Cannabis and the Crucifixion, an Easter Special

CANNABIS CULTURE- “Some high Biblical commentators maintain that the gall and vinegar, or myrrhed wine, offered to our Saviour immediately before his crucifixion, was in all probability a preparation of hemp, and even speak of its earlier use”

The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (1860)

Upon first reading that statement, you may wonder what those Biblical scholars were high on! Certainly, accusations would fly against anyone who made such a statement today….However, when one takes a look at the history of cannabis as an anesthetic, and then connects this with the above-learned considerations of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal above, it opens up some very interesting possibilities. In 1965 Prof. High Schonefield, in his groundbreaking book The Passover Plot, made the controversial suggestions that the Crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was a planned hoax, done by Jesus and his followers with the aid of a potion that put him in a deathlike coma.

This plan was hatched, according to Schonefield, with the hopes of gaining more support from their fellow Jews. This of course sounds preposterous, but weighed against the generally accepted view of billions of Christians, that a man died, and was raised form the dead 3 days later, a miraculous event still celebrated almost 2,000 years later, it becomes slightly more believable.

In earlier works I have discussed the Hebrew use of Kaneh-bosm, evidence of Jewish use of cannabis infused wines, indications of Jesus’s use of a cannabis based healing oil, and look at the drug induced shamanic initiation of ancient Christian Gnosticism. In this story we examine the greatest of all the Biblical miracles, the story of Jesus’ resurrection.

Schonefield’s The Passover Plot was made into a dramatized film in 1976.

The Backstory….

Clearly, throughout the New Testament Gospels, Jesus himself is depicted as knowing of his eventual fate of crucifixion, even having foreknowledge of Judas’s betrayal, of which he makes reference to before his arrest, (Matthew 12:21-25; Mark 14:17; Luke 22:21; John 13:18-30). Despite the foreknowledge of Judas’ actions, neither Jesus, nor any of the disciples ever take actions against Judas to prevent him from accomplishing his heinous deed. Indeed, Jesus statement to Judas, “What you are about to do, do quickly”(John 13:27), could even be interpreted as encouragement. According to Jesus himself, his betrayal by Judas was done in order “to fulfill the scripture: ‘He who shares my bread has lifted his heel against me'”(John 13:18).

Numerous times the Gospels depict Jesus as paying attention to details in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecies related to the Messiah. Notable among such acts was Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem, a bold statement directed to his claim of divine kingship through the fulfillment of the prophecies of Zechariah: “Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as is written, ‘Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt'” (John 12:14). Indeed, such was the way Solomon entered into Jerusalem on his own coronation day, in the Canaanitish Sacred Marriage of the King to his Community and his Land. Even the resurrection of Lazarus, seems contrived, Jesus is asked to hurry as Lazarus is close to death, and responds “This sickness will not end in death, but it is for God’s glory so that through it the Son of God may be glorified” (John 11:4). Then takes a couple more days to get there…..

The fact that Jesus was paying such close attention to messianic prophecies during his short ministry brings into question whether Jesus was consciously, and with great effort, bringing about certain events in order to fulfill them, and thereby meet the requirements of messianic expectations. A number of researchers have commented on this, and have taken it even further suggesting that Jesus staged his own death in order to fulfill such prophecies. Acts that could conceivably have been directed at gaining the support of the Jewish populace. A concept that is rife with elements of religious and political intrigue…

Elements of this are indicated in surviving Gnostic and Christian documents from the first few centuries AD, as well as in the words of the Catholic Church fathers of that time who condemned these groups and suppressed their version of Jesus.

The Gnostic sect the Mandeans, who have survived down to the present day, taught that Jesus revealing of the formerly hidden secret spiritual gnosis to the unknowing masses angered many and may have lead to Jesus’ eventual betrayal by what had been one of his most trusted allies. It was for such a reason that the Mandeans felt their own Messiah, John the Baptist had made a mistake in initiating Jesus, whom they saw as a false-messiah, responsible for perverting the Gnosis and desecrating the keys to heaven by teaching these religious secrets to the unworthy. Similar sentiments could be found amongst the Gnostic Cainites. The Cainites were known not only for their reversal of Old Testament villains into heroes, such as their namesake Cain, the Serpent and the Sodomites, but also for the reverence they paid the New Testament’s supreme villain–Judas. “This is especially brought out in their ideas of New Testament history, which, in spite of their strangeness, may nevertheless contain a small trace of the true tradition of the cause of Jesus’ death”(Mead 1900). The Cainites viewed Judas as one who had attained a very high degree of Gnosis, and attributed a revered work that they circulated, The Gospel of Judas, to his name.

The Cainite historical tradition was “that Jesus, after becoming the Christ and teaching the higher doctrine… fell away and endeavored to overset the law, and corrupt the holy doctrine, and therefore Judas had him handed over to the authorities…. his too open preaching to the people was a divulging of the Mysteries, and so finally brought about his condemnation for blasphemy by the orthodox Jewish authorities”(Mead 1900). Irenaeus wrote that the Cainites “declare that Judas the traitor was thoroughly acquainted with…[their secrets]and that he alone, knowing the truth as no others did, accomplished the mystery of the betrayal”.

