Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pass me some more of that good old time religion

We've all thought it from time to time- what if Moses was just high? It could actually explain a lot.

But I'm a little confused why all of a sudden there are a bunch of articles about this one psychology prof at Hebrew U in Jerusalem who apparently has come up with a unified "Tripping Moses" theory- which happens to be basically the same one that every single kid (Jewish and otherwise) thought of back in third grade. But the prof's written a "study" about it, so I guess he now gets to be the center of attention for it as though he's actually come up with something new. Lame.

Shanon presents a provocative theory in an article published this week in the philosophy journal Time and Mind. The religious ceremonies of the Israelites included the use of psychotropic materials that can found in the Negev and Sinai, he says.

"I have no direct proof of this interpretation," and such proof cannot be expected, he says. However, "it seems logical that something was altered in people's consciousness. There are other stories in the Bible that mention the use of plants: for example, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden."

The acacia tree also has psychedelic properties, Shanon says, which the Israelites could have used. The acacia is mentioned frequently in the Bible, and was the type of wood of which the Ark of the Covenant was made. According to Shanon, he drank a potion prepared from a species of acacia while he was in South America, which caused similar experiences to those produced by the ayahuasca.

You know, I'm pretty sure my desk is made of cherry wood. That doesn't mean I spend my free-time turning it into smoothies.

Yes, apparently psychoactive plants grow in the Middle East, which is interesting, but far from definitive. I guess for me the problem with Shanon's theory is that it doesn't tell us anything new or particularly useful- especially since the entire community of Israelites would have had to be consuming the substance as well (or enough of them to sway the others into going along with the mass "vision").

I can't decide if this reminds me more of the theory that the Salem Witch trials can all be blamed on ergot poisoning, or of how one time a friend of mine was giving a drash at a hippy-ish shul about Moses at Sinai. IIRC, my friend mentioned a Midrash that says the people saw the letters of the Torah flying around. My friend said this was meant metaphorically, but some random schmoe in the audience countered that "clearly" it was a vision brought on by hashish, and used his floor time to add (presumably to whatever agents of "the man" were listening) that the ancient cultures weren't so prudish about drug use. Well said, doofus. Now take off that damn pakul, you look like an idiot.

Hat-tip: Rafi G at DovBear


Sam said...

That was me. I was giving the D'var Torah at Havurah Shalom when we read this Torah portion, and someone in the congregation spammed me through the ears with the thesis that it was all a drug-induced hallucination when I was trying to make some point or other about some life lesson we could draw from this text, or something. He felt that it was a shame that we had stigmatized the use of drugs in religion, as opposed to the Kind And Earth-Loving Native Americans Who Are In Touch With All Sorts Of Truths, Not Least Because Of Their Use Of Hallucinogenic Plants In Religious Ceremonies.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

But was it about a flying-letter midrash, or just the same audio-visual stuff (lightning, thunder, shofars, etc) in the Tanakh that Shanon is rambling on about? I can't remember, and I think I might have lifted the flying-letter stuff from the Zohar passage where each one is in a weirdo talent competition to "start creation" and God picks Bet because it's as comely and modest as a proper Jewish wench should be... or something. Which is probably stolen from the Midrash, too, anyway.

Sam said...

The flying letters thing is from the story of the execution of Rabbi Hanina, when the Romans burned him along with his Torah scroll, and when asked by his students what he saw, he said, 'The parchment is burning but the letters are flying free.'

jon said...

Is this what is meant by "Moses hitting the stone"?