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Pot use in the Bible?
Found this interesting article on the history of cannabis in the OT.
Link: Read and Discuss?
Tuesday, 10-21-03 11:44 AM
Wow... Where to begin?
I'll start by saying that it would be no great earthquake to my worldview if every patriarch and priest in the OT used - or was at least exposed to thru incense smoke - cannabis or a similar plant. Were this the case, at the most extreme it might lend credence to lumping pot use with alcohol: not expressly forbidden, but neither endorsed as a habitual means of obtaining an altered state. In my opinion, the command to "be not drunk with wine" could still be safely phrased "be not high on pot." :}
That said, I'll go on to say that I'm far less than convinced the author of this article made a strong argument for the use of pot (especially a "valid" use) either in the ancient Hebrew culture or today's.
Starting merely with his first few statements, we see that his logic is weak at best. He quotes Genesis 1:29-30 ("I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth...") and then takes a tremendous leap and says
"Ironically, the major force for continuing this plant prohibition is a group referred to as the Christian Right. They claim to believe in both the Bible and old Yahweh, yet Yahweh's opinion on the matter is stated quite clearly in the above quotation."
Um, I think not. He has set up a fallacy of false dilemma. (see attached link) He's in effect saying "Either you believe the first chapter of Genesis and therefore pot smoking is OK, or else you can't believe what Genesis says."
Sure I can! You'd have to ignore the whole rest of the Bible to take from Genesis 1:29 that we had free reign to do absolutely anything we wanted with any substance derived from a plant we found! Alcohol too is a plant-derived substance, and we're clearly ordered not to over-imbibe on it! Taking the argument to it's logical conclusion, wood comes from plants and since all plants are given to us therefore it must be OK to build clubs out of tree trunks and kill each other with them, right?
In my opinion, the whole chain of reasoning just gets hazier from there.
Up front, the author states "This article shows how the Old Testament Prophets were none other than ancient shamans, and that cannabis and other entheogens played a very prominent role in ancient Hebrew culture."
OK, *maybe* the latter of the two goals was accomplished. Maybe. I haven't the scholarship to evaluate his claim that "cannabis" is mistranslated in our Bibles to "calamus." Maybe it is, maybe it was an ingredient of the sacred anointing oil God commanded Moses to make, and I'm quite willing to believe that it was involved in Ashera-worship. OK. But does this show me that the Prophets were just shamans, high on cannabis when they were seeing visions from God? Honestly, I'm not even seeing a solid argument for it as an ingredient of the incense they burned in the tabernacle. I think once again he's taken far too great a leap of "logic."
(And anyway, as a Christian with a belief in the literal truth of both Testaments, does he think he's helping his case for the virtues of cannabis by associating it with Ashera worship, one of the most frequently and violently condemned of the pagan religions in the OT?!?)
But it's still farther in the article where I believe we see the author's true goal. He states
"It seems much more believable that the winged beings which appeared to Isaiah and other Biblical prophets were not actual angels (10), but rather ancient shamans, wearing elaborate costumes and enacting trance inducing rituals, all enhanced by the use of cannabis smoke and psychotropic compounds like anamita muscaria, mandrake, and others."
And he goes on to apply this line of reasoning to Isaiah's vision where the angel touched his lips with a live coal, purifying him.
I find that whole idea rather offensive, but since I'm striving for logic right now, I'll put that aside. ;)
So I'll just name a few more "high points" in the rest of the article:
1) He casts aspersions on the origin of the books of the Law (Deuteronomy specifically)
2) He suggests that the Song of Solomon was actually composed to "The Queen of Heaven" (Ashera) Oh yes, and that Solomon had a passionate affair with the Queen of Sheba.
3) Suggests that "plant drugs" played a direct role in the formation of human consciousness (presumably during the process of our evolution up from the apes?)
4) He spends a lot of time discussing goddesses, Cabalism, and some thoroughly blasphemous notions about the Shekina.
Again, nothing in there to give me the slightest pause in my general notion that cannabis is something best avoided. :}
Seriously, though, I think it's clear that the author isn't so much trying to show that cannabis existed and was used in the culture of the ancient Hebrews, as he is attempting to explain away the visions and messages they received - by giving them a purely chemical origin, we can push them aside. And as a bonus, the author shows that the Hebrews were ruled in general by male chauvinists out to retain their power by any and all means especially by quashing goddess worship with its heavy use of cannabis.