A more mystical tradition preserved by the Cainites, recorded that both Jesus and Judas had acted in accordance with the divine plan: For if Christ had not been betrayed to the cross, the mystic “salvation of the cross” would not have been consummated—Jesus would never have been crucified and resurrected, thus fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. That Judas could have worked so intimately and secretly in conjunction with Jesus is quite possible, as the oldest of the New Testament Gospels, Mark, records a Judas amongst Jesus’ own brothers (Mark 6:3).

The Potion….

Half a century ago Dr. Hugh Schonfield shocked the theological world with his sensational book The Passover Plot, which suggested that Jesus may have feigned death on the cross through a soporific potion – a hypothesis which if suggested only a few centuries earlier, would have seen the author burned at the stake, or worse. Suggesting that Jesus’ cry from the cross, ‘I am thirsty,” could have been a signal to receive a specially prepared potion, Schonfield speculated that the “plan may… have been suggested to Jesus by the prophetic words, ‘They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.’” With precision scholarship, Dr. Schonfield noted that if what Jesus “received had been the normal wine diluted with water the effect would have been stimulating. In this case it was exactly the opposite. Jesus lapsed quickly into complete unconsciousness. His body sagged. His head lolled on his breast, and to all intents and purposes he was a dead man…. Directly it was seen that the drug had worked…” (Schonfield 1965).

Deeply influenced by Schonfield’s research, the authors of the sensational international best-seller, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, expanded more fully on this theme in the early 1980s.

In the Fourth Gospel Jesus, hanging on the cross, declares that he thirsts. In reply to this complaint he is proffered a sponge allegedly soaked in vinegar – an incident that also occurs in the other Gospels. This sponge is generally interpreted as another act of sadistic derision. But was it really? Vinegar – or soured wine – is a temporary stimulant, with effects not unlike smelling salts. It was often used at the time to resuscitate flagging slaves on galleys. For a wounded and exhausted man, a sniff or taste of vinegar would induce a restorative effect, a momentary surge of energy. And yet in Jesus’ case the effect is just the contrary. No sooner does he inhale or taste the sponge then he pronounces his final words and ‘gives up the ghost’. Such a reaction to vinegar is physiologically inexplicable. On the other hand such a reaction would be perfectly compatible with a sponge soaked not in vinegar, but in some type of soporific drug – a compound of opium and or belladonna, for instance, commonly employed in the Middle East at the time. But why proffer a soporific drug? Unless the act of doing so, along with all the other components of the Crucifixion, were elements of a complex and ingenious stratagem – a stratagem designed to produce a semblance of death when the victim, in fact, was still alive. Such a stratagem would not only have saved Jesus’ life, but also have realized the Old Testament prophecies of a Messiah. (Baigent, Leigh & Lincoln, 1982)

Among initial suggestions were things like opium, belladonna, and mandrake. Opium was widely available in this period, and could be used for such purposes. Paracelsus in the 15th century wrote of his opium based preparations ability to “wake up the dead, and indeed he proved that patients who seemed to be dead suddenly arose” (Farrar, et. al., 2006)

Before the Middle Ages, Belladonna was used as an anesthetic for surgery; As well a preparation of mandrake, which was in use during this time period, may have helped to induce a deathlike stupor needed to fool the Roman soldiers and Jewish populace. Thomas Cisteriensis (d. 1190 A.D.) wrote of the mandrake “The mandragora is a plant which effects such a deep sleep that one can cut a person and he feels not the pain. For the mandragora symbolizes striving in contemplation. Its reverie allows a person to fall into a sleep of such delicious sweetness that he no longer feels any of the cutting which his earthly enemies inflict upon him, and he no longer cares about any earthly thing. For his soul has now closed off its senses from all that is external – it lies in the benevolent sleep of the eternal.”*
*As quoted in (Ratsch 1997)

A quotation from Avicenna reads: ‘A patient who wants to have an amputation of one of his organs must have a drink drink prepared from a mixture of of mandagora and other sleeping drugs”…. Other plants used for the same purpose were: Indian cannabis (Hashish), opium poppies… , hemlock… and hyocyamus.

The Moslem scientists can also be credited with the introduction of inhalation anaesthesia by using the ‘anaesthetic sponge’… (Atkinson & Boulton, 1989).

However, one thing all the aforementioned plant drugs have in common is potential toxicity and death, from an inappropriate dose. In regards to cannabis, this is not an issue. we certainly know it was used for such purposes in later medieval times, as well as more ancient times. As noted, cannabis was considered a “sleeping drug” by Avicenna, and the “Arabs introduced hashish as a sedative… as early as 700 A.D.” (Wechsler, 1963). Anaesthetic preparations were often mixtures of drugs in both the ancient world and later period, and cananbis was often prepared with those plants mentioned above for such purposes. Al Zahrawi (936-1013) “used opium and hashish as anesthetics” to surgically remove laryngeal tumours and perform tonsillectomies, (Chokroverty & Billard, 2015). Franz Rosenthal, in The Herb: Hashish vs Medieval Society mentions an Ismai’ilian cannabis infused delicacy ‘uqdah, that “consisted of hashish mixed with honey and a number of desiccating ingredients such as mandrake root… and the like. It had to be sold… clandestinely” (Rosenthal, 1971).

