By SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD
JERUSALEM, March 5, 2008
Moses and the Israelites were on drugs, says Benny Shanon, an Israeli professor of cognitive philosophy.
Writing in the British Journal Time and Mind, he claims Moses was probably on psychedelic drugs when he received the Ten Commandments from God.
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The assertions give a whole new meaning to Moses being "high" on Mount Sinai.
According to Shanon, a professor at Hebrew University, two naturally existing plants in the Sinai Peninsula have the same psychoactive components as ones found in the Amazon jungle and are well-known for their mind-altering capabilities. The drugs are usually combined in a drink called ayahuasca.
"As far as 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 effects of narcotics," he told Israel Radio in an interview Tuesday.
The description in The Book of Exodus of thunder, lightening and a blaring trumpet, according to Shanon, are the classic imaginings of people under the influence of drugs.
As for the vision of the burning bush, well obviously that too was a drug-fueled hallucination, according to Shanon.
"In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation," he wrote, "the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings."
Shanon admits he took some of these drugs while in the Amazon in 1991. "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations," he said.
The initial reaction to this controversial theory from Israel's religiously orthodox community and the powerful rabbis who lead it was less than enthusiastic.
Orthodox rabbi Yuval Sherlow, quoted by Reuters speaking on Israel radio, said: "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."