CANNABIS CULTURE – The idea that Jesus could have healed with cannabis, at first glance, seems preposterous, yet, it becomes more believable, the more you look into it. Moreover, this information has garnered international media attention, in reputable news sources like the BBC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Vice, and other media.
In a 2014 youtube documentary, Kaneh Bosm: the Hidden Story of Cannabis in the Old Testament, which featured a number of academic interviews, I detailed the potential role of cannabis in the Old Testament, under the Hebrew name kaneh bosm, an idea based on the pioneering work of Sula Benet, and which has been gaining increasing acceptance in academic circles, I first wrote about this for cannabis culture back in 1996, and since then it has become increasingly well known.
Kaneh Bosm, was used as an incense in the Old Testament, but also it was a key ingredient in the Holy anointing oil, which was used in the installations of both High Priests and Kings. The ancient recipe for this anointing oil, recorded in the Old Testament book of Exodus (30: 22-23) included over nine pounds of flowering cannabis tops, Hebrew “kaneh-bosm” , extracted into a hind (about 6.5 litres) of olive oil, along with a variety of other herbs and spices. The ancient chosen ones were literally drenched in this potent cannabis holy oil.
From the time of Moses until that of the later prophet Samuel, the holy anointing oil was used by the shamanic Levite priesthood to receive the “revelations of the Lord”. At the dawn of the age of Kings, Samuel extended the use of the anointing oil to the Hebraic monarchs by anointing Saul (and later David) as “Messiah-king”. These kings lead their people with the benefit of insights achieved through using the holy anointing oil to become “possessed with the spirit of the Lord.”
“Anointing was common among kings of Israel. It was the sign and symbol of royalty. The word ‘Messiah’ signifies the ‘Anointed One’, and none of the kings of Israel were styled the Messiah unless anointed.” The title was clearly only given to those “having the crown of God’s unction upon them (Leviticus 21:12)” (Doane, 1882).
After the fall of the Jewish kingdoms, and the loss of an independent monarchy under foreign rule, the use of this Holy Oil disappeared.
The ministry of Jesus marked the return of the Jewish Messiah-kings, and thus the re-emergence of the holy oil. However, Jesus seems to have violated the Old Testament taboo on the cannabis oil, which prohibited its use to Priests and kings, and distributed it freely for initiation rites and to heal the sick and wounded.
Although there is some evidence of Jesus’ use of this Judaic cannabis oil in the traditional New Testament, we get a clearer picture of its importance when we also look at surviving Gnostic documents. The term Gnostic, meaning “knowledge”, refers to a variety of early Christian sects that existed int he first few centuries AD, and which had extremely different beliefs about both Jesus and his teachings than those which have come down to us through modern Christianity.
Officially, we can see the ministry of Jesus beginning around his thirtieth year, and from the ensuing description given in the Gospels, as well as the Nag Hammadi Library, we can see that he is a figure of extraordinary intellect and knowledge. Obviously, prior to the New Testament accounts of his life, Jesus had spent many years in study and preparation before attempting to claim the title of Messiah. As there is so little record of Jesus’ life amongst his family and hometown people, it is probable and has been suggested that he traveled some distance from his homeland remaining away for an extended period. Conceivably, Jesus could have studied under a number of the different Mystery Schools that were around at the time, as is evident from his adoption of many of their practices, (a subject that will be discussed more fully later). “In the Clementine Recognitions, the charge is brought against Jesus that he did not perform his miracles as a Jewish prophet, but as a magician, an initiate of the heathen temples.”(Doane 1882) Likewise, the 2nd century Greek philosopher, Celsus explained that Jesus, born of illegitimate birth, after having “been brought up in obscurity… went as a hired labourer to Egypt and there acquired experience of some [magical]powers. Thence he returned proclaiming himself a god on account of these powers”. The “powers” referred to by Celsus, are the “miracles” attributed to Jesus, (in Greek the word means both the power itself and the miracles done by it). It was through performing such miracles that Jesus began to establish himself as the promised messiah in the minds of the people.
Like the eminent Christian historian Dr. Hugh Schonfield, we “accept that…[Jesus] was a healer and could effect cures of certain complaints where there was co-operative faith. It was the normal thing in those days both among Jews and Gentiles to expect of sages and saints that they should exercise powers of healing, blessing and cursing in a magical fashion”(Schonfield 1968). But, we take this a step further, suggesting that many of Jesus’ miracle cures, may have had a basis of truth that went beyond a placebo effect derived from a pure and magical “faith” in his abilities as the Messiah. In discussing, certain plausible explanations for New Testament “miracles”, as well as how such phenomena came to be viewed as miraculous, we need to look at certain matters, such as;
-How biblical authors had a tendency to elaborate on events over time
-The effect of simplifying years of Jesus’ life and teaching, into a few pages of text
-The fact that many what we would consider “medical cures”, constituted for the ancients miracles or exorcisms
-The effects of crowd-hysteria and superstition that would seem to be in effect from New Testament accounts
-How the early Christians viewed cannabis and the holy ointment.
