News » Cannabis, Christianity, and the Great Kaneh-Bosm Debate – Did Jesus Use Pot?
August 23, 2011 by Aaron Turpen
Photo: Cannabis Culture
Outside of law enforcement, the greatest argument against marijuana use is moral. Religious arguments against the use of cannabis are widespread, since in our society, “morality” is equated with “religion.” While no formal polls exist (that this author could find), it appears that most Christians oppose the legalization of cannabis (i.e. the ending of prohibition), though there are notable exceptions such as CAP.
Inside this debate over legalization and marijuana’s use for recreation, spirituality, and medicine is a theological debate centering on the possible use of cannabis in the Bible itself. By none other than Jesus Christ, centerpiece and namesake of Christianity.
This debate focuses on the term “kaneh bosm” (variously transcribed in similar phonetic renditions) as it appears in the Bible. It all starts with Exodus 30:22-23. Until the 1930s, it was generally accepted amongst linguists and etymologists that the Greek and Hebrew phrase that becomes “kaneh bosm” in the early texts meant “sweet calamus” or “sweet cane.” Despite the fact that the “sweet” appears nowhere in that original phrase. The idea comes from “kaneh” being a Hebrew version of the Greek term “kalamos”, which means “reed or cane.” Sweet calamus is an indigenous wetland leafed reed.
The trouble came when Polish anthropologist Sula Benet published her arguments that the translation to “calamus” had no grounding and that the root “kan” can mean “reed” or “hemp.” She argued that the term “kannabos” is the Aramaic predecessor to today’s “cannabis” in our language. Since her assertion, several other experts in various fields have agreed with her assessment, though it is far from accepted.
“So?” You might say. “What does this have to do with anything? It’s just one word.”
Well, ya, except that this one word has profound affects on the Bible and especially on the New Testament of Christ. You see, astute Biblical scholars will note that Jesus never baptized anyone nor did he tell his disciples to. He specifically told them to “anoint” people. That anointing took place using a specific formula made from a recipe found in the Old Testament book of Exodus.
That recipe (Exodus 30:23) includes about 6 pounds of “kaneh-bosen”. If that six pounds is marijuana.. then a lot of things in the Bible suddenly change.
Now, the stories of the apostles taking Jesus’ formula and anointing the sick and “possessed” and healing them takes on a new context. Most of the diseases mentioned as being healed miraculously after anointing are, curiously, the same things often prescribed or being investigated as things that cannabis can heal today. Things like epilepsy, leprosy, and “crooked limbs” (a possible reference to multiple sclerosis).
Another interesting thing emerges, should the use of cannabis by the very man who began Christianity (“the anointed ones”) be proven.. the anti-marijuana (and even the anti-drug) policies of most Christian fundamentalists in North America become entirely groundless.
All of the moral crusades and pulpit-pounding against pot become hypocrisy. In fact, Christian churches would be faced with the possibility that their ignorance of the use of cannabis in church ritual is counter to the teachings and actions of Jesus, making their worship illegitimate. After all, if the holy persons and the sick are to be anointed with oils containing (a lot of) cannabis, and they aren’t doing so, doesn’t that run counter to their fundamental beliefs?
This idea is such a fundamental paradigm shifter that, not surprisingly, it faces a lot of opposition – both scholarly and not. Even Wikipedia can’t make up its collective mind on the issue (see this and this).
It’s an argument that is not likely to come to a conclusion either way. Both sides have vehement talking points and both have huge reasons not to change their stance. For Christians, this would mean a complete reversal of 1,500+ years of religious practice (based on the Holy Roman interpretation of the Bible) and for pro-marijuana activists it means giving up on converting (to spin a pun) their most stringent opposition.