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that he discovered the method for social reform that he had been seeking.
As we remember MLK, with his birthday and also Black History Month, and as many times as we can remember his clear call for equality, we remember a leader who showed us how to protest peacefully about things we disagreed with, that we thought were immoral or needed to be fixed. Thank you Dr. King for your example.
“…The nonviolent resisters can summarize their message in the following simple terms: we will take direct action against injustice despite the failure of governmental and other official agencies to act first. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witnesses to truth as we see it.” (quoted from MLK’s Nobel lecture in 1964.)
Fun Fact: there was an error on his birth certificate—his name was listed as Michael Luther King. He was always supposed to be Martin, but was called Mike by his family for a long time. He was able to change and correct his name officially when he applied for his passport.
By Jessica Dunkel, Reference Department
Have you ever read or watched something from the library that you absolutely LOVED and wanted to tell everyone about? Well now you can! Next time you check out something awesome from the library, return it to our Awesome Box. From there, we’ll spread the word that it is awesome!
What is an Awesome Box?
- An Awesome Box is a book drop for library items you think are awesome! It’s just like a regular book drop. But instead of putting items back on the shelf after you return them, we make a note of what you put in the Awesome Box and share it with everyone so they can know it’s is awesome, too!
What kinds of things should I put in the Awesome Box?
- Any library materials including books, DVD’s, or Audiobooks you find awesome. They can be helpful, mind-blowing, your all-time favorites, etc. Whatever you think other people would enjoy knowing about.
- Basically, if it was fantastic, helpful, amazing, valuable, entertaining, or just all-around awesome, put it in, so that everyone knows how good it was.
Does putting items in the Awesome Box actually return them?
- Yes – if you put an item in the Awesome Box it will be returned to the library (and then Awesomed!)
Where can I see what people have put in the Awesome Box?
- You’ll find what people have “Recently Awesomed” on our Awesome Box bulletin board just inside the Main Library’s entrance.
- For a full list of what has been “Awesomed” in the past 30 days at our library, visit this website from our homepage: https://wcpltn.libib.com/i/recently-awesomed. You’ll also find links to everything that our patron’s have declared Awesome, including movies and Awesome books for adults, teens, and kids.
So the next time you’re returning something, remember: the awesome things go in the Awesome Box!
By Dolores Greenwald, Library Director
This week we honored the life of our dear friend and fellow employee Kathy Ossi. Kathy worked for WCPLtn for over 20 years and was the Manager of our Technical Services Department. But she was much more than just an employee. She leaves behind a wonderful husband and two children.
Kathy had a golden light and was an outstanding woman. She was a bright light, and in her own subtle way radiated the energy of a Martin Luther King, Jr. or Abraham Lincoln. She was a quiet superstar and a huge resource for the Library. As her years with us and we grew, Kathy grew with us, learning and doing much more than her job assignments. Kathy took it upon herself to learn web site management and development often paying for classes out of her own pocket.
Among the Library staff she will always be our friend and superstar and we will miss her greatly.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Soon we will have another quadrennial celebration of the changing hands of the highest office in the land. The inauguration is about hope. Yes, hope. Regardless of your political beliefs, we watch the events of a new presidency with hope of one kind or another. We hope the new person won’t make the mistakes of the old. We hope that our opinions will now be considered and valued. We hope this guy doesn’t screw up. We hope four years go by quickly and uneventfully. They’re all hope, some positive, some negative, but hope all the same.
This new beginning means that we all have a moment to take some time, look at our present situation as a country and decide if we are where we want to be and what we need to do to get wherever that is. This has been the burden of 43 men on 57 separate occasions. They all stood on a platform in Washington D.C., put their hand on a bible and swore to…wait, none of those things are right. True, this is the image we see when we imagine the inauguration in our mind, but none of those things are actually required for the inaugural process.
First of all, the inauguration does not have to be in Washington D.C. George Washington was had his first inaugural in New York and his Second in Philadelphia. Adams was also inaugurated in Philly. Two presidents have taken the oath of office in hotels due to the death of the prior president. Two took the oath in their private residences for the same reason. The most recent extraordinary inauguration was that of Lyndon Johnson in 1963 on Air Force One in Dallas.
The Swearing and the Bible are not dictated anywhere either and neither is the phrase, “So help me God”. Due to some religions prohibiting members from swearing to anything, the option to affirm the oath was built in to the ceremony. Two presidents are believed to have done so, Hoover and Pierce. We know that Pierce did for certain even though he was an Episcopalian and was not required to avoid swearing. Hoover was a Quaker and it was believed he had used affirm, but news real footage shows he said solemnly swear. The only other Quaker president was Richard Nixon, and he also chose to swear. Theodore Roosevelt did not swear on a bible, and John Quincy Adams and that rebel Franklin Pierce swore on books of law to signify they were swearing by the Constitution. Finally, George Washington ad libbed the line “so help me god” and most presidents have followed suit. It is the proscribed thing to complete an oath for federal judiciary members, but there is nothing in the presidential oath that requires it.
