THE ROOTS OF KANEH-BOSM
The first solid evidence of the Hebrew use of cannabis was established in 1936 by Sula Benet, a little known Polish etymologist from the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw.’
The word cannabis was generally thought to be of Scythian origin, but Benet showed that it has a much earlier origin in Semitic languages like Hebrew, and that it appears several times throughout the Old Testament. Benet explained that “in the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament there are references to hemp, both as incense, which was an integral part of religious celebration, and as an intoxicant.”
Benet demonstrated that the word for cannabis is kaneh-bosm, also rendered in traditional Hebrew as kaneh or kannabus. The root kan in this construction means “reed” or “hemp”, while bosm means “aromatic”. This word appears five times in the Old Testament; in the books of Exodus, the Song of Songs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.
The bolded Hebrew term “Kaneh Bosm” ( קְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם ) is in question and whether it refers to sweet cane, calamus, or cannabis.
1. Exodus 30:23
כג וְאַתָּה קַח-לְךָ, בְּשָׂמִים רֹאשׁ, מָר-דְּרוֹר חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת, וְקִנְּמָן-בֶּשֶׂם מַחֲצִיתוֹ חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם; וּקְנֵה-בֹשֶׂם, חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם. 23 ‘Take thou also unto thee the chief spices, of flowing myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty,
2. Song of Songs 4:14
יד נֵרְדְּ וְכַרְכֹּם, קָנֶה וְקִנָּמוֹן, עִם, כָּל-עֲצֵי לְבוֹנָה; מֹר, וַאֲהָלוֹת, עִם, כָּל-רָאשֵׁי בְשָׂמִים. 14 Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices.
3. Isaiah 43:24
כד לֹא-קָנִיתָ לִּי בַכֶּסֶף קָנֶה, וְחֵלֶב זְבָחֶיךָ לֹא הִרְוִיתָנִי; אַךְ, הֶעֱבַדְתַּנִי בְּחַטֹּאותֶיךָ, הוֹגַעְתַּנִי, בַּעֲוֹנֹתֶיךָ. 24 Thou hast bought Me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou satisfied Me with the fat of thy sacrifices; but thou hast burdened Me with thy sins, thou hast wearied Me with thine iniquities.
4. Jeremiah 6:20
כ לָמָּה-זֶּה לִי לְבוֹנָה מִשְּׁבָא תָבוֹא, וְקָנֶה הַטּוֹב מֵאֶרֶץ מֶרְחָק; עֹלוֹתֵיכֶם לֹא לְרָצוֹן, וְזִבְחֵיכֶם לֹא-עָרְבוּ לִי. 20 To what purpose is to Me the frankincense that cometh from Sheba, and the sweet cane, from a far country? Your burnt-offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing unto Me.
5. Ezeikel 27:19
יט וְדָן וְיָוָן מְאוּזָּל, בְּעִזְבוֹנַיִךְ נָתָנּוּ; בַּרְזֶל עָשׁוֹת קִדָּה וְקָנֶה, בְּמַעֲרָבֵךְ הָיָה. 19 Vedan and Javan traded with yarn for thy wares; massive iron, cassia, and calamus, were among thy merchandise.
The first reference to kaneh-bosm is the only that describes it as an ointment to be applied externally. However, anointing oils made with cannabis are indeed psychoactive and have been used by such seemingly diverse groups as 19th century occultists and medieval witches.”
Closer to Moses’ own time, cannabis was used as a topical hallucinogen by the ancient worshippers of Asherah, the Queen of Heaven. Asherah has also been referred to as the Hebrew Goddess.'”
The shamanistic Ashera priestesses of pre-reformation Jerusalem mixed cannabis resins with those from myrrh, balsam, frankincense, and perfumes, and then anointed their skins with the mixture as well as burned it.'”
THEN THE LORD SAID TO MOSES, “TAKE THE FOLLOWING FINE SPICES: 500 SHEKELS OF LIQUID MYRRH, HALF AS MUCH OF FRAGRANT CINNAMON, 250 SHEKELS OF KANNABOSM, 500 SHEKELS OF CASSIA – ALL ACCORDING TO THE SANCTUARY SHEKEL – AND A HIND OF OLIVE OIL. MAKE THESE INTO MAKE THESE INTO A SACRED ANNOITING OIL, A FRAGRANT BLEND, THE WORK OF A PERFUMER. IT WILL BE THE SACRED ANNOITING OIL.