An article in the Siberian Times suggested that ancient anaesthetics may have been in use in Russia, around 3,000 years ago, cannabis infused wines have been used as anaesthetic for almost 2 millennia, referring to a number of plants “ the ‘most obvious’, however, was probably cannabis” (Liesowska, 2016). . In China almost 2,000 years ago Hua T’o is reputed to have performed such complicated operations after giving the patient cannabis infused wine known as ma-yo, such as “organ grafts, resectioning of intestines, laparotomies (incisions into the loin), and thoracotomies (incisions into the chest)” (Abel 1980). An excerpt from his biography gives us a descriptive account of how this ancient medical sage utilized cannabis in these procedures;

“…he administered a preparation of hemp [ma-yo] and, in the course of several minutes, an insensibility developed as if one had been plunged into drunkenness or deprived of life. Then, according to the case, he performed the opening, the incision or amputation and relieved the cause of the malady; then he apposed the tissues by sutures and applied liniments. After a certain number of days the patient finds he has recovered without having experienced the slightest pain during the operation.
*As quoted in (Abel, 1980)

In relation to this, it is important to note that one of the effects attributed to bhanga/mang (cannabis) in the Zoroastrian accounts is that it put the user into a condition outwardly resembling sleep (stard), and this comatose state would last for as much as 2 days, and it was in this state, many of the visions which are at the core of Zoroastrian cosmology were seen. The literal meaning of the term “stard” is “spread out, sprawled.”

Although it is little known in the modern day, in extremely high doses, and through powerful extracts, cannabis has been reported to put its imbibers into a state similar to animal ‘hibernation’. In some accounts, this state was combined with a rigamortis like physical condition known catalepsy. “Catalepsy is a mysterious condition, characterized by the immobility of the muscles which can sometimes be mistaken for death. The limbs have a ‘waxy flexibility’ and can be molded into bizarre positions where they remain indefinitely” (Wilkins 1992). This is similar to claims made about the potion used by the Old Man of the Mountains when he drugged perspective Hashishins. who themselves were allegedly put into such a state of unconsciousness, that themselves and others, thought they had temporarily died and gone to heaven, and as noted earlier, this likely represented a method passed down from the earlier Zoroastrian tradition.

In the 19th century researcher, Dr. James Braid wrote a monograph entitled Trance and Human Hibernations, which suggested that in India cannabis may have been used by Fakir’s in order to induce just such a state. Some excerpts of Braid’s research appeared in the 1855 classic Plant Intoxicants, by Baron Ernst Von Bibra in a chapter on hashish. Braid discussed a number of eye-witness accounts of Indian Fakirs who had allowed themselves to be buried alive and were later disinterred and found still alive. Amongst these accounts are recorded the words of Sir Claude Wade who was present at the court of Runjeet Singh when one such Fakir was buried in a specially prepared room that was “completely sealed off from the access of atmospheric air” and then disinterred weeks later! Wade described the end of the allotted time period when he joined Runjeet Singh and the Fakir’s servant and broke the seal of the specially prepared room:

Provided with light, we descended about three feet below the floor of the room, into a sort of cell. This cell too, was locked and sealed, and it contained a wooden box, about four feet long by three feet broad, with a sloping cover, placed upright.

Opening the box we saw a figure enclosed in a white bag. The Fakeer’s servant took this figure out of the box and placed it upright against the door. When he took off the bag, the legs and arms of the body were shrivelled and stiff, and the head reclined, corpse-like, on the shoulders. No pulse in the heart, the temples, or the arms could be discovered.

The servant then sprinkled warm water on the body, while we forcefully rubbed its arms and legs. During this time the servant placed a hot wheat cake on the head, a process which he twice or thrice renewed. He then pulled out of the nostrils and ears the cotton and wax contained in them; and after great exertion opened the Fakeer’s mouth by inserting the point of a knife between his teeth and drew his tongue forward, which, however, flew back several times to its former position. He then rubbed the Fakeer’s eyelid with ghee, or clarified butter, for some seconds, until he succeeded in opening them, when the eyes appeared quite motionless and glazed.

