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Ancient Ways: Christ on Cannabis

This is part two in a series called “Ancient Ways”, where we’ll explore the history of cannabis in antiquity. Humankind has been celebrating this remarkable plant for thousands of years, and only very recently has it become taboo. So grab a dab and let’s travel back in time to rediscover our ancient ways.

What would Jesus do?

It may come as a shock to some, but believe it or not, Cannabis is prominently featured throughout the Bible. Not only does the Bible describe hemp as a fiber and food plant used by the ancient Hebrews, but the Old Testament also clearly describes cannabis as the core ingredient of the Holy Anointing Oil and Sacred Incense used by the priests, apostles, and even Christ himself.

In this article, we’ll be examining these ancient Hebrew references to cannabis, as well as theories on how and why this knowledge was lost (or perhaps hidden) along the course of history.

Many of today’s Christians take a stance against cannabis, seeing it as simply an illicit drug, unaware of their religious connection to the plant. Such a strong connection, in fact, that in the ancient Hebrew world, only those who had been “dedicated by the anointing oil of God were permitted to act as priests.” (Leviticus 21:20)

For those who don’t know, the Christian Bible is split into two main sections, the Old Testament (OT), and the New Testament (NT), The Old Testament is essentially the same as the Jewish Torah, the first part of the Hebrew Bible. You may have seen the Torah before if you’ve ever been to a Synagogue; it’s the huge scroll that Jews get out of a case and carry around on their shoulder and read from.

The OT is traditionally believed to have been written by Moses (although there is some modern-day dissent from this opinion) and is believed by Jews and Christians to be the direct Word of God. It’s where we find the creation story as told in the Book of Genesis, as well as the tales of Moses and the ancient Israelites in the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses led the Israelites in the building of a sacred place of prayer called the Tabernacle, based on God’s instructions. He is then commanded to prepare a fragrant oil made from fine herbs, and to cover himself and all the items within the Tabernacle in the oil, so that they may be holy:

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 q’aneh-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. It will be the sacred anointing oil.” (Exodus 30:22-23)


Q’aneh-bosm (or kaneh bosm) is an adapted version of an ancient Indo-European word, which the Hebrews used to describe cannabis. Translated into english, Kaneh Bosm means “fragrant cane”, and was used by the Israelites for clothing, food, rope, and communion with God. It is believed that cannabis came to the Hebrews as an item of trade from ancient Indo-European peoples, such as the Scythians, who brought it with them in their migrations throughout Europe and Asia.

Hint: Remember the “Gūshī Gang” I wrote about the last edition of Ancient Ways? The Gūshī were a nomadic, light-haired blue-eyed people who spoke a language similar to Celtic. They grew cannabis for food and clothing, and also cultivated higher-THC varieties specifically for their psychoactive effects, which they spread to the many peoples they encountered along their travels.

Of course, modern-day cannabis has been selectively bred to contain higher and higher amounts of THC, the ingredient that gives cannabis is psychoactive effects. However, there is evidence that ancient cannabis from similar time periods to those of the Bible did in fact contain substantial quantities of THC, meaning the biblical Kaneh Bosm was likely psychoactive.

THC, along with the other cannabinoids and terpenes contained in cannabis are fat-soluble, meaning they can be absorbed into fats and oils, and these can be used as a delivery system into the body. Converted to modern measurements, this Holy Anointing Oil contained over nine pounds of cannabis in only a gallon and a half of olive oil, making it an astoundingly potent preparation. The oil also contained myrrh, cinnamon, and cassia, which may have added to the overall potency and absorption of the oil.

The ritual of anointing was considered the seal of the Holy Spirit where the sacred oil was poured over a person’s head during baptism. The oil was to purify and sanctify the baptised, sealing-in the spirit of the Lord, and chasing away all sin and evil from their lives. Moses was also instructed to pour the cannabis oil over the sacred incense and burn it inside the “tent of the meeting”, the Tabernacle. Inside the tent, he would anoint himself with the oil and speak to the Lord through a pillar of smoke (yep, cannabis smoke.) And remember, Moses is said to have returned from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments after God appeared to him in a “burning bush” (are you getting the point?)

