Part 2 of the Great Keneh Bosem Debate:

In Part 1 of The Great Keneh Bosem Debate, we discussed a critical essay at the Christian website, “Does the Bible talk about Marijuana?”, which raised some questions about the correctness of the research of the Polish anthropologist Sula Benet regarding the identity of the Hebrew term Keneh bosem with cannabis.

As has limited my responses on their site in regards to these criticism, although it claims to be “open for comment” deleting and not posting a number of entries, I have posted my responses here in my own blog, in a 3 part series. So if you are joining now, you should go back and read part 1 to get a better understanding.

One of the more notable points of contention I have with the Truth-Saves article, is that the author only chose to use one of the five references that Sula Benet referred too, and when we examine these references in their context an identification with cannabis becomes even more clear. More over these other references also answer the inevitable question “If cannabis played such an important role in the Hebrew religion, how did it come to disappear?”

I invite the fine folks from and other interested researchers to read through the following material FROM SEX, DRUGS, VIOLENCE AND THE BIBLE and CANNABIS AND THE SOMA SOLUTION, which fully answers those questions as well as offering some interesting new insights into the origins of both Judaism and the Old Testament texts, in Part 2 of the Great Keneh Bosem Debate:

Part 2 of the Great Keneh Bosem Debate

At the time of the prophet Samuel, the use of the shamanic Hebrew anointing oil described in Exodus 30:23 was extended from the use of just priests, to include Kings as well. Although cannabis is not mentioned directly by name in Samuel, the description of events that take place after Samuel anoints Israel’s first king, Saul, make clear the psycho-active nature of the ointment used. Samuel “took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul’s head” (1 Samuel 10:1). After the anointing Samuel tells Saul: “The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power…and you will be changed into a different person”(1 Samuel 10:6), a statement indicating that the magical (psycho-active) power of the ointment will shortly take effect. Samuel tells Saul that when this happens, he will come across a band of prophets (Nebiim) Coming down from a mountaintop, “with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them prophesying’ (1 Samuel 10:5), and that Saul will join them.

“[After Saul’s anointing] As Samuel foretold, the spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon the new king and he ‘prophesied among them’. The verb ‘to prophecy’ in this context [nebiim]meant not to foretell the future but to behave ecstatically, to babble incoherently under the influence of the Spirit. This bizarre conduct associated with prophesying is apparent when in a second burst of such activity, Saul stripped off his clothing and lay naked all day and night, causing the people to ask, ‘Is Saul among the prophets?’ (1 Samuel 19:24).” (Cole 1959)

Clearly in the account of Saul’s anointing we are dealing with the effects of much more than a mere placebo, I am sure Tim would argue he was possessed by the Lord, but the reality is that a topical application had been applied before the event.

The next direct literary reference to cannabis in the OLD TESTAMENT, here just as q’aneh, occurs in Solomon’s Song of Songs 4.14, where it where it grows in an orchard of fragrant and exotic fruits, herbs, and spices:

“Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, come with me from Lebanon… How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your ointment than any spice!…The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon…Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron, keneh [cannabis]and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree…” (Song of Songs 4:8-14)

The Song of Songs is without a doubt the most beautiful piece of prose that can be found in the whole OLD TESTAMENT. Interestingly, rather than being a song in praise of the Monotheistic worship of Yahweh, modern research has convincingly shown it to be the Semitic counter part of the ancient fertility poems dedicated to the sexual relationship of the ancient Near Eastern deities Tammuz and Ishtar (Pope, 1977). A view discussed at length in Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible:

“… Apparently, Solomon did not limit his use of incense, to the temple of Yahweh, or the Lord’s worship. “Solomon loved Yahweh: he followed the precepts of David his father, except that he offered sacrifice and incense on the high places.” (I Kings 3:3). Here we can see references to Solomon’s worship of Astartre\Ishtar , who was conventionally worshipped on mountains and hilltops. The Old Testament itself testifies to this fact, telling us that Solomon’s “foreign wives led him astray” and that through them the Hebraic king had began “following Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians…” (1 Kings 11:3-5).” (Bennett & McQueen, 2001)

These references certainly bring to mind the “aromatic of Ishara”, , which contained cannabis and was used in sacred rites dedicated to the Goddess under her various near eastern names (Reiner, 1995; White, 2008). “ …[T]he multifaceted goddess Ishara. She does not appear to be a native Mesopotamian deity, but was worshipped by many people throughout the ancient Near East, which has led to a confusing array of attributions – she is known as a great goddess to the Hurrians, the wife of Dagon among the West Semites, and to the Akkadians she was a goddess of love with close affinities to Istar, whose sacred plant cannabis (qunnabu) was known as the aromatic of Ishara… from her widespread worship she is also known as the queen of the inhabited world” (White, 2008)

This association was likely widespread and considerably ancient, as the continuous worship of the Goddess, under a variety of evolving and related names, and images, can be traced back far into the Stone Age. “The worship… of the ‘Syrian Goddess,’ be she Astarte, or known by whatever other name… was full of… rites, in which the effects on the mind could only have been produced by narcotic stimulants” (Brown, 1868). William Emboden Jr. has also pointed to the use of cannabis amongst the cult of another popular Near Eastern Goddess, Ashera, whom we will have reason to discuss in Chapter 16 in relation to her association with Hebraic cannabis use and its later prohibition:

According to entheobotanist William Emboden, the “shamanistic Ashera priestesses of pre-reformation Jerusalem… anointed their skins with… [a cannabis]mixture as well as burned it” (Emboden 1972).

The Goddess Asherah and her sacred plant (illustration by author).

The onetime marriage of Yahweh with this goddess is well attested. Archaeologists working in Israel have found Hebrew inscriptions at Kirbet el-Qom in the Judaean hills which refer to “Yehouah and his Asherah”. Asherah is also linked with Yehouah-Teman and Yehouah-Samaria in blessings inscribed at Kuntilla Ajrud in Sinai.

Clearly, many Biblical kings, such as Solomon, worshipped the Goddess alongside Yahweh
I Kings 11:4-5 offers an even more explicit example of Solomon’s ties to Astarte.
As we shall show, the associations between cannabis incense and the Goddess are considerably strong.
As noted, indicating its foriegn source, in Ezekiel 27.19, the term ‘keneh’ appears on a list of the luxurious arriving on a trade caravan: “Danites and Greeks from Uzal bought your merchandise; they exchanged wrought iron, cassia and keneh (cannabis) for your wares”.

Although not mentioned elsewhere in Ezekiel by that name, there are indications that hemp, or possibly some other entheogen, was eaten by the prophet for shamanic purposes. Ezekiel 3, describes such a shamanistic scenario perfectly, referring clearly to the ingestion of an unknown entheogen to initiate shamanistic flight. The ancient prophet tells us that the Lord told him:

“Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat….So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth….Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound – May the glory of the Lord be praised in his dwelling-place! – the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away… (Ezekiel 3:4-14)

The account in Ezekiel, is amongst those suggested by Dr.C.Creighton in 1903, as evidence of hashish use in the OLD TESTAMENT. Creighton believed that cannabis dipped in honey was a “secret vice” of the Hebrew Temple and Palace, and was evidence of a polluting foreign influence:

“…[I]n the first chapter of Ezekiel a phantasmagoria of composite creatures, of wheels, and of brilliant play of colours, which is strongly suggestive of the subjective visual perceptions of hachish, and is unintelligible from any other point of view, human or divine. This is the chapter of Ezekiel that gave so much trouble to the ancient canonists, and is said to have made them hesitate about including the book. Ezekiel was included in the Canon, but with the instruction that no one in the Synagogue was to attempt to comment upon Chapter I, or, according to another version, that the opening chapter was not to be read by or to persons under a certain age. The subjective sensations stimulated by hachish are those of sight and hearing. It would be easy to quote examples of fantastic composite form, and of wondrous colours, which have been seen by experimenters.” (Creighton, 1903)

Referring to Creighton’s research, Harvard Medical School Professor, Dr. Lester Grinspoon commented that the account in Ezekiel “does sound like a description of an intense cannabis intoxication – an almost psychedelic experience” (Grinspoon 1971).