After he applied the cake for a third time to the head, the body was violently convulsed, the nostrils became inflated, and the limbs became pliable and began to assume a natural fullness. The servant then put some of the ghee on the Fakeer’s tongue and made him swallow it. A few minutes later, the pupils became dilated and the eyes recovered their natural appearance, and the Fakeer said, in a low, sepulchral tone, scarcely audible, “Do you believe me now?” From the opening of the box to the recovery of the Fakeer’s voice, not more than half an hour could have elapsed, and in another half hour the Fakeer talked with us, although with a feeble voice. (Sir Claude Wade)

Fakir by D’Achille, Gino (20th century)

Other such cases were reported by reliable eyewitnesses and like Wade’s description, when the Fakir’s bodies were disinterred they “were found stiff and rigid like a corpse, but with the application of the aforesaid treatment, they were restored to life… It is possible that some of the fakirs possess a hemp preparation that enables them to undergo the described experiments. This is especially supported by the catalepsy that sets in after hemp resin has been taken” (Von Bibra 1855). In reference to “catalepsy”, Von Bibra is referring to the research on the effects of hashish that had been conducted in India during the first half of the 19th century by a Dr. W.B. O’Shaughnessy, who reported the following account of a patient that had been given “one grain of the resin of hemp… administered in a solution.” Worried by the effects the drug was apparently having on the patient some hours after it had been administered, a nurse summoned Dr. O’Shaughnessy to the hospital, where he was alarmed to find the patient “lying on his cot quite insensible”;

“…I chanced to lift up the patient’s arm. The professional reader will judge of my astonishment, when I found that it remained in the posture in which I placed it. It required but a very brief examination of the limbs to find that the patient had, by the influence of this narcotic, been thrown into that strange and most extraordinary of all nervous conditions, into that state what so few have seen and the existence of which so many still discredit – the genuine catalepsy of the nosologist…. We raised [the patient]… to a sitting position, and placed his arms and limbs in every imaginable attitude. A waxen figure could not be more pliant, or more stationery in each position, no matter how contrary to the natural influence of gravity on the part.” (O’Shaughnessy 1839)

Due to such effects, Braid wrote that: “Some imagine that it is through the influence of a large dose of hachisch that the Fakeers accomplish the above-recorded feats of suffering themselves to be reduced to a dormant state for various periods of duration…” (Braid, 1865). Braid felt that there was more involved in this, and he felt that “a state of self-induced trance, or human hibernation producible at will by artificial contrivance [yogic techniques, breathing etc.]… is a far more rational solution to the phenomena” (Braid, 1865). However elsewhere he acknowledged that “The peculiar conditions… induced by Bangue, Hachisch, and Dawamesc,* in the East, all tend to illustrate certain conditions producible by artificial contrivances” (Braid, 1865). Thus a combination of techniques in the Fakir’s magic can in no way be ruled out, and it seems plausible that plants were used in combination with yogic techniques in the case of the resurrected Fakirs.
*aka “Medicine of Immortality” known to have been a hashish concoction that was popular with 19th-century French occultists

Although even to say it was rare, would be an overstatement, there have been accounts of people being presumed dead, while in just such a state of extreme cannabis intoxication. The turn of the century author L. W. De Laurence reported the following tragic case of a cannabis overdose:

A case of living internment which came under this author’s notice in India was that of a young Hindu of low caste, about thirty years of age, who took an Indian drug called Cannabis Indica or Indian Cannabis (made from the plant Cannabis Sativa), with suicidal intent. He was to all appearances dead when found by relatives. An English physician was called and after making the usual examination and tests in such cases, pronounced the young man dead. His funeral services were held three days later; the coffin containing the supposed corpse being placed in a receiving cave.

At the expiration of the ten days, the time set for burial, the coffin was opened by the attendant in order that the relatives might have a look at their dead. A horrible site met their gaze—a sight that filled their hearts with horror and unutterable grief. The young man had turned half over on his left side, while in his right hand, clenched in death’s agony, was found fragments of hair which had been torn from his head. The cloth around his neck also showed evidence of his attempt to tear it during the struggle he had made against death. (De Laurence, 1905)

In the 19th century, James Simpson and co-authors, likely referring to the work of Dr. Braid and other sources regarding the Fakirs apparent ability for extended periods of “hibernation”, noted that the “wonderful power of endurance of the Hindu Suttee appears to have been sometimes procured by the influence of this powerful drug [i.e. cannabis]” (Simpson, et al., 1856). Even more interesting, in this regard, is the following suggestion from this same group:

Some high Biblical commentaries maintain that the gall and vinegar or myrrhed wine offered to our Saviour immediately before his crucifixion was a preparation, in all probability, of hemp, which was in these, as well as in later times, occasionally given to criminals before punishment or execution—while 700 years previously it is possibly spoken of, according to the same authorities, by the prophet Amos as the “wine of the condemned.” (Simpson, et al., 1856)

The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Vol. 1 (1861), took this further, connecting it with cannabis role as an anesthetic and well as the Fakir’s power of ‘resurrection’:

Dr. Simpson says, the anodyne, ecstatic and amesthetic effects of Indian hemp, and the various preparations made from it, have long been known in Africa and Asia. He states, that “ Sir Joseph Banks says, it is always taken in Barbary, when it can be procured, by criminals condemned to suffer amputation, and it is said to enable those wretches to bear the rough operations of an unfeeling executioner, better than we Europeans can the keen knife of our most skilful surgeons.” M. Julien lately pointed out to the French Academy an old Chinese work, proving that 1500 years ago a preparation of hemp was employed medicinally in China, to annul the pain attendant upon cauterization and surgical operations. The wonderful power of endurance of the Hindu devotees appears to have been sometimes produced by the influence of this powerful drug. Some high Biblical commentators maintain that the gall and vinegar, or myrrhed wine, offered to our Saviour immediately before his crucifixion, was in all probability a preparation of hemp, and even speak of its earlier use.