It seems likely, from reading the bible, that Biblical authors had a tendency to magnify historical events in order to make them appear more miraculous. This is especially true of the New Testament, which has been heavily doctored to make Jesus fit the role of the promised holy King in the line of David. Further clouding of the New Testament Gospels has to do with the fact that many of the accounts in the Bible were written down decades after they happened, and with time, imagination and fancy have a tendency to obscure memory. In the case of the New Testament accounts, the earliest gospel is thought to have been recorded about 60 years after the crucifixion. Such a text cannot be regarded as an historical account. Although, possibly in origin many of the miracles described in the New Testament could have at their basis logically explainable events which were passed down and retold many times, and through this became shortened and glorified into the miraculous unexplained miracles of the New Testament Gospels.
It should also be noted, that nowhere in the Bible does Jesus baptize his disciples, but in the oldest of the synoptic Gospels, he does send out the apostles with holy oil, “And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.” (Mark 6:13).
A majority of the miracles take place within an exited crowd of listeners. Instantaneous cures, similar to those described in the New Testament, have even occurred in our own time at Christian revivalist gatherings, when the ecstatic mass hysteria has induced the partially handy-capped to stand up from their wheel-chairs, with withered legs walking a few feeble steps, or formerly closed hands slightly opening, etc.. Likely, in the state of frenzy, people with partial movement of limbs, or crippling diseases like cystic fibrosis, are driven into a heightened state of belief by the frenzy of the crowd and event, and in this state, believing they have been healed, they are able, for a short time, to overcome the pain of their maladies and walk a few short steps, or raise their arm, etc.. Such faith healing may have had a role in the New Testament accounts; “thy faith has made thee whole”(Matthew 9:22); “Daughter, your faith has healed you”(Mark 5:34); “your faith has made you well” (Luke 18:42); etc.. Alternatively, because of the people’s lack of faith in Nazareth, Jesus is unable to perform any miracles,(Mark 6:5)
In relation, Morton Smith suggests that the crowds who Jesus performed his miracles in front of, had been emotionally primed and set-up in preparation for Jesus arrival, by apostles who had been sent out ahead.
Everything centered on…[Jesus] , the others were stagehands. Luke gives us a picture of their coming into Jericho. Everybody turned out to see the miracle worker; one man even climbed a tree. Jesus said to him “Zacchaeus, come down at once; I must stay at your house today.” A miracle! He had never set eyes on me before, yet he knew my name at once! (But disciples had been “sent out before him into every town and village to which he was going to come” Lk. 10.1). So Zacchaeus, who just happened to be “rich”, “received him (and company), rejoicing”. No doubt the Joy was mutual.(Smith 1978)
We can also imagine one of Jesus assistants feigning to be a crippled member in the crowd, and miraculously being the very first cured, thus glorifying Jesus’ power in the eyes of the crowd. Again, this is not to say that the possibility of “faith-healing” is denied. That the mind of the individual plays a role in the physical health of the individual is accepted, and even that a person’s faith in a placebo medicine or treatment can have beneficial results is, in my mind, believable. But clearly, even in the gospel accounts, it was by their own personal faith that they were healed, not by the magic touch from somebody else. Shamans often use slight of hand and other tricks, to build up the faith of the individual, by which they cure themselves. It is plausible that Jesus and his apostles, viewed their own trickery as a legitimate means of building up the faith and belief in the hysterical crowds that were drawn to see the rumoured miracle-worker, who some claimed was the Messiah.
As we can see from the modern “miracles” of evangelical faith-healers, actual “faith” healing can be only a partial example, (if at all), as very few of these modern “miraculous” cures last long, and more often than not, after the crowd has drawn away, formerly useless limbs once are once again succeeded by their previous atrophied state. As for the New Testament accounts, no follow-up stories are offered and we can never know how long lasting some of these miracle cures actually were. Although, it would seem highly unlikely that a reputation for healing, such as the one Jesus has garnered, could last so much longer than the cures that he was reputed to have committed, unless there was an element of truth behind them. From the minimal descriptions given of the New Testament miracles, it is hard to decipher whether the original event described happened immediately, or over time. Perhaps the condensing gospel authors shortened the descriptions into seemingly instantaneous miraculous cures in order to save space and keep the story more exciting?