In Isaiah, the Lord complains he has been short changed his offering of cannabis, and this is due to the popularity of the herb in the temples of competing deities. Isaiah 43:24 reads: “Thou hast bought me no sweet cane (keneh) with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy sacrifices: but thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities.” Here Yahweh condemns the Hebrews for not bringing both cannabis and enough of the lavish animal sacrifices common in the OLD TESTAMENT, as offerings to him.

Other textual evidence from Isaiah, although not identifying cannabis by name, gives clear indications that at other times the Lord’s hunger for it was being appeased and hemp was being used as a shamanic incense inside the precincts of the temple, in elaborate ceremonies such as that indicated in the account of Ezekiel to which we just referred. Clearly Isaiah also received the keneh bosem anointing rite insituted by Moses: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me…” (Isaiah 61:1). Another dramatic episode in Isaiah describes a shamanistic ceremony involving the use of an entheogenic incense;

“And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the temple was filled with smoke.”

“Then said I, “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

“Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar, And he laid it upon my mouth and said, “Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:4-7)

As this passage was explained in SDVB:

“Those of us who are familiar with hashish know that it burns in a similar way to both incense and coal and it’s not hard to imagine an elaborately dressed ancient shaman, or seraphim, lifting a burning coal of hashish, or pressed bud, to the lips of the ancient prophet Isaiah. Interestingly, the holder of the tongs is described as a “seraphim”, which translates as a “fiery-serpent’, and has been associated with the Nehushtan that Moses made and Hezekiah later destroyed during his reforms, because the Israelites were burning incense to it [inside the temple]. In the context of this passage it would appear that “seraphim” may have been another word for Levite, which… had connotations of “serpent”. ” (Bennett & McQueen, 2001)

By the time of the prophet Jeremiah, the association between cannabis and its use by other cults, particularly the Goddess, was so strong that its use was finally prohibited. “What do I care about incense from Sheba or good cannabis [keneh]from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me” (Jeremiah 6:20).

Jeremiah’s reference tying the sacred incense with Sheba, are likely an allusion to its use in the rites of the Sacred Marriage, dating back to the time of King Solomon, who was believed to have had the famous love affair with the Queen of Sheba. “Sheba was the land-name and Goddess-name of the Arabian queens in the ancient seat of government, Marib, in southern Arabia (now Yemen)” (Walker 1983). Solomon’s own mother was Bath-Sheba, so this analogy can clearly be made, and the involvement with cannabis incense and ointments in such rites has been clearly indicated (Bennett & McQueen, 2001).

Of the five references to keneh and keneh-bosm (Exodus 30:23, Song of Songs 4:14., Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:19.) the first three have cannabis appear in Yahweh’s favour, the fourth definitely in his disfavour, and the fifth on a list from a kingdom that had fallen from grace in the eyes of the Israelite God. One might wonder at the reason for these apparent contradictions, and the answer can be found within the story of the suppression of the cult of Ashera, or Astarte, the ancient Queen of Heaven. In THE CHALICE AND THE BLADE, Riane Eisler explains this as follows:

There are of course some allusions to this in the Bible itself. The prophets Ezra, Hosea, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah constantly rail against the “abomination” of worshipping other gods. They are particularly outraged at those who still worship the “Queen of Heaven”. And their greatest wrath is against the ‘unfaithfulness of the daughters of Jerusalem,’ who were understandably ‘backsliding” to beliefs in which all temporal and spiritual authority was not monopolized by men. But other than such occasional, and always pejorative, passages, there is no hint that there ever was – or could be – a deity that is not male. (Eisler, 1987)

The ties between cannabis and the Queen of Heaven are probably most apparent in Jeremiah 44, where the ancient patriarch seems to be concerned by the people’s continuing worship of the Queen of Heaven, especially by the burning of incense in her honour, and pouring out drink offerings:

“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel says: “You saw the great disaster I brought on Jerusalem and on all the towns of Judah. Today they lie deserted and in ruins because of the evil they have done. They provoked me to anger by burning incense and by worshipping other gods… Again and again I sent my servants the prophets, who said, ‘Do not do the detestable things I hate!’ But they did not listen or pay attention; they did not turn from their wickedness or stop burning incense to other gods. Therefore my fierce anger was poured out; it raged against the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem and made them the desolate ruins they are today.”

“….Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying, “As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the city of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then we had plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings to her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by sword and by famine.”

“The women added “When we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour our drink offerings to her, without our men?”

“ Then Jeremiah said unto all the people, to the men, and to the women, and to all the people which had given him that answer saying, The incense that ye burned in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, ye, and your fathers, your kings, and your princes, and the people of the land, did not the Lord remember them, and came it not into his mind? So that the Lord could no longer bear, because of the evil of your doings, and because of the abominations which ye have committed; therefore is your land a desolation, and astonishment, and a curse, without an inhabitant, as at this day. Because ye have burned incense and because ye have sinned against the Lord, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord, not walked in his law, nor in his statutes, not in his testimonies; therefore this evil has happened to you, as at this day.” (Jeremiah 44:1-23)

Jeremiah’s reference to the previous kings and princes that burned incense and poured out drink offerings to the Queen of Heaven can be seen as referring to King Solomon, and the vast majority of other Biblical kings up to that time, who worshipped the Goddess alongside Jehovah and other deities in a polytheistic pantheon that was the norm for the time and place.

Even from the Biblical account only two kings, Hezekiah and his grandson Josiah, are recognized as champions of the monotheistic Yahweh alone worship which has come down to us as modern Judaism. The BIBLE reports that the kings before Hezekiah “set up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree; And there they burnt incense in all the high places…” (1Kings 17). 2 Kings 18 identifies the key elements of Hezekiah’s reforms : “He removed the high places, and brake the pillars, and cut down the Asherah: and he brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made; for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18:4).

This is the first reference to this brazen serpent forged by Moses since the Exodus. Educated speculation would leave one to believe that the incense referred to was likely keneh-bosem incense. From the account in 2 Kings the brazen serpent had been worshipped by the Israelites continuously in the interceding centuries. Here in the Temple of Jerusalem itself, which held the image of the serpent, the Ashera, the Cherubim, and the Menorah – representing the Tree of Life, we can clearly see the images of the fabled Garden of Eden that had been so demonized in the Genesis tale, continuing as regular aspects of Hebrew cultic worship! Obviously these figures all played an important role in the ritual dramas practiced in the Hebrew kingdom since the time of Solomon.

The story of the other Monotheistic zealot, Josiah, offers even more fascinating insights into these reforms.



Josiah became king when he was all of eight years old, and it was during his reign that one of the greatest frauds in history was perpetrated. The repercussions from what was likely one of the earliest cases of perjury went vastly beyond the scope of those who committed the crime and are still with us today, as it has had a profoundly formative influence on history. The narrative of 2 Kings recalls that in the eighteenth year of his reign, Josiah ordered some renovations to the temple of Yahweh. He tells one Shaphan the scribe to go to Hilkiah the high priest and carry out these repairs. During the course of this work a startling discovery is made: “Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.’” ( 2 Kings 22:8). This lost Book of the Law is none other than the book of Deuteronomy, that allegedly had been written by Moses some six hundred years earlier….

