negev-israel-cannabis-ancient

The next time someone asks you why you smoke cannabis, you could always tell them that you’re worshipping God. The reason can be found in a a study published in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University on Thursday May 28 2020.

Tel Arad. Photo: ארץ וטבע

Tel Arad. Photo: ארץ וטבע

There are these two altars….

In 1963, two limestone altars were discovered at the entryway to the ”Holy of Holies”. This was the heart of a Jewish shrine in Beersheba Valley in Tel Arad in Israel’s Negev desert, around 35 miles km from Jerusalem. The shrine was used from about 750 BCE to 715 BCE. The altars can now be found in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. For decades, the black deposits on the altars could not be conclusively identified. Recent analysis of one of the altars by the Israel Institute of Technology and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem using new technology found that it contained cannabis. The samples taken with a sterile scalpel were extremely small – less than a thousandth of an ounce. The authors of the study believe this is the first physical proof of cannabis use in the ancient Near East. Meanwhile, the other altar contained frankincense, an ingredient mentioned in the Bible for incense used in Jewish temples and which is famous for being one of the gifts brought by the Magi following Jesus’ birth.

Well, it stimulates ecstasy

Eran Arie, the Israel Museum’s curator of Iron Age and Persian Periods archaeology and the study’s lead author, remarked that it’s well-known that cultures in the ancient Near East and elsewhere “used hallucinogenic materials and ingredients in order to get into some kind of religious ecstasy”: people were worshipping God with cannabis.

This finding is “revolutionary”

Arie added that it was not previously thought that Judaism employed cannabis, but this has turned out to be untrue. He called the finding “revolutionary”. He declared, “[I]ts use in the shrine must have played a central role in the cultic rituals performed there.” Previous studies have found people worshipping God with cannabis, including the Africa’s Buganda kingdom, the Gaddi tribe of the Himalayas and Brazil’s Tenetehara.

Cannabis was used to get high, not for its aroma

The cannabis was not used for its aroma. Many other plants could have presented that smell, and they didn’t have to be specially imported: cannabis has not been found at other archaeological sites in the region. As Arie put it, “If you really wanted only the odor or the fragrance of cannabis, you could’ve burned sage.”

The presence of cannabis in a Jewish shrine was no surprise to Yossi Garfinkel, a professor of archaeology at Hebrew University not involved with this study. After all, Judaism uses ritual wine: it was “a desirable thing to get into ecstasy and connect with God.”

This shrine’s inception took place at about the same time as that of the first Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, which it resembles. The rituals might have been the same, too: that would be more people worshipping God with cannabis.

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