In earlier articles, I referred to cannabis-infused wines in the story of Ezra, as well as among later Gnostic groups, so the idea that such preparations may have been available at the time of the crucifixion seems likely.

The Talmud refers to a similar practice: “The one on his way to execution was given a piece of incense in a cup of wine, to help him fall asleep” (Sanh. 43a). “…[A]n illustration is furnished by the soldiers giving Jesus ‘wine mingled with myrrh,’ or, which is the same, ‘vinegar’ = sour wine; ‘mingled with gall’ = a bitter drug, without specifying the kind (Mark. xv. 23; Matt. xxvii. 34)” (Lawrence, 1871). Such preparations were used by the ancient Jews, for ritual intoxication, and for easing pain. A Reverend E. A Lawrence, in an essay on ‘The wine of the Bible’ in a 19th-century edition of The Princeton Review, noted that:

It appears to have been an ancient custom to give medicated or drugged wine to criminals condemned to death, to blunt their senses, and so lessen the pains of execution. To this custom there is supposed to be an allusion, Prov. xxxi. 6, ‘Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish,’ …To the same custom some suppose there is a reference in Amos 8, where the ‘ wine of the condemned’ is spoken of… The wicked here described, in addition to other evil practices, imposed unjust fines upon the innocent, and spent the money thus unjustly obtained upon wine, which they quaffed in the house of their gods…

Mixed wine is often spoken of in Scripture. This was of different kinds… sometimes, by lovers of strong drink, with spices of various kinds, to give it a richer flavor and greater potency (ls. v. 22; Ps. lxxv. 8). The ‘ royal wine,’ literally wine of the kingdom… Esther i. 7), denotes most probably the best wine, such as the king of Persia himself was accustomed to drink. (Lawrence, 1871)

Thus, this infused wine, not only had pain numbing qualities but was also “quaffed in the house of their gods” giving clear indication it was sought after for entheogenic effects as well. That it is compared to the wines of the Kind of Persia, also brings us back to the cannabis infused wines of the Zoroastrian period, such as that taken by King Vishtaspa, and records refer to the death like coma ‘stard’ that this preparation would put its imbibers in. In reference to “unguents” such as the Holy oil, placing “incense” into wine, we are reminded of the Kaneh Bosm (cannabis infused incenses and anointing oils) referred to in earlier articles, indicating these substances may have come to have been placed directly into wine. In regards to myrrhed wine, it is worth noting that Dr. David Hillman, who holds combined degrees in Classics and Bacteriology, has suggested that ancient myrrh was often doctored with cannabis resins “The [ancient]Arabs… will take the rub, basically the hashish… they adulterate it with myrrh, so you end up with these combinations of plants that actually end up together… myrrh and cannabis, you see them associated… often” (Hillman, 2015).

The English editor of Salverte’ s The Occult Sciences, Dr. Anthony Thompson believed that such preparations had filtered into magic and certain sects of Islam, suggesting something similar had been used by the Old man of the Mountain and his Hashishin!
*(Lawrence, 1871)

But is it likely that the Thaumaturgists would be unacquainted with a secret known to all antiquity, and especially in Palestine? The Rabbins* inform us, that a drink of wine and strong liquors was given to the unhappy ones condemned to death* and powders were mixed in the liquor, in order to render it stronger, and to deaden the senses.

In the second century of our era, it is related by Apuleius, that a man fortified himself against the violence of blows by a potion containing myrrh. If, as we think, myrrh could only be drunk in the form of a tincture, the effect of the alcohol must have increased the efficacy of the stupifying drug. We observe everywhere, that this property attributed to the myrrh, is not among those for which it is employed in the present day as a medicine. The name of myrrh, however, might serve to disguise a preparation*, the ingredients of which were intended to be kept secret. But in either case, the Old Man of the Mountain could not certainly have been ignorant of a secret which had for so long a time prevailed in Palestine, and which he might also have borrowed from Egypt. (Thomson, 1847)

Independently, the German researcher Holger Kersten has also suggested that cannabis may have been amongst the ingredients in the drink which put Jesus into a deathlike stupor, here connecting it with the traditions of Soma and Haoma (Kersten 1986).

How did Jesus come (apparently) to die immediately after he had taken the bitter drink? Was it really vinegar that he was given?…. Perhaps the supposed drink of vinegar instead contained the active ingredients of the sacred drink of the Indians and Persians, Soma and Haoma (respectively)….

