Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible
By Chris Bennett and Neil McQueen
"If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him".
Here in the bi-millenial year of the most popular individual in history, Jesus Christ, it is the perfect time to take an honest and hard look at the book that pivoted him to popularity. We say this is the perfect time for this endeavor, not only because we likely won't be burnt at the stake or imprisoned for doing so, but also because here in the "Age of Information", access to the historical material that is relevant to the subject, is unquestionably more available than ever before. It is only by coming to understand the world and time in which the Bible itself developed, that we can ever understand the Bible itself.
The Holy Bible is by far the most widely known and circulated book in the history of the world, and the stories it contains are held to be literally Gospel truth by over a Billion faithful believers around the globe. No matter where a person lives on this vast planet we call home, they cannot help but be affected by its doctrine, and moreover, by its faithful adherents, who have zealously propagated the religion of Christianity the world over.
The parent of Christianity, is for the most part, Judaism, a faith that came from even more humble roots than its child. Thus the Hebrew Torah, makes up much of the first part of the Christian Old Testament, and as divided as Jews and Christians have been throughout the many intervening centuries, the Old Testament's earlier texts unite them both. Only a few scant centuries after it had begun, Christianity surpassed its parent in popularity because of its open acceptance of almost anyone through conversion, (whereas the Hebraic religion, although open in its beginnings, had become limited only to those who were born into the faith).
Originally, the Hebrew people were a small and insignificant clan of desert nomads, who watched with envious awe, the more advanced and sedentary agricultural towns that developed around them. In order to maintain an identity amongst the many larger kingdoms that came and went about them and not be absorbed, the ancient Jews had to maintain a very strict religious and cultural code, one that has survived into the modern-day. A fact which makes them a particularly interesting and at the same time sensitive group to study.
These severe attempts to separate themselves from other cultures were only moderately successful. Even at its earliest beginnings, Judaism, like the Christianity afterwards, was a composite religion that came from longstanding Near Eastern theological beliefs. Neither the religion nor the people originated in a vacuum, but clearly developed out of preexisting traditions and continually adopted new and foreign aspects to their religion. A fact acknowledged in the Bible itself, through the words of Ezekiel concerning his fellow Israelites; "Thy birth and thy nativity, is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite"(Ezekiel 16:3).
Indeed, such unavoidable elements of foreign theological influences amongst the Hebrews lead to the birth of their rebellious child, Christianity. Elements such as a coming savior, the end of the world, Heaven and Hell and many other so-called Christian beliefs, first entered the Jewish psyche during the years of Persian domination.
Besides these strong elements of foreign influence, like all people, the compilers of the Bible were strongly influenced by humanity's basic struggle for survival and striving for fertility. In line with this, and probably surprising to most people, of the many influences that contributed to the theological development of the Bible, and religion in general, in the ancient world, the most profound were without a doubt the three topics named in our title, Sex, Drugs, and Violence.
In sex, humanity can find what is widely considered its most physically pleasurable experience. Thus it is not surprising that sex was at the very core of religious experience in the ancient world. As humanity comprehended that it was sex which ensured through their seed the continued propagation of their descendants, the act of love-making became sacred, and its performance thought to magically affect all sorts of areas of life, and even the movements of the gods themselves. The Old Testament is rife with references to such religio-erotic practices taking place in the ancient Near East, not only with foreign cults and peoples such as the Canaanites, but even amongst the Israelites themselves. "History demonstrates that so far as sex is concerned the so-called Chosen People were no better nor worse than their detractors. They set the highest moral example and stood among the lowest in amorality..."(Edwardes 1967). Likewise with Christianity of the first few centuries AD, where certain orgiastic practices were seen as modes of worship among a variety of little remembered Christian sects.
Curiously, the religio-erotic practices of the ancient Hebrews, Christians and other Near Eastern peoples is seldom discussed in modern biblical scholarship, and books on the ancient world in general, a fact likely attributed to the surviving anti-sex Christian bias of many academically trained scholars. As shall be demonstrated, many of the Biblical taboos concerning sexuality, have nothing to do with divine edicts of good and evil. They developed out of prejudices against foreign forms of worship, as a means of social control, and interestingly, to combat the spread of venereal disease.
In our own time and through history, the Bible has been used to justify the most archaic tribal beliefs and regulations about sexuality, and these views have been forced on millions of unwilling people, often by the most brutal means. The homophobic, anti-women views of Judaism, compounded by the even more anti-sex ideals of Christianity, or more pointedly Roman Catholicism, poisoned with sin what was once a sacred and holy act for much of the ancient world.