THEN USE IT TO ANOINT THE TENT OF THE MEETING, THE ARK OF THE TESTIMONY, THE TABLE AND ALL ITS ARTICLES, THE LAMPSTAND AND ITS ACCESSORIES, THE ALTAR OF INCENSE, THE ALTAR OF
BURNT OFFERING AND ALL ITS UTENSILS, AND THE BASIN WITH ITS STAND. YOU SHALL CONSECRATE THEM SO THEY WILL BE MOST HOLY, AND WHATEVER TOUCHES THEM WILL BE HOLY.
ANOINT AARON AND HIS SONS AND CONSECRATE THEM SO THEY MAY SERVE ME AS PREISTS. SAY TO THE ISRAELITES, “THIS IS TO BE MY SACRED ANOINTING OIL FOR THE GENERATIONS TO COME. DO NOT POUR IT ON MEN’S BODIES AND DO NOT MAKE ANY OIL WITH THE SAME FORMULA. IT IS SACRED, AND YOU ARE TO CONSIDER IT SACRED. WHOEVER MAKES PERFUME LIKE IT AND WHOEVER PUTS IT ON ANYONE OTHER THAN A PREIST MUST BE CUT OFF FROM HIS PEOPLE.”
The next Biblical account of cannabis comes under the name kaneh and appears in relation to King Solomon. In Solomon’s Song of Songs, one of the most beautifully written pieces in the Old Testament, Solomon mentions kaneh in describing his bride.
COME WITH ME FROM LEBANON, MY BRIDE, COME WITH ME FROM LEBANON. DESCEND FROM THE CREST OF AMANA, FROM THE TOP OF SENIR, THE SUMMIT OF HERMON. . .
HOW DELIGHTFUL IS YOUR LOVE, MY SISTER, MY BRIDE! HOW MUCH MORE PLEASING IS YOUR LOVE THAN WINE, AND THE FRAGRANCE OF YOUR OINTMENT THAN ANY SPICE!. . .
THE FRAGRANCE OF YOUR GARMENTS IS LIKE THAT OF LEBANON. . .
YOUR PLANTS ARE AN ORCHARD OF POMEGRANATES WITH CHOICE FRUITS, WITH HENNA AND NARD, NARD AND SAFFRON, KANEH AND CINNAMON, WITH EVERY KIND OF INCENSE TREE.
SONG OF SONGS 4:8-14
The Third Reference to Cannabis
GOD WANTS TREES
The next direct reference to kaneh-bosm appears in Isaiah, where God is reprimanding the Israelites for, among other things, not supplying him with his due of the Holy Herb.
YOU HAVE NOT BROUGHT ANY KANEH FOR ME, OR LAVISHED ON ME THE FAT OF YOUR SACRIFICES. BUT YOU HAVE BURDENED ME WITH YOUR SINS AND WEARIED ME WITH YOUR OFFENCES.
The Fourth Reference to Cannabis
KANEH FROM A DISTANT LAND
The fourth appearance of cannabis in the Old Testament is in Jeremiah, by which time it seems that Yahweh’s taste for the herb had declined. In the same way that God rejected Cain’s offering of grain in favour of Abel’s blood sacrifice, the cannabis also is rejected.
What do I care about incense from Sheba or kaneh from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.?
The Final Reference to Cannabis
TRADING WITH TYRE
The final Biblical reference to kaneh appears in Ezekiel 27, in a passage called A Lament for Tyre. The kingdom of Tyre had fallen into disfavor with Yahweh, and cannabis appears as just one of many of the wares received by Tyre, the merchant of peoples on many coasts.
Both of these passages refer obliquely back to the story of King Solomon. The mention of Sheba brings to mind Solomon’s love affair with the Queen of Sheba, and the King of Tyre played a pivotal role in Solomon’s building of the temple.
DANITES AND GREEKS FROM UZAL BOUGHT YOUR MERCHANDISE; THEY EXCHANGED WROUGHT IRON, CASSIA AND KANEH FOR YOUR WARES.
So what’s the moral of all this?