Which brings me to my final point. When reading articles and assessing arguments (dare I say even "scientific" ones?), I think we need to be careful not to ignore the worldview of the author of said argument. We may like to think of ourselves as objective and unbiased, but it's simply not true. To quote a favorite quote from a favorite speaker: "Everyone's got a bias. It's simply a matter of what bias is the best bias to be biased by." This isn't an argument for sloppy science or logic, merely an acknowledgement that at the base of it all, our worldview plays the key role in the interpretation of the facts.
This author's worldview is - I think it safe to say - not a Christian one. He (she? Chris is a unisex name) does not state his religious beliefs explicitly, but the tone of the document plus certain clues (i.e. the closing of the article with the invocation to become one with Shiva...) lead me to believe he has more in common with Hindus than Hebrews, and with Pagans than Protestants. It is most likely that the author considers the Bible (both halves) a purely human document, and the God described therein of being similar in human origin and no more or less valid than Ashera, Shiva, or Buddha.
While this does not give me free reign to toss out anything and everything said without careful thought and analysis, awareness of the disparity is nevertheless crucial. It would be unwise - even irresponsible - of me to take conclusions coming from such a worldview at anything like face value.
In other words, Im not rushing out to buy a bong in hopes of enhancing my connection with God. ;)
Link: Description of False Dilemma argument
Tuesday, 10-21-03 10:52 PM
Speaking of biases...
Im going to posit that in spite of your protestations to the contrary, you are reacting emotionally rather than engaging the topic rationally.
For example, your suggestion that the authors main point is to discredit Christianity by associating it with use is a projection of your own bias on the topic rather than understanding and working from his real biases. Because drug use would discredit the prophetic visions in YOUR mind, you believe that it is HIS purpose to discredit the prophecy. The author, however, assumes here and in his other writings that plant-based psychotropic drugs have a legitimate use as a component of worship. His beef with Judeo-Christianity is not that some of the OT prophecies may have been drug-induced and therefore not legitimate, but rather that Christianity largely rejects the legitimacy of religious drug use in spite of its own historical usage of the same, and is therefore hypocritical and in denial.
If you have doubts on the authors objectivity on an issue, research his sources rather than dismiss his article on the basis that my bias is better than his bias. The author documents his sources fairly well, and the etymological claim the crux of the question is pot use actually prescribed in the Bible? demands inquiry on the truth of the statement well before inquiry into the bias of the author. Before deciding that the guys just out to disprove Christianity as a drug induced hallucination and therefore dismissable, did you bother to research the word in question?
According to this article, in 1936, etymologist Sula Benet argued that the Hebrew word translated calamus in the Septuagint and many English bibles was the root word for cannabis and properly referred to marijuana. Is he the lone voice in the wilderness on this? A little digging shows that he is not other linguists and historians agree. More importantly, in 1980, etymologists at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem confirmed that this interpretation of the word is correct, and that marijuana is indeed listed by name in an OT recipe for anointing oil.
Now, even if the author DID have a bias which discredits spiritual experience gained by drug use, you still have the unavoidable fact that for over 20 years, experts on Hebrew have agreed that the Bible prescribes cannabis in both oil soluble and incense forms. This is no longer just the claim of one guy with unclear credentials and a bias you dont like.
How does knowing more about the etymology of the word affect your understanding of the article and its claims regarding religious drug use? More to the point
if God prescribes the use of an incense containing marijuana and his prophets and priests had visions because of that incense, does that alter the legitimacy of the revelation, or is it an example of God giving his people another tool to receive revelation?
Wednesday, 10-22-03 2:54 PM
First off, I'll say that I'm afraid that as a general rule it is no more possible to react to something unemotionally than it is to react w/o a bias. ;) And yes, the article DID irritate me at points. No need to deny that.
Second, I don't have the time to do a thorough amount of research on the translation question. But quick hunts
suggest that, while not a "lone voice in the wilderness," Sula Benet is not without detractors. See here and here
For the moment, however, let's presume I am conceding the point that an herb probably related to modern marajuana was an ingredient in oil and/or incense used by the Hebrews. I'm *not,* based on the evidence in this article, willing to concede that the prophets were necessarily "under the influence" when prophesying. But to answer your later
question, No, I don't think that cannabis would necessarily discredit the validity of a prophecy. God is indeed free to use any means and chanels he chooses for communication, and He - especially in the OT - used many with which I'm less than "comfortable." :}
(It still does not, in the grand scheme of things seem Likely that God would use cannabis influence to speak to his prophets. He didn't, for instance, commonly go about speaking to people out of their drunken stupors, unless we want to count the writing on the wall. And in this incident, the prophet in question (Daniel), was not drunk.)