Soma, the sacred drink of India, enabled an adept to enter a deathlike state for several days, and to awaken afterwards in an elated state that lasted a few days more. In this state of ecstasy, a ‘higher consciousness’ spoke through the adept and he had visionary powers. In addition to Asclepias acida, the Soma might also have contained Indian hemp (Cannabis indica) – tradition has it that it featured in the drink of Zarathustra. (Kersten 1986)

Dana Beal and Paul De Rienzo put forth a similar hypothesis about Haoma and cannabis, suggesting this deathlike stupor on the cross included the potent MAOI* drug plant Peganum harmala, or Syrian rue, was also used.**

*Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitor

**Dana Beal and Paul De Rienzo also suggest Syrian rue was a Gnostic sacrament, referring to its continued use by the surviving Gnostic sect, the Mandeans, as well as joining the speculations of Flattery and Schwartz (Haoma & Harmaline, 1989), that Syrian rue was the main ingredient in the Persian Haoma.

…the key ingredient of the lost soma of the Vedas was the very same “vinegar and gall” administered to Jesus on a sponge at the moment of his crucifixion, according to the Gospel of John. We know this because of the telltale action of harmaline at the antistroke (NMDA) receptor, and because the body’s own version of harmaline is implicated in the mechanism of a kind of naturally occurring deathlike suspended animation, discovered at the coronary unit of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. This is big news for the Jesus Seminar. Not only does it go a long way in explaining the takeover of Mithras, the orthodox religions of late Roman times, by the Christ cult (whence comes the wine and wafer), it explains the actual relationship of cannabis to the Zaotar cup (Grail), since the preparation of an active soma mixture involved cannabis in virtually every recipe, according to [German researcher] Hans-Georg Behr. (Beal 1997)

Interestingly, one of the first accounts in European literature, which is generally assumed to be a reference to ‘hashish’, although it is not named directly, occurs in the classic work The Decameron (1353), by Giovanni Bocaccio, and this identifies exactly the sort of use we have been discussing. This reference appears in a story of an Abbot who drugged a man named Ferondo, to the point of fooling both the victim and witnesses that he had died:

…he [the Abbot]sought out a powder of marvellous virtue, which he had gotten in the parts of the Levant of a great prince who avouched it to be that which was wont to be used of the Old Man of the Mountain,* whenas he would fain send any one, sleeping, into his paradise or bring him forth thereof, and that, according as more or less thereof was given, without doing any hurt, it made him who took it sleep more or less [time]on such wise that, whilst its virtue lasted, none would say he had life in him. Of this he took as much as might suffice to make a man sleep three days and putting it in a beaker of wine, that was not yet well cleared, gave it to Ferondo to drink in his cell, without the latter suspecting aught; after which he carried him into the cloister and there with some of his monks fell to making sport of him and his dunceries; nor was it long before, the powder working, Ferondo was taken with so sudden and overpowering a drowsiness, that he slumbered as yet he stood afoot and presently fell down fast asleep.

The abbot made a show of being concerned at this accident and letting untruss him, caused fetch cold water and cast it in his face and essay many other remedies of his fashion, as if lie would recall the strayed life and senses from [the oppression of]some fumosity of the stomach or what not like affection that had usurped them. The monks, seeing’ that for all this he came not to himself and feeling his pulse, but finding no sign of life in him, all held it for certain that he was dead. Accordingly, they sent to tell his wife and his kinsfolk, who all came thither forthright, and the lady having bewept him awhile with her kinswomen, the abbot caused lay him, clad as he was, in a tomb; whilst the lady returned to her house and giving out that she meant never to part from a little son, whom she had had by her husband, abode at home and occupied herself with the governance of the .child and of the wealth which had been Ferondo’s. Meanwhile, the abbot arose stealthily in the night and with the aid of a Bolognese monk, in whom he much trusted and who was that day come thither from Bologna, took up Ferondo out of the tomb and carried him into a vault, in which there was no light to be seen and which had been made for prison of such of the monks as should make default in aught. There.they pulled off his garments and clothing him monk-fashion, laid him on a’ truss of straw and there left him against he should recover his senses, whilst the Bolognese monk, having been instructed by the abbot of that which he had to do, without any else-knowing aught thereof, proceeded to await his coming to himself.*
*The Decameron of Giovanni Boccacci, Villon society, (1886).

As a footnote to the 19th-century translation of The Decameron, from which this quote came, notes of this preparation:

The well-known chief of the Assassins (properly Heshashin, i.e. hashish or hemp eaters).’ The powder in question is apparently a preparation of hashish or. hemp.’ Boccaccio seems to have taken his idea of the Old Man of the “Mountain from Marco Polo, whose travels, published in the early part of the fourteenth century, give a most romantic account of that chieftain and his followers.*

Another well-known example of a drug-induced death like state occurs in is that of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. As discussed in a 2001 article, Shakespeare may have had some awareness of cannabis, and two South African professors have suggested he used the herb, and they have stuck by their theory for close to 2 decades. In Romeo and Juliet, a Christian monk, Father Laurence gives Juliet a philtre that will put her into a death-like state for almost two days:

Take thou this vial, being then in bed,
And this distilled liquor drink thou off;
When presently through all thy veins shall run
A cold and drowsy humour, for no pulse
Shall keep his native progress, but surcease:
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest;
The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade
To paly ashes, thy eyes’ windows fall,
Like death, when he shuts up the day of life;
Each part, deprived of supple government,
Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death:
And in this borrow’d likeness of shrunk death
Thou shalt continue two and forty hours,
And then awake as from a pleasant sleep.

