In my new book, Your Cannabis Experience, I have dedicated a significant portion of the first chapter of the book covering the ancient history of cannabis and the human relationship with cannabis as both a medicine and spiritual tool. And some of the best archeological evidence we have for this relationship comes from the ancient Biblical lands.
Check out this excerpt from my book, and if you would like to try your hand at making the Holy Oil / Chrism during this spiritual season the detailed recipe and instruction are also included in the book!
The use of cannabis in the Persian and Middle East was so common that it is mentioned often by scholars who have written about the botanical history of these regions. And these historical texts place cannabis in the regions associated with the Jewish Torah, Christian Bible, and Islamic Quran. The widespread use of cannabis among the cultures of this region of the world has been so well documented that it’s not at all an unusual or edge-case interpretation to include cannabis as one of the many herbs that appear in both canonical and non-canonical scriptures.
“Indian hemp has been long known in India, Persia, and other Eastern countries as a medicinal and intoxicating agent, but was little known to Europeans until it was brought prominently into notice by Dr O’Shaughnessy of Calcutta, in the year 1839. [On Indian Hemp, &c.; Calcutta, 1839.]”
In the creation story shared among all the Abrahamic faiths, a gift from God:
Genesis 1:29 “And God said, behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, which is the fruit of the tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.”
Sula Benet, a Polish anthropologist specializing in Judaism, has offered a compelling opinion based on the evidence of the widespread use of cannabis in this region; cannabis was a key ingredient in the anointing oil of the Old Testament priesthood,
Exodus 30:22–25 Moreover the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Take thou also unto thee the chief spices, of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty, and of fragrant cane (kanehbos/kaneh-bosem) two hundred and fifty, and of cassia five hundred, after the shekel of the sanctuary, and of olive oil a hin. And thou shalt make it a holy anointing oil, a perfume compounded after the art of the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.
The King James and some other translations (but not all!) of the Bible translated the original Hebrew kaneh bosem םשב†הנק as another herb, sweet calamus, which is a plant that contains toxins that are both cancerous and have insecticidal properties.
Sula Benet and other Jewish scholars have disagreed with this translation. The sweet cane or fragrant cane of the Old Testament was actually cannabis. The latter translation actually makes more sense in light of the use of this anointing oil, which contained a significant concentration of kanehbos/kaneh bosem, as it was poured over the head in priestly rituals.
In the Living Torah, a widely used English translation of the Torah, Orthodox Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explains the possibility of several plants identified as “fragrant cane” and cites cannabis as one of these: “On the basis of cognate pronunciation and Septuagint readings, some identify keneh bosem with the English and Greek cannabis, the hemp plant.” Rabbi Kaplan goes further to explain how this prescribed anointing ointment was to be made as a “blended compound” that involved one of two methods: cooking herbs with oil and water or cooking all of the herbs in oil. “The anointing oil was made by soaking the aromatic substances in water until the essential essences are extracted. The oil is then placed over the water, and the water slowly cooked away, allowing the essences to mix with the oil (Yad, Kley HaMikdash 1:2; from Kerithoth 5a). According to another opinion, the oil was cooked with the aromatic herbs, and then filtered out.”
I can’t help but ponder on the former method of the herbs prepared by cooking in water and oil, because it sounds strikingly similar to a popular method I have personally used to prepare modern cannabis oil, with or without other herbs. This method is very effective for cleaning herbs of unwanted chlorophyll and fine plant debris in the final product.
Kanehbos or kaneh bosem םשב†הנק also sounds like cannabis linguistically because the word cannabis is a linguistic derivative from the Hebrew, according to Rabbi Michoel Green in his article about the translation of the Hebrew, “Cannabis and the joys of biblical Hebrew!”
Modern evidence for other uses of cannabis by ancient tribes of Judah can also be found in two very important discoveries. In 1993, an ancient skeleton of a girl who died in childbirth was found in a Jerusalem cave with a container of ashes bearing the chemical signature of cannabis phytocannabinoids. This container contained the ashes of cannabis that were burned for the girl, apparently used as a medicament during childbirth.
Then, in 2020, a discovery of a Judahite shrine at Tel Arad contained evidence of incense offerings containing a dark residue with the chemical signatures of cannabis phytocannabinoids (specifically, THC, CBD, and CBN) and frankincense.
In the Old Testament, we find that the holy anointing oil was strictly for the anointing of the priesthood and holy objects. But cannabis, as a stand-alone herb, was also used for medicine and as altar incense.
In the New Testament, Jesus and his disciples, who were also Jewish, carried forward the healing and worship practices that included cannabis by repurposing the holy anointing oil for personal devotion and to heal the sick.
King James Bible
Matthew 6:17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
Mark 6:13 And they cast out many devils, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.
James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
In the last verse in this set of verses as read from the original Aramaic, the oil literally translates as “the meshkha,” indicating a specific oil set apart for the purposes of anointing. In the other verses, anoint and oil are translated as “meshukh,” the act of anointing the head (Matthew 6:17) and “meshkha” oil (Mark 6:13). Even more interesting, Jesus is called “Maran Eshu Meshikha,” Our Lord Yeshua, the Anointed One. All are references to the specific oil and act of anointment with this oil.
For the early Christians, gnostic Christians, this holy anointing oil (chrism) in the scripture plays the most important of roles:
The Nag Hammadi
The Gospel of Philip
There is water within water and fire in the oil of chrism.
Through the Holy Spirit we are indeed begotten again, but we are begotten through Christ in the two. We are anointed through the Spirit. When we were begotten, we were united. None can see himself either in water or in a mirror without light. Nor again can you see in light without mirror or water. For this reason, it is fitting to baptize in the two, in the light and the water. Now the light is the chrism.
Philip the apostle said, “Joseph the carpenter planted a garden because he needed wood for his trade. It was he who made the cross from the trees which he planted. His own offspring hung on that which he planted. His offspring was Jesus, and the planting was the cross.” But the Tree of Life is in the middle of the Garden. However, it is from the olive tree that we got the chrism, and from the chrism, the resurrection.
The chrism is superior to baptism, for it is from the word “Chrism” that we have been called “Christians,” certainly not because of the word “baptism”. And it is because of the chrism that “the Christ” has his name. For the Father anointed the Son, and the Son anointed the apostles, and the apostles anointed us. He who has been anointed possesses everything. He possesses the resurrection, the light, the cross, the Holy Spirit. The Father gave him this in the bridal chamber; he merely accepted (the gift). The Father was in the Son and the Son in the Father. This is the Kingdom of Heaven.