That this fifth book of Moses is mysteriously unearthed from the temple is extremely curious, as the temple wasn’t constructed until the reign of Solomon and no mention of it had ever been made until this time. To ascribe this book’s authorship to Moses raises some problems. It is known that the culture of the Hebrews was an oral tradition not to be committed to the written word until approximately the time of David. In fact by the style of writing in Deuteronomy, Biblical scholars have placed the text at a much later date of composition. “This new literary style, found in the Deuteronomic literature and the prose sections of Jeremiah, seems to have been characteristic of the late seventh and early sixth centuries B.C.” Anderson 1975). Anderson suggests that the Book of the Law was written by an anonymous author in the seventh century who put his own words in the mouth of Moses; he also felt that the work was “not a complete literary fiction…. [and]is essentially a revival of Mosaic teachings as it was understood in the seventh century B.C.” (Anderson 1975).

Other scholars have been far more hard-hitting in their comments upon this so-called discovery suggesting that it was a forgery created by a Jerusalem Lawyer and produced by a priest of the temple. An act committed by the Hebrew priesthood in hope of eradicating the competing cults and their deities, which were getting more sacrifices from the people than the Temple of Yahweh was.

“Sometime about 630… a lawyer in Jerusalem produced a new code as a program for future reforms, including the prohibition of the worship of gods other than Yahweh, and relief of the poor. He drew on older “Yahweh alone” traditions , common usage , and ancient taboos, but his work was organized by his own thought, replete with his own invention, and cast with his own style. He represented it as “the law of Yahweh” and- probably – as the work of Moses, and he arranged to have it “found” by the high priest in the Jerusalem temple in 621. It was taken to king Josiah, authenticated by a prophetess, and accepted. Most of it is now preserved, with minor interpolations, in chapters 12-26 and 28 of Deuteronomy.” (COLUMBIA HISTORY OF THE WORLD 1981)

….As archeological evidence, historical records and the Old Testament writings themselves indicate, up “…until the eighteenth year of the reign of King Josiah of Judah neither kings nor people had paid attention whatsoever to the law of Moses which, indeed, they had not even known. They had been devoted to the normal deities of the nuclear Near east, with all the usual cults…” (Campbell 1964). Until the “discovery” of the Book of the Law, the “Hebrew people worshipped in the old ways, practicing their cult in open places on peaks and hills and mountains, and even caves below” (Gadon 1989). Clearly, monotheistic Judaism was a new event, and an attempt at a combined religious and political movement to consolidate the Hebrew people under one rule, in some ways an understandable political view in light of the encroaching Assyrians.

There are a number of laws in Deuteronomy that testify to its new theology. The most extraordinary of these changes is the centralization of worship: “you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts” ( Deuteronomy 12:5-6). The tribes of Israel are being directed to the temple in Jerusalem for their principle sacrifices. They are no longer to make burnt offerings or sacrifices anywhere in Israel except for the Temple in Jerusalem. All tithes also are to be brought from throughout the kingdom to the Temple. Apparently, this was done “at the insistence of the Jerusalem priesthood, on whom…[Hezekiah] may have depended for support and who no doubt lost prestige – and tithes – when many sacrifices were diverted to the numerous ‘high places’’… [The priesthood] insisted on…an unwavering affirmation of Yahweh’s exclusiveness” (Patai 1990). Prior to the Deuteronomic reforms, the priests of Yahweh’s temple, had to angrily and jealously sit by and watch the wealth of the kingdom dispersed throughout the many different temples of numerous deities which were spread throughout the kingdom of Judah. (Bennett & McQueen, 2001)

The most notable effect rendered by the Book of the Law’s supposed “discovery” were Josiah’s murderous purge of the cults of the high places. The book of Deuteronomy is explicit in its instructions of how best to deal with all the religious worship going on in Judah, other than the centralized worship of Yahweh in the temple in Jerusalem:

“Destroy completely all the places on the high mountains and on the hills and under every spreading tree where the nations you are dispossessing worship their gods. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire, cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places.” (Deuteronomy 12:2-3)

2 Kings 23:4-20 tells the violent story of Josiah’s reforms after the discovery of The Book of the Law, and tells how when he was finished destroying the High Places and images of Asherah “Josiah slaughtered all the priests of those high places on the altars and burned human bones on them.” And Josiah’s reward from Yahweh for his monotheistic Zeal? He his shot dead with an arrow in a battle with the Egyptians, and his kingdom is lost, first to the Egyptians and then later the Assyrians, followed by a host of other Empires to follow.

In the account of Josiah and Hezekiah’s reforms, along with the condemnation of prophets like Jeremiah, one is reminded of the similar reforms of Zoroaster, and his own rallying against the Haoma cult and its pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. This similarity brings us to an interesting point about the creation of not only The Book of the Law, but much of the OLD TESTAMENT itself. As first noted more than 100 years ago by the very astute scholar George W. Brown in his RESEARCHES IN ORIENTAL HISTORY, the true inspiration for much of the OLD TESTAMENT’s final rendition may have been derived from a cup of the Persian Haoma!:

Ezra and the Cup of Fire

“It was B.C.634 years, Bible chronology, that ‘Josiah began to manifest great zeal towards the pure worship of God.’ Only 47 years thereafter to wit; B.C. 587, the walls of Jerusalem were broken down by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, the temple was burned, and the people were led, with hooks in their noses, to Babylon. Seventy years went by, the temple was rebuilt, and some 42,000 persons, according to Ezra ‘came again into Jerusalem and Judah, everyone to his own city.’ Another long period passed. ‘Ezra went up from Babylon,’ Ezra 7:6. He was a ready scribe, and Josephus says he was a high priest. This event occurred B.C. 447, 130 years after the destruction of the temple. He took a large party with him, was four months on the way, and bore letters from Artaxerxes, virtually making him governor of Judaea. A year later, to wit; 446 B.C. Nehemiah was sent to ‘Judah to build it.’

“….In Nehemiah, 8:5, we read, ‘Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people;’ verse 9, ‘All the people wept, when they heard the words of the law;’ and verse 18, ‘Day by day, from the first day unto the last,’ for seven days, ‘he read from the book of the law.’ Where did Ezra get ‘the book of the law?’

“Biblical writers universally concede that between the years B.C. 433, 444 ‘Ezra prepared and set forth a correct edition of the Scriptures,’—See chronological index to the Holy Bible. And in the ‘Introductory and Concluding remarks on Each Book,’ in a Polyglot Bible now before us, we read:

“Ezra appears to have made the sacred scriptures during the captivity his special study. And perhaps assisted by Nehemiah and the great synagogue, he corrected the errors that had crept into the Sacred Writings, through negligence or mistakes of transcribers; he collected all the books of which the Sacred Scriptures then consisted, disposed them in their proper order, and settled the canon scripture for his time. He occasionally added, under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit, whatever appeared necessary for the purpose of illustrating, completing, or correcting them….. Though not styled a prophet, he wrote under the Divine Spirit; and the canonical authority of his book has never been disputed.”…

“In Kitto’s Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature, article EZRA, the author says: ‘Ezra is even said to have rewritten the whole Old Testament from memory, the copies of which had perished by neglect.’

“We find the Book of the Law in Ezra’s possession about 150 years after the beginning of the Jewish captivity, and we find him for seven days reading from the holy book while the people listened and wept. The temple at Jerusalem was burned, and the natural presumption is, the Jewish library was burned with it. Where did Ezra get the book of the Law from which he read? Nehemiah does not tell. The book of Ezra is silent.

“Biblical writers concede that besides writing the book which bears his name, Ezra wrote the two books of Chronicles, probably Esther and Nehemiah, and the first and second book of Esdras.

