Codex

My musings on Biblical Studies, Biblical Hebrew, Dead Sea Scrolls, Septuagint, Popular Culture, Religion, Software, and pretty much anything else that interests me!





Dead Sea Scrolls

  • Searches



Marijuana and Hashish in the Old Testament?

7th August 2006

The Eastern Arizon Courier has a letter to the editor by Chris Bennett arguing from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible that marijuana/cannabis is “God’s gift to the rest of humanity” and that while the “laws of man” may prohibit its use, the Bible does not. In fact, based on Genesis 1:29 (“I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food”), Bennett maintains that cannabis was created by God.

I found this excerpt particularly interesting:

On the subject of cannabis, like the history of the Zoroastrian religion, the Bible may have been influenced by cannabis. . . . remember Moses and the burning bush that talked to him. According to a number of academic sources in the original Hebrew and Aramaic sources for the texts, that bush commanded Moses to make a holy anointing oil that contained cannabis, under the Hebrew name keneh bosem.

I don’t think the author meant to imply that Moses was obviously high when the bush talked to him! (Though we may suspect that if someone today made such a claim!) Rather I believe what is being referred to here is Exodus 30:23 where Moses is being given instructions for the tabernacle (not the burning bush incident). One of the spices which Moses is supposed to gather is קנה־בש×? (keneh bosem), which is variously translated as “aromatic cane” (NRSV, NJPS), “fragrant cane” (NIV, NASB, NAB), “sweet calamus” (KJV), or “sweet cane” (NLT). The LXX translates it by καλάμου εá½?ώδους, “fragrant calamus/reed.” While scholars are not sure what excatly the Hebrew word בש×? (bosem) refers to, I’m not sure how anyone can make the jump from it being used as one of the many ingredients for an anointing oil for the tent of meeting and the priests to smoking it for a buzz! Furthermore, even if this does refer to cannabis (which it doesn’t), a few verses later the following strict restrictions are placed on its use:

You shall say to the Israelites, “This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. 32 It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an unqualified person shall be cut off from the people” (Exod 30:31-33).

The rest of the letter only cites some general studies about the use of cannabis in the ancient world without getting into specifics.

Hashish and the Old Testament

There is another article floating around cyberspace that I am aware that of tries to make similar arguments for the use of hashish in the Old Testament. The 1903 article was by C. Creighton and appeared in JANUS 8 (1902 or 1903) 241-246, 297-303, under the title “On Indications of the Hachish-Vice in the Old Testament” (available online here).

Creighton appealed to other obscure Hebrew words to make a case for hashish in the Old Testament. The first passage he appeals to is Song of Songs 5:1, where the beloved says, “I eat my honeycomb with my honey” (×?כלתי יערי ×¢×?־דבש×?×™). The word in question is יער (ya’ar), which modern lexicons gloss with “honeycomb” and understand it as a homograph for יער “wood.” Creighton argues (while primarily dealing with the Latin Vulgate for some reason!) that this phrase should be rendered as “I have eaten my hemp with my honey.” This interpretation is a stretch to say the least. Creighton also appeals to 1Samuel 14:27 where Jonathan dips his rod, lit., “in the comb of the honey” (ביערת הדבש×?) as a reference to “the hemp-plant with the resinous exudation.” I find this interpretation more problematic than the previous one, since the word “honeycomb” (or “wood” if you like) is in construct with honey. If Jonathan would have went to 7/11 for some munchies after tasting the sweet treat then I would put more weight in Creighton’s interpretation! :-) Instead Jonathan ran amok amongst the Philistines — not the sort of activity I would associate with someone being high!

Creighton’s interpretations move from the fanciful to the downright silly when he tries to argue that Saul’s madness was due to him being a “hachish-eater” and “that his ‘evil spirit’ was hachish.” I don’t think this interpretation even warrants a response. The last three passages that Creighton appeals to are similarly lacking. First, he understands the “something sweet” in Samson’s riddle in Judges 14:14 as an oblique reference to hash and maintains that Samson was also a hashish-eater (that was the secret to his strength). Second, he argues that Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the tree reaching the heavens in Daniel 4 was produced by hashish-induced intoxication (and perhaps the “grass” which he ate in 4:33 was hashish). Finally, Creighton maintains that the weird and wonderful visions Ezekiel experienced are “strongly suggestive of the subjective visual perceptions of hachish.”

Conclusions

In sum, evidence for the use of cannabis and hashish in ancient Israel is not very strong. While I grant there may be ambiguity in some of the passages appealed to, the arguments are pretty weak. Moreover, even if cannabis and/or hashish was used in ancient Israel (which anthropologically may be entirely plausible), that doesn’t in any way suggest that it is therefore OK for it to be used today.


8 Responses to “Marijuana and Hashish in the Old Testament?”

  1. Jeremy Pierce Says:

    It doesn’t seem all that controversial to say that everything God created is good, as long as you keep in mind that this falls far short of saying that every use we can make of anything in creation must therefore be perfectly fine. Once you start saying things like that, you get a very controversial view. It implies things like the moral goodness of administering arsenic to your neighbor, on the ground that everything God created, including arsenic, is good.

