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In Honor of Hanukkah, A Look at Cannabis in The Old Testament

cannabis old testament
Written by Sarah Friedman

The cannabis debate is a long-ranging one, encompassing many topics from safety, to medical uses, to how the plant was used in history. While we can often get ourselves in a tizzy over disagreements, today is just about enjoying the lighter side of weed. In honor of the Jewish tradition of Hanukkah, here’s a look at cannabis mentions in the Old Testament.

Whether cannabis is mentioned in the Old Testament or not is an interesting and on-going question. Luckily, either way, there are tons of great products from this age-old plant you can take advantage of. Plus, with the growing cannabinoids industry, you can switch it up in lots of ways. Like using delta-8 THC, or THCV, or HHC in place of regular delta-9. We’ve got an array of holiday deals for you to check out on all cannabinoids whether you like vapes, gummies, oil, or something else. So go ahead, and get them while the getting is good! Make sure to subscribe to The THC Weekly Newsletter. Also save big on Delta 8Delta 9 THCDelta-10 THCTHCOTHCVTHCP & HHC products by checking out our “Best-of” lists!

Cannabis in old literature

One of the reasons the debate in favor of cannabis is so strong, and has prevailed so well, is that cannabis has been used for so long. Not every longstanding tradition is a good one, but in the case of cannabis, this longstanding tradition has shown an overall positive balance, with plenty of mentions throughout history, all the way back to ancient times. Most mentions are about medical and spiritual uses of the plant.

While we don’t have all translations for Traditional Chinese Medicine texts, cannabis has been identified in them, going back to 1,800 years ago, and possibly as far as 4,000. In such texts, the use of cannabis was established for different medical issues from controlling constipation and diarrhea, to use as an antidiabetic, to skin applications, to uses for intractable illnesses. We also know that cannabis as a tea was used in China going back to 1,500 BC. We know the ancient Egyptians used cannabis in 1,700 BC calling it shemshemet, and that mentions can be seen in a variety of texts like The Ramesseum III Papyrus dated to 1,700 BC, and Eber’s Papyrus from 1,600 BC, among others. Plus, we know that India has a Bhang tradition going back 1,000 years, which has been written about extensively in Indian texts.

We know it was an important part of ancient Ayervedic medicine in India in general, with texts going back thousands of years speaking of cannabis as a cure for diarrhea, as well as other gastrointestinal issues; as an anti-spasmodic and anti-convulsant; for nervous system issues; for skin applications; to stimulate the sex drive, or assuage unwanted sexual feelings; for genital and urinary functions; for respiratory issues; to counter infectious diseases; and for a range of other issues that essentially cover nearly every kind of ailment.

cannabis bible

There is no shortage of mentions of cannabis in ancient times, however the idea of religious texts are different. Whether cannabis appears in old religious texts will never matter to some people, but to others, it will provide the reasons by which cannabis should be accepted or not. As the majority of the world holds to some religion, arguments over mentions in religious texts are therefore not uncommon, and can create quite heated debates. While we could debate about it today, we’ll skip it this time around. Instead, in honor of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, we’ll take a look at cannabis mentions in the Old Testament.

Cannabis mentions in the Old Testament

First and foremost, when getting into anything like this, it’s important to understand that no hard and fast answers exist. Realistically, we can’t even agree on who wrote religious texts, when exactly they’re from, and how much truth value, or actual historical value they have. So while some people will swear by them, and live their lives by how they interpret teachings, others see such texts as nothing more than stories, with only minimal – if any – actual relation to accepted history.

Because of this, it really can be a contentious subject. However, as stated, today we’re just having a little fun. Maybe the upcoming mentions have real value. Maybe they were made up in recent years, and repeated enough times to be passed off as valid stories. Since we’re not looking for life answers right now, we don’t have to care.

One thing to understand about this topic – and a reason for contention on it, is that cannabis is not mentioned by any formal name in the Old Testament, at least not for sure. When talking about cannabis mentions in it, the first thing to know is that we often have to put together some pieces, in order to make inferences into what the subject matter really is.

