Thursday, March 06, 2008
[Woodstock Festival 1969]
A fellow blogger mentioned in a comment yesterday an interesting article published this week in the first issue of “Time and Mind: the Journal of Archeology, Consciousness and Culture”. The article is written by Dr. Benny Shanon, professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel). In this article, Professor Shanon speculates that the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20) may in fact have been a national memory of a hallucination caused by the ingestion by the Israelites of certain chemicals found in plants common in the Sinai desert. Those chemicals are specifically Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is a hallucinogen, together with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MOAI) which allows DMT to be absorbed when taken orally. DMT is found in Umbrella Thorn acacia (Acacia tortilis) and in Gay acacia (Acacia laeta). MOAI is found in the seeds of the Harmal (Peganum harmala). These plants are all native to the Sinai and in fact acacia wood is mentioned frequently in the Bible, for example Exodus 25:5.
In my humble opinion, there are several problems with this hypothesis.
The first problem is whether amounts of DMT sufficient to cause hallucinations can be extracted from the Umbrella Thorn or Gay acacia using methods available in pre-modern times. I am not aware of anyone having attempted this. On page 66 of the journal, Professor Shanon relates that he did succeed in having a having a “psychological experience” using a liquid made with boiled jurema (Acacia jurema) and harmal, however I am not certain that the same method would be successful with Sinai acacias, which may have a lower DMT content. I am surprised that Professor Shanon did not investigate this issue further.
The second problem is that if such an acacia/harmal concoction was widely used in the Middle East c.1300 BCE, it seems odd that it is never mentioned in the Bible. Indeed it is never mentioned anywhere historically
The third problem is that as with any hallucinogen, DMT causes different people to have different reactions at different times. If the camp at Mount Sinai had been a DMT fueled gathering, it would probably have closely resembled the Woodstock Festival. This is considerably different from the Biblical account where everyone experiences the same things. DMT/MOAI beverages are commonly used in certain areas of South America, however no national revelations have ever been recorded.
In conclusion, although Professor Shanon’s article has received some media coverage and it will surely be appreciated by some secularists, I think that upon close examination, it merely is another example of shoddy scholarship that seems so common in fields such as Bible criticism and evolution.
Posted by jewish philosopher at 3:47 PM