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Benny Shanon Reveals a Speculative Hypothesis on Biblical Entheogens

Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, releases a paper outlining a hypothesis that entheogenic plants including ayahuasca analogues formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times.

Time and Mind Magazine with article abstract and PDF download

Quote from the Abstract :

The ideas entertained here were primarily based on the fact that in the arid areas of the Sinai peninsula and Southern Israel there grow two plants containing the same psychoactive molecules found in the plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca is prepared. The two plants are species of Acacia tree and the bush Peganum harmala. The hypothesis is corroborated by comparative experiential-phenomenological observations, linguistic considerations, exegesis of old Jewish texts and other ancient Mideastern traditions, anthropological lore, and ethnobotanical data.


  1. Marcus McCoy says

    This is a really interesting subject to me personally. The subject of ayahuasca analogs is fascinating.
    My only real issue with his speculative essay here is that it is not followed by a bio-assay. many tryptamine containing plants require quite the concentration of plant material extract. For example the Illinois bundle weed has sufficent amounts of n,n-DMT in it to facilitate the ayahuasca effect, however from my discussion with K. Trout it requires extraction via chemical means to make it worth while.
    There is also the question as to whether or not people of the middle east had the inkling to combine the two. From what I can gather from his work there is no solid evidence to support that they did.
    What I would like to see is some bio-assays working with low tech methodologies no chemical extractions.
    The idea that mainstream religions have their roots in the entheogenic experience used to be very interesting to me as well, but now it seems irrelevant. What seems to be more important however about this sort of research is that there is a possibility for middle eastern peoples to have a local, or bioregion access to a possible plant combination that could cultivate much needed healing. That to me is the really important idea that is being excluded here. For a local and powerful entheogen to be made available to people with out the need for out sourcing to other countries not to mention the historical relevance of these being traditionally held as plant of cultural importance is important enough to really discuss and look at carefully. Proving anything historically has always seemed to me to be mucky work, and i don’t see it really motivating too many people who are currently locked into the traditions of today, to drink the foul tasting nauseating tea that Syrian rue and acacia would be. That I think would require a wholly different motivation beyond the speculation that it was a lost tradition.
    Still though I want to see some bio-assays… its an important discovery!

  2. Very good indeed. But personally I prefer the teory that LORANTHUS ACACIAE (instead of peganum harmala) is the plant used to be taken together with acacia to brew an ayahuasca-analogue in the holy land. The vine Loranthus-acaciae is well-known by its name “burning-bush” suggesting a sacred use. Even more interesting, I feel, is the fact that one parasite Loranthus-eugenioides specie was used, together with the host plant Acacia jurema, by the brazilian indians from the northeast to brew an entheogenic tea known as “AYUKA”, that is an strong ayahuasca-analogue, from my personal experience.

  3. I think it is very important to know that most religions have a base in the use of entheogenic plants. There are too many self righteous people who say that the far out experiences of biblical prophets and such were visions received from G-d directly. G-d put these plants, the entheogens, here on earth for a reason. They were, I believe, put here to enable us to escape the limited perceptions gathered and formed by use of the five physical senses. G-d is beyond the physical, and beyond the moralistic, legalistic boundaries of rational religion. The only way for one who had revelatory information passed on to himself to see a way to insure that others follow the insights received is to make hard and fast rules with the rational mind since he did not have the benefit of the actual experience. Trying to explain the irrational experience with the rational mind is impossible. It is like trying to explain what one sees in a kalidescope to one who has never looked into a kalidescope. I think that the use of entheogens is vital to the person who is seeking a genuine spiritual experience. I know that some use breathing and meditation techniques, which take years to master, and some use fasting and pain, which are extremely unpleasant to one who is not motivated to practice such aesthetic techniques: I find that entheogens are much more reliable and pleasant an experience if one uses a proper set, setting and purity of intent.

  4. The real test of whether someone has experienced the true mystical experience off Reality, MER, is not the person’s sudden leap into “fruits” such as good works, or even being legal decent and honest, moral and ethical as the religions would have it in the absence of any actual experience of MER. Religions are anthropomorphic, MER is not, nor can it be evangelised or even replicated with drugs. Nor do drugs give the lifetime development that MER individuals experience. MER is caught, not taught.

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