Question: Is there any record in the Bible or history as to what happened to the gifts brought by the magi to Joseph and Mary?
The Bible does not tell us what happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh brought by the magi. There are only traditions and some reasonable speculations.
The Monastery of St. Paul at Mt. Athos, Greece, once displayed a 15th century box containing, according to tradition, the gold, frankincense and myrrh presented by the magi. These were originally displayed at the Holy Palace of Constantinople since the 4th century. Following Constantinople’s fall to the Ottoman Empire in the 1400’s, the godmother of the Empire’s king offered them to the Monastery of St. Paul, where they remained until Christmas, 2014, when they were sent for display to Ukraine and Belarus. We don’t know for certain the legitimacy of the items inside the box.
Another tradition claims that the two thieves crucified along side of Jesus had stolen the gifts of the magi, while another tradition points to Judas, treasurer for Jesus’ disciples, as misappropriating the items for his personal gain.
One other tradition that has some merit suggests that Joseph and Mary used some portion of the gifts of the magi to pay for their hasty escape from Bethlehem to Egypt.
Matt. 2:13, 15 When they [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him” …where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Jesus’ family had little financial means to support their journey, their extended stay in Egypt and their eventual return to Nazareth, other than these gifts. While there is no direct evidence, the speculation is reasonable.
Another reasonable possibility is that these treasures—or at least a portion of what remained—may have been used for Jesus’ burial. While the tomb was provided at no expense (Matt. 27:57-61), the spices used to cover the body were costly. Not only so, but myrrh was one of the standard aromatics used in the burial of the dead. Mary may well have chosen to use it for the burial of her son.
In the end, what matters most is that God chose not to include this tidbit of information in the Scriptures. God guides our focus away from relics, and away from satisfying curiosity for curiosity’s sake. He knows our tendency to slip into worship of created things rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25), and He knows our tendency to focus on trivia at the expense of eternal matters (Matt. 23:16-19).
The gifts of the magi are not about the gifts; they are examples of human beings sacrificing their wealth, their time, even their lives to worship Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords. The magi we will see in heaven; the gifts we will not.