Cannabis in the Old Testament

Of the historical material indicating the Hebraic use of cannabis, the strongest and most profound piece of evidence was established in 1936 by Sula Benet (a.k.a. Sara Benetowa), a Polish etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw. Benet later stated that: "In the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament there are references to hemp, both as incense, which was an integral part of religious celebration, and as an intoxicant"(Benet 1975). Through comparative etymological study, Bennett documented that in the Old Testament and in its Aramaic translation, the Targum Onculos, hemp is referred to as q'neh bosm which (variously translated as kaneh bosem, keneh bosem, kaniebosm ) and is also rendered in traditional Hebrew as kannabos or kannabus. The root " kan" in this construction means "reed" or "hemp", while "bosm" means "aromatic". This word appeared in Exodus 30:23, Song of Songs 4:14., Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:19.
Benet's etymological research regarding the Hebrew terms q'eneh bosem' and q'eneh' was based upon tracing the modern word 'cannabis' back through history to show the similarities between the cognitive pronunciation of cannabis and q'eneh bosem' and as well as compared the term to the names used for cannabis by contemporary kingdoms, such as the Assyrian and Babylonians terms for the plant 'qunubu' . In fact the term "q'neh bosem' is the Hebrew transliteration of an earlier Indo-European term for the plant 'canna' . This term left traces through the vernacular 'an' seen in various modern terms for c'an'nabis, such as the Indian bh'a'ng, the French ch'an'vre, the Dutch c'an'vas and the German h'an'f. This use of an Indo-European word in the Semitic language shows that the ritual use of cannabis came to the Hebrews from foreign sources and as an item of trade, it retained the core aspects of its original name. Indeed, in both the Jeremiah and Ezekiel references referred to by Benet, cannabis is identified as coming from a foreign land, and indeed as the additional references noted by Benet tell when put into the context of the Biblical storyline, this foreign association with the plant may in fact have been the cause of its disfavor amongst the ancient Hebrews. Initially appearing in favor, as part of a list of ingredients in a holy anointing oil, which when bestowed upon a chosen individual made him 'the anointed one', which in Hebrew is rendered the 'Messiah' and later in Greek the 'Christ'. But this love affair was not to last… As Prof. Carl Ruck a linguist and mythologist, along with his equally educated co-authors have also noted:
"Chrismation was ...a mode of administering healing balms. In the Old Testament, chrismation involves pouring the anointing oil over the head, which functions to purify (obviously in a spiritual sense, not to cleanse physically) and to confer power, strength, or majesty. Its most common occurrence is the coronation of kings, which sometimes is accomplished by Yahweh, himself; but priests and prophet-shamans are also anointed, as also are objects to set them aside from profane use. In Exodus 30,23 sq., Yahweh specifies the ingredients for the chrism, making clear that such unguents contained herbal additives to the oil: Cannabis sativa (kaneh bosm, usually translated "aromatic cane") is combined with perfuming spices (cinnamon, cassia, and myrrh) in oil.  "The psychoactivity of the "spices" in the anointing oil, in addition to the Cannabis, deserves attention. Cinnamon and cassia are mild to moderate stimulants. Myrrh is reputed to have medical properties. ...
",,,,Cannabis… appears several times through out the Old Testament. The word in question is kaneh bosm, … now translated as "calamus," the mistranslation starting as early as the Septuagint. Kaneh bosm occurs also in Song of Songs 4.14, where it grows in an orchard of exotic fruits, herbs, and spices: on the Song of Songs as an ethnobotanical encomium of the entheogen. It occurs also in Isaiah 43,24 where Yahweh lists amongst the slights not received in sacrifice… and Jeremiah 6,20, where Yahweh, displeased with his people, rejects such an offering; and Ezekiel 27.19, where it occurs in a catalogue of the luxurious items in the import trade of Tyre. Benet concludes that these references confirm that hemp was used by the Hebrews as incense and intoxicant. This conclusion has since been affirmed by other scholars." (Ruck et al. 2001)
These passages are particularly telling of how the disappearance of cannabis from the Old Testament script came about. Isaiah 43:24 "Thou hast bought me no sweet cane (q'neh 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 to him. A further reading of the texts shows that these items are being sacrificed in honor of competing deities. A situation that is compounded through the words of the monotheistic reformer Jeremiah " To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane (q'neh) from a far country? your burnt offerings [are] not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me. (Jeremiah 6;20) . Here just prior to the final fall of Hebrew kingdoms, the pagan and foreign associations with the plant finally drive it underground. But it must be understood that from the time of Moses and throughout the kingdom period, the use of cannabis in a ritual context had continued. (Bennett and McQueen, 2001)
A theme more fully explored and expanded upon in my own book, Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible co-authored with Neil McQueen (Forbidden Fruit Publishing 2001). Following in the footsteps of Benet's research, we were able to follow the history of the sacred anointing oil into the early Christian period, particularly amongst heretical Gnostic Christian sects, that along with pagan cults, were brutally banned at the inception of the Dark Ages and the rise of Catholicism. As noted the term 'Christ' itself is Greek rendering of the Hebrew 'Messiah' and this means the 'anointed one' making reference back to the original anointing oil as described in Exodus 30:23 . Indeed even in the New Testament Jesus does not baptize any of his own disciples, but rather in the oldest of the synoptic Gospels Jesus sends out his followers to heal with the anointing oil "they cast out many devils, and aanointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them." (Mark 6:13). Likewise, after Jesus' passing, James suggests that anyone of the Christian community who was sick should call to the elders to anoint him with oil in the name of Jesus (James 5:14). "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord."