BUT, If what Isaiah actually experienced was Shamans dressed up in winged and feathered costumes, that *would* discredit his prophecies.
If the Song of Solomon was actually written to the Queen of Heaven, that *would* discredit it. And if Deuteronomy was a forgery written by Hebrew priests as an attempt to crush worship of other gods, that *would* discredit it. All three of these ideas are floated by the author of our article.
Maybe the author isn't really trying specifically to discredit prophecies by suggeting they were drug-induced - he/she clearly thinks that marajuana and other drugs can be a major boost to spiritual experience. I didn't get accross my understanding of that very well in my initial post.
But, I really can't convince myself that the author had "innocent" motives as far as my own worldview/bias is concerned. And even if I could - even if I was ignoring all that - I just don't think that a *strong* case has been made for the Legitimate (i.e. God-dictated) use of the drug.
Friday, 10-24-03 1:14 PM
Two measures of Cinnamon?
2 points of logic:
1) There are two seperate plants named in the passage, kinnamon and kanneh-bosm. If, as your two links argue, they both mean "cinnamon", why are they listed as seperate ingredients?
2) The second link you provided gives a brief history of cinnamon, stating that it was expensive because it was not native to Israel and had to be imported from places such as India. A group of desert wanderers (~1.5 million of them) trapsing around the wilderness for 40 years would not have had either the wealth or the wearwithall to procure that much cinnamon (twice the apparantly prescribed amount). It's likely that they would have been able to get their hands on some of the stuff, but not in the amounts they'd need. Clearly, your second link is in want of scholarship: Cinammon was grown in Egypt, among other places, and since those in the Exodus looted on their way out it is perfectly reasonable that they would have had a substantial supply on hand. He further states that he has not heard of any connection between cannabis and kanneh-bosum, despite the Hebrew University article from 1980. I would humbly submit that your average Rabbi knows about as much as your average pastor: They are good people who have a smattering of history and theological training, but are not experts in any of the fields related to Biblical studies. Their primary expertise is in ministering to people, not in exegesis or linguistics.
In both these instances, you have a pastor and a rabbi refuting a chain of academics - expert linguists and botanists - and one highly educated layman (Bennet) who has synthesized the two fields. While it is always possible, based on evidence not yet discovered, that Bennet is mistaken in his conclusions, he is not mistaken for any of the reasons listed in your two links. Both the pastor and the rabbi are clearly underinformed on the topic. Find a linguistic refutation based on research published after 1980 that takes on or invalidates the Hebrew University study (the acknowledged world experts on biblical hebrew) and you have a case.
Two other points:
1) It is quite possible that Bennet is correct about most of the things he voices an opinion on but is incorrect about the Seraphim being costumed Shamen. They could just as easily have been hallucinations or genuine divine visions.
2) As far as calling prophecies into question, Isaiah, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, gave many false prophecies. Bennet may be correct that entheogenesis (hallucinogenic drug use) played a part in the development of Hebraic mysticism (prophetism and kabbalism). It could be that God required the use of these plants to open the mind up to God and to heal individuals, but that the use of plants by prophets resulted in false prophecies - a classic case of something being used out of its intended context.
As far as the Song of Solomon being a hymn about the romance between Yahweh and Asherah, there is clearly at least imagery to that effect in the song. If it was written at the time of Solomon and not later, those hearing it (at the time when Asherah worship was at one of its peaks) would have made the natural association between the real-life lovers and the heavenly lovers, taking it as a mirroring of the two. Does that invalidate the Song? How? It's a gorgeous love poem - one of the most erotic love poems in the ancient near-east. Taken out of the Yahweh/Asherah consort context, it says absolutely nothing about God - it's a book about sex (and much of it premarital and kinky sex). Having that extra layer of meaning on top of it tells us more about the culture the book came from. It doesn't effect theology.
The assertion that the Deuteronomic law was written (or at least modified, redacted, and heavily revised) during the reign of King Josiah is nothing new, and nothing terribly contraversial - it is, in fact, a reading supported by several texts in the Bible itself. That Israel was polytheistic and that it wasn't a big deal can be pulled easily from the text of the Bible itself. I can supply links if you like, but this also should not be a problem unless you believe that Moses actually wrote or dictated the Torah. But that is a belief that has no foundation in scripture, and cannot be justified by scripture - it's merely a tradition going back to the time of the Maccabees.
Saturday, 10-25-03 7:09 PM
OK, now you have entirely lost me.