Romeo and Juliet: Act 4 Scene 1

Closer to our own time, Robert Anton Wilson referred to tests sponsored by the US army in the 1950’s, where “THC (tetrahydrocannabinol)… put dogs into ‘hibernation’ or deep sleep for eight days, after which they were awakened and showed no ill effects” (Wilson 1973). unfortunately, as with a lot of his writings, Wilson failed to provide any source for this claim, and I have been unable to track down any reference to this test.

Clearly, some of the above substances, considered magical sacraments in the ancient and medieval world, are so powerful that they can put the people who ingest them in requisite amounts into a deathlike coma that could conceivably have made other ancient onlookers think that they had actually died. Cannabis figures prominently and certainly safest amongst such preparations. Further, going back more than 150 years to the present, numbers of independent researcher have concluded that Jesus was given some sort of cannabis extract, along with potentially other potent ingredients, as he hung on the Cross. As well, in later Persian Islamic times, hashish preparations were used for similar effects by the Gnostic-influenced Hashishin for their own romanticized near death experience initiations.
A Pot Plot Hatched…

If Christ arranged to receive such a cannabis extract on the day of the Crucifixion, the resulting cataleptic state of hibernation induced by a cannabis extract, and likely other ingredients, could easily have been mistaken for death by the Romans who stood guard over him, along with the Jewish crowd who had come out to watch another claimant to the title of “Messiah” meet their typical fate. As the powerful preparation took effect, the limbs would begin stiffening, the heartbeat slowing down to an occasional thud, the breath dropping off to a faint whisper of a still body that more and more resembled a corpse……

John 19 tells of the night of the crucifixion in detail that fits in completely with this hypothesis:

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled, Jesus said “I am thirsty.” A Jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Now… the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jews did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man that was crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. (John19:33)

Death, in the case of a crucifixion, came through suffocation; as the arms and legs gave out from exhaustion and stress, the lung cavity contracted, and in some cases this took days. By lessening these supports considerably, the breaking of the legs hastened this process. John has it that because Jesus was already dead, the soldiers do not break his legs, but instead pierce Christ’s side with a spear. There is even a witness to this, one unnamed bystander: “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe” (John 19:35). (The man doth protest too much!) Schonfield suggested that the story of the spear thrust into Jesus’ side “may have been introduced to historicize certain Old Testament testimonies” (Schonfield 1965).

This brings us to the pivotal point of the Biblical narrative, where, to all outsiders, including Jesus’ own apostles, all seems to be over for the charismatic leader that they had believed was going to lead them into a new age of glory.

It is the moment before sundown in Jerusalem. On the hill of Golgotha three bodies are suspended on crosses. Two – the thieves – are dead. The third appears so. This is the drugged body of Jesus of Nazareth, the man who planned his own crucifixion, who contrived to be given a soporific potion to put him into a deathlike trance. Now Joseph of Arimathea, bearing clean linen and spices, approaches and recovers the still form of Jesus. All seems to be proceeding according to plan. (Schonfield 1965)

The aloes and spices brought by Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to Jesus’s tomb to supposedly embalm their now dead leader pose a particularly curious question, as embalming was not a practice of the Jews of the time. Perhaps these lotions served some other purpose? It has been suggested that “in reality, there were efforts behind the scenes to ‘bring Jesus back to life’ in the privacy of the tomb cavern, under the direction of Joseph and Nicodemus” (Kersten 1986).

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who had earlier visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen*. This was in accordance with the Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no-one had ever been laid. (John 19:38-41)

*In earlier times “among the Hebrews is the religious requirement that the dead be buried in ‘kaneh’ shirts. Centuries later, linen was substituted for hemp” (Benet, 1975).

It does not take an overly active imagination to picture Jesus’ “secret” servants Joseph and Nicodemus rubbing the stiffened joints of Jesus’ bodies with large quantities of healing herbs and spices which they had brought in preparation, and slowly waking their master from his death-like cataleptic state which had been induced by the substance delivered to him on the cross. A scenario that is reminiscent of the role played by the fakir’s helper in the account discussed earlier, along with the Story of the Abbot and Monk, reviving poor Ferondo after his drug-induced ‘death’.

Such a scenario, although sounding somewhat fanciful, is far more believable than that of the alternative, held to be true by literally millions of Christians – That a man died, decomposed for three days and three nights, then arose from the Dead!

Life After the Cross?

