Cannabis in Ancient Israel

An ancient desert shrine in Israel has provided proof of cannabis being burned during religious offerings. The Holy of Holies altar, discovered in the Arad temple in the Israeli Negev desert, contains charred cannabis residue dating back to over 2,500 years ago.

Did the ancient Israelites burn cannabis to get high? 

Archaeologists studying the altar claim that the cannabis was deliberately burned to get religious participants high off of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis. This is a significant discovery because it is the first evidence linking the global consumption of cannabis to ancient Judaism.

Thanks to many Israeli shrine sites sitting on Muslim holy ground, scholars have had remarkable opportunities to study preserved artifacts from the First Temple era. The layout of these temples is consistent: courtyard, main prayer room, and a small, raised room in the center known as the Holy of Holies.

Inside the Holy of Holies room in the Arad temple lies the massebah. It is a physical representation of the deity the ancient Israelites worshipped, represented in the form of crafted limestone altars. The charred cannabis remains on top of the massebah represent the worshippers’ offering to their deity.

Initially discovered in the 1960s, the Arad temple altar substance was initially thought to be a form of incense or small animal remains. Fast forward to the present day. Researchers applied modern scientific techniques to confirm the chemical composition of the substances found on both Arad temple altars. Frankincense was the first compound discovered. Frankincense is a resin commonly referenced throughout ancient religious texts. Of course, the next chemical compounds discovered were the most shocking and comprised three different cannabis compounds (THC, CBD, and CBN.) Other compounds have been discovered mixed in with the frankincense and cannabis, particularly animal fat and dung. Scholars suggest the animal fat helped achieve higher temperatures to release the smell of frankincense, while dung was used to help burn cannabis at a lower temperature to trigger its psychoactive compounds amongst worshippers in attendance.

As our nation continues to eradicate strict cannabis legislation, learning the extent of its role in ancient civilizations will serve as a powerful reference to continue supporting rapid legalization.

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