It should also be understood that in the ancient world, diseases such as epilepsy were attributed to demonic possession, and to cure somebody of such an illness, even with the aid of certain herbs, was the same as exorcism, or miraculously healing them. Interestingly, cannabis has been shown to be effective in the treatment of not only epilepsy, but many of the other ailments that Jesus and the disciples healed people of, such as skin diseases (Matthew 8, 10, 11; Mark 1; Luke 5, 7, 17), eye problems (John 9:6-15), and menstrual problems (Luke 8:43-48).
According to ancient Christian documents, even the healing of cripples could be attributed to the use of the holy oil. "Thou holy oil given unto us for sanctification… thou art the straightener of the crooked limbs" (The Acts of Thomas).
One ancient Christian text, The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles, which is older than the New Testament, estimated to have been recorded in the second century AD, has Jesus giving the disciples an "unguent box" and a "pouch full of medicine" with instructions for them to go into the city and heal the sick.
As Jesus and his followers began to spread the healing knowledge of cannabis around the ancient world, the singular Christ became the plural term "Christians," that is, those who had been smeared or anointed with the holy oil. As the New Testament explains: "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).
The Christians, the "smeared or anointed ones," received "knowledge of all things" by this "anointing from the Holy One" (1 John 2:20). Thereafter, they needed no other teacher, and were endowed with their own spiritual knowledge. "Residues of cannabis, moreover, have been detected in vessels from Judea and Egypt in a context indicating its medicinal, as well as visionary, use."(Ruck 2003)
In the first few centuries AD, Christian Gnostic groups such as the Archontics, Valentians and Sethians rejected water baptism as superfluous, referring to it as an "incomplete baptism".( The Paraphrase of Shem. )In the tractate, the Testimony of Truth, water Baptism is rejected with a reference to the fact that Jesus baptized none of his disciples.(Rudolph, 1987) Being "anointed with unutterable anointing", the so-called "sealings" recorded in the Gnostic texts, can be seen as a very literal event. "There is water in water, there is fire in chrism." (Gospel of Philip). "The anointing with oil was the introduction of the candidate into unfading bliss, thus becoming a Christ." (Mead, 1900) "The oil as a sign of the gift of the Spirit was quite natural within a semetic framework, and therefore the ceremony is probably very early. . . In time the biblical meaning became obscured." (Chadwick, 1967)
In the Gospel of Philip it is written that the initiates of the empty rite of Baptism:
"go down into the water and come up without having received anything. . . The anointing (chrisma) is superior to baptism. For from the anointing we were called 'anointed ones' (Christians), not because of the baptism. And Christ also was [so] named because of the anointing, for the Father anointed the son, and the son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. [Therefore] he who has been anointed has the All. He has the resurrection, the light. . . the Holy Spirit. . . [If] one receives this unction, this person is no longer a Christian but a Christ."
The apocryphal book, The Acts of Thomas, refers to the ointment's entheogenic effects as being specifically derived from a certain plant:
Holy oil, given us for sanctification, hidden mystery in which the cross was shown us, you are the unfolder of the hidden parts. You are the humiliator of stubborn deeds. You are the one who shows the hidden treasures. You are the plant of kindness. Let your power come by this [unction].
Although the idea that Jesus and his disciples used a healing cannabis ointment may seem far-fetched at first, when weighed against the popular alternative (one that is held by millions of believers) that Jesus performed his healing miracles magically, through the power invested in him by the omnipotent Lord of the Universe, the case for ancient accounts of medicinal cannabis seems a far more likely explanation. When one considers that Jesus himself may have healed and initiated disciples with such topical cannabis preparations, the modern reintroduction of cannabis based medicines becomes, if not a miracle, at least a profound revelation..
In light of this profound history, some have come to see the use of cannabis as a freedom of religion issue. But after 15 years of researching the cross-cultural history of cannabis, and following it's use from the stone age to present, I have come to see that the right to cannabis is even more fundamental than religious freedoms, for humanity created religion, but no matter what god you believe in, you had better believe that god created cannabis. Even from an atheistic standpoint, from the cross cultural perspective, as possibly our oldest cultivated crop, humanity has had a evolutionary partnership with this plant that stretches back more than 10,000 years. Indeed humanity has a natural indigenous right to all the plants of the earth, all people and all plants, any law that stands in the way of that natural relationship is an abomination to both God and Nature.