By Heather Ritchie, Staff Writer at Terpenes and Testing Magazine
What if cannabis was mentioned in the Bible? Would it change the way in which it’s viewed? Christians and cannabis supporters point to specific scriptures in the Bible to bolster their hypotheses, so what’s the answer?
Many Americans don’t know that some of our country’s most important leaders, such as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, grew hemp. So, it’s not surprising that uncertainty reigns regarding what happened thousands of years ago.
Chris Bennett, author of the book Sex, Drugs, and Violence in the Bible, cites sources and logic throughout the Bible that argue that cannabis was referred to in the Bible. “And said Elohim, I give you every herb that sows seed on the face of the earth and every tree that bears within it the fruit of the tree” (Genesis 1: 29-30). The rationale is that, since Elohim was referring to all fruits and herbs, cannabis would have to be included. However, contrarians say that cannabis and other psychedelic plants aren’t included.
In 1936, Sula Benet, an etymologist with the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw, Poland, found the first real evidence that Hebrews used cannabis. While many see the word “cannabis” as Scythian, Benet revealed an even earlier origin tied to Semitic languages like Hebrew. The Old Testament referenced hemp use in religious ceremonies and as incense. Benet also hypothesized that kaneh-bosem in the Bible referred to cannabis. Kaneh-bosem is created from traditional Hebrew by kannabus or kaneh. Kan refers to a “reed or hemp” and bosm translates to “aromatic”.
Biblical Text that Supports Cannabis Use
Genesis 1:12 in the King James Version of the Bible says: “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good”. While it’s easy to see how these words could be literally taken to mean cannabis, others can easily interpret these words as discussing other plants or all plants. Some point to poisonous plants, like particular mushrooms, as evidence that certain plants would clearly be exempt from God’s permission to use.
In Exodus 30: 22-28, God instructed Moses to prepare a sacred oil for anointing various furnishings and a tent. The anointing oil recipe called for 250 shekels or around six pounds of calamus flowers. Those that argue for discussions of cannabis in the Bible say that the King James Version of the Bible translated the words wrong and used calamus instead of kaneh-bosm. Another source, however, claims that calamus is not a mistranslation.
Anointment made items special and god-like, so this was often done for religious ceremonies. Hebrew University etymologists discovered that cannabis is actually quoted as Kannabosm or Kineboisin in the Bible. It’s one of several ingredients of a holy ointment used by apothecaries.
The Old Testament discusses the history of the Jews during their first thousand years when the mainstream Canaanite culture worshipped many gods. Eventually, the Jews monotheism usurped the practice of genuflecting to multiple deities. And while cannabis may have been in favor with God according to the writings in the Old Testament, it’s use is thought to have diminished concomitantly with the eradication of the honoring of the Mother Goddess.
King Solomon wrote the biblical Song of Songs, which describes one of the fragrances of the bride’s garden as calamus. In one interpretation of Isaiah (Isaiah 43:24), he scolds the Israelites for failing to bring calamus [cannabis] offerings to God. The book of Jeremiah is thought to reference calamus/cannabis, as an offering rejected by God (Jeremiah 6:20). Jeremiah also denounced burnt offerings to the Mother Goddess Asherah (Jeremiah 44: 15-23). Cannabis is thought to be ultimately rejected by Israel during the period of the Babylonian exile.
Evidence Supports Cannabis Use in the Area
Although modern interpretations of the Bible make it challenging to discern what is actually being described by the original texts, cannabis was likely used in biblical times for food, fiber, and incense as a variety of sources have illustrated. Plants were used in polytheistic ceremonies and medical applications around Israel. There were references to a “joy plant” that induced sleep.
Bennett concludes "If cannabis was one of the main ingredients of the ancient Christian anointing oil, as history indicates,” Bennett said, “receiving this oil is what made Jesus the Christ and his followers Christians." And that is likely to keep people talking well into the future.
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