The plant known as <i>kaneh-bosm</i> in Aramaic is considered by most mainstream Biblical scholars to be calamus, an herb with well-known medicinal effects. But some people believe that kaneh-bosm is actually cannabis, and that Jesus used highly...
"Jesus Healing the Blind" from 12th Century Basilica Catedrale di Santa Maria Nouva di Monreale in Sicily.
Last month the Salt Lake City Tribune ran a story titled “Families Migrating to Colorado for a Medical Marijuana Miracle.” It profiled just a few of the hundreds of children and parents currently uprooting their lives and flocking to the Rocky Mountain State in search of a non-psychoactive cannabis medicine that's shown promise in treating serious pediatric ailments, even when all other possible treatments have proven futile.
"You’re completely re-establishing your whole life," one father of a two-year old epilepsy sufferer explained of his family's recent decision to relocate from Tennessee. "We don’t have a support system. We don’t have friends. We had to find a new church."
"We can’t leave the state with [cannabis] or it would be a federal offense," his wife added. "But we just felt like if we knew something was out there that might work and we didn’t try it we’d be doing the ‘what if’s’ our whole life."
Tales of “miraculous” healing through the use of highly-concentrated cannabis oil have been circulating within the global marijuana community for almost ten years, but they only broke into the popular consciousness this August, when Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent, offered millions of viewers a painful apology for previously dismissing mounting evidence in favor of medical cannabis, describing himself as having been “systematically misled” on the subject.
Then Dr. Gupta introduced the world to six-year-old Charlotte Figi from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who used to suffer 300 gran mal seizures per week, even after cycling through every anti-seizure medicine in the pharmacopeia and enduring a series of painful procedures that left her unable to walk, talk or eat. Those seizures started when Charlotte was just three months old, and yet in all that time, not one medical professional ever so much as mentioned cannabis. Her parents only learned the herb might help treat Dravet's—the rare, intractable form of epilepsy tormenting their child—by watching a video on Youtube, and even then only decided to try it after all else failed.
The first time they gave their daughter a dose of wholly plant-derived non-psychoactive high-CBD cannabis oil, her seizures ceased for seven straight days—a completely astonishing response. She's now down from more than 1,200 major seizures per month to just two or three mild ones. Towards the end of the CNN segment, as Charlotte happily pedaled her bicycle, her father asked, “Why were we the ones that had to go out and find this natural cure? How come our doctors didn't know about this?"
Now imagine Charlotte Figi living not in modern day Colorado, but in the Middle East, roughly 2000 years ago. Whether an object of pity, scorn, fear, or fascination, that poor young girl likely would've been thought to be demonically possessed—her deeply religious community would have had no concept of epilepsy as we know it today. At least until the day a stranger came to town, calling himself Jesus of Nazareth, but named by his disciples as Christ—a Greek word meaning the anointed.
Following the recipe for holy anointing oil found in the Old Testament (Exodus 30: 22-23), this healer of local renown would infuse nine pounds of a plant known in Aramaic as kaneh-bosm (fragrant cane) into about six quarts of olive oil, along with essential extracts of myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia. He would then apply this unguent concoction topically to the infirm, allowing it to absorb transdermally.
According to conventional Biblical scholarship, the “250 shekels of kaneh-bosm” listed in ancient Hebrew versions of the Old Testament supposedly refers to calamus, but Chris Bennett, author of the 2001 book Sex, Drugs, and Violence in the Bible claims that this is a misconception, and likely a misdirection as well, one stemming from a perhaps willful mistake made the first time the Old Testament was translated into Greek.
Kaneh-bosm, he writes, was cannabis.
The first solid evidence of the Hebrew use of cannabis was established in 1936 by Sula Benet, a little known Polish etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw. The word cannabis was generally thought to be of Scythian origin, but Benet showed that it has a much earlier origin in Semitic languages like Hebrew, and that it appears several times throughout the Old Testament. Benet explained 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 demonstrated that the word for cannabis is kaneh-bosm, also rendered in traditional Hebrew as kaneh or kannabus. The root kan in this construction means "reed" or "hemp", while bosm means "aromatic". This word appears five times in the Old Testament; in the books of Exodus, the Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.... and has been mistranslated as calamus, a common marsh plant with little monetary value that does not have the qualities or value ascribed to kaneh-bosm. The error occurred in the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint in the third century BC, and was repeated in the many translations that followed.
While that etymogical argument in no way serves as material proof, the "aromatic reed theory" can serve as the basis for a set of assumptions. Assuming the oil described in Exodus did in fact contain high levels of cannabis, the effective dose of the plant's medicinal compounds would certainly be potent enough to explain many of the healing miracles attributed to Jesus, as marijuana has been shown to be an effective treatment for everything from skin diseases and glaucoma to neurodegenerative conditions and multiple sclerosis. Also, while it's highly unlikely anybody back then had herb capable of competing with the 20-25 percent THC super-chronic Cannabis Cup winners of today, there's also no reason to believe that artful botanists of the ancient world couldn't have bred and grown plants in the 10 percent THC range—with perhaps even higher levels of CBD than our modern hybrids—a cannabinoid profile that advocates claim is potent enough to produce a truly profound reaction when absorbed in such large amounts.
