Tuesday, January 6, 2015

All They From Sheba Shall Come

Die Könge aus Saba kamen dar,
The kings from Sheba came—
Gold, Weihrauch, Myrrhen brachten sie dar,
Brought  gold, incense and myrrh,
Was dort Jesaias vorhergesehn,
What there Isaiah had foreseen
Das ist zu Bethlehem geschehn.
That did in Bethlehem take place.
Hier stellen sich die Weisen
The Wise men, here, they do arrive
Bei Jesu Krippe ein
And at the foot of Jesus crib
Und wollen ihn als ihren König preisen.
They stand to praise him as their king.
Gold, Weihrauch, Myrrhen sind
Gold, incense, myrrh are costly gifts
Die köstlichen Geschenke,
By means of which they honor pay
Womit sie dieses Jesuskind
To this small Jesus gently laid
Zu Bethlehem im Stall beehren.
In a stable at a place called Bethlehem.
  [Beginning of J.S. Bach's Cantata 65, for the Feast of the Epiphany, authorship unknown]

The Cantata here is usually rendered as Cantata BWV 65. That acronym stands for Bach Werke Verzeichnis, thus Catalogue of Bach’s Works.

The reference to Sheba and to Isaiah comes from Isaiah 60:1-6 which says the following:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

2  For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee.

3  And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.

4  Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side.

5  Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee.

6  The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord.

In the Revised Standard version of Isaiah, Chapter 6o is headed “The dawn of Zion’s glory,” which suggests why this passage is associated with the birth of Jesus or his revelation to the Gentiles. Some very close readers of the Bible note that Isaiah mentions gold and incense (frankincense) but not myrrh, an aromatic resin used as a perfume in ancient times; they interpret myrrh as symbolizing Jesus’ death for our sins because myrrh was used at burials once.

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