“Kitto says, quoted above, that he first books of the Old Testament perished by neglect. Ezra gives us the facts, 2 Esdras 14: 20, 21, 22, addressing himself directly to what is understood as the fountain of inspiration:

“Behold Lord,…. The world is set in darkness, and they that dwell therein are without light, for thy law is burnt, therefore NO MAN knoweth the things that are done of thee, or the works that shall begin; but I have found grace before thee, send the HOLY GHOST into me and I SHALL WRITE ALL THAT HATH BEEN DONE IN THE WORLD SINCE THE BEGINNING, which were written in thy law, that men may find thy path, and that they which live in the latter days may live.

“From the time the temple was burned, with the sacred books of the Jews, and the people were taken captives to Babylon, B.C. 587, to this period when Ezra was about to ‘set forth a correct edition of the Scriptures’ between 444 and 433 B.C., about 150 years had intervened, during all of which period there had been no Sacred Scriptures, no Inspired Word of God, no books of the Jewish Law, no national library, because they were burned with the temple. How could Ezra repeat from memory, as Kitto suggests, this voluminous record, which had no existence in his day, or the several generations before him?

“Ezra must have been born in Babylon, and there learned the profession of scribe, and there must have been made high priest.

“Zoroastrian monotheism was made the state religion throughout the Persian empire, with its one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, by Darius Hystaspis, [son of Vishataspa]whose reign extended from India to Ethiopia, B.C. 521. That continued the established religion throughout Persia until it was partially succeeded by the monotheism of Mohamet. And this, too, was true of her many provinces until they were wrestled from her by superior force. It was the law of Judea by virtue of Persian authority, when Ezra decided to write the history of the world from the beginning—shall we say, copied the holy books from Assur-bani-pal’s Library, duplicates of some of them, with the story of creation, the fall of man, the general deluge, the tower of Babel, and the confusion of language are now on file in the British Museum, written on earthen plates, in cuneiform characters…under the direction of a Babylonian priest…

“But this quotation from Esdras, as regards the burning of the law with the temple, and Ezra’s declared purpose to write a history of the world from the beginning, with a quotation to follow, are from one of the apocryphal books, not recognized as canonical by the Protestants. What are the facts? The apocryphal books were placed on an equality with the residue of the inspired Scriptures by the Council of Trent, in 1545; therefore they are portions of the infallible ‘Word of God’ with Catholics; but as this action of a general council occurred after the Reformation under Luther, its action is not binding on Protestants; though the Church of England allows the books to be read for ‘edification and instruction,’ and they are as genuine as any other portion of the holy writ, and of equal authority with the best; but in the honesty and simplicity of the author, Ezra – Esdras, the Latin form of the name — he unwittingly told how the sacred books were made, and under what influence. This has prejudiced their standing.

“Again, in the Library of Universal Knowledge, we are told that the title, apocryphal, was ‘sometimes given to WRITINGS WHOSE PUBLIC USE WAS NOT THOUGHT ADVISABLE;’ that is to say, ‘God did not exercise good judgment when he inspired his prophets to write, therefore we, the priests, must suppress portions of his Word!’ We apprehend in the case of 1st and 2nd Esdras this was the real reason for not making the apocryphal books canonical at the Council of Laodicia, A.D. 360, when the other books were declared the ‘Word of God.’

“Here is Ezra’s own account of the process of making Jewish history. After telling the people not to seek him for forty days, and taking with him five persons whom he names, who could write swiftly, they retired to a field where they remained:

“The next day, behold a voice cried to me saying. Esdras open thy mouth, and drink what I give you thee to drink! Then opened I my mouth, and behold, he reached me a full cup, which is full as it were with water, but the color of it was like fire. I took it, and drank: and when I had drunk of it, my heart uttered understanding, and wisdom grew in my breast, for my spirit strengthened and my memory; and my mouth was opened and shut no more: and they sat forty days, and they wrote in the day, and at night they ate bread. As for me, I spake by the day, and I held not my tongue by the night. In forty days they wrote two hundred and four books” 2 Esdras 14:38 to 44.

“A voice bid him open his mouth, he—the voice, of course—reached Esdras a full cup. It would be interesting to know whose VOICE it was which possessed such unnatural powers; yet we apprehend the reader is much more anxious to know the contents of the cup, which was fiery red, and which possessed such wondrous ability, probably the same possessed by the ‘fruit of the tree’ which grew ‘in the midst of the garden,’ the eating of which opened the eyes of our first parents, and enabled them to see ‘as Gods knowing good and evil.’ We think we can furnish this desired information, to do which we are compelled to anticipate some facts existing among Zoroastrian worshippers; many centuries before the date religionists ascribe to Abraham, and which was practiced in Persia, Assyria and Babylonia at the very time Ezra was writing Jewish history under the influence of the ‘fiery cup.’

“Among other duties required on occasional sacrifices of animals to Ahura-Mazda, additional to prayers, praises, thanksgiving, and the recitation of hymns, was the performance from time to time of a curious ceremony known as that of the Haoma or Homa. This consisted of the extraction of the juice of the Homa plant by the priests during the recitation of prayers, the formal presentation of the liquid extracted to the sacrificial fire,… the consumption of a small portion of it by one of the officiating ministers, and the division of the remainder among the worshippers. (See Haug’s essay, page 2390

“Says Clarke in his Ten Great Religions, Page 202:

“The whole Sama-Veda is devoted to this moon-plant worship; an important part of the Avesta is occupied by Hymns to Homa. This great reverence paid to the plant, on account of its intoxicating qualities, carries us back to a region where the vine was unknown, and to a race to whom intoxication was so new an experience as to seem a gift of the gods. Wisdom appeared to come from it, health, increased power of body and soul, long life, victory in battle, brilliant children. What Bachus was to the Greeks, the Divine Haoma, or Soma, was to the primitive Aryans.”

“What was the Haoma or Homa, the production of the moon-plant, growing in those regions of Asia to far north for the successful growing of the grape, and yet yielding such intoxicating properties? It is known in the medical books as Apocynum Cannabinum, and belongs to the Indian Hemp family, Cannabis Indica being an official preparation from it. It is now known in India as bhang, and is popularly known with us as hashish, the stimulating and intoxicating effects of which are well known to physicians. The extract from its young and tender top has a fragrant odour, and a warm bitterish and acrid taste.

“The adoration paid to the prepared juice of this plant, and its use on sacrificial occasions, and the drinking of it by the high priest Ezra, as he was about to ‘open his mouth,’ while the ‘five swift scribes’ wrote down his words when he was filled with wisdom and understanding, and was about to dictate history ‘from the beginning of the world,’ can best be appreciated by members of the medical profession who have personally experienced its exhilarating effects on some fellow student, who was elevated by his own estimation, on a high pedestal and was capable of taking in all that has been, is, and may be in the material universe. Indeed, an acquaintance with this fact explains all those graphic descriptions in that celebrated history of the creation of the world; of the making of man – and of woman in particular; their expulsion from the garden — not forgetting that interesting interview with the snake, the materialized form of Angro-Mainyus, or in our vernacular, the Devil; the account of the deluge; Noah’s drunken debauchery; Lot’s wife changed into a pillar of salt; and the widower’s escapade with his daughters; Jacob wrestling with God, getting a broken thigh and seeing angels ascending and descending a ladder to and from heaven; the terrible plagues on Egypt; the parting of the Red Sea; the law passed down through a cloud to Moses by God himself; the adventures of Samson with the foxes, his contest with the lion, and the loss of his hair; David with his sling; the Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace; not omitting Jonah’s wonderful gourd, nor his fishing exploits; Elijah’s ride to heaven; and Elisha’s children eating bears. No criticisms are required when it is known what kind of drink Ezra was regaled with before ‘opening his mouth’ to dictate history for his swift scribes to write.