MOSES THE STONED SHAMAN
Kaneh-bosm makes its first, rather auspicious appearance in the Bible as part of the story of Moses and the burning bush, when the revered Jewish prophet gets the holy anointing oil recipe direct from the Lord, along with clear instructions to anoint only the priest class—a restriction later eased to allow kings access as well.
You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “This shall be a holy anointing oil to me throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on anyone’s body, nor shall you make any like it in the same proportions; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever shall mix any like it or whoever puts any of it on a layman shall be cut off from his people.
Unfortunately for the priests and their erstwhile marijuana monopoly, however, many other competing religions and spiritual paths active at the time—including pagans and those who worshipped the Goddess Ashera—had their own far more free-flowing kaneh-bosm supply. Cannabis, after all, has been grown as a food crop since at least 6,000 BC and was well known and widely available in Moses's time.
"There can be little doubt about a role for cannabis in Judaic religion,” according to Carl P. Ruck, a professor of classical mythology at Boston University who studies the way psychoactive substances have influenced humanity's spiritual development. “There is no way that so important a plant as a fiber source for textiles and nutritive oils and one so easy to grow would have gone unnoticed… the mere harvesting of it would have induced an entheogenic reaction."
Which means it wasn't so much the cannabis plant that ancient Judaic priests tried to keep to themselves, as the healing potential of high-potency anointing oil passed down to them by Moses. A prohibition they maintained by targeting for elimination anybody who dared to break God's commandment by sharing the elixir with the masses, assuming that kaneh-bosm is cannabis.
JESUS THE REBEL
Aside from crucifixion, Jesus's baptism is considered by many researchers the only historically certain fact about his life. The New Testament's vivid accounts of the ceremony make it clear that the apostles considered their savior's encounter with John the Baptist to be a pivotal and transformative event, one that marks the beginning of his public ministry.
Mark 1: 9-13
It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him. And there came a voice from Heaven, saying, 'Thou Art My Beloved Son, In Whom I Am Well Pleased.' And immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto Him.
But if water served as the catalyst for Jesus's spiritual ascension, why does he never perform a baptism? Why take the name Christ? And why anoint his flock in oil before sending them out to anoint others, as described in Mark 6:13: They cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.
To those who believe that Christ used cannabis oil, the answer lies in non-canonical Christian texts. The canonical texts of the New Testament, that is the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, etc, were not selected as such until around 325 years after Jesus's death, when the Roman Catholic Church culled them from a large number of contenders in hopes of uniting all of Christendom under one banner—their own. The Church then sought out and destroyed every account that differed from their now official version of events. Allowing the very empire Jesus once virulently opposed to seize control over the practice of Christianity for a thousand year period known as the Dark Ages.
Meanwhile, any Christians who continued to promote alternate views of Jesus and his teachings were labeled heretics and brutally suppressed. Much of their scripture and dictates were thought to be lost forever as a result, until 1945, when an Egyptian peasant digging for fertilizer in a cave unearthed a dozen leather-bound codices inside a sealed jar, a treasure trove purposely buried there by scribes at a nearby monastery sometime around AD 367, when the Church first condemned the use of non-canonical texts.
Within these volumes—many of which predate the books of the New Testament—Biblical experts discovered a parallel but radically different telling of the life of Jesus, one that places the anointing ceremony squarely at the center of Christianity. So much so that these various sects were given the blanket name Gnostics (from the Greek word for “knowledge”) to highlight their shared focus on first-hand experience of the holy oil as what defines a christian, rather than second-hand faith in scripture or the priesthood.
The Gnostic tractate The Gospel of Phillip, for instance, proclaims that any person who “receives this unction...is no longer a christian but a Christ.” A transformation then compared to the placebo act of baptism adopted by the Roman Catholic Church, in which would-be initiates “go down into the water and come up without having received anything... [Because] there is water in water, there is fire in chrism [an anointing].”
Basically, the Gnostics believed Jesus's baptism took place, but only as a kind of cleansing ritual, in preparation for receiving holy anointing oil—the true sacrament. As Chris Bennett writes, “The surviving Gnostic descriptions of the effects of the anointing rite make it very clear that the holy oil had intense psychoactive properties that prepared the recipient for entrance into ‘unfading bliss.’”
Lytton John Musselman, a Professor of Botany at Old Dominion University and author of A Dictionary of Bible Plants (Cambridge 2011), says he's familiar with the theory that keneh-bosem refers to cannabis, but remains wholly unconvinced, calling the evidence claiming marijuana to be part of the holy anointing oil “so weak I would not pursue it.” He also defends calamus as capable of producing medicinal effects on par with those described in the Bible.
“Calamus is a very important component of Ayurvedic medicine and has been shown to have efficacy,” according to Musselman. “For example, in Sri Lanka it is available in any herbal remedy shop and also universally grown in home gardens. The North American species was and is so important to Native Americans in the Northeast that land with natural populations is highly sought after.”
Like most Biblical scholars, Musselman gives little consideration to the idea that Jesus used marijuana to perform the kind of healing miracles we now see on CNN and read about in the Salt Lake City Tribune.
Understandably, for children like Charlotte Figi and their families, religion, history, politics, medicine, and the law all must take a backseat to the positive effects they are experiencing treating illness with marijuana. As Jesus said to his apostles after preaching at Lake Galilee:
Mark 4: 21-23
Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.
Remember, lamps back then were fueled with oil.