  2. joseph Says:

    I suppose it gives new life to verses like “I am the potter”…

  3. Chris Bennett Says:

    I think your statements on my letter were unfounded and by not citing the sources I refered to you deliberately mislead your readers. Moreover, such a complex issue could hardly be expected to be explained in a short newspaper LTE.

    Of the historical material indicating the Hebraic use of cannabis, the strongest and most profound piece of evidence was established in 1936 by Sula Benet (a.k.a. Sara Benetowa), a Polish etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw. Benet later stated that: “In the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament there are references to hemp, both as incense, which was an integral part of religious celebration, and as an intoxicant”(Benet 1975). Through comparative etymological study, Bennett documented that in the Old Testament and in its Aramaic translation, the Targum Onculos, hemp is referred to as kaneh bosm, which is also rendered in traditional Hebrew as kannabos or kannabus. The root “kan” in this construction means “reed” or “hemp”, while “bosm” means “aromatic”. This word appeared in Exodus 30:23, Song of Songs 4:14., Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:19.

    In 1980 the respected anthropologist Weston La Barre(1980) referred to the Biblical references in an essay on cannabis. In that same year respected British Journal New Scientist also ran a story that referred to the Hebrew Old Testament references, (Malyon & Henman 1980). A modern counterpart of the word is even listed in Ben Yehudas Pocket Dictionary and other Hebrew source books. Further, on line, the Internet’s informative Navigating the Bible, used by countless theological students, even refers to the Exodus 30:23 reference as possibly designating cannabis.

  4. Tyler F. Williams Says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment. I didn’t mean to mislead my readers — they could read the full article via the link I provided. The biggest problem with your arguments is that kaneh doesn’t appear to mean hemp in Classical Hebrew. Furthermore, appeals to the Aramaic Targums or the Latin Vulgate really doesn’t help us understand the Hebrew. It may help us understand how the translators understood the Hebrew in their context, but that is about it (especially for the Vulgate).

    Either way, the arugments are pretty weak. And even if there are some obscure references in the OT to hemp or the like, as I mentioned in my post, that doesn’t really say much about its use today.

    FYI: I deleted your two extremely long posts (I didn’t think that posting what is essentially an article was appropriate for the comments. Please feel free to let me know of a link to the article and I will be happy to post it (and perhaps even write another post engaging your arguments further, though I’m not sure I would have the time right away).

    Take care,

    Tyler

  5. Chris Bennett Says:

    New Film! The Fire Baptism and the Lost Sacraments
    Entheogens 101: with Pot-TV

    http://pot.tv/archive/shows/pottvshowse-3775.html

    38 minute excerpt for Preview. Interviews with Prof. Carl Ruck, Hemp Historian Chris Conrad, author Chris Bennett, The Church of the Universe and others. “New Film Confirms Cannabis in the Holy Anointing Oil, and Makes the link to this oil within early Christianity as part of the Fire Baptism of Jesus Christ. This Shocking New Film Documentary brings together the worlds foremost researchers on Cannabis in the Holy Anointing Oil as described in Exodus 30:23. The Holy Oil includes an ingredient translated as calamus. This translation is incorrect. Calamus contains a poison called asarone. The term Calamus was mistranslated in the earliest Greek Bible the Septuagint. The Hebrew in this case is Kaneh Bosem”
    Check out http://www.freeanointing.org for more details.

  6. whig Says:

    Tyler,

    I hope you would not be offended to have a discussion. Are you interested in religious testimony or are you purely persuaded by archaeological evidence? I believe the historical evidence is consistent with cannabis use in both Old and New Testaments, but may not be considered proven by one who does not believe. It is much like having a conversation about God with one who looks only for physical proof. Both can be proven to oneself by direct experience, but neither can be proven to another by testimony and documents alone.

  7. Tyler F. Williams Says:

    Hey Whig,

    No, I wouldn’t be offended at all. When it comes to the issue of cannabis in the OT, I just don’t think that there is enough evidence about the word kanon to make a judgement either way (I may post more on that in the future). And I find the arguments of Chris Bennett very weak; he finds one or two scholars who support his arguments and ignores the hundreds of other scholars who don’t. I personally have nothing at stake in the argument; I don’t really care either way if there was cannabis use during the OT period.

  8. Chris Bennett Says:

    So name some of these hundreds of scholars who disagree with the etymological identification of keneh with cannabis? Have any of them been through Sula Benet’s paper on the matter, or my own work. Stop making things up. People can google their names for their credentials.

    I’ll name some who do agree

    Sula benet, anthropologist, etymologist

    Weston La Barre, anthropologist

    Vera Rubin, Anthropologist

    Imanuelle Lowe, Botanist

    William Emboden, Botanist

    Carl Ruck, Mythologist Linguist

    Blaise Staples, Mythologist, Linguist

    as well people can go to Navigating the Bible and see that even in this mainstream source, cannabis appears with other candidates due to its etymology. When these references are placed in context of the Biblical storyline, the use of a healing and psychoactive shamanic plant becomes clear.

    And cannabis ointments were used in the first centuries after Christ, the messiah, or anointed, for both healing and spiritual purposes.