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Cannabis Was Burned During Worship by Ancient Israelites, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 29, 2020   

The shrine, as reconstructed in the Israel Museum (Image credit: Collection of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

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Worshippers in ancient Israel burned cannabis during their religious rituals, an archaeological study has found.

After analysing two altars discovered at the entrance to a shrine at Tel Arad in the Beer-sheba Valley, Israel, researchers found remains of cannabis and frankincense.

The researchers believe these substances date back more than 2,700 years and were burned in order to induce a high among worshippers.

Back in the old days

Published in the journal Tel Aviv, the study provides some of the first evidence of psychotropic drugs being used in early Jewish worship.

“This is the first time that cannabis has been identified in the Ancient Near East,” Eran Arie, a curator at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

“Its use in the shrine must have played a central role in the cultic rituals performed there.”

Arie and his colleagues believe the cannabis was likely brought from afar and mixed with animal dung to help it burn.

The larger altar found in the temple contained traces of resin of Boswellia trees, commonly known as frankincense. This was mixed with animal fat to promote evaporation.

Thanks in part to the dry climate, the remains of these burnt offerings were preserved on top of both altars.


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