Flashback Friday: Drugs In The Bible

With Moses demanding Pharaoh to “Let my people grow,” and Jesus gathering the disciples together to share his Last Upper, it’s a wonder nobody’s investigated this phenomenon before.
Flashback Friday: Drugs In The Bible
Mark Yankus

From the December, 1982 issue of High Times comes a positively unholy investigation from Dean Latimer.

The very clean young man stepped directly in front of my bicycle at the stoplight and smiled as though he had known me since nursery school: “How are you feeling today?”

“Cold. Wet. Very, very sleepy.”

“Have you thought about Jesus today?”

“I’m not your market,” I told him, adding the line that never fails to send them off to their paternosters or ritual murders or whatever: “I do dope.”

“Hey, that’s wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Jesus took drugs. Drugs are all through the New Testament. He said you shall have joy with your minds and bodies, and that’s what it means. Jesus was a revolutionary, you know. He wanted to turn everyone’s heads inside out, any way possible. Once you realize that, you start seeing everything in a different—”

“Police!” I bawled, looking around desperately. “This guy’s trying to sell drugs!” As he stepped back to look around for the cops, I flicked down into first and tore off right through the red light.

That turned out to be not an isolated incident, alas. The Born Again revival of the late ’70s picked up a terrible lot of dopers, it seems, who may have discontinued drug abuse in the first flush of spiritual renewal, but who then returned to their accustomed vices just as soon as they could conjure up a scriptural justification for them. There are untold thousands of them now, everywhere you go, and they can just jaw your ear off with these glad tidings of great joy, that you can do dope and be just as righteous and holy as anybody else. I get no end of it, of course, as a High Times hack. They’re always trying to convert me with their passionate sermons on the subject of dope in the Bible, and are always terribly disappointed when they find out the truth.

I happen to be already a tithe-paying Presbyterian, born once and for all. And though for a Presbyterian I may be extraordinarily tolerant, these scum I would gladly see burnt at the stake. The Holy Bible is a lovely and lively document, I know it inside and out, and what these assholes do to it—after they’ve gone to a concordance and looked up all the references to the word “herb,” for instance—is plain, bleeding blasphemy. Probably the only way to put an end to it is to openly publish, once and for all in the same place, everything that the Bible does say about dope. Here it is.

Wine: Secret Shame of the Patriarchs

There are blessed few references to drugs in the Bible, praise be—we can run through them right quick. Beyond the frequent citations of wine, the Holy Bible doesn’t say much about drugs in any context—healing, ceremonial or recreational. Wine itself is most often spoken of approvingly, especially in the New Testament, as a ceremonial adjunct, even as the Romish Papists use it to this day. But very early on, just after the Deluge, alcohol abuse is blamed for the first notable domestic squabble since Cain and Abel. This squalid incident occupies Genesis 9:20-25:

  1. And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard.
  2. And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
  3. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
  4. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
  5. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
  6. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

This would be merely squalid, except for that “servant of servants” penalty, which has stayed continuously in force from that day to this day. There are influential fundamentalists in this nation who believe that the sons of Ham—colored folks, that is—are natural-born slaves by this patriarchal edict, and these extremely devout Bible scholars voted in plenty of congressmen, and a president, in 1980. As for poor Canaan, his offspring populated what came to be known as Palestine for a millennium, until some of the sons of Shem claimed it according to this temper tantrum of Noah’s; and now the sons and daughters of Canaan live in pestilential refugee camps everywhere but in Palestine. And all because young Ham here was the only boy in the family with the guts, or the purblind innocence, to report that the patriarch not only had no clothes, but was an alcohol abuser to boot.

This section of Genesis, you see, is where the entire known world is parceled out among the patriarchs, who receive more or less secure hereditary titles to sections of it. Some patriarchs, like Ham and Canaan here, got disgracefully short-shrifted, and in every single case, the divine injustice thus committed gets blamed on alcohol. Parents are to be cautioned that this next illustrative excerpt, Genesis 19:30-36, may be considered unsuitable for reading by impressionable children, being pervaded with drugs and weird sex:

  1. And Lot went up from Zohar, and dwelt in the mountains, and his two daughters went with him… and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.
  2. And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
  3. Come let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father.
  4. And they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
  5. And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve the seed of our father.
  6. And they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
  7. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

And who were the children of this monstrous, gross, incestuous booze-addled coupling? Why, merely the patriarchs Moab and Ammon, who settled down where Jordan is today. If the world blows up someday soon because of territorial squabbles over the West Bank, it will be only because 4,000 years ago, old Lot got tanked up enough to screw, but too tanked to recall it the morning after and mix up an herbal abortifacient.

But wine is not an unalleviated historical evil in the Old Testament. When you get to the really heartbreaking parts after Jeremiah, once the once-fabulous Israelites themselves have become servants of the servants of the Babylonians, wine is in several places compassionately prescribed as an obliviant for the hopelessly desolate.

But only wine, mind you, no fancy stuff. The Book of Lamentations—a brief but profoundly moving little document that everyone alive really ought to read sometime before they die—describes an early form of absinthe, believe it or not, and counsels against its abuse by the wretched of the earth. Chapter 3: “He [God] hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood….Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.” We mixed up some absinthe here a while back, wormwood and all, a half-dozen liters, and it was terrific, but only in strictest moderation. The one time I did enough for a hangover, it furnished four mornings straight of simply exquisite melancholy; rather interesting for a creative artist, but you couldn’t