Ancient Gnostics rejected the concept of Jesus’ literal resurrection, which they termed the “faith of the fools”. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, (3rd century AD) describes this belief as “ludicrous…. an imitation… a doctrine of a dead man”. The Gnostic differences on this are brought to light in The Apocalypse of Peter (2nd century AD);

They will cleave to the name of a dead man, thinking that they will become pure. But they will become greatly defiled and they will fall into the name of error and into the hand of an evil, cunning man and a manifold dogma……there shall be others of those who are outside our number who name themselves bishop and also deacons, as if they have received their authority from God. They bend themselves under the judgment of the leaders. These people are dry canals.

The belief in the Resurrection of Jesus is also rejected in the Islamic world, which teaches that God transformed another man to look identical to Jesus, and he was crucified in his place. A surviving Gnostic sect in the Arabian Peninsula, the Sabians, reject Jesus’ divinity outright and instead pay homage to John the Baptist. Other groups in the Mid-East claim Jesus survived the cross and lived in the area.

A Sufi\Christian group in Western Afghanistan, the followers of Isa, son of Maryam — Jesus the son of Mary, claim to have secret knowledge concerning the life of Christ after his crucifixion. In an account given in Among the Dervishes, by O.M.Burke, (1973), the author states that at first, he assumed this group, estimated to contain about one thousand members, were converted to Christianity by early European missionaries, and then goes on to state; “But, from their own accounts and what I could observe, they seem to come from some much older source”

According to these People, Jesus escaped from the Cross, was hidden by friends, was helped to flee to India, where he had been before during his youth, and settled in Kashmir, where he is revered as an ancient teacher, Yuz Asaf. It is from this period of the supposed life of Jesus that these people claim to have got their message. (Burke 1973)

Holger Kersten also referred to this curious and little-known tradition of Jesus’ life after the cross and points out the title that the Afghani followers placed on the figure they claim is the post-crucifixion Jesus, Yuz Asaf, goes back some centuries. It is referred to “in the Farang-i-Asafia, an ancient work recounting the history of Persia, which relates that Jesus (Hazrat Issa) healed some lepers, who were thereafter called Asaf–‘the purified’s having been cured of their complaint. Yuz means ‘leader,’ so Yuz Asaf can be taken to mean ‘leader of the healed,’ a common epithet for Jesus.”(Kersten 1986).

Idries Shah refers to a dervish tale, The Four Treasures, which involves a magic mirror, magic cup, magic staff and magic cloak, and sacred medicines which some have seen as a “disguised reference to the claim that Jesus did not die on the cross” (Shaw, 1967). Elsewhere Shah refers to “the dervish practice of ceremonially rejecting a cross with the words, ‘You may have the Cross, but we have the meaning of the Cross,’ which is still in use. This, incidentally, could be the origin of the Templar habit, alleged by witnesses, that the Knights ‘trod on the Cross’.” (Shah, 1964).

Clearly, the story of Jesus death on the cross, and his resurrection from the Dead, along with the promise that this act of ‘self-sacrifice’ somehow received the sins of his devotees, and the promise that upon his return they too shall be resurrected, or enjoy an eternal state of bliss in Heaven, is what has led to Christianity becoming one of the leading World’s Religions, as well as its lasting impact, for better or worse, on the world at large.

The Theological Implications

The claim that Jesus’s death on the cross was a hoax, could be the most loaded threat the Catholic Church could have ever faced. The whole concept of the religion itself is based on the concepts of Original Sin, and Redemption by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross, and the only way to receive Christ’s Redemption was through the Church. This was the “doctrine of a dead man” ridiculed in by the Gnostics as a “doctrine to fear and slavery” (The Second Treatise of the Great Seth, 3rd Century AD). As Elaine Pagels so eloquently noted, the doctrine of the crucifixion “legitimized a hierarchy of persons through whose authority all others must approach God. Gnostic teaching,.. was potentially subversive of this order: it claimed to offer to every initiate direct access to God of which the priests and bishops themselves might be ignorant”(Pagels 1979).

…[T]he doctrine of the resurrection…serves an essential political function: it legitimizes the authority of certain men who claim to exercise exclusive leadership over the churches as successors of the apostle Peter. From the second century, the doctrine has served to validate the apostolic succession of bishops, the basis of papal authority to this day. Gnostic Christians who interpret resurrection in other ways have a lesser claim to authority: when they claim priority over the orthodox, they are denounced as heretics.(Pagels 1979).

If this shakes your belief system up, just write it off as the stoned ramblings of a reefer addict, or take solace in the fact that there is more actual healing power in this same plant than all of the churches of the world combined…

Read Chris Bennett’s book, Cannabis and the Soma Solution,  for more information on marijuana’s fascinating role in magic and religion.


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Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in magic and religion for over a quarter century, his books include 'Green Gold the tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion' (1995); 'Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible' (2001); 'Cannabis and the Soma Solution' (2010. He Currently resides in Vancouver, BC, Canada, where he runs his ethnobotanical shop The Urban Shaman.