Friday, March 07, 2008

Moses high on Mt. Sinai ...

... perhaps very high. Via Lisa Jarnot's ever entertaining lisablog, a story from the UK Guardian in which a researcher claims that Moses might just have been, shall we say, under the influence of something besides the Holy Spirit:

We all know that Moses was high on Mount Sinai when God spoke to him, but were the Ten Commandments a result of divine inspiration alone?

An Israeli researcher is claiming in a study published this week the prophet may have been stoned when he set the Ten Commandments in stone.

According to Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, psychedelic drugs formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times.

Writing in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy, he says concoctions based on the bark of the acacia tree, frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, contain the same molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca [my link - Jeff] is prepared.

"The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an altered state of awareness," writes Shanon. "In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings."

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

Speaking about his article on Israeli public radio, he added: "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."

Moses was probably also on mind-altering drugs when he saw the "burning bush", suggested Shanon, who admitted to dabbling with such substances.

Speaking of his own experience of ayahuasca during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991, he said: "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations."

This article was first published on on Wednesday March 05 2008, and last updated at 15:59 GMT on that date.

There's a good article by the same researcher, Benny Shanon, here (it's a .pdf); it's a consideration of Psychoactive Sacramentals, an anthology of articles on the role of entheogens in religions, including Judaism and Christianity.

Gordon Wasson, Carl A. P. Ruck and their co-authors have previously explored some of the same terrain in their Persephone's Quest and the classic Road to Eleusis (see here for a .pdf that includes much of the book). Fascinating, if you're at all curious about how we came to be the strange creatures we are.

(The Road to Eleusis
, including the great Homeric Hymn to Demeter, helped me delve into the Eleusinian materials that I approached/appropriated/attempted to locate myself within in some of the poems in NatureS.)


Rembrandt's Moses from Olga's Gallery.

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