CANNABIS CULTURE – Many people are now familiar with the idea that the ancient Jews used cannabis, under the names Kaneh and Kaneh Bosm, in their anointing oils and incenses.
However, few are aware that at least two religious scholars, more than a century apart and from different nationalities have independently suggested that the Prophet Ezra, considered by many as the final editor of the Old Testament texts, consumed cannabis infused wine….
Ezra was born in Babylon, and was among the Jews returned during the reign of Darius, a Persian king, that many historians have suggested was the son of Vishtapa, a figure of Persian royalty who was said to have been initiated by Zoroaster, a Persian prophet, with a cannabis infusion! “Vishtaspa used hemp (bhang) to obtain ecstasy: while his body lay asleep, his soul traveled to paradise” (Eliade 1978). (Vishtaspa’s shamanic journey is recorded in Denkird 7.4.83-6 and Pahlavi Rivayat 48.27-32).
“Hemp and wine or hemp and haoma were mixed in the cup that was passed to Vistaspa….. it… 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’…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)
Ezra had worked as a scribe in the Persian world before being returned to his homeland and he was a key figure of the Jewish monotheistic reformation after the Persians had returned the Jews to their homeland after close to a century of exile. Here is Ezra’s own account of his divine mission to bring together the texts of the Jewish religion and restore the faith to its homeland. Ezra told the people not to seek him for forty days, and he left for the desert, taking with him five people who were to act as his scribes:
“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.
As Georg W Brown recorded of this more than a century ago:
“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 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…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…”
“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.”(Brown, 1890)
The connections between haoma and cannabis have been further strengthened by the archeological finds of cannabis present at a 4000 year old Temple site in the ancient Bactria and Margiana region, known now as BMAC (The Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex) that was devoted to the preparation of the Haoma, by the Russian archeologist Victor Sarianidi, where evidence of cannabis, ephedra, and in some later cases opium being ground and strained for the preparation of Haoma have been found. (Sarianidi, 1993/1998) As well Scythian gold cups and bowls have been found with residues of opium and cannabis, that the Russian archeologist Anton Gass has identified as ritual implements for ‘the drinking of haoma’.
More than a century after Brown, Vicente Dobroruka also noted a comparison between the Persian technique of shamanic ecstasy and that of Ezra, in his essay ‘Preparation for Visions in Second Temple Jewish Apocalyptic Literature’, :
“…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. 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, Rabbi Immanuel Löw, referred to an ancient Jewish 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). Such preparations were also noted by the nineteenth 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…” (Kitto, 1861)
Such an interpretation of Ezra’s cup, could be seen to indeed be troubling for those with a religious mindset. As J. G. Jackson recorded of the philosophical challenges these ideas hold, in The Religio- Philosophical Journal, an occult newspaper popular with spiritualists in the 19th century:
“if the Revelations of the seer called “John the Divine” were considered apocryphal by many of the early church fathers; if the reputed prophet, Esdras, (synonymous with Ezra) in forty days and forty nights with the help of many scribes wrote the’ history of all things from the beginning’—as he himself tells us— under the inspiration of the “ fiery cup,” i. e.,—as now proven—drunken with the extract of Indian hemp, called “ hasheesh” ; if!—if!—if a hundred things are true, as time is now revealing them, and as 1 know many of them to be, then must I doubt all prophecies “ inspired” by such “records, by whom written no one can now tell; then may we safely ask… What “ fiery cup” hast thou been drinking? Go to with thy unwholesome and useless predictions! —unless they prove remedial.” (Jackson, 1890)
Indeed, when understood fully, the Biblical references to Kaneh bosm, and the other evidence of cannabis and other entheogens in the Biblical narrative, this information becomes as much threat to Fundamentalists beliefs about the Bible, as Darwin’s theory of evolution was to the myths of Genesis, in that they reveal the plant based shamanic origins of the religion itself – An irony indeed when one considers the modern prohibition on the so called Devil’s Weed, in comparison with the myths of the Forbidden Fruit in Eden.
Find out the whole story about the Old Testament references to cannabis in this Documentary
Brown, George W., Researches in Oriental History (1890)
Dobroruka , V. , ‘Preparation for Visions in Second Temple Jewish Apocalyptic Literature’, (Oxford, 2002)
Dobroruka , V. Chemically-Induced Visions in the Fourth Book of Ezra in Light of Comparative Persian Material, Jewish Studies Quarterly, (2006) – pej-unb.org
Eliade, Mircea; A History of Religious Ideas, Vol.1; (University of Chicago Press 1978)
Jackson, J. G., The Religio-Philosophical Journal, (1890)
Kisel, V.A., Herodotus’ Scythian logos and ritual vessels of the early nomads, Archaeology, Ethnology and Anthropology of Eurasia, Volume 31, Number 3 (October, 2007)
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