The prospect of marijuana legalization has raised some interesting questions about the presence of cannabis and its use in the Bible. We reached out to two voices, former drug-smuggler Brian O’Dea and Professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity College, Mark Boda.
[email protected]: In the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, the concept of Holy Anointing Oil is referred to being used.
The Hebrew word “Kaneh Bosm” according to some, refers to cannabis. In your opinion, is there a correlation between modern-day understanding of cannabis and its understanding in the Old Testament?
Brian O’Dea: It is hard to imagine that this plant, with all the healing properties that are being rediscovered today would not have been in use then for it many benefits, as the ancients looked at all plants for their medicines, even as we do today. Where we synthesize what we feel are the active ingredients in various plants for medicines, in Biblical times, all parts of the plant were used – for rope, for fibre, for medicine, for food, and yes, for intoxication. In so many ways, the ancients were much like us, or we like them. The major difference being technology, which helps satisfy that same, innate curiosity we had two thousand years ago, only much faster.
And as for physical proof that cannabis was being used in these times, we point to a discovery made in a grave in the Gobi Desert in 2014 “… nearly two pounds of still-green Marijuana was found buried with the dead has proved to be at least 2,700 years old. A barrage of testing has proven that the marijuana possessed highly potent psychoactive properties and casts doubt on the theory that the ancients only grew the plant for hemp in order to make clothing and rope. They apparently were getting very high, too.”
Mark Boda: Exodus 30:23-24 provides the ingredients for the production of the holy oil used to anoint the tabernacle, its furniture (ark, table, lampstand, altars, laver), utensils, as well as the priests. This oil was reserved for use within the sacred precincts and not available to the common Israelite.
All we know is that the anointing oil used in the rituals connected with the tabernacle in the book of Exodus was comprised of oil mixed with the finest spices or perfumes. Now it is true that fragrances were important in ancient religion and relationships as has been researched in detail by C. Houtman (Vetus Testamentum 42 :458-65), which explains why incense and perfumed anointing oil was used within the sacred precincts. However, without further evidence one cannot know the precise identity of the spicy cane. This is true of many of the botanical items found in the Hebrew Bible and texts from antiquity.
Unfortunately, where there is lack of clear evidence, humanity’s ingenuity rushes to fill the void, for good or ill.