“But reader, there is still another fact we may as well state with this connection. The wine in the sacrament of the ‘Lord’s Supper’ is a survival of the adoration and use, with prayers and hymns, of this divine Haoma, a substitution of a more pleasant intoxicant [wine]by the later worshippers of Mithra, who, in after years are known as Christians.

“This is a faithful history of the making of the Bible, as detailed by the author himself. He informs us, 2 Edras 14.44 to 46, that of the 204 books thus written he was instructed by the Highest to publish the first openly, ‘that the worthy and unworthy may read it; but keep the 70 last that thou mayest deliver them only to such as be wise among the people: for in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the stream of knowledge.

“From this statement it is very clear we have only that part of the ‘Holy Scripture’ designed for the worthy and the unworthy. That part containing ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding’ failed to reach our times. (Brown, 1890)

In the account of Ezra drinking from the cup of fire, one is clearly reminded of the tradition of fiery cups amongst the Scythians, but even more so the Zoroastrian accounts of the drinking of mang mixed with Haoma or wine. “The image of a blazing cup was apparently related to… Zoroastrism; Zoroastrian texts mention ritual vessels with fire burning inside them” (Kisel, 2007). Interestingly, Immanuel Löw, referred to an ancient Jewish Passover recipe that called for wine to be mixed with ground up saffron and hasisat surur, which he saw as a “a kind of deck name for the resin the Cannabis sativa” (Low, 1924). Low suggests that this preparation was also made into a burnable and fragrant concoction by being combined with Saffron and Arabic Gum (Low, 1926\1967). Such preparations were also noted by the 19th century Biblical scholar John Kitto, and like the Hebrew references to cannabis, such concoctions went through periods of Hebraic free use and strict prohibition:

“The palm wine of the East… is made intoxicating… by an admixture of stupefying ingredients, of which there was an abundance… Such a practice seems to have existed amongst the ancient Jews, and to have called down sever prohibition (comp. Prov xxii. 30; Isa. i.22; v. 11, 22…)” (Kitto, 1861)

In relation to this it is interesting to note that the 19th century scholar John Kitto also put forth two different potential Hebrew word candidates for the origins of the term “hashish” in A CYCLOPAEDIA OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE. Kitto pointed to the Hebrew terms Shesh, which originates in reference to some sort of “fibre plant”, and the possibly related word, Eshishah (E-shesh-ah?) which holds a wide variety of somewhat contradictory translations such as “flagon” “sweet cakes”, “syrup”, and also interestingly for our study “unguent.” According to Kitto, this Eshishah was mixed with wine. “Hebrew eshishah… is by others called hashish…. this substance, in course of time, was converted into a medium of intoxication by means of drugs” (Kitto 1845: 1856). With the cognate pronunciation similarities found between the Hebrew Shesh and Eshishah one can only speculate on the possibility of two ancient Hebrew references to one plant that held both fibrous and intoxicating properties.

In light of this it is interesting to note that “Some high biblical commentaries maintain that the gall and vinegar or myrrhed wine… was a preparation, in all probability, of hemp, which was… occasionally given to criminals before punishment or execution… it is possibly spoken of… by the prophet Amos as the ‘wine of the condemned’” (Simpson, et al. 1856).

Another possibility for Ezra’s infusion might also be found in Biblical descriptions of “strong drink” (shekar): “An inebriating Potion described in the Old Testament; but distinct from Wine; probably a Soporific or visionary vinous infusion, analogous to ancient Greek Wines, of one or many Psychoactive plants” (Ott, 1995).

“… Like the ancient Greeks, the ancient Israelites did not know distillation technology, but possessed an inebriant other than wine, which apparently was more potent. Was the Biblical shekar, ‘strong drink,’ not an inebriating potion analogous to the ancient Greek wines, some of which were entheogenic potions? Down through history there are innumerable instances of the addition of psychoactive plants to wines and other alcoholic beverages.” (Ott, 1993)

As well, the idea that Ezra’s fiery cup contained some sort of preparation analogous to those used by Zoroastrian figures, and that this tradition was carried on by certain Jewish figures, has garnered some interesting independent support.

It could be that after the Exile some Hebrews had adopted the name of cannabis, which was used by their former Persian overlords, as could be indicated by the references to the suama plant, similar in pronunciation, and possibly identical to the Iranian haoma, (and Indian soma). In a 1967 article, Melvin Clay referred to recipes for the suama plant found around Tell Abu Matar, appearing on urns and cups, of high quality workmanship. Clay wrote that the recipes, which he placed around the third century B.C.E., originated with a hermit named Zin, who had been banned from the Temple in Jerusalem. This may indicate that he was practicing the older pre-excilic forms of Hebraic worship. Apparently, as cannabis had been, the plant was used at religious feasts, the roots boiled and drunk or the leaves smoked. Clay wrote that the suama plant was originally found in region of Kadesh-barnea, northeastern Sinai. An area near where Moses first heard the Word of the Lord in a fiery bush.

“Dr. W.F. Cartwell of Oriental Institute has no recollection of recipe but speaks of leaves smoked and inhaled at a Palestine synagogue during the writing of the Hasteric Scrolls (Books of Joy). He adds that “The suama plant is known to us from the time of the Pentateuch. Some very early discoveries have been made concerning the suama plant. We find it coming up again and again under different names. Smoking its leaves or using its roots as a herbal drink always produces states of flashing colors and euphoric bliss.” (Clay 1967)

Unfortunately, we have been unable, as of yet, to find out more about the research from Melvin Clay, or Dr.W.F. Cartwell, so we are unable to prove this point to the extent of the other ancient cannabis references to which we have referred to. In his 1925 German edition, FLORA DER JUDEN (Reprinted in 1967, as DIE FLORA DER JUDEN). Immanuel Low, made a brief reference to the name “Sumna”, which is likely identical with the “suama plant” described above, being applied to cannabis by Jewish sources, but unfortunately Low also fails to go into detail. (Bennett & McQueen, 2001)

In the article PREPARATION FOR VISIONS IN SECOND TEMPLE JEWISH APOCALYPTIC LITERATURE, Vicente Dobroruka also noted a comparison between the Persian technique of shamanic ecstasy and that of Ezra:

“…4Ezra 14:38-42 – “And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, ‘Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink’. Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but it’s color was like fire. And I took it and drank […]”. Similar drinks appear in Persian literature, e.g. Bhaman Yasht 3:7-8, when Zoroaster “drinks” the water he acquires the wisdom of Ahura Mazda. Similarly, Vishtapa has an experience quite equivalent in the Dinkard 7:4.84-86 where mention is made to a mixture of wine (or haoma) and hemp with henbane… opposition to those practices may have generated their replacement in the later BY [Bahman Yast]. The Book of Artay Viraz also mentions visions obtained from wine mixed with hemp, and for the preparations of the seer cf. ch. 2.25-28.” (Dobroruka, 2002)

Dobroruka revisited this theme in more detail in his later 2006 article, CHEMICALLY-INDUCED VISIONS IN THE FOURTH BOOK OF EZRA IN LIGHT OF COMPARATIVE PERSIAN MATERIAL, and again draws direct comparisons between Ezra’s cup of fire, and the mang mixed infused beverages of the Zoroastrian psychonauts. Gherardo Gnoli recorded: “bang [hemp]was… an ingredient of the ‘illuminating drink’ (r?šngar xwarišn) that allowed Wišt?sp to see the ‘great xwarrah’ and the ‘great mystery.’ This mang [hemp]? wišt?sp?n (Pahlavi Vd. 15.14…) was mixed with h?m (D?nkard 7.4.85) or wine (Pahlavi Rivayat 47.27). It was an integral part of the ecstatic practice aimed at opening the ‘eye of the soul’ (gy?n ?ašm….)” (Gnoli, 1979). As Widengren explained:

“Hemp and wine or hemp and haoma were mixed in the cup that was passed to Vistaspa….. it is said that Neryosang was sent forth to let Vistaspa drink ‘the eye of the soul’ with the view up above to the forms of existence of the heavenly beings, the illuminating potion thanks to which Vistaspa saw the great lucky splendour and mystery’. The typical expression gyan casm, ‘eye of the soul’, causes problems here. One could be tempted to replace this expression with ‘source of life’, and this in actual fact is how it was translated, which in a pure formal philological sense is completely possible. However the expression can be explained via two points in the Denkart, where, in regards to the enlightenment, it is stated that it is of two types: on the one hand it consists of a view with the eye of the body, tan casm, on the other hand it is a view with the eye of the soul, gyan casm, which is defined as ‘the opening of the eye of the soul to obtain knowledge’.‘The eye of the soul’ means introspection. The visionary sight is conveyed to Kavi Vistaspa using a haoma potion mixed with hemp. With this his soul can repair to Garodman, [Paradise] to view the heavenly existence.” (Widengren, 1965)

Dobroruka expanded on this Persian connection to Old Testament mysticism by noting the similar accounts of the flowers eaten by Ezra in 4 Ezra 9, and those used for similar revelation by the Zoroastrian figure Jamasp:

“But if you will let seven days more pass – do not fast during them, however; but go into a field of flowers where no house has been built, and eat only of the flowers of the field, and taste no meat and drink no wine, but eat only flowers, and pray to the Most High continually – then I will come and talk with you.” (4Ezra 9:23-25).

“In the J?m?sp Namag (also a pseudepigraphic text, written in the name of an old sage), J?m?sp receives from Zoroaster the gift of knowledge by means of a flower. This is also the theme of the Pahlavi text Wizirkard i Denig 19… indeed, the tradition that described the acquisition of mystical knowledge by J?m?sp resembles very much that of Ezra regarding the flowers, as the drinking of the blessed wine looks like the experience of 4Ezra 14 – the main difference in the passage being the fact that here we have two different seers [i.e. Jamasp & Vishtaspa].” (Dobroruka, 2006)

Dobroruka also compared Ezra’s chemically induced inspiration to other Biblical accounts, “The episode has parallels in the scroll eaten by Ezekiel (Ez 2:8-3:3) and thus to the author of the Book of Revelation (Ap 10:9-10), who also claims to have had sensory experiences related to ingestion” (Dobroruka, 2006).

“He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth…. Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard a great rumbling sound behind me, “Blessed be the glory of the LORD in His place.” And I heard the sound of the wings of the living beings touching one another and the sound of the wheels beside them, even a great rumbling sound. 1So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away; and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the LORD was strong on me.” (Eziekiel 2:8-14)

Here we can see that the ingestion of some substance, was used to enable Ezekiel’s shamanic flight, in the exact same way cannabis was used by contemporary Zoroastrian figures. Similarly Revelation’s john had a similar substance before his own Apocalyptic vision, only this time it was said to also result in an upset stomach, as can often happen with ingested intoxicants, so one can assume this form of chemically induced mysticism existed between the two periods:

So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, “Take it and eat it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey.” (Revelation 10:9)

As Dobroruka notes

“…[T]he figure of Vishtaspa…is much older than the earliest Jewish apocalypses themselves (i.e. earlier than III century BCE) and… at least assures that the figure of Vishtasp cannot be later than that of Ezra. … [also there are the]fourth century BCE… fragments collectively known as the Oracle of Hystaspes [Greek Vishtaspa]). This is indirect evidence that late Persian texts contain cores that can be of earlier date… The theme of the cup that gives wisdom, being already present in the Yasna 10.17… [which]deals with the theme of the wisdom cup, in this case related to haoma:

“Thereupon spake Zarathushtra: Praise to Haoma, Mazda-made. Good is Haoma, Mazda-made. All the plants of Haoma praise I, on the heights of lofty mountains, in the gorges of the valleys, in the clefts (of sundered hill-sides) cut for the bundles bound by women. From the silver cup I pour Thee to the golden chalice over. Let me not thy (sacred) liquor spill to earth, of precious cost.

“The dating of the Yasna depends on the dating attributed to Zoroaster, but even supposing the prophet to be a figure living as late as the sixth century BCE… the Yasna is much earlier than 4Ezra…. All this tends to support the idea that the two mythical themes examined that find way in 4Ezra (namely, that of the cup and that of the flower, both of which bestow wisdom) were, both by their antiquity and their frequency, primarily Persian ecstatic practices that found themselves echoed in a Jewish apocalypse.” (Dobroruka, 2006)

Not surprisingly a profound Zoroastrian influence on Biblical theology has also long been noted:

“Zoroastrianism is the oldest of the revealed credal religions, and it has probably had more influence on mankind, directly and indirectly, than any other single faith. In its own right it was the state religion of three great Iranian empires … Iran’s power and wealth lent it immense prestige, and some of its leading doctrines were adopted by Judaism… “(Boyce, 1983)


The idea that Jewish monotheism finds its origins in the Persian tradition likewise has modern support. In PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM, Dr M D Magee gives a detailed explanation of how Judaism was created by the Persians in 500 BC. “Historical Israel, the actual flesh and blood people who dwelt in the central mountains during the Iron Ages, didn’t come from Egypt. They were descendents of earlier, Bronze Age inhabitants of the places where they lived. Their culture and religion was a slightly evolved form of the earlier, Bronze Age Canaanite ones” (Magee, 1998; 2008).

“…Israel and Judah remained Canaanite until the Persians came at the end of the sixth century BC. Only in the following century were books about Jewish history written down…. Some events of the Bible are confirmed by external investigation. Some of the kings of Israel and Judah appear in Assyrian records and therefore can be dated. However, given that the history of Israel was only first written in the Persian period, and the Persians had conquered Assyria and Babylonia, and had access to their archives covering hundreds of years, it is more than likely that the scriptural stories of the monarchical period were simply written from the official king lists, inscriptions and diplomatic correspondence of those formerly mighty powers. In short, it is largely historical fiction but set in a realistic historical framework.” (Magee, 1998; 2008)

As Dr. Magee explains, part of the Persian return, included bringing in a monotheistic element of worship, directed at unifying worship into a single manageable source, through which the people could be more easily governed, as well as taxed.

“The Jewish scriptures make up a constitution for the Jewish people to whom they were given. The earliest time that rules like reading the Torah publicly and observing its charges faithfully, abstention from work and commerce on the sabbath, avoiding intermarriage, tithing, maintaining temple sacrifice through a self-imposed tax (Neh 10:30-40) could appear is when Ezra and Nehemiah were sent by the Persian king during the fifth century BC to determine civil and religious policy in Yehud [Israel].” (Magee, 1998; 2008)

Magee puts forth that part of the Persian policy of restoration of people back to their homelands, included having the main male deity from each existing pantheon elevated to the same state as that of their own monotheist god Ahura Mazda, at the sacrifice of the powers of the gods and goddesses of the earlier pantheons. In each place that such a god was placed upon this lone throne, he took with him the title, “king of heaven”.