Isaiah and Jeremiah made many false prophecies?!
Israel was polytheistic, this wasn't a problem, Deuteronomy really wasn't a speech of Moses, and this isn't a big deal?!
Song of Solomon actually *did* have something (even something Valid!) to do with Ashera?!
Where in the world do you get this stuff?
No, wait a minute, I don't want to know. You've crossed way over into things I see no value in even considering, let along arguing. My simple, close minded, anti-academic belief system [sarcasm alert!] just won't stretch that far.
Anyway, I know I'm outmatched in terms of time and energy and probably sheer rhetorical ability too. But rhetoric does not equal scholarship. I have no shame in admitting I don't have the level of scholarship to debate realistically at that level, and I'd challenge you to consider if the same might not be true for you. The internet proves you can find someone saying just about anything, but much reading of opposing views does not a scholar make.
I'm officially out of this discussion.
Annette (Who else?),
Thursday, 10-30-03 2:00 PM
It really isn't a big deal!
I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to upset you.
I say this isn't a big deal because these things are not things that are really in dispute among conservative theologians. Like I said before, the idea that Moses dictated Deuteronomy (or the entire Torah) is tradition, it doesn't come from scripture itself. There's a great deal of argument over who did write the Torah - the current consensus is centered around a theory called the "Documentary Hypothesis" which sees four distinct authors or written/oral traditions: The Yahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly author. Each of these authors have distinct writing styles and concerns, and the Documentary Hypothesis states that they were probably written traditions that were edited together to provide a coherent account sometime in the 7th or 6th century B.C., with Exodous having been pretty much pre-existant and only revised and fleshed out during that time. The theory puts Y and E very early, surviving from the Exodous itself, while it puts D and P later, with D being the latest at around the time of King Josiah. This theory is not without its detractors or problems, but it has been the accepted working hypothesis among Biblical scholars and Hebrew linguists (including conservative ones) for over 125 years.
As for Israel being polytheistic, do you not remember all the internal squabbling that took place over this very topic? Yahweh did not demand that the Hebrews desert other gods until the Exodous, and Moses did not help God in that department on any sort of consistant basis (for example, creating the snake idol as a talisman of healing and allowing the people to worship it - a worship tradition that developed into a worship of the Caananite snake God by the time of Josiah, and Josiah actually took the snake out of the Ark of the Covenant and destroyed the idol - you can verify this in 2 Kings). Ashoreth worship was common until the reign of Josiah as well, and again no one made a big deal of it. Baal worship, as evidenced by Elijah's contest with the Baal prophets during the reign of King Ahab, was also staggeringly popular. All of this flourished under the Israelite state from the time of the Exodous to the time of the Babylonian captivity, with brief outbreaks of purification. It wasn't until after Babylon that the Hebrews became monotheists. Until then they were Henotheists (believing in many gods but beliving one to be supreme over all). This is, again, not contraversial. This is straight out of the Bible itself.
As far as failed prophecies in Isaiah and Jeremiah, here are a couple quickies which you can verify against the Encyclopedia Brittanica, as they involve well documented historical events. Jeremaiah predicts that Babylon will be razed desolated in the conquest by the Medes (51:11), as does Isaiah (13:17ff), but Babylon remained mighty even through the conquest of Alexander the Great centuries later, and only began to decline in the reign of Seleucus Nicator in 312 B.C. Babylon was never destroyed by war, even though Jeremaiah and Isaiah (13:3-8) both said it would be.
You ask where I get this stuff? I grew up in the home of a conservative Biblical scholar and historical theologian - I've been immersed in hermenutics and historical method from day one. Why doesn't it matter?
I suppose if you hold to strict innerrency it would matter. But the idea that the Bible was verbally dictated by God to people and is absolutely without mistake is a recent one - not even Martin Luther believed it since it's easily disproven. The idea became popular in the late 19th century as a reaction against Darwinism and theological libralism. But I have never been an innerrantist.
If you believe that the God of Jesus is the God of the Bible and the true God of the world, then you are free to trust (as Luther did) that his message of salvation is transmitted faithfully in the Bible, and that his character is borne accurate witness in the teachings and sacrifice of Christ. The rest of the Bible is a history of the Hebrew people and their recollections of their interactions with God, some of it accurate and some of it not, because it was written by fallible humans who (quite obviously) did not concern themselves with being accurate in the sense that we understand the term.
Anyway, you wanted to know where I "Got this stuff." I have just given you the ability to check me and decide whether I'm completely nuts or not.
Friday, 10-31-03 10:57 AM