The Inauguration Address
The shortest inauguration address on record was Washington’s second address at one hundred and thirty-five words.
I am again called upon by the voice of my country to execute the functions of its Chief Magistrate. When the occasion proper for it shall arrive, I shall endeavor to express the high sense I entertain of this distinguished honor, and of the confidence which has been reposed in me by the people of united America.
Previous to the execution of any official act of the President the Constitution requires an oath of office. This oath I am now about to take, and in your presence: That if it shall be found during my administration of the Government I have in any instance violated willingly or knowingly the injunctions thereof, I may (besides incurring constitutional punishment) be subject to the upbraidings of all who are now witnesses of the present solemn ceremony.
Not exactly, “Here we go again” but short sweet and to the point. Washington’s brevity seems to be a skill many politicians these days lack. William Henry Harrison should have followed Washington’s lead. His inaugural address was the longest so far and went on for 8445 words. Many people believe this lengthy speech, combined with the cool temperatures and cold wind contributed to the cold, then pneumonia, then pleurisy and eventual death of President Harrison. He died one month later and though he had the longest address, he had the shortest presidency.
The Twentieth of January
Weather was the original reason why most of the early presidents were inaugurated in March. Obviously those brought up from vice president to take the place of a deceased commander in chief weren’t given the option, but Washington Himself was inaugurated in April. The Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution changed the date to the Twentieth of January. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was both the last to be inaugurated in March and the first to do so in January. Regardless of the change in date, the warmest and coldest inaugurations have occurred in the January era. President Reagan had the warmest inauguration in 1981 at 55° and the coldest, 7°, for his second in 1985
There have been a few issues with the oath over the years as well. Chief Justice Fuller accidentally replaced the word protect with maintain in regards to the constitution when administering the oath to Taft. Ironically, Taft did the same at Hoover’s inauguration when he, Taft, was chief justice. Chief Justice Stone replaced Harry Truman’s stand-alone middle initial with the name Shipp, one of Truman’s grandfathers’ last name, but Truman just rolled with it and said Harry S. Truman anyway. Finally Barak Obama waited for Justice Rogers to realize a gaff when he put faithfully in the wrong place when reciting the oath. Rogers moved the term but still had it wrong. Rogers and Obama completed the Oath properly in the Oval Office the next day.
All these little bits of trivia notwithstanding, we can observe this inauguration in which ever spirit we choose, be it happy, sad, skeptical or hopeful. However there will be people looking for mistakes or records, swearing or affirming and what the temperature was to add this fifty-eighth inaugural to the history books.
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Every year countless people create lists of things they never actually intend to do. Well…that’s a bit unfair. They enter into these lists of resolutions for the New Year with all the hope and enthusiasm that a new beginning can impart. Realistically though, many of us can barely remember what we resolved to do by the time we get to May and have failed to follow through on those resolutions to any significant degree. So while we are thinking about what we want to lose, give up, start doing or ramp up let us all take a moment to try to add something fun to our list with a book challenge. (And yes, a book challenge is fun; this is a library’s blog for pity’s sake!)
Reading is a great deal more than a past time. Slipping into the world of a new book brings you so many benefits that this resolution may be on par with exercising more or quitting smoking. Reading exercises your mind, keeps it limber and increases the memory. A National Academy of Sciences study has shown that people who read regularly are two and a half times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease[i]. It has also been shown that reading literary fiction helps increase your ability to empathize with others[ii]. Who doesn’t need to improve their empathy skills? Some books can even lower blood pressure and reduce stress[iii] and help stave off symptoms of mild mental disorders[iv]. Also, you gain new knowledge. Think of all the things you can learn and combine this with the improved vocabulary and increased attention span readers develop. These are real benefits to other parts of your life. Go for it!
Take this list of suggestions and challenge yourself to read more, or step outside of your comfort genre. Here is a list of twenty-six challenges, one book for every two weeks.
- Try a book outside of your usual genres.
- Read a book your mother would love.
- Read a book your mother would hate.
- Pick a color at random and read a book with that color cover.
- Find a book with a song title or lyric for a title.
- Choose a book to read with a friend.
- Read one that they choose.
- Re-read your favorite book from childhood.
- Read something with your family, with everyone taking a chapter in turn.
- Read something from an author that you’ve never heard of before.
- Read a book about your guilty pleasure, something you’d never admit to reading.
- Find an aisle in the library you’ve never gotten something from and choose a book from there.
- Get a book from the young adult section. You’ll be surprised how enjoyable they can be.