As Magee explains it, for reasons of political consolidation the rulers wanted the people to worship one sole god, the concept being that everyone would worship a “king of heaven” with the same broad characteristics but with different regional names. “The Great King of the empire could then be shown to have the same role on earth as the universal king of heaven, and the various kings of heaven could be shown to be different versions of Ahuramazda, unifying everyone” (Magee, 1998: 2008). The outcome of this universal mixing of peoples was:

“Aramaic became the language of the whole area.

“Jews” accepted that they had “returned” but they never accepted the natives of the hill country as being Jews.

The “Jews” that had “returned” used some Samarian legends but rejected the rest of the cult and devised a new religious “tradition”.

“The people that had remained in Judah never accepted those who returned.

“The people who had remained in Judah did not accept the “restored” religion.

“Whoever the mixture of peoples were that returned to the city of Jerusalem after 500 BC, they were led to believe—and came to believe—that they were the remnant af ancient Israel returning to their rightful land to create a new Israel. … Much of the Old Testament saga is Persian propaganda. The ancestor of the Jews is from Mesopotamia, so, in the myth of Abraham, the Jews are shown to have an ethnic affinity with that region. The anachronism of calling it the Chaldees betrays its late composition. Immediately, the descendants of Abraham are enslaved by the Egyptians and have to undergo countless tribulations before they escape and set up in Israel. The propaganda purpose is plain—to dissociate the inhabitants of the Palestinian hill country from Egypt and paint the Egyptians as their enemies.” (Magee, 1998; 2008)

Magee puts forth that proof close to the time can be found in the works of the Egyptian Jew Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.-50 A.D., who wrote in Vita Moysis of the Jewish texts “Originally the laws were written in the Chaldaean language.”

“The Chaldaean language was the language of Babylonia (Ezra 5:12) at the time of the project of Ezra to set up a new religion in Jerusalem. Why then would Moses, a Hebrew brought up in Egypt under some Pharaoh like Rameses, write in a language of a distant country 800 years later? Philo, an Egyptian Jew, effectively admits the Torah was written by Ezra, a Persian from Babylonia.

“Israelite religion must therefore have been a variant of the religions practised by Canaanites in general. The main difference which arose between this religion and other neighbouring ones was that the Persians selected Jerusalem as the centre of a pseudo-Zoroastrian cult based on the local god Yehouah. There was no particular slow variation from other Canaanite religions, but there was a sudden imposition of a foreign cult on to the local religion of Jerusalem. The imposition was resisted by locals for many decades but ultimately it triumphed, albeit in a highly fragmentated state.” (Magee, 1998; 2008)

Complicating things, shortly after this monotheistic cue, Persia itself fell to the Greeks, then the Greeks to the Romans. This roll call of Empires which held rule over the Jews separated them further from their past, and created a void which the new history provided by Ezra and his cohorts quickly filled. The confusion created by these religious reforms and succession of Empires led to different fractions in Judaism, such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Rabbis, Essennes and Jewish Gnostic sects all of whom began to interpret things slightly differently and in some cases vied for power over the people.

Most notably, it seems after the period of Persian conquest either the ears of the prophets grew deaf, or the voice of Yahweh silent. Any evidence of shamanic practice soon faded shortly after the sphere of Persian influence receded to other Empirical forces. At the time of the Persian return the “mere idea that Ezra was ‘dictating’ sacred books (not yet canonical) implies that the Sinaitic revelation still had room to be enlarged, an idea that may reinforce the presence of the Holy Spirit in Ezra as he drank from the cup” (Dobroruka, 2006). After the Law had been given, there seemed to be little room for new revelation, and the rule of the religion of the day was simply “obey and pay”.

This turning point is most marked by the aforementioned prophet Jeremiah, whom we noted earlier in relation to his role in the eventual prohibition of keneh-bosem. Jeremiah is the least shamanic of all Biblical prophets, and save for Job and Jonah the works attributed to him come across as the most self-concerned and pathetic of the whole OLD TESTAMENT. In relation to his campaign against cannabis, it is interesting to note that Vicente Dobroruka saw Jeremiah as condemning practices such as those alluded to in the story of Ezra and the Persian accounts. “There seems to be a parallel, if in different settings and intentions, between the cup that maddens the nations in Jr 25:15-16” ( Dobroruka, 2002); “The cup may also have a negative connotation as the means for God to madden peoples or nations [(Jr 25:15-16)]” (Dobroruka, 2006). The Zoroastrian-Babylonian ordeal-cup is handed back to Babylon as poison in the words of Jeremiah:

“Babylon [claimed to be]a cup of gold in the hand of Yahu, That made all lands to reel. Of her wine the nations drank So that the peoples went mad. Suddenly Babylon falls and is convulsion-rent! Wail over her – get balsam for her wounds – perhaps she can be cured? We would like to cure Babylon, But she cannot be cured! Leave her there, and let us all go home! For her doom rises to heaven, And touches the very skies.” (Jeremiah 51:6)

Clearly Jeremiah condemned the “cup of fire” for the same reasons as he did the incense burning and drink offerings of former priests and kings; like the modern religious elite, his only interest was in the stated law, there was no room for new revelation:

“One reason for the war of the Hebrew prophets upon the incense rituals of their time would be clearer to any person who would study the methods of modern seance-rooms. Much incense is a tradition of the profession, especially with those who make a business of “developing’ mediumistic or clairvoyant powers in their disciples. A “trance gift” or power of “spirit vision’ is sure to be discovered in those sensitive to a little narcotic stimulation. The mutterings of a half-stupefied disciple in a “pipe dream” are explained to others as “trance manifestation” or “spirit control.” All alienists know that even mild odors may stimulate neurotic subjects to imaginative visions, as in the case of Mohammed. A whole roomful – a “school of the prophets” of today – may thus be set gibbering. Some mediums, making a business of furnishing spirits upon demand, willy-nilly, have been known to make themselves complete “dope wrecks.” Such practices are known in all lands; observers report them from almost every savage tribe; they figure in a host of orgies and religious frenzies. The reader of the Arabian Nights may recall that in some tales spirits of jann arise in the smoke of powders thrown on the fire. Lane (I, 61), in his discussion of Arab magic, says that “illusions or hallucinations are still produced by such devices.” From ancient Babylonia to the present they are a favorite resort of those who pretend to summon the spirits of the dead. Isa. 57:9 declares: “You have gone (so you say) to the King with ointments; You have greatly multiplied your odors. You have sent your messengers to Far-Land. You have descended even to Sheol!” (Godbey, 1930)

As Dobroruka noted, these practices were demonized as a foreign influence: “Chemical induction related to the visionary present the most ‘paganizing’ reference to the means for inspiration found among the apocalypticists (i.e. the passages that most resemble pagan practices of artificial ecstatic practices); this may be so for the same reason that ‘classical prophets’ have a ‘calmer’ ecstasy than their pagan counterparts, i.e. for editorial reasons” (Dobroruka, 2006).