Another important factor, in the case of miracles and exorcisms, is that at the time of Christ, no differentiation was placed between medical treatment and exorcism or miracles, all three were interrelated. To cure somebody of a disease was paramount to exorcising the tormenting spirit. “Nothing in the books compromising the New Testament stands out more prominently than the belief in the presence of devils being the cause of disease. It crops up again and again. Christ’s tour through the land was punctuated with the healing of the sick by the casting out of devils…”(Scott 1966)
The bodies of the possessed…were… looked upon as the seat and organ of demonic working. They were really sick persons , suffering from peculiar diseases (mania, epilepsy, delirium, hypochondria, paralysis, temporary dumbness); these being apparently inexplicable from physical causes, and believed therefore to have their foundation, not in an abnormal organization or in natural disturbances of the physical condition, but in the actual indwelling of demonic personalities. Many of these might be counted in a single sick person.(Alexander 1902\1980)
As to cure of disease was considered exorcism, so to was healing a persons injury considered a “Miracle”. Descriptions such as Jesus using a clay poultice mixed with “spittle”, to cure a blind man (John 9:6-15), indicate that there was more involved in many of these miraculous healings, than a mere laying on of hands, yet this event was still recorded as a miracle, and little credence is given to Jesus’ material preparation of the poultice..
THE HEALING HERB
With cannabis, intent and the individual’s pre-conceived opinions of the plant have a pivotal influence on the way the user is effected. This is because cannabis is a hypnotic, and the user applies this trance to a projected opinion of what its effects will be like. This explains why first time users often feel no effect, as they are not yet sure what they are expecting to experience and thus have no preconceptions to base the experience on. Referring to this anomaly, Andrew Weil & Winifred Rosen wrote that the nineteenth century medicinal imbibers of cannabis tinctures reported little or no mind altering effects “probably because they did not expect to and so ignored the psychoactive effects”(Weil & Rosen 2004). For such reasons, Weil aptly noted that “the best term for marijuana is active placebo–that is, a substance whose apparent effects on the mind are actually placebo effects in response to minimal physiological action”(Weil 1972\1986).
If the use of such a drug was administered during the “heightened state of belief”, induced in part by “crowd hysteria” that took place at the gatherings of Jesus and his followers, the placebo effects of suggestion would be magnified to the extreme. Effects that would be especially powerful if the drug were introduced to the ancient participants as a “holy oil”, that would cause them to feel being possessed by the “Holy Spirit”, and that was also rich with healing powers, analogous to the popular “snake oils” sold in the old West. But in the case of cannabis, unlike the phony “snake oils” of yesteryear, the plant not only contained trance-inducing qualities, but also is actually rich with medicinal properties that have been used for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. “You are the plant of kindness. Let your power come…and heal… by this [unction]”(The Acts of Thomas).
The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles demonstrates Jesus’ own view of the importance of this rite, when he gives the disciples an “unguent box” and a “pouch full of medicine” with instructions to go into the City of Habitation, and heal the sick. He tells them you must heal “the bodies first” before you can “heal the heart”.
Amongst the more well known accounts of Jesus’ miracles is his healing of the lepers that appears in the first three Gospel accounts. Although, it should be noted that the Greek word used in this context, does not necessarily mean leprosy, and can refer to any number of skin diseases;
What we call leprosy is caused by Mycobacterium leprae, a bacillus discovered in 1868 by the Norwegian physician Gerhard Henrik Armauer Hansen. That disease was, in fact, known in New Testament times but was then called elephas or elephantiasis. Ancient sara’at or lepra, on the other hand, covered several diseases, all of which involved a rather repulsive scaly or flaking skin condition – for example, psoriasis, eczema or any fungus infection of the skin.”(Crossan 1994).
