It may surprise you to hear this: there are pot advocates who not only claim that the Bible supports the use of cannabis, but also allege that, in the Old Testament, God legislated the use of cannabis in the very Tabernacle/Temple itself. Is there any truth to this?
Let me say up front that my interest in this subject is threefold.
First, on a contemporary level, the question of the legality of pot is anything but abstract. If the Bible were actually pro-pot, that would certainly influence the position of those who seek to base their moral values on scripture.
Second, my Ph.D. is in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University, meaning that I focused my academic studies on the definition and usage of Hebrew and Semitic words in their original ancient contexts. When someone claims that a particular Hebrew word (or cluster of words) means a particular thing, that certainly piques my attention.
Third, before I became a “born-again” follower of Jesus in 1971 at the age of 16, I was a heavy drug user — and by “heavy” I mean exactly that. I started smoking pot at the age of 14 and was shooting heroin by the time I was 15. I was even known as Drug Bear and Iron Man because of the massive quantities of drugs I used to enjoy using.
When my friends first started attending a little gospel church in Queens, New York, the pastor was heavily preaching out of the Book of Revelation, which is replete with unusual visions and images. We would sit around getting high saying, “Cool, man! I didn’t know that was in the Bible! What were they smoking?”
Some would now argue, “That’s the whole thing. They were smoking something!”
I ask again: Is there any truth to this?
Personally, I have not had a sip of alcohol or used any illicit drugs in more than 50 years, and the Bible clearly speaks against drunkenness as well as calls us to be sober-minded and vigilant (see Ephesians and 1Peter). It is difficult to do that while high.
Though, could it be that in the Old Testament, God wanted the Israelite priests to use holy oil made with cannabis in the Sanctuary?
The argument is made that in Exodus, the Lord commanded the use of qaneh-bosem (two separate words that are hyphenated) — or, spelled in English, cannabis. There you have it!
Apparently, it was a little-known Polish professor named Sara Benetowa (later Sula Benet) who wrote in 1936, “The sacred character or Hemp in biblical times is evident from Exodus, where Moses was instructed by God to anoint the meeting tent and all its furnishings with specially prepared oil, containing hemp.”
As one website proclaims in bold, red letters: “The fact is that the Holy Oil contained 6 Pounds of (Marijuana) with other spices boiled into one gallon of Olive oil! The Holy Oil of God is illegal to obtain today!!!”
The problem is that the Hebrew says no such thing.
The two words, qaneh and bosem, are hardly obscure. The first word means “reed” or “cane,” and the second word means “spice” or “aromatic.”
When the words are joined together as in Exodus, English translations of the Bible render these two words with phrases such as “sweet smelling cane” or “aromatic cane” or “fragrant cinnamon” or “sweet smelling cinnamon.”
There is no mystery here, and there is no marijuana here. And there is certainly no conspiracy among Bible translators to suppress or hide the meaning of the original Hebrew.
I own every major dictionary of ancient Hebrew, and all of them agree with the basic meaning of the words. There is no mention or hint of cannabis at all. Not in the least.
All of the ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible — including Greek, Aramaic, Syriac, and Latin, all of which are up on a computer screen as I write — are also in agreement. The Bible was speaking of an aromatic cane or cinnamon (or, calamus) — nothing more.
Common sense would also make this clear, as the priests who served in the Tabernacle/Temple were commanded to “drink no wine or strong drink” when they went into the Holy Place (see Leviticus). Sobriety was a must for those coming into the presence of God.
In short, whatever your views are on the use of pot, under no circumstances can you say, “But the Bible prescribed it!”
Not a chance.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and is the author of 40 books. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.