Were Ancient Hebrews Stoned While In Temple? Study Suggests.

Updated: Jul 11, 2020

A new study indicates the ancient use of cannabis at a shrine in Israel.

Cannabis residue on artifacts from an ancient temple in southern Israel. Photograph: Laura Lachman/AP

Frankincense, myrrh, and… cannabis? Archaeologists have discovered traces of weed on an ancient Israelite altar, suggesting that getting high was a spiritual ritual for the Hebrew people.

The discovery was made using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry testing on an Iron Age Judahite shrine at Tel Arad, in Israel’s Negev. The cannabis altar was within the inner sanctum of the temple, referred to as the cella, or holy of holies.

Researchers studying two altars from an ancient shrine in Israel have discovered that cannabis was utilized in religious rituals at the location. The discovery is the earliest evidence of cannabis use within the Ancient Middle East, consistent with authors of a study published within the archaeological journal Tel Aviv.

The researchers studied residue from two limestone altars that were discovered in 1963 at the doorway to the “Holy of Holies” of a Judahite shrine dedicated to Yahweh, the Hebrew name for God utilized in the Bible. The site, which was inbuilt approximately 750 BCE and used for less than about 35 years, is a component of Tel Arad, an archaeological mound located in Israel’s Beersheba Valley west of the Dead Sea.

The tops of both altars contained residue that archaeologists at the time of discovery attributed to the ritualistic use of incense. Qualitative analysis of the residue conducted quite 50 years ago to work out the source of the residue had been inconclusive.

Eran Arie, the lead author of the study and curator of Iron Age and Persian Periods archaeology within the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, realized that the residue on the altars, which are on display since 1965, was still intact when the exhibit was moved between 2007 and 2010. About two years ago, he realized that more modern techniques including liquid chromatography and gas chromatography might be wont to analyze the residue again.

The residue from the smaller of the 2 altars was found to contain the cannabinoids THC, CBD, and CBN. Fatty acids and hormones that researchers attributed to a mammalian source and evidence of animal feces were also discovered. The second altar contained terpenoids related to frankincense and further evidence of fat of a mammalian origin.

Researchers Surprised by Discovery

Arie said that the discovery of cannabis residue came as a surprise to the researchers.

“We know from all around the Ancient Middle East and around the world that a lot of cultures used hallucinogenic materials and ingredients so as to urge into some quite religious ecstasy,” he told CNN.

“We never considered Judah participating in these cultic practices. the very fact that we found cannabis in a politician cult place of Judah says something new about the cult of Judah,” Arie added.

The researchers believe that cannabis was mixed with the dung and fat and ignited to realize a slow, smoldering burn that might produce smoke conducive to group inhalation. Although the frankincense was likely burned on the larger altar as incense, Arie believes that the cannabis was burned for its psychoactive effect instead of its aroma.

“If you actually wanted only the odor or the fragrance of cannabis, you could’ve burned sage,” he said. “Only once you are burning cannabis is the [psychoactive ingredients] released into the air. So it’s not a matter of smell like with the frankincense; it’s a matter of the ecstasy and therefore the hallucinogenic effects from the burning cannabis.”

The authors of the study wrote that they're unsure how cannabis made its way to Tel Arad. But because no cannabis seeds or pollen are found at archaeological sites within the Ancient Middle East, they theorize that it had been imported to the world as hashish.

Source: High times.

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