Benny Shanon of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, pictured here, has made big headlines with a new hypothesis that Moses's encounters with God on Mount Sinai were neither supernatural events nor mere legends. Rather, Shanon claims, Moses was stoned out of his gourd.
"As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don't believe, or a legend, which I don't believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics," Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.The basis for this startling hypothesis? Shanon's near 160 uses of the Amazonian mind-bending drug ayahuasca.
Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the "burning bush," suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.
According to his paper in the British journal Time and Mind, "two plants in the Sinai desert contain the same psychoactive molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca is prepared." His basis for this claim comes from "having 'partaken of the ...brew about 160 times in various locales and contexts.'"
Yes, Moses was routinely high. The Bible tells us that Moses encountered the burning bush while tending sheep. So he was high--seeking religious experiences--while working. And the entire Jewish people assembled at the base of Mount Sinai were tripping on hallucinogenic drugs. According to Shanon,
The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an "altered state of awareness...."The drug in question, ayahuasca, is used in various shamanistic religious rituals as well as by Westerners seeking transcendental spiritual experiences. "'The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a clasic phenomenon,' [Shanon] said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to 'see music.'"
See music? The Israelites were busy making golden calves and committing idolatry at the base of the mountain when this happened. I have a hard time believing that they were all high when Moses was up on the mountain. And if Moses was up on the mountain for several days, he would have to have taken a large supply with him. All in all, this is silly.
Professor Shanon says he doesn't believe that Moses experienced the supernatural on Mount Sinai. Does Professor Shanon believe in the supernatural at all? Was the Pillar of Fire drug induced as well? Or was that a legend? These sort of explanations are based on a denial of the supernatural. I'll leave you with two things. First, a nice response to this hypothesis:
Orthodox rabbi Yuval Sherlow told Israel Radio: "The Bible is trying to convey a very profound event. We have to fear not for the fate of the biblical Moses, but for the fate of science."And second, a cinematic representation of a ayahuasca experience. If this is what these hallucinations are like, I sincerely doubt that Moses and the Israelites experience at Sinai would have been limited to "thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet":