Field of Science

Stoned Moses: an update

Thaddeus Nelson over at Archaeoporn has been through Benny Shanon's recent paper (the one which proposed that Moses was on drugs - see earlier post). It's a pretty cogent response, pointing all the areas where Shanon's hypothesis is pretty, erm, flaky.

Principle among his objections are that Shanon repeatedly seems to see the Bible as a kind of real history, rather than a collection of myths and legends that may (or may not) have some distant grounding in actual events. Moses was clearly not a Shaman, the events probably never took place as described (or at all), and there are plenty of other explanations for what's being described. Nelson also downplays the claims for entheogen use in other middle eastern traditions.

Shanon also cherry picks his evidence. None of this rules out the possibility that entheogens were used by the Israelites and influenced their mythic stories, but the positive evidence is pretty slim:
In the end his approach and the outcome mirror the research of scholars who over analyze and cherry pick the bible to find evidence of aliens in theophany. I certainly do not mean to say that there is no possibility that the Israelites used entheogens, but that there is at present no archaeological evidence and textual evidence is questionable at best.
One of Shanon's hypotheses that is testable is his idea that acacia tree roots from the Sinai, when mixed with harmal (a shrub), produces a hallucinogenic brew. He doesn't seem to have tested this himself (although he has tested a similar concoction using a Brazilian acacia species.

It seems like a simple way to check his theory. Any volunteers?


  1. I think that in the article, he actually says that the hallucinogenic varieties of acacia don't actually grow in the Sinai, where it would have to be for some of his explanations to work out.

  2. He's pretty oblique on the subject it's true, but on p64 he does say:

    "Subspecies growing in the Sinai peninsula and in the Negev desert of southern Israel and containing DMT are Acacia albida (Mimosaceae), Acacia lactea (Mimosaceae) and Acacia tortilis (Mimosaceae). Also containing DMT are Acacia seyal (Mimosaceae) and Acacia nilotica (Mimosaceae), which grow in Egypt (see Shulgin and Shulgin, 1997). Feliks (1997) proposes that the biblical shittim is Acacia albida; Duke (1983) associates the shittim
    with Acacia seyal. However, Danin (personal communication), the present-day leading expert on the plants of the Land of Israel, has pointed out to me that neither of these plants grows in the Sinai peninsula."


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