Here, we may have a suitable application for the topical healing properties of a specially prepared Cannabis Holy Ointment. Hemp ointments have been produced that contain potent bactericidal properties, and these have been used to successfully treat Pruritis, also known as atopic dermatitis, an inflammatory skin disorder that is likely due to an allergic reaction of unknown order. Its symptoms are severe itching, “and patches of inflamed skin, especially on the hands, face, neck legs, and genitals”(Grinspoon 1993). A description that sounds startlingly similar to the skin disease described in Leviticus 13, called tsara’ath, and usually translated in the Old Testament as leprosy, but has been noted by a number of scholars to be more likely a reference to a severe form of dermatitis rather than Hansen’s disease. In relation to Jesus’ curing of the lepers (Matthew 8,10,11 Mark 1, Luke 5,7,17), where the word leprosy, comes from a root meaning scaly, or to flake, which again could be a reference to a severe form of dermatitis, we could have another example of a disease expelled through the use of the cannabis “holy oil”, as, besides anti-bacterial properties cannabis has even been said to be effective in treating sufferers of Pruritis when administered through smoking,(Grinspoon & Bakalar 1993) .
A 1960 study in Czechoslovakia, was the first to scientifically conclude that “cannabidiociolic acid, a product of the unripe hemp plant, has bacteriocidal properties”(Mikuriya 1971) The Czech researchers “found that cannabis extracts containing cannabidiolic acid produce impressive antibacterial effects on a number of micro-organisms, including strains of staphylococuss that resists penicillin and other antibiotics”(Grinspoon M.D. & Bakalar 1993)
They [the Czechs]successfully treated a variety of conditions, including ear infections, with cannabis lotions and ointments . Topical application of cannabis relieved pain and prevented infection in second-degree burns….”(Grinspoon M.D. & Bakalar 1993).
The Gospel of Philip, makes reference to how the Holy Oil “healed the wounds” and the Acts of Thomas, which refers to the “plant of kindness” in association with the Holy oil, instructs that it be used to “heal… sores”. In relation, hemp was used in salves and ointments for burns and wounds, throughout the Middle Ages, and up until modern times.
Amongst the many medicinal applications of cannabis is its use in relieving the pain of worn and crippled joints, and interestingly we read again in the Acts of Thomas, that “Thou holy oil given unto us for sanctification… thou art the straightener of the crooked limbs” This application of the Holy Oil could reasonably account for the miraculous healing of cripples attributed to Jesus. “Cannabis is a topical analgesic. Until 1937, virtually all corn plasters, muscle ointments, and [cystic]fibrosis poultices were made from or with cannabis extracts”(Herer 1995). A common and effective home remedy for rheumatism in South America, was to heat cannabis in water, with alcohol, and rub the solution into the effected areas, and in the middle of the 19th century Dr. W.B. O’Shaughnessy claimed to have successfully treated rheumatism (along with other maladies), with “half grain doses of …[hemp]resin” given orally. Centuries before the time of Christ Babylonian texts referred to hemp’s use in ointments for swelling and for the “loss of control of the lower limbs”(The Encyclopedia of Islam 1979).
In the ancient world and up until medieval times, the disease now known as epilepsy was commonly considered to be demonic possession, and its victims who likely believed themselves to be the victim of a tormenting spirit, were outcasts from society. Referring to the demonically possessed boy of Mattew17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-43 William Alexander, in his worthy DEMONIC POSSESSION IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: ITS HISTORICAL, MEDICAL, AND THEOLOGICAL ASPECTS, wrote: “There is the cry preceded by the unconsciousness. , the sudden fall, the convulsive seizure, the gnashing of the teeth, the foaming at the mouth, the rolling on the ground; then the utter exhaustion, so that in the graphic words of the father, the boy “is shrivelled up” (Mark ix.18)….These features belong to a severe type of epilepsy (haut mal), and complete the popular diagnosis.”(Alexander 1902). Alexander, who was trained in medicine, continued, referring to the episode found in Mark 1:21-28; and Luke 4: 31-37 known as the Capernaum Demoniac:
Restricting attention to the physical symptoms here present, three thing emerge-
1. A loud cry.
2. A falling down.
3. A severe convulsion.
But these are the specific features of an epileptic attack, and are to be placed alongside of those features which point to acute insanity. By correlating these two groups of symptoms with each other, the final diagnosis is reached without difficulty. The case is one of epileptic insanity.(Alexander 1902\1980)
Here again, with the miraculous healing of these maladies we could have an explanation for other events of demonic exorcism, and the demon’s expulsion by the use of cannabis. “An article in 1949, buried in a journal of chemical abstracts, reported that a substance related to THC controlled epileptic seizures in a group of children more effectively than diphenylhydantoin (Dilantin), a most commonly prescribed anticonvulsant”(Mikuriya, M.D., 1973). More recently Dr. Lester Grinspoon, a medical marijuana advocate, has offered testimonials from modern epilepsy sufferers, who have noted the profound effects of natural marijuana in controlling their seizures, and noted the positive reports of cannabis and synthetic cannabidiol in the treatment of epilepsy obtained in a 1975 report and again in a 1980 study that concluded “for some patients cannabidiol combined with standard antileptics may be useful in controlling seizures. Whether cannabidiol alone, in large doses, would be helpful is not known”(Grinspoon & Bakalar 1993).