Ironically, as we shall amply demonstrate, the Bible itself is filled with more X-rated material than any single book which the Biblical fundamentalist have successfully had pulled off the school library's shelf. The Old Testament is replete with stories of rape, prostitution, masturbation, child-molestation, incest, adultery, orgies, anal-sex and homosexuality, further, many of these accounts involving key biblical figures. As well, many such events occur at pivotal points in the Old Testament narrative, influencing beliefs in the developing faith immensely.
Considering the Religious Right's fight against pornography, and its stated motivation concerning censorship in general, as a means of ensuring a moral society, it is interesting to note that "the most popular reading material cited by sex killers as inspiring their crimes is never mentioned by pro-censorship activists; that is, of course, the Bible" (Avedon 1996).
Next only to sex, do drugs, as in psychoactive substances, play a pivotal role in the development of religion, and the Bible is here no exception. The importance of drugs in religion, like that of sexuality, is often overlooked by researchers who have been imprinted with our Christian influenced societies innate prejudice against these substances. Moreover, without personal experience of the power of psychoactive plants, many researchers have failed to perceive the pivotal role that such plants and preparations have played in religious thought the world over. "All religions in which mysticism and contact with the supernatural play an important part, attribute a sacred character to an intoxicating drink or other intoxicant"(Danielou 1992). The Biblical references to wine, which had become the blood of the savior by the Christian period, clearly falls into this category. The use of wine in the ancient world was "unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour"(James 1929). Even more interestingly, as we shall amply demonstrate on these pages, was the use of other intoxicants amongst the Old Testament Israelites.
Despite the early marriage between shamanism and psycho-active plants that inspired the development of whole religions, naturally occurring botanicals like the psilocybin mushroom, Indian hemp, peyote cactus and similar substances have been condemned as devil's potions and drugs by most religious groups of our modern era.
Historically, this situation is an anomaly, not the norm. Prior to the Common Era and throughout the ancient world these magical plants had been seen as sacraments and constituted a very important part of religious worship. In the 1930's respected scholar W.E. Budge commented that, "Many of the ancient herbalists knew that the juices of certain plants possessed properties which produced extraordinary effects when introduced into the human body, and that some might be used as aphrodisiacs, and others as narcotics, and others as stimulants. And the magicians when they were acquainted with them naturally used them in lotions and philters to produce both good and evil effects"(Budge 1930). Some modern scholars have taken this line of thought further, pointing out that the ancients considered these substances to be the sacred food of the Gods, and a means of communicating with the divine. (Schultes and Hoffman 1979; Mckenna 1992; Ott 1993, etc.).
Still other scholars suggest that humanities drive to alter their consciousness is as innate as the drives to fulfill sexual needs and hunger. Harvard psychiatrist and marijuana medical expert Dr. Lester Grinspoon holds the "view that humans have a need - perhaps even a drive - to alter their state of consciousness from time to time". Likewise, well-known health and drug researcher Dr. Andrew Weil commented, "There is not a shred of hope from history or from cross-cultural studies to suggest that human beings can live without psychoactive substances". (A view that is discussed more fully in Ronald K. Siegel's Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise.)
Etymologist and religious historian John M. Allegro pointed out that our ancestors believed these plants were living gateways to other realms, and thought of them as angels. (The Greek and Hebrew equivalent of the name angel literally means messenger or workers of miracle). The ancients interpreted the experiences they received from these plant-angels as divine revelations, in much the same way that shamans have done around the world before recorded history, and are still doing in South America, Africa, Asia and even North America today.
Although it is little known to most modern readers, marijuana and other entheogens played a very important role in ancient Hebrew culture and originally appeared throughout the books that make up the Bible's Old Testament. The Bible openly discusses the use of mandrake, which is psychoactive, along with intoxication by wine and strong drink so the Hebrews were more than familiar with altering their consciousness. What will be surprising to most modern readers, is the frequent use of cannabis-sativa, by both the Hebrew Priests and Kings. Indicating, as anthropologist Vera Rubin noted, that cannabis
"appearsā in the Old Testament because of the ritual and sacred aspect of it"(Rubin 1978).
The Old Testament use of cannabis becomes less surprising when one considers that cannabis has been popular at some point with virtually every culture that has discovered its intoxicating properties. Hemp has "been smoked and ingested under various names (hashish, charas, bhang, ganja, kif, marijuana) in the Oriental countries, in Africa, and in the Caribbean area for recreation, pleasure, healing and ritual purposes. They have been important sacraments for such diverse groups as the Indian Brahmans, several orders of the Sufis, African natives, ancient Skythians, and the Jamaican Rastafarians."(Grof 1984) Pointing out the wide spread religious use of hemp throughout the ancient Near East, amongst the Babylonians, Assyrians, Scythians and Hebrews, as well as the early spread of its cultic use from northern Europe, to Siberian Asia, China, India, Asia minor and Southeast Asia, the famed anthropologist Weston La Barre, suggested that "cannabis was part of a religio-shamanic complex of at least Mesolithic age, in parallel with an equally old shamanic use of soma..."(La Barre 1980). A hypothesis that is further confirmed by our own research.
