Residue of marijuana has been found on top of an altar in an Israelite temple from the 8th century BC. In the new study just released by Tel-Aviv University, evidence shows that cannabis was used as part of the temple’s cultic ritual. “This is the first known evidence of the hallucinogenic substance found in the Kingdom of Judah,” researchers concluded.
The cannabis residue was found on top of one of two small altars uncovered at Tel Arad, the southern fortress that housed the first Israelite temple ever discovered in an archaeological excavation. Scholars believe that King Solomon built the fortress in the tenth century BC.
On top of a second larger altar, researchers found evidence of frankincense commonly used for incense in aromatic offerings in Israelite temples. Cannabis, however, was never used for incense as it does not release a savory aroma as advised in the Bible. Authors of the report Eran Arie, Baruch Rosen, and Dvory Namdar concluded that the marijuana found on the temple altar was used for its effect on consciousness and state of mind of the worshippers.
A mind-boggling surprise
The discovery of cannabis on the smaller altar came as a surprise as this is the earliest evidence for the use of cannabis in the Ancient Near East. Hallucinogenic substances are known to have been in use in cultures in the region, but this is the first evidence of a mind-altering substance found in use in an Israelite temple.
Research done on the substances on top of the larger altar found frankincense mixed with animal fat which was necessary to produce the higher heat needed to release the aroma. Whereas on the smaller altar, the cannabis residue was mixed with animal dung which produces a milder heat needed to allow the hashish (a dried resin of cannabis) to spread among the worshippers.
In the Bible, frankincense is mentioned as acceptable for use in the Jerusalem Temple for its pleasant aroma. Cannabis found on the smaller altar in the Arad temple indicates that its only use could have been as a mind-altering substance used as part of religious rituals.
The use of other hallucinogenic materials for cultic purposes in achieving states of ecstasy in the Ancient Near East is well known going back to prehistoric periods. Opium has been found in temples and places of worship across the Levant. There is also evidence of the Philistines from the southern Coastal Plain of Israel using mind-altering drugs in their cultic rituals. Now we know that marijuana was used in Israel as well to stimulate ecstasy as part of temple ceremonies in the Kingdom of Judah as early as the 8th century.
It may be shocking for some to discover the use of hallucinogens by the ancient Israelites in their temple worship to God. Readers must not forget that many foreign practices were incorporated into ancient Israel’s worship. To explore this subject further, more altars and incense burners will now be analyzed using the latest scientific testing capabilities, even in Jerusalem.
For more on the use of cannabis in Jewish traditions see my article Is Cannabis Kosher?