Ancient Judahites Performed Cannabis Ceremonies on the “High-Way” to Yahweh
According to a new paper published in the journal Tel Aviv, ancient esoteric worshippers at a Judahite temple at the fortress mound in Tel Arad in Israel “likely smoked cannabis during cultic ceremonies.” This statement comes after a team of Israeli scientists performed chemical analysis on residues found on two Iron Age altars dating back more than 2,700 years at the entrance to the shrine; both were found to contain cannabis and frankincense.
The frankincense had come from the resin of the Boswellia sacra, a small tree found in Oman, Yemen, and Somalia, and according to a Daily Mail report, the presence of cannabis resin suggests “a deliberate psychoactive substance” was made and burned to “stimulate ecstasy as part of esoteric ceremonies.”
Ancient Worshippers Participated in Cannabis Ceremonies
The Tel Arad fortified city is located west of the Dead Sea about six miles (9.67 km) from the modern Israeli city of Arad in southern Israel's Negev desert. Having defended the southern border of the kingdom of Judah, it is regarded as one of the most important archaeological sites in Israel.
This site was first excavated in the 1960s when the outer courtyard and inner sanctuary, the “holy of holies,” were discovered. This was where animals were sacrificed to god. The original holy of holies has been reconstructed and is on display in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.
The Holy of Holies during excavation. The two lying altars are in their original position on the second stair (at the center of the photograph) facing north. (The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, S.J. Schweig Collection)
It was at the entrance to the “holy of holies” within the shrine that the two altars were discovered, the smaller of which is about 15.7 inches tall (39.88 cm) and the larger around 19.6 inches (49.78 cm). And it was on the surfaces of these two altars, almost six decades later, that the scientists found and analyzed a layer of dark organic material. According to the lead author of the new paper, Dr, Eran Arie, of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, his study presents the “earliest evidence of cultic use of cannabis in the world” and “the first known evidence of hallucinogenic substance found in the Kingdom of Judah.”
Jewish Hash Traffickers of the Ancient Levant
The discovery of the use of cannabis within the shrine “must have played a central role in the cultic rituals performed there,” said Dr. Arie. Arie also speculates that because the fortress at Arad is rather limited in size and the courtyard of the shrine might have been used for the gathering of all the population of the fortress, one can imagine that ““everybody” who dwelt in the fortress would have taken part in the religious ceremonies in the shrine,” which involved breathing in cannabis smoke.
In the ancient shrine, archaeologists found the smaller of the two altars had traces of cannabis mixed with animal dung - which is thought to have added to the heating of the sacred environment. The largest altar was found with a layer of visible black residue containing traces of cannabis and frankincense mixed with animal fat, which the researchers think promoted evaporation, which would have enhanced the psychotropic effects of the drug by slowly melting the plant trichomes and terpenes into the breathable air.
Frankincense and cannabis were both burned in the religious ceremonies. (jbphotographylt /Adobe Stock)
However, no evidence of pollen from cannabis seeds has been found and Dr. Arie and his co-author believe the plant was “imported from distant origins” and transported to Israel as dried cannabis resin, most often known today as hashish, or hash.
High and Pain-free Worship
The researchers’ chemical analysis of the altar residues identified traces of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the psychoactive part of cannabis that creates uplifting feelings of wellbeing, commonly called being “high,” as well as CBD (cannabidiol) which is the cannabinoid used in medical cannabis products to relieve pain and anxiety issues. The scientists said in their paper that the fact that “only one substance was associated with each altar,” indicated repeated use of the same substances in ritual settings. This suggests that cannabis ceremonies were frequent at the shrine.
- Archaeologists Are Surprised to Find a 2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Burial Shroud Found in China
- Wearing it, Smoking it, or Selling it? The Hazy History of Cannabis in Ancient Korea
- A Versatile Plant: What Were the Many Uses of Cannabis in Ancient Egypt?
Frontal view of the cella of the shrine at Arad, as rebuilt in the Israel Museum from the original archaeological finds. The inserts show a top−down view of the altars: on the left, the larger altar; on the right, the smaller altar. Note the visible black residue. (Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority/The Israel Museum, by Laura Lachman)
In conclusion, Dr. Arie said the presence of cannabis at Arad “testifies to the use of mind-altering substances as part of cultic rituals in Judah,” and also indicates the “participation of Judah in the south Arabian trade much earlier than previously believed.”
This new study, according to its author, serves as an “extra-biblical source” for research into the types of incenses applied in ancient cultic rituals, not only at the city of Arad, but elsewhere in Judah, “including Jerusalem”.
Top Image: Researchers say priests included cannabis in their religious ceremonies in Judah 2,700 years ago. Source: Public Domain
By Ashley Cowie