Non-specific mentions of cannabis in the Old Testament

Some mentions are completely non-specific, but because they are general statements, they therefore should include cannabis. The only question as to whether cannabis would be included, is about whether its existence was known about for sure by whoever wrote the text. Like the following passage from Genesis 1:12,

“The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.” The line states that the earth grows plants. That these plants grow seeds and fruit. And that according to god, it’s all good. Unless therefore cannabis wasn’t known about, kind of seems like it would be included.

cannabis ancient texts

This is re-stated in Genesis 1:29-31: “And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.””

These are interesting mentions because they aren’t about cannabis specifically, but obviously apply to it entirely as a general plant on earth. Such statements – and others geared at those who do not accept all of god’s creations, can also be found in the New Testament, like in Romans 14:1-23 where it says:

“One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”

Or, 1 Timothy 4:4-6, where it says, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.”

More specific possible mentions of cannabis in the Old Testament

If we know that cannabis might not be mentioned directly by name, we can’t expect to see it clearly pointed out. But we also know religious texts can make points while not being entirely clear. As a plant that we know was used for medicine purposes back in ancient times, we can infer that some mentions could indeed be about cannabis. But its important to remember that they could be for other plants as well.

There is one possible direct mention to cannabis in the Old Testament, with the story being that it was mistranslated through time. Whether it actually is about cannabis is nearly impossible to say for sure right now, but it does create a very compelling argument that cannabis was specifically fingered in this literature. The theory has to do with the term ‘kaneh bosem’ being mistranslated to the word ‘calamus’, which is mentioned five times in the old text. In Hebrew, “קנה בשם” refers to an aromatic stalk plant which is meant to soak in a sacred oil. “קנה” specifically means ‘reed’ or ‘stalk’.

Translations can be tricky. Though several English words use ‘kaneh’ as a root, (most unrelated to cannabis), this root can be seen in other languages where it does refer to cannabis. This is exemplified by the “Syriac word ‘qunnappa,’ the Arabic word ‘kunnab,’ the Greek word ‘kannabis,’ and the Latin word ‘canabum.’” The ancient Scythians, who are often thought to be the first cannabis users, likely took the name they used for it from the neighboring Semitic region, which then became kanab in Persia.

old testament cannabis

What is this kaneh bosem?

The ‘kaneh bosm’ issue can be seen as either completely irrelevant to cannabis when mentioned, or a mistranslation meant to signify cannabis. The idea of misinterpretations runs deep, especially when even today, different translations can be found for the same passage. Here are some examples of the passage, Exodus 30:23:

In the King James Version (KJV 1900) version, it says: “Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, even two hundred and fifty shekels, and of sweet calamus two hundred and fifty shekels…”

The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) says: “Take the finest spices: of liquid myrrh five hundred shekels, and of sweet-smelling cinnamon half as much, that is, two hundred fifty, and two hundred fifty of aromatic cane…”

And in the The Lexham English Bible (LEB) says: “And take for yourself top quality balsam oils, five hundred shekels of flowing myrrh, half as much—two hundred and fifty shekels of fragrant cinnamon, and two hundred and fifty shekels of fragrant reed…”

Whether ‘calamus’ is meant to mean, ‘cannabis’, ‘fragrant reed’, or ‘aromatic cane’ is unclear from just these three translations (as well as what the latter two would actually refer to). Other translations make it even murkier. The whole idea of the passage is that it gives instructions to make “holy anointing oil”. If ‘calamus’ is a mistranslation of ‘kaneh bosem’, and if ‘kaneh bosem’ is a reference to cannabis, it gives the whole thing an entirely different meaning, and makes weed not only directly mentioned, but prominent in the Old Testament.


So is ‘kaneh bosem’ cannabis? Well, I sure can’t say. But if it is, not only is there a direct mention in the Old Testament, but multiple, including how to use it for holy purposes. Even if ‘calamus’ doesn’t relate to ‘kaneh bosem’, or if ‘kaneh bosem’ doesn’t relate to weed, there is still a compelling argument that mentions to all fruiting or flowering plants, would include this one.

There may or may not be direct mentions of cannabis in the bible, depending on the actual translations given. This holiday, let’s not waste too much time worrying about what an old book says, and enjoy the ability to just get high.

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DisclaimerHi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advise, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.