Even Jesus Christ himself must have been anointed by the sacred cannabis oil, by the very nature of his name, Christ.

In his article for Cannabis Culture, cannabis historian Chris Bennet states that “either Jesus used marijuana or he wasn’t the Christ.” A bold claim, indeed, which he explains with the following: “The Greek title “Christ” is the translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which in English becomes “The Anointed”. The Messiah was recognized as such by his being anointed with the holy anointing oil.”

The oil is also known to some sects as the “Chrism”, which bears obvious similarity to the word “Christ”.

As we learned, in the Old Testament God commanded Moses to keep the recipe for the Holy Chrism a secret and to reserve it for the priests and elite classes of Israel. However, the New Testament tells us that Jesus disobeyed the ancient Hebrew priests and revealed the sacred oil to the masses, using it to heal the sick and perform miracles, like a boss.

In fact, the NT is full of stories about how Jesus disobeyed the laws and strictures of his time. He harshly condemned the Scribes and Pharisees and other groups he felt were corrupting the Word of God for their earthly gains, most notably in his “Seven Woes”:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. —- You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matthew 23)

In addition to using hemp to heal, Jesus also evaded taxes and kicked the corrupt money changers out of the temple. Now, I don’t label myself a Christian, but Jesus is my homeboy!

Cannabis or Calamus?

If you’ve read the Bible and you’re wondering why you’ve never heard anything about cannabis oil before, it’s because of a simple mistranslation. Pick up almost any modern Bible today, and you’ll find that the recipe for the Holy Anointing Oil calls not for cannabis, but for calamus: a reed plant that grows in marshes, has little to no medical benefits, and is actually somewhat toxic. In fact, since 1968, the FDA has banned the use of Calamus in all foods and medicines because of its poisonous nature. Calamus contains up to 70% of a chemical called Aserone which is toxic to the body.

christ-on-cannabis-calamus

Would the God of the Bible really command Moses to make a Sacred Anointing Oil that contained large quantities of poison?

To know the truth of the Bible, we need to go back to its source. The earliest known version of the Bible is written in Aramaic and is called the Targum Onkelos. Inside this ancient scripture, the recipe for the Holy Anointing Oil contains the same ingredients as in later versions … except for one crucial detail: instead of calamus, it calls for kaneh bosm (cannabis).

This is really the key to understanding everything. The mistranslation occurred when the Bible was translated from Hebrew into Greek in the third century B.C., which was called The Septuagint. Here, the word “kaneh bosm” was erroneously switched with “calamus”, and all subsequent versions of the Old Testament that have ever been printed have repeated the mistake. Sula Benet, a Polish anthropologist, identified the mistranslation in the 1930’s in her essay Tracing One Word Through Different Languages.

But, was the mistranslation a mistake? One has to wonder, when today’s modern day power structure does everything it can to keep cannabis out of the hands of the people, did the Greek Bible translators of old have the same intention? We know that Cannabis was used in ancient Greece in the cult of Dionysus, along with their contemporaries, the Scythians and Thracians, so surely it would have been difficult for them to mistake kaneh bosm for calamus, but we can only speculate.

Sula Benet’s assertion that kaneh bosm was cannabis was eventually backed up by other researchers such as Weston LaBarre, Carl Ruck, and famed cannabis scientists Dr. Ethan Russo and Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. Now, even Webster’s New World Hebrew Dictionary lists the Hebrew word for hemp as “kannabos”, a direct hit.

So, Moses and the burning bush, the Sacred Oil and Incense, Jesus healing the sick… it can all be seen from an entirely new perspective.

It’s remarkable when you think about it — how many cultures and religions feature cannabis as an integral part of their traditions — even the Judeo-Christian faith appears to completely center around it, and yet hardly anybody knows it. All it took was a simple mistranslation early on, and we were all misled. But now, thanks to many respected researchers, the Good Word is out, and we may hopefully come closer to knowing the true history of cannabis.

For more articles by Victor Ananda, click here.

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