New Research Shows Cannabis Was Used For Religious Rites at Biblical Site

Examination of the material on two ancient altars found at the entrance of the ‘holy of holies’ of a shrine at Tel Arad in the Beer-sheba Valley, Israel, determined they contained cannabis and frankincense, as per a new article in the journal Tel Aviv.

Previous unearthings unveiled two superimposed fortresses, dating back to the 9th to 6th centuries BCE, which were located at the southern border of biblical Judah. There were some significant discoveries unearthed as well, such as a well-preserved shrine dating back to 750 to 715 BCE.

Two limestone altars were found at the entrance of the ‘holy of holies’ of the shrine, which played a major role in cult practices. An initially unknown black solidified organic material was found on the altars’ surfaces.

Cannabis and Frankincense Used in Cultic Context

Recent examination of it using modern techniques revealed that on the smaller altar cannabis has been mixed with animal dung to aid with heating, while the larger altar had traces of frankincense that was combined with animal fat to facilitate evaporation. These findings help scientists better understand cult practices in biblical Judah, suggesting cannabis was utilized as a though-out psychoactive to simulate ecstasy in the cultic ceremonies.

Lead author Eran Arie from The Israel Museum in Jerusalem said: “This is the first time that cannabis has been identified in the Ancient Near East; its use in the shrine must have played a central role in the cultic rituals performed there.”

Frankincense is originally from Arabia, therefore, its presence in Arad suggesting that Judah took part in the south Arabian trade before the patronage of the Assyrian empire. Arad offers the earliest evidence for frankincense in a clear cultic context, mentioned as a part of the incense that was burned in the Temple of Jerusalem for its nice aroma.

The ‘fortress mound’ of Tel Arad in the Beer-sheba Valley in southern Israel was excavated more than 50 years ago under the led of the late TAU Professor Yohanan Aharoni.

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