JERUSALEM (AFP) - High on Mount Sinai, Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week.

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

"As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don't believe, or a legend, which I don't believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics," Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the "burning bush," suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

"The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a classic phenomenon," he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to "see music."

Shanon mentions his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991. "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations," Shanon said.
He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree that is frequently mentioned in the Bible.

The worldwide media interest in Benny Shanon's paper about Moses and entheogens, is encouraging us to take a good and hard look at the roots of religions and the notion that they were based on fertility cults, and shamanic practices such as Entheogens (or hallucinogenic) plants as a source of spiritual communion with the universal consciousness, or the mind of God.

John Allegro, in his book "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross: A Study of the Nature and Origins of Christianity within the Fertility Cults of the Ancient Near East", postulated through the etymology of words and relates how the development of language indicated that the roots of the religions emanating from the Middle East were based on fertility cults, and shamanic practices such as Entheogens (or hallucinogenic) plants as a source of spiritual communion with the universal consciousness, or the mind of God..

Back in the 1960's the reaction against these ideas was so strong that it destroyed Allegro's career, the book was not published in the UK as it was regarded as blasphemous, and blasphemy was still a crime then. It's good to think that we have made some progress in recent years.

Allegro's theory was visionary and ground-breaking. He was the first to propose in some detail that two major religions Christianity and by extension Judaism were entheogen-oriented and that the entheogen was Amanita Muscaria. His book was published at a time when there was little or no awareness about the use of entheogens, and was indeed a courageous act to publish this book.
Another great explorer and pathfinder in human consciousness was Terence McKenna, in his book "Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution", proposed that hallucinogenic plants, in this case Psilocybin mushrooms, were at the astounding and unexplained evolution and development of the human brain in such a short time of the evolutionary time scale (just 500,000 years from the hominids), in other words how we developed from our ape relatives . His theory also encompasses the development of linguistics, and the subsequent development of human civilization.

Meanwhile..... returning to Moses and the Acacia Tree, let’s look at the details of the construction of the Ark of the Covenant that was designed by God and the blueprint being given to Moses during his 40 days and nights on Mount Sinai as described in the Old Testament Exodus 37. As you can see Acacia wood was an essential component of the Ark of the Covenant.

Exodus 37 (New International Version):

The Ark
Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood—two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.[a] 2 He overlaid it with pure gold, both inside and out, and made a gold moulding around it. 3 He cast four gold rings for it and fastened them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. 4 Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. 5 And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it.

The Table

10 They made the table of acacia wood—two cubits long, a cubit wide and a cubit and a half high. 11 Then they overlaid it with pure gold and made a gold moulding around it. 12 They also made around it a rim a hand-breadth wide and put a gold moulding on the rim. 13 They cast four gold rings for the table and fastened them to the four corners, where the four legs were. 14 The rings were put close to the rim to hold the poles used in carrying the table. 15 The poles for carrying the table were made of acacia wood and were overlaid with gold. 16 And they made from pure gold the articles for the table—its plates and dishes and bowls and its pitchers for the pouring out of drink offerings.

The Altar of Incense

25 They made the altar of incense out of acacia wood. It was square, a cubit long and a cubit wide and two cubits high - its horns of one piece with it. 26 They overlaid the top and all the sides and the horns with pure gold, and made a gold moulding around it. 27 They made two gold rings below the moulding - two on each of the opposite sides - to hold the poles used to carry it. 28 They made the poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold.

Sacramental use of the Acacia Tree.

Acacias contain a number of alkaloids that have a profound Hallucinogenic effect on humans. These alkaloids include Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). The leaves and stems are brewed together with an effective monoamine oxidase inhibitior (MAOI) containing plant typically Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala) that also grows in the same region (southern Israel and the Sinai Peninsula). This brew is taken orally similar to the Amazonian brew Ayahuasca that is also a combination of at least one other plant, typically the leaves of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis) that contain the vision-inducing alkaloids (DMT) and the Ayahuasca vine itself (Banisteriopsis caapi) that acts as an inhibitor to prevent the body’s enzymes from neutralising the Tryptamine alkaloids. This is known as the MAOI effect that was discovered by Western science in the 1950’s and forms the working basis for pharmaceutical products such as Prozac.

The biblical scholar Arthur W. Pink (1886 – 1952), wrote;
While the miraculous preservation of Israel during all their fiery trials is no doubt the prominent thought here, there are others equally significant. The symbol selected by God was most suggestive. It was not in a majestic tree of the forest that God appeared to Moses, but in a humble acacia, or thorn-bush of the desert.

According to Easton's Bible Dictionary, the Acacia tree may be the “burning bush” (Exodus 3:2) which Moses encountered in the desert. Also, in the Christian tradition, it is thought that Christ's crown of thorns was woven from acacia. It is of great interest and significance that the ‘humble acacia’ is so prominent in these two biblical narratives. These narratives have formed the nucleus of these religions and shaped the destiny of hundreds of millions of people. I know it is only speculation, but to me there could be more than just a reference to an available wood but symbolic or coded reference to an entheogenic experience that is at the heart of religions as Dr Shanon postulates.

It is an irony that these religions have long and forcefully denied an individual’s right to seek and access the divine directly.

Author's Bio: 

Howard G Charing: is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest. He is co-author of the best-selling book, ‘Plant Spirit Shamanism’ (Destiny Books USA) 2006. He co-authored the ‘Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo’ (Inner Traditions USA) 2011.