Interestingly, prior to the time of jesus, Assyrian records describe a topical ointments used in the treatment of “Hand of Ghost” an ancient malady now thought to be epilepsy, included cannabis as a key ingredient and indeed cannabis is known to be effective in the treartment of epilepsy. A prescription for the disease was “Cannabis, styrax, oak, Ricinus, Oenanthe, linseed, kelp (?), myrrh, wax of honey, lidrusa-plant, sweet oil, together thou shalt mix, anoint him therewith with oil.” (Bennett, 2010).
Other ailments of spasmodic muscular contractions such as Dystonias, which results in abnormal movements and postures, have been beneficially treated with the administration of cannabis, (Grinspoon & Bakalar 1993). As well, cannabis has been indicated as an effective treatment in the vastly debilitating disease Multiple Sclerosis.
Another of the miracles attributed to Jesus, was the healing of a woman from chronic menstruation (Luke 8:43-48), and again we find that cannabis has been used for the treatment of such ailments, as the U.S. Dispensatory of 1854, listed cannabis extract as a remedy for “uterine hemorrhage”, as well as other maladies. Further, in ancient Assyria cannabis was used with other ingredients for the treatment of “female ailments” and as an “anodyne used in menorrhagia and dysmenorrhoea”(Thompson 1924)
Although the Biblical story of Jesus’ cure of the menstruating women, describes this event as a faith healing which results from the woman touching the passing Jesus, and him feeling the “power” go out from him, an actual remedy seems a lot more likely.
That such a medicinal remedies could be considered as a miraculous, is testified in accounts of children’s epileptic seizures being treated successfully with cannabis, claims of cancer remissions with cannabis oil extracts, and other news stories we see in the modern media.
Although far beyond the breadth or intent of this article to document, cannabis has also been used successfully to treat Glaucoma, Arthritis, Depression and Mood Disorders, Migraines, and Chronic Pain.
Cannabis’ long history as a medicne in the area has even been documented in an archeological find. A 1990s archeological dig in Bet Shemesh near Jerusalem has documented that cannabis medicine was in use in the area, up until the fourth century. In the case of the Bet Shemesh dig, the cannabis had been used as an aid in child bearing, both as a healing balm and an inhalant. This find garnered some initial attention, but its implication were unfortunately not fully realized at the time, as can be seen from the Associated Press article, “Hashish Evidence is 1,600 years Old”, that appeared in the Vancouver, British Columbia, newspaper, the Province, on June 2nd, 1992;
Archeologists have found hard evidence that hashish was used as a medicine 1,600 years ago the Israel Antiquities Authority said yesterday.
Archeologists uncovered organic remains of a substance containing hashish, grasses and fruit on the abdominal area of a teenage female’s skeleton that dates back to the fourth century, the antiquities authority said in a statement.
Anthropologist Joel Zias said that although researchers knew hashish had been used as a medicine, this is the first archeological evidence.
The teen, whose skeleton was unearthed in a family tomb in Bet Shemesh near Jerusalem, died in childbirth, the remains of a full term fetus in her pelvis.
The statement said the organic remedy of hashish, grasses and fruit “had been placed on the abdominal area, apparently to reduce labor pains and hemorrhaging, and to increase the force of uterine contractions.”
A similar synthetic substance is used today to prevent vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, the statement said.(Associated Press 1992).
As far-fetched as the explanation of a healing cannabis ointment may seem, when weighed against the popular alternative, one that is held by literally millions of believers world wide; that Jesus performed his miracles, magically, through the power invested in him through the omnipotent Lord of the Universe; the case for ancient accounts of medicinal cannabis seem a far more likely explanation.
In a future article I will discuss the potential role of cannabis and other entheogens, for mystical initiations by Jesus and later Gnostic Christian groups.
. . . you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. . . . the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him.” (1 John 2: 27)
For more on Cannabis history check out Chris Bennett’s book, Cannabis and the Soma Solution.
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Bennett, Chris, Cannabis and the Soma Solution, (Trineday, 2010)
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TW Doane, Bible Myths and their Parallels in Other Religions. First published in 1882, republished in 1985 by Health Research.
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Scott, George Ryley; PHALLIC WORSHIP; A History of Sex and Sexual Rites, (Senate 1996; Luxor Press 1966).
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