- Try a book that discusses your religious beliefs or lack thereof.
- Try one that discusses someone else’s.
- Find a book about or set in your favorite part of history.
- Read a collection of short stories or novellas from a single author.
- Read a book that is related to a movie or television show you enjoy.
- Read a literary journal i.e. The New York Times Book Review, Publishers Weekly, etc.
- Pick a book from that journal and read that.
- Read a magazine from the month and year you were born, cover to cover.
- Read a book you read or were supposed to read in high school or university.
- Read a graphic novel. They’re not just comic books anymore.
- Read an eBook.
- Read a book based on the recommendation of a stranger.
- Pick your favorite book that you’ve read from this list and read more about it. If it’s Fiction find a non-fiction book related to it. If it’s non-fiction find a fiction book that contains elements of it.
If you’re ambitious try them all, less so, pick and choose. Set your limit where you are comfortable and maybe this year, this will be a resolution you keep.
- [i] http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117588&page=1
- [ii] Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind, David Comer Kidd, Emanuele Castano. Science 18 Oct 2013: Vol. 342, Issue 6156, pp. 377-380
- [iii] http://www.kumon.co.uk/blog/reading-reduces-stress-levels/
- [iv] http://articles.latimes.com/2013/feb/04/entertainment/la-et-jc-reading-mental-health-not-self-help-20130204
During the month of November, we asked our patrons to share what they were thankful for. The entire month our interactive display just kept growing and growing until we had to attach the responses to the furniture beneath the display. We had responses ranging everywhere from coffee, to politics, to sobriety, but by far what our patrons are most thankful for were their family and friends. It’s a good community we’re working with here.
Here’s the unedited list of all of the responses we received. Thank you for sharing with us.
- My family and friends
- My therapist
- God and Jesus
- Friends and family
- Post-it notes
- Books and libraries
- My family
- Friends and family
- That I have a family
- Family and friends
- For God and my family
- Cute boys
- Fuzzy friends (my pets)
- The hope that is found in Christ
- Food, God, hope and the Bible
- Quadruple shot espressos
- For god, family and my community
- That I don’t personally know any Trump supporters
- That God considers me
- Food, friends and family
- Doing great in class because of my teacher
- The gift of family and a fresh new year to live to the fullest
- For God and Jesus
- This library and electronics
- Friend of the Williamson County Public Library
- My health, my family, my friends and all of God’s blessings
- A loving mother and father
- Family (and my brother)
- My family and my life
- My beautiful friends, even though we are separate
- Friends and family
- Elie, Aiden, Asa and Ethan, rain and coffee
- My family and dog
- What I have and all my friends and family
- Harambe (the gorilla)
- For God and God alone
- This library
- For my wife and kids
- Jesus, love
- Pokemon Go
- A great book
- Small acts of kindness
- Good health, family and beautiful earth
- For food on my table, a bed to sleep in and a roof over my head; also that my Momma and Daddy love each other and we’re all healthy; I’m thankful that the sun came up this morning and that we live in a country with freedom for all, and definitely the pursuit of happiness
- My family, my jog, my boyfriend and Twenty-One Pilots
- Thankful god has blessed me to live 43 years. If he does nothing else for me, he has already done enough
- The library
- The amazing school I go to
- Books and the library
- For my family and friends, for God and Mary and Jesus
- For kindness in all its forms
- For my kids, family and the path Goad has for me and my dearest friend
- For wonderful parents and late husband
- For the right to be heard
- My cat, my jobs, my friends, my boyfriend, Dr. Brunner, the refugee center, Happy Thanksgiving!
- Very thankful for my mom
- My sobriety – one day at a time
- For my best friend
- For NPR, national public radio, its great broadcasts and programs and for the kind people and wonderful atmosphere of the Franklin (WC) public libraries
- Dolores and her wonderful staff and this beautiful library
- For good health and lots of love from my family and friends
- For my son! Family!
- For my family and other stuff
- For the ocean
- Our republic and the 2nd amendment and furry cats
- My diagnosis
- My awesome husband and kids
- God and everything he’s given me and my family and friends
- For god making us!
- My mother, my cat and Trader Joe’s mac n cheese
- New friends, music, beauty
- My family, a God who loves me, a great job, my cat (most of the time) and living in a democracy
- My mother and the love she has for her kids
- New friends and family in Franklin, TN
- Thanks to God for giving such a beautiful life
- For easy ways to cheer someone on a gloomy day
- For libraries!
