No, God Did Not Prescribe the Use of Cannabis in the Bible
There’s no more connection between Hebrew qaneh-bosem and Greek kannabis than there is between “Moses” and “mice.”
Just when you think you’ve heard it all, a pastor calls your radio show asking how to respond to a congregant claiming cannabis was sanctioned by God in the Torah. That’s right. Sanctioned by the Lord Himself. Not to be smoked, but burned in large quantities by the priests of Israel. Far out!
There was a time in my life when I would have believed something like this. I spent 1969-1971 as a heavy drug-using, hippie rock drummer, consuming everything from pot and LSD to speed and heroin. When my two best friends started reading the Bible, they told me about the more esoteric passages in the Scriptures — all kinds of visions, dreams and revelations. I jested, “What were they smoking?”
In fact, that’s what I asked the pastor (again, in jest) who called the show: What is this congregant smoking?
The “Scholarly” Basis for This Belief
There is an alleged scholarly basis for this bogus belief. It says the Hebrew words qaneh-bosem in Exodus 30:23 refer to marijuana, specifically hemp. And note the apparent similarity in the words: qaneh-bosem and cannabis. That proves it, right?
According to the Herb Museum website, it was in 1936 that a little-known Polish professor named Sara Benetowa (later Sula Benet) wrote, “The sacred character of Hemp in biblical times is evident from Exodus 30:22-23, where Moses was instructed by God to anoint the meeting tent and all its furnishings with specially prepared oil, containing hemp.”
Other Hebrew scholars allegedly confirmed this. Of course, with the rising popularity of marijuana in today’s culture, arguments like this appeal to Christians who want to get high. Not only did their state pass a pro-pot law, but God’s into it too!
One website proclaims in bold, red letters: “The fact is that the Holy Oil contained 6 Pounds of (Marijuana) with other spices boiled into one gallon of Olive oil! The Holy Oil of God is illegal to obtain today!!!”
During my drug-using years, I often went to rock concerts at the Fillmore East in New York. I saw groups like Led Zeppelin, the Who, the Grateful Dead and Jethro Tull, among many others.
It was the perfect concert atmosphere, seating only about 2,000 people and with a dynamic light show behind the performers. But it was also a hippie paradise. The whole place smelled like pot. Is that what the ancient Temple smelled like in Jerusalem? Maybe the priests got high on mushrooms, too!
The Connection Isn’t There
Returning to reality, the alleged connection between qaneh-bosem and cannabis simply doesn’t exist.
Note first that qaneh-bosem is two words in Hebrew, not one. And the words are easily translated, qaneh meaning a stalk or reed, and bosem meaning “sweet smelling.”
Some scholars translate the words together to refer to “aromatic cane,” “scented cane,” or “sweet-smelling cane,” others “sweet calamus” or “fragrant calamus.”
But not a single scholarly, biblical Hebrew lexicon in the world connects these words with cannabis. I can say that emphatically because I own them all, in multiple languages. The alleged connection isn’t there.
It is also certain, for various phonetic and linguistic reasons, that the word cannabis, which comes from the Greek kannabis, is not related to these two Hebrew words. There’s no more connection between Hebrew qaneh-bosem and Greek kannabis than there is between “Moses” and “mice.”
As for those who can’t study the issue for themselves, note carefully this commandment to Aaron, the High Priest, and his successors: “Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations” (Lev. 10:9). Sobriety was a must for those coming into the presence of God.
This makes the claim that the Lord commanded large amounts of pot to be burning in this very same holy place all the more ridiculous. Be sure not to drink any wine or strong drink, but go ahead and inhale deeply!
Proceed With Caution
As for those Christians who feel that smoking pot “in moderation” is fine since it’s now legal in their state, a word of caution.
First, pot remains a gateway drug. It often leads to the use of other, harder drugs, along with becoming addictive itself.
Second, pot today is far more potent than when I smoked it more than 46 years ago.
Fourth, you’ll have a hard time fulfilling the biblical mandate to “be sober and vigilant” (1 Peter 5:8) while smoking a joint.
In any case, people will have to sort out the question of smoking pot, just as they sort out the question of drinking. (The subject of medical marijuana is another question entirely.)
What I can tell you without hesitation is that God never prescribed pot — as incense or to be smoked — anywhere in the Bible. That’s a fact.