For over a hundred and fifty years various researchers have been trying to bring attention to the cannabis references within the Old Testament. "Like the ancient Greeks, the Old Testament Israelites were surrounded by marijuana-using peoples. A British physician, Dr. C. Creighton, concluded in 1903 that several references to marijuana can be found in the Old Testament. Examples are the "honeycomb" referred to in the Song of Solomon, 5:1, and the "honeywood" in I Samuel 14: 25-45" (Consumer Reports 1972). Creighton felt that in " the O.T. there are some half-dozen passages where cryptic references to hachish may be discovered... But that word, which is the key to the meaning, has been knowingly mistranslated in the Vulgate and in the modern version, having been rendered by a variant also by the LXX in one of the passages, and confessed as unintelligible in the other by the use of a marginal Hebrew word in Greek letters" (Creighton 1903).
"Hachish, which is the disreputable intoxicant drug of the East...is of unknown antiquity. It is known that the fiber of hemp-plant, *Cannabis sativa*, was used for cordage in ancient times; and it is therefore probable that the resinous exudation, "honey" or "dew", which is found upon its flowering tops on some soils, or in certain climates (*Cannabis Indica*), was known for its stimulant or intoxicant properties from an equally early date...we may assume it to have been traditional among the Semites from remote antiquity. There are reasons, in the nature of the case, why there should be no clear history. All vices are veiled from view; they are
Where they are alluded to at all, it is in cryptic, subtle...and allegorical terms. Therefore if we are to discover them, we must be prepared to look below the surface of the text. (Creighton 1903).
Dr. Creighton is not alone in his view. A few decades later the German researcher Immanuel Low, in his Die Flora Der Juden, (1926\1967) identified a number of ancient Hebrew references to cannabis, here as an incense, food source, as well as cloth. In more recent times Professor Stanley Moore, chairman of the philosophy department of the University of Wisconsin-Olatteville, has stated that Biblical references to "aromatic herbs" and "smoke" could mean psycho-active drugs used in religious observances that, Moore said are as old as religion itself. "Western Jews and Christians, who shun psycho-active drugs in their faith practices, are the exception, not the norm.".
Of the historical material indicating the Hebraic use of cannabis, the strongest and most profound piece of evidence was established in 1936 by Sula Benet (a.k.a. Sara Benetowa), a Polish etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw. Benet later stated 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 1975). Through comparative etymological study, Bennett documented that in the Old Testament and in its Aramaic translation, the Targum Onculos, hemp is referred to as kaneh bosm, which is also rendered in traditional Hebrew as kannabos or kannabus. The root "kan" in this construction means "reed" or "hemp", while "bosm" means "aromatic". This word appeared in Exodus 30:23, Song of Songs 4:14., Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:19.
In 1980 the Hebrew University in Israel confirmed Benet's identification of Kaneh-Bosm as hemp, and the respected anthropologist Weston La Barre(1980) referred to the Biblical references in an essay on cannabis. In that same year respected British Journal New Scientist also ran a story that referred to the Hebrew Old Testament references, (Malyon & Henman 1980). A modern counterpart of the word is even listed in Ben Yehudas Pocket Dictionary and other Hebrew source books. Further, on line, the Internet's informative Navigating the Bible, used by countless theological students, even refers to the Exodus 30:23 reference as possibly designating cannabis. In 1995, with the publication of Green Gold, the biblical references to cannabis were given their most thorough examination up to that time, but unfortunately this information is still not widely known by most modern day Jews, Christians or religious scholars.
Further, the news of the cannabis references is not always excepted with open minds. One Rabbi sent the following emotional response to an article Chris Bennett wrote discussing the references to hemp in the Old Testament;
"Incense (and smoke) are all important parts of what the Jewish people did in the Desert as part of serving G-d. In fact, I'll even agree that perhaps Cannabis was one of the constituent ingredients in the incense. But there is no proof whatsoever that people were getting high! Any objective Torah Scholar or Rabbi who was asked about the total number of times getting high is mentioned in the Bible, or in the Talmud or Midrash, would answer "none". Cannabis incense or blankets, maybe -but getting high....remember the burden of proof is on you to prove that this is in fact what the Bible is saying. Otherwise, it's all conjecture. And let's face it, talk is cheap!"
