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Where is cannabis mentioned in the Bible? Well, that is a great question, but one that is not too easily answered. If we follow the council of some scholars, we’d have to conclude that there are precisely zero mentions of the plant. If, however, we follow a different set of scholars, we’d find ourselves on the other side of the aisle.
Allow me to explain why there is the contention.
You see, the argument comes down to how we translate a certain Hebrew phrase, namely, kaneh bosm. This is an ingredient that is included in the anointing oil God tells Moses to create, and comes from Exodus 30:22–25. It reads:
The Lord spoke to Moses: Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane [kaneh bosm], and five hundred of cassia—measured by the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil; and you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil.
As you can see, most translations render “kaneh bosm” as “aromatic cane (NRSV),” “fragrant calamus (NIV),” “sweet calamus (KJV),” and the like. However, according to folks like 20th century Polish anthropologist Sula Benet, this is a mistranslation. In a 1975 article entitled Early Diffusion and Folk Uses of Hemp, she argues:
The anointment of sacred objects was an ancient tradition in Israel; holy oil was not used to be used for secular purposes. The sacred character or hemp in biblical times is described in 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. Anointing set sacred things apart from secular, normal from the godlike.
Whether Benet is correct or incorrect is not quite clear. Again, scholars are mixed on the issue. However, what is clear is that in order to answer the question, “Where in the Bible does it talk about cannabis?” we first have to figure out what was actually in this anointing oil. And the problem, of course, is that we can’t know for sure. In fact, we may never know. For sake of argument, then, let’s just assume Benet is right and that the “kaneh bosm” mentioned in Exodus 30 is in fact cannabis, or hemp. In that case, then there are a few places where it is mentioned, in addition to the Exodus 30 text. Here they are, per my research, in full (all emphasis mine):
Exodus 30:31–32: You shall say to the Israelites, ‘This shall be my holy anointing oil throughout your generations. It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you.’
Exodus 40:9–11: Then you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it, and you shall consecrate it and all its furniture, so that it shall become holy. You shall also anoint the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar, so that the altar shall be most holy. You shall also anoint the basin with its stand, and consecrate it.
Leviticus 8:12: He poured some of the anointing oil on Aaron’s head and anointed him, to consecrate him.
1 Samuel 16:13: Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.
Psalm 23:5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Psalm 45:7–8: You love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
Psalm 133:2: It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
Matthew 6:17: But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.
James 5:13–14: Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.
Now, remember, none of these verses prove or disprove that cannabis (hemp) was the ingredient used in the holy anointing oil first used by Moses and then by the generations that follow. Again, the argument hangs on whether the kaneh bosm mentioned in Exodus 30 is in fact cannabis or whether it is something else like calamus reed. What is important to keep in mind, however, is that whatever this oil was composed of, it was thought of as sacred. It was something to treasure and to not take lightly. And if it was in fact cannabis, then we need to acknowledge that “cannabis” played a hugely important role all throughout ancient Judaism and even in Christianity.
So, what about using cannabis for medicinal purposes? Well, there’s a large gulf between smoking weed in your mom’s basement and using CBD. Christians have no reason to refrain from using CBD – an oil derived from cannabis which has no intoxicating effects and has proven effective for treating a variety of ailments, including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and epilepsy, among many others.
If your doctor has given you a prescription for cannabis or if you live in a state where CBD is legal for consumption, then you are free to use them without any fear of committing a Biblical infraction. On the contrary, you just might be doing the most Biblical thing possible in the circumstances.
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