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 “Godâ€™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 ×§× ×”Ö¾×‘×©×? (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 ÎºÎ±Î»Î¬Î¼Î¿Ï… Îµá½?ÏŽÎ´Î¿Ï…Ï‚, “fragrant calamus/reed.” While scholars are not sure what excatly the Hebrew word ×‘×©×? (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, â€œThis 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” (×?×›×œ×ª×™ ×™×¢×¨×™ ×¢×?Ö¾×“×‘×©×?×™). The word in question is ×™×¢×¨ (ya’ar), which modern lexicons gloss with “honeycomb” and understand it as a homograph for ×™×¢×¨ “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” (×‘×™×¢×¨×ª ×”×“×‘×©×?) 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.”
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.