- The power of prayer and my new job and friends, and dressing
- My family and friends
- Thankful that Christmas is coming soon
- For my mom and grandma and dad; I have three wonderful kids and their dad is OK, and to be alive and healthy and I love the Lord
- Our President and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama
- Random acts of kindness
- A good job and friends who I like to work with
- For education, parents and kids; for my life and such a loving family and friends, for everything and mom and dad; for all good things in this world and things that give hope that is light at the end of the tunnel
- My life and everything else
- For each new sunrise—each day is a new beginning
- For my friends and family, especially my son
- For my cat, Stevie, and Nintendo Funk
- For the opportunity to start over in some situations, righting your wrongs
- My friends, family and home/belongings
- My best friend, my family and boyfriend, music and marching band, my other close friends, reading and the library, God and how he saved me and how he still loves me unconditionally, even when I mess up, Camp Crestridge
- For my family and friends, for food and my safe home, for my city and each day of my life
- Being able to learn and grow. To do the best I can
- For my mother
- My family: mom, dad, brother, cousins, uncles, etc.
- For everything…family friends, scouts, God
- For gymnastics and family
- That I’m getting my gender reassignment surgery and moving to Canada
- That Trump is now our president
- For crunching leaves, laughter and the anticipation that Christmas is coming, and coffee
- Family and friends, and books
By Lance Hickerson, Reference Department
One story of the present holiday season tells of Magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the baby Jesus. These Magi from the East were riding a wave of expectation common in the Mediterranean world and beyond. One Roman historian of the day explains:
There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world. (Suetonius, Life of Vespasian, 4.5; similarly other first century historians Tacitus, Histories 5.3 and Josephus, War of the Jews, 6.5).
Indeed, the Magi were bearing gifts fit for a king, but what gifts would properly honor one who is “to rule the world?” The Magi chose gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Of course, gold makes complete sense as a fitting gift, but why would frankincense and myrrh rate so highly?
Frankincense and myrrh are widely available today as “essential oils,” but in the first century world, they were much more essential, especially since the peoples of that time exhibit refined sensitivities in matters of smell and fragrance. One geographer from Greece who sailed around southern Arabia, named Agatharchides, recounts:
A heavenly and indescribable fragrance seems to strike and stir the senses. Even far out from land as you sail past you do not miss the fragrant odors blowing from the myrrh bushes.
The tree that captivated the explorer’s sense of smell, might not appear so impressive in full sight. Myrrh trees are small, thorny, and often just a bush. Like frankincense, myrrh trees grow in places limited to an arid climate like that of southern Arabia.
Yet what matters is the treasure the trees produce. Both frankincense and myrrh are harvested by tapping the inner sap with cuts to the tree bark. The gummy resin oozes out in the form of what some ancients called “tears.” After two weeks for drying, the resin is scraped off the tree, and sent on a long journey aboard camels and ships to crossroads and ports the world over.
What were the Uses of Frankincense and Myrrh?
Frankincense and myrrh had common uses and were even sometimes used together. But frankincense was more fragrant as incense and myrrh more helpful for perfume and skin care.
The top use for both frankincense and myrrh was for religious expression. Religion in our western world is often separated from other aspects of life, whereas religion in the first century world was part of everything and considered to be the most important aspect of all. This includes the wide ranging pagan religions as well as the Judaeo-Christian stream. Since religion was so important, religious expression was essential. And essential to religious expression was offering incense, especially frankincense.
Both frankincense and myrrh were widely used in preparing bodies for burial, which also included groups who cremated their dead. Frankincense in particular was good for masking the odor of a burning body. Emperor Nero burned an entire year of the frankincense harvest in honoring the death of one of his favorite people. That was extravagant indeed.
Each substance had a number of particular uses as well, again sometimes overlapping. The Middle East Institute remarks:
The market for frankincense was unlimited. Whereas other exotic spices and aromatics were luxury items, frankincense, though expensive was a household necessity. For many families throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East frankincense was a basic staple just as things like toothpaste and deodorant are always on the grocery list today.
Among the medical uses for frankincense were: stopping bleeding, cleansing, and functioning as an important ingredient in prescriptions used as antidotes to poisons, help for side and chest pain, and abscesses. It was used as well for a pest repellant and food flavoring.
Myrrh likewise had many functions in the first century world. In addition to the uses common with frankincense, it figured prominently in perfumes and ointments. Furthermore, its medical uses were wide ranging, for both internal and external use. It was a chief ingredient for the Egyptian army’s balm for the healing of sword cuts and wounds. Myrrh is mentioned 54 times in the Hippocratic literature helping alleviate various diseases. It helped with snakebites, coughs, stomach pains, toothaches, and ear aches. It was in demand as a pain killer and antiseptic, and also served as a mouthwash. So while in the first century world, its religious significance was primary, myrrh was helpful in many other ways.
When the parents of baby Jesus saw the Magi bearing frankincense and myrrh, along with gold, they were most certainly not disappointed. The frankincense and myrrh had many more uses than gold, and were fitting gifts of high value and honor.