Sunday, March 04, 2007

Someone's Stoned, My Lord, Kum Ba Yah...

Following up on an earlier post on the role of tobacco in the Bible, I became curious about the next obvious leap - the role of marijuana. After all, there are no proscriptions against tobacco use in the Bible as tobacco is a new world plant, and wasn't in the old world until the time of Columbus. However, marijuana is an old world plant, assumed to originate in Central Asia, and hemp was widely known about and used in the ancient world in a multiple of ways - clothing, paper, rope, etc. So presumably its intoxicating effects were known, and one would assume that, like alcohol, it's use would be frowned upon in scripture.

Once again, one would be wrong. The word 'hemp' is not mentioned in the Bible, although I am only able to do word searches through specific translations. The lack of any mention in scripture, like with tobacco, is not a hindrance for those who would take a stand on marijuana use. With tobacco, however, there are only people who try to interpret scripture to condemn it's use: no one uses the Bible to support tobacco use. In the case of marijuana, though, both sides use scripture to support their position.

Those opposed to marijuana use generally refer to the same scripture used to proscribe tobacco use. And the arguments are obviously the same as well, since those verses are only subject to interpretation and aren't specific. The true fun comes from those who use the Bible to support marijuana use.

I've gone to a number of websites that do so, and they are all identical, down to the same wording, so they are copying each other's arguments word for word. Someone wrote it originally, but I have no idea who. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to this article, not because I think it the original source (though I suppose it could be), but only because it is the least graphically offensive. Gotta make choices somehow.

Most of the scriptural basis is interpretive (as the word 'hemp' is not mentioned) but there is one mention in the book of Exodus that is regarded by the pro-marijuana group as a mention, that of the recipe for 'Holy Anointing Oil' in Exodus 30:22-29:

'Then the LORD said to Moses, "Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane, 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. Then use it to anoint the Tent of Meeting, the ark of the Testimony, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.'

For reference, 500 shekels is about twelve and a half pounds. The key issue is the words 'fragrant cane' which has been argued to be marijuana. And at six and a quarter pounds of bud, that would be a holy oil with some punch. Some of the evidence is essentially circumstantial, but the linguistic argument is interesting. The basic problem is that the original Hebrew word is 'kaneh-bosm' (say it out loud and compare it to the word 'cannabis'). The word is untranslatable, as it is an ancient word whose specific source is unknown. What is known is that it refers to some sort of herb.

Another pro-marijuana website which aims at scholarly accuracy, but ultimately succumbs to the Q.E.D. problem, at least has a long series of footnotes for its arguments. This is the summary of the etymological argument:

'...But, what are the etymological arguments? Many ancient languages had 'kan' as a root word that had a double meaning: hemp or reed. In Hebrew, it is 'kaneh.' References to 'kaneh shirt' in Hebrew texts supports the hemp translation since shirts used to be made from hemp (cannabis). While the basic etymological argument (minus my medical argument) was made decades ago by etymologist Sula Benet, hardly anyone has attempted to counter it. I was able to find only one counterargument and that was from Ernest Abel, author of 'Marijuana- The First Twelve Thousand Years.' His two objections rest on the assumptions that marijuana would not be called a 'spice' as required by Exodus 30:23 and that marijuana would not be described as 'sweet-tasting' as potentially (depends on which translation is correct) required by Isaiah 43:24. Both these assumptions are incorrect since depending on the type of marijuana, it can be spicy and sweet...'

And of course pot can be both spicy and sweet. so if true then the argument by Ernest Abel is easily refuted. Of course, in the end it may yet be another biblical curiosity that is ultimately unresolvable. Nonetheless, the use of hallucinogens in religious ceremonies has a proud and ancient history, so the idea that marijuana is the active hallucinatory ingredient in an ancient sacred Jewish ointment hardly requires a stretch of imagination.

The same article refers to uses of the same holy oil in New Testament times, but as I mentioned, the rather unprofessional tone of the article makes me somewhat suspect, and I am unfamiliar with the sources mentioned (such as the reference in the Didascalia Apostolorum - how are we to know that the holy oil mentioned is of the same recipe found in Exodus?)

Ultimately I am intrigued but remain unfortunately unconvinced, despite the obvious enticements of the arguments, and the seductiveness of what it would all mean. That is an unfortunate by-product of the complexities and contradictions of ancient holy books.

But in the end there is one fun fruit to my research into this. I came across some articles about former Attorney General John Ashcroft when searching for references to 'Holy Anointing Oil.' It turns out that Mr. Ashcroft has a fetish for the stuff:

'..."'The act of anointing,' he wrote in his largely autobiographical book [Lessons From a Father to His Son], replicated the practice of 'the ancient kings of Israel, David and Saul,' who Ashcroft said 'were anointed as they undertook their administrative duties."...'

Ashcroft anointed himself before both terms as Missouri Governor. Of course he was unable to acquire 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, let alone the other ingredients, including the 'fragrant cane.' So he used the next best thing.

He covered himself in Crisco Oil.