This situation left its most obvious mark on one of the last stories composed in the OLD TESTAMENT, the tale of the fabled and prohibited trees in Eden. Both the Tree of Life and the Tree of knowledge have long been associated with the Iranian Haoma and its Vedic counterpart the Soma. As scholar E.K. Bunsen pointed out as long ago as 1867:

The records about the “Tree of Life” are the sublimest proofs of the unity and continuity of tradition, and of its Eastern tradition. The earliest records of the most ancient Oriental tradition refer to a “Tree of Life”, which was guarded by spirits. The juice of the sacred tree, like the tree itself, was called Soma in Sanskrit, and Haoma in Zend; it was revered as the life preserving essence. (Bunsen 1867)

As also noted in THE LEGENDS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT by Thomas Lumisden Strange:

The tree of life is traceable to the Persian Paradise. “The haoma is the first of the trees planted by Ahura Mazda in the fountain of life. He who drinks its juice never dies” (Muir, Sansk. Texts,II…)… The original is the Soma of the Hindus, early deified by them, the sap of which was the beverage of the gods, and when drank by mortals made them act like gods immortal…The Hebrews have exactly adopted the idea: “And Jahveh Elohim said, ‘Behold the man has become one of us to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: therefore Javeh Elohim sent him forth from the garden of Eden, … and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life”…. (Strange, 1874)

Joseph Campbell’s description of the mythical white Hom certainly brings to mind the tree of Life as well: “the…White Haoma Tree arose, which counteracts old age, revives the dead, and bestows immortality. At its roots Angra Mainyu [the Persian Devil]formed a lizard” (Campbell 1964). One can only speculate that the lizard lost his legs in this mythical transition and became the Biblical serpent. “The concept of the tree of life is found among many ancient people… In the Zoroastrian religion of the Persians the sacred tree was called haoma, which grew in a garden from which all the waters of the earth flowed (cf. Gen. 2:10)” (Gray, 1969).

Interestingly, F. Max Muller indicated that the cherubim and seraphim of the OLD TESTAMENT further the connections between the mythical trees of Eden and the traditions surrounding Haoma and Soma:

“We… consider the comparison of the Cherubim who keep the way of the tree of life and the guardians of the Soma in the Veda and Avesta, as deserving attention, and we should like to see the etymological derivation of “Cherubim” from… Greifen, and of Seraphim” from the Sanskrit “sarpa,” serpents, either confirmed or refuted.” (Muller, 1873)

Numerous scholars have since discussed the similarities between the OLD TESTAMENT’s forbidden Trees and the Soma/Haoma, but one startlingly profound difference stands out between the two myths: the Haoma and Soma were give freely to humanity, delivered willingly by the Garuda bird, the Biblical trees are instead forbidden, and instead of offering the sacred fruit of the tree to humanity, the Cherubim now holds a flaming sword, preventing all from obtaining the mythical sacraments of life and knowledge.

It is hard not to see in this final redaction of the Eden myth as it comes down to us in the Book of Genesis, as a symbolic rendering of the rejection of entheogenic substances, by the closing editors of the OLD TESTAMENT texts. Shortly after this period, through translations of the Jewish texts into Greek, evidence of cannabis all but disappeared from the OLD TESTAMENT texts.

It was during the radical changes instituted by Greek rule, that cannabis disappeared from the Old Testament text. “The error occurred in the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint in the third century B.C., where the terms kaneh, kaneh bosm were incorrectly translated as ‘calamus’. And in the many translations that followed, including Martin Luther’s, the same error was repeated” (Benet 1975). Although this mistake did not happen in either surviving Aramaic or Hebrew scriptures, where “the two words kaneh and bosm were fused into one, kanbos or kannabus, known to us from [the later]Mishna [200 C.E.], the body of traditional Hebrew law” (Benet 1975). (Bennett & McQueen, 2001)

In relation to the Zoroastrian influence on the BIBLE, and the use of cannabis in the Holy Oil, it is curious to note references to topical preparations by the Zoroastrians:

“It is a part of Magian lore that plants are the part of the good creation of Ahura Mazda to fight the counter order of evil. As Pliny says, “The Magi are crazy about this plant verbenaca. Smeared with it they gain whatever they want in prayer, they drive out fear, they cement friendship, and there is not an illness they do not cure. It has to be gathered at the rising of the Dog (constellation of Sirius) when neither sun nor moon can see it…it must be dried in the shade with its leaves, stalk and roots separate.” (Bagli, 2005)

Verbenaca is usually identified as Salvia verbenaca, also known as Wild Clary or Wild Sage, a tall perennial herb with hairy stems and branches, and blue flower. Salvia verbenaca, has no known psychoactive properties or particularly noted medical qualities. The intoxicating and medical effects evident from Pliny’s description, as well as the practice of drying in the shade, all have indications of cannabis. If one considers a Persian word may have been at the root, and breaks the word used by Pliny into components ver-bena-ca, one finds, bena, which is easily identifiable with the Avestan banha (hemp) opening up the possibility that both the Jews and Zoroastrians were aware of topical preparations of the plant. Interestingly, as discussed in Chapter 3, Christian Ratsch reports of an ancient European plant under the similar name of verbena, which with good reason he suggested was likely a reference to hemp (Ratsch, 2001).

[As the German entheobotanist Christian Ratsch has noted according to ancient literature the most prized plant of the Gallic Druids was known under the name verbena, and this has generally been interpreted as the plant, vervain. But due to the fact vervain fills little of the ancient attributes of the magical verbena, its identity has been called into question. Christian Ratsch comments that “An Old High German Gloss” stated that “vervain, which is called hanaf” (hanaf being German for Hemp). “The Gauls thus used the Germanic word for hemp to refer to the magical “vervain” of the Druids. There is archaeological and ethno-historical evidence for a Gallic-Celtic use of hemp as a fumigant” (Ratsch, 2001).]

The cultic use of cannabis amongst the Hebrews was not easily suppressed, and it seems likely that certain mystically inclined sects of Judaism retained the method of shamanic ecstasy used by their predecessors. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has noted of early Kabalistic magical schools who used magic and other means of communion for mystic exploration, that “some practices include the use of ‘grasses,’ which were possibly psychedelic drugs” (Kaplan, 1993). As mentioned earlier, Kaplan’s THE LIVING TORAH includes cannabis as a possible candidate for the Hebrew keneh bosem, “due to cognate pronunciation” (Kaplan, 1981). The Kabalistic text the Zohar records:

“There is no grass or herb that grows in which G-d’s wisdom is not greatly manifested and which cannot exert great influence in heaven” and “If men but knew the wisdom of all the Holy One, blessed be He, has planted in the earth, and the power of all that is to be found in the world, they would proclaim the power of their L-rd in His great wisdom.” (Zohar.2,80B)

Like the Zoroastrian royalty and priesthood, there are indications that early Kabbalists enjoyed the use of the herb, but prevented its consumption by the common people. In the P’sachim, “Rav Yehudah says it is good to eat… the essence of hemp seed in Babylonian broth; but it is not lawful to mention this in the presence of an illiterate man, because he might derive a benefit from the knowledge not meant for him.- Nedarim, fol. 49, col. 1” (Harris, et al., 2004). Other sources have noted a Kabbalistic comparison to the effects of cannabis with divine perception, noting an “intriguing reference to cannabis in the context of a fleeting knowledge of God: Zohar Hadash, Bereshit, 16a (Midrash ha-Ne’elam)” (Gross, et al., 1983).

Clearly, a strong Persian influence on the texts of the OLD TESTAMENT is undeniable. That this foreign influence included cannabis can now be seen to be equally obvious, from both the way that the two cultures utilized the plant for religious inspiration, and also the Hebrew adoption of the cognate Indo-European word for the plant in the form of keneh bosem. It should also be noted that the marriage of the traditions of the Persians with those of the Semites bore fruit, and the child of this union has become one of the leading religions of the modern world… Christianity. A religion whose connection with cannabis we shall explore in soon in Part 3 of The Great Keneh Bosem Debate: Cannabis and the Christ!

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in the spiritual life of humanity for more than a quarter of a century. He is co-author of Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995); Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible (2001); and author of Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010); and Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal herbs and the Occult (2018) . He has also contributed chapters on the the historical role of cannabis in spiritual practices in books such as The Pot Book (2010), Entheogens and the Development of Culture (2013), Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances (2014), One Toke Closer to God (2017), Cannabis and Spirituality (2016) and Psychedelics Reimagined (1999). Bennett’s research has received international attention from the BBC , Guardian, Sunday Times, Washington Post, Vice and other media sources. He currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.