It’s the weed with roots in Scripture.
Cannabis oil is mentioned in the Bible, scholars say.
Cannabis has long been associated with eastern religions. And marijuana is certainly central to Rastafarianism.
But research has long pointed to a holy weed in the Bible. Cannabis is not only mentioned in Judeo-Christian scripture, some scholars claim, but is also a holy gift from God.
Sula Benet, a Polish etymologist, was the first to write in 1936 that the word cannabis had an early root in Hebrew: kaneh-bosm.
According to an article in Cannabis Culture from scholar Chris Bennett, the root “kan” means “reed,” or hemp, and “bosem” translated to English means “aromatic.”
“Kaneh-bosm” appears in the book of Exodus, Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, according to Bennet. But don’t look for the word in the Bibles placed near church pews.
In modern-day translations of the Bible, calamus (which means “sweet sugar cane”) is used in place of “kaneh-bosem.”
Benet, Bennett and others attribute this confusion to a mistranslation of the Hebew word qaneh, which means a reed, or stalk.
That’s how qaneh became calamus, in modern translations of the Old Testament, some scholars believe.
“Calamus,” Bennett argues, is actually kaneh-bosm. Subsequent translations have also spelled this new translation as kaneh boseom, keneh bosem, kaniebosem, and q’neh bosm as well.
Evidence for cannabis in the Bible doesn’t stem exclusively from twists of language. There are also Old Testament references to hemp as a part of religious celebrations, and as an intoxicant.
The first Biblical mention of kaneh-bosm is in Exodus. Moses is instructed by God to anoint a type of holy tent, called a tabernacle, with specially-prepared oil.
A properly translated version of Exodus 30:28, Bennett wrote, should read as follows:
“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of kaneh-bosm, 500 shekels of cassia — all according to the sanctuary shekel — and a hind of olive oil. Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer.”
This iteration of kaneh-bosm doesn’t necessarily lead to the word “cannabis,” a Latin word borrowed from Greek.
But as Hebrew language scholars point out, kaneh later morphed to the post-Biblical usage kanavos, literally hemp.
That’s proof for some that God’s holy oil is fit for a dab rig. But there are skeptics.
David J. Stewart, editor of the online publication Jesus-is-Savior, is incredulous at what he sees as willful perversion of the Bible.
“The 48 King James translators were educated men and knew what they were doing, they were extremely proficient in the Hebrew and Greek languages,” wrote Stewart, who believes that references to calamus are just that — references to the common plant known to Chinese herbalists as “sweet flag.”
“The calamus was mixed with cinnamon and myrrh to form an oil for anointing purposes,” Stewart added. “It is ridiculous to twist the Word of God in order to justify smoking pot!”
Carl Ruck, a professor of classical studies and linguist at Boston University, disagrees. He points to other contemporary cannabis references to bolster the claim for weed in the Bible.
Shamanism was frequent in ancient religions. And drugs were often the pathway to spirituality.
“The main ingredient in the anointing oil is a huge amount of cannabis,” says Ruck, relying on Benet’s translation of the Bible.
“It’s used to anoint the priest and all the articles in tabernacle,” he says. This was, he said, “for a holy purpose” — and a holy purpose only. Not for partying.
“Whoever makes perfume like it and whoever puts it on anyone other than a priest must be cut off from his people,” reads Exodus 30:33.
This amounted to a death sentence in the ancient world, according to Bennett.
Bible-thumpers take note: in the Old Testament, cannabis was the holiest of holies.
The Hebrews didn’t learn the ways of kaneh-bosm alone. Someone passed a historical joint.
The Scythians were nomads known for trade, but they also practiced a tradition many cannabis enthusiasts are familiar with today.
They were dabbers.
In their tabernacles, the Scythians burned cannabis oil, Ruck says. “It was to alter consciousness of the divine presence,” for an “orgasmic, ecstatic union with a deity.”
That practice bled into other ancient traditions, and may have been how kaneh-bosm came to the Bible in the first place.
Cultural crossover was common on trade routes, and the early Israelites practiced a tradition similar to that of the Scythians.
Priests had a special room, an inner sanctum. There, they burned kaneh-bosm infused oils. Smoke would arise, sparking waking dreams.
“In that environment the priest has a mystical vision,” Ruck says. And that vision’s origin, originating from the “closed space,” is a familiar one.
That priest is “hot boxing,” Ruck says.
From the smoke of cannabis came messages from God. But this was not a unique practice.
Using drugs to channel the divine “was the common experience of ancient religion to have direct communion with a deity,” Ruck says, of channeling drugs.
But in the modern era, ancient religious ties to cannabis have eroded.
You won’t find cannabis oil preached from the pulpit these days. But you will find holy oil in the Bible Belt, where “kanneh-bosm” is enjoying a revival as medicine.
Back in the Bible Belt
Lawmakers and parents in evangelical Christian states are warming to marijuana oil, which patients across the country claim is solving ailments including epilepsy and cancer.
Texas, of all places, may be close to legalizing an oil that’s low in THC but high in CBD, or cannabidiol.
That’s thanks to sick kids like 9-year old Alexis Bortell, who is using cannabis oil rich in CBD to treat her seizures. Her parents saw Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s CNN documentary, “Weed 2,” and whisked their daughter off to Colorado to obtain her medicine.
Soon she may be able to get that same medicine close to home — as will patients elsewhere in the Bible belt.
Some red states have already legalized CBD oil, or its research, including Utah, South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, Mississippi, Iowa, Florida, Alabama, and Kentucky.
At the very least, scouring the Bible makes one thing clear: Cannabis oil isn’t a purely secular phenomenon.
It’s a holy one.