One might comment that any believer of holy scripture, especially a Rabbi or Priest, could hardly be considered objective when it comes to discussing their faith. If Moses and the prophets were high when they were "talking" with God, this could challenge the legitimacy of the so-called Holy Scripture. The authors sincerely hope that this, the most clear concise presentation of the information regarding the use of cannabis as an entheogen in the Old Testament, will answer any questions on the matter once and for all!
As these pages shall clearly document, many of the Prophets of the Bible were none other than the ancient Middle East counterparts and predecessor of the "New World" shamans that Christianized European explorers would later encounter in their travels. Sadly, with the so-called "discovery" of such shaman lead groups, came Christian settlers and missionaries, who would more than just frown upon indigenous religions. Whole cultures that employed these entheogenic plant-drugs for shamanistic ecstasy, or practiced ritual sexuality, have been decimated by Bible preaching Christian missionaries, who did away with what they considered the primitive and evil practices of the heathens. In exchange the missionaries forced these cultures to except their more civilized religion, the true faith along with its burden of original sin, (and we have all seen what that cultural exchange has done for the aboriginal peoples of the world).
As with the societal problems involved in sex and drugs, when confronted with violence, we find the fundamentalist claiming that a return to Biblical values as practiced in "the good old days" is what is needed. A questioning person might ask, "When were those good old days?"-- In the days of Catholic run boarding schools, orphanages and Native Residential Schools? All three renowned for cases of child molestation, as well as the physical and emotional abuse of children at the hands of priests and nuns. Or perhaps these
"good old days" were in the days of Witch burnings and the Spanish Inquisition? Or possibly they occurred at the commencement of the Dark Ages? A look through history provides little answers to this question. The history of the Bible and the people who have preached its words, is far more often than not, a history of violence. A fact that is not all that surprising when one considers the endless accounts of violence that fill the pages of the Bible, especially the Old Testament.
When one comes to understand the historical origins of Judaism, as described in the Torah and its English counterpart the first five books of the Old Testament, the terrible Holocaust of the "Chosen People" in our own century, under the pagan like Nazi party and "Master Race" of Hitler, takes on a grim undertone of irony. A Holocaust, or "Fire Offering", was originally what the Jews did to other cultures, such as the pagan Canaanites, while overtaking the already inhabited Promised Land (Canaan). Not only were whole populations decimated, men, women and children, but also every vestige of their culture was to be given as a Fire-Offering to the tribal god Yahweh. That many Jewish people are currently at the forefront of the fight to censor hate literature is also ironic, as the texts which they claim as their holy books are in fact hate literature themselves, calling distinctly for the murder not only of different cultures, but also homosexuals, rebellious children, unfaithful wives and others.
Likewise with Christianity, which as mentioned, for over a millennium taught the love of Jesus with the fire and brimstone of the Roman Catholic Church. It is estimated that over a million people were tortured and burned for suspected witchcraft and heresies by the church throughout the Dark Ages, and even up until a few short centuries ago.
Despite the fact that to over 3 billion Christians, Jews and Muslims, the Old Testament contains the true story of Humanities interaction with God, and they happily lay claim to its heritage, these three groups have been at odds since they formed. Countless wars have been fought throughout history by "devout believers", all claiming the 'True Religion', resulting in millions of deaths, and culminating in a modern situation that has brought the world to the edge of a global war more than once. Yet both religions claim to have a devout belief in the books that make up the Old Testament, all claim to be the descendants of Adam, Noah and Abraham.
In modern-day America during the Gulf War, President George Bush rallied the troops and people of the USA, claiming that God was on the side of the US military, as leaders of countries going to war have always done and claimed. American Christian leaders prayed for the troops and against Saddam Hussein and some even pointed to the war as a sign of fulfillment of prophecies from the book of Revelation. Indeed the concept of a Jihad, Holy war, or Armageddon is one that is shared by all three of these faiths, and their collective belief in an Apocalypse, brings us nearer to making this genocidal promise a genuine reality and what could possibly be more violent than that?
As that is the case, one could come to see the Bible as a literary Time Bomb. This book is written in an attempt to diffuse the situation, by disarming the Bomb, or rather by dissecting the Bible. And what better place to start than with the three evils that the modern-day believer's finger is most often pointed at; Sex, Drugs, and Violence. As is often the case, we can only see our own personal flaws, when we project them out on others; symbolic of this, is that when you point your own finger out in judgment of others, you end up having three fingers pointing back at yourself. In this ground-breaking text the often pointed finger of the Fundamentalist, finds its own three demons of Sex, Drugs, and Violence, pointing back to the very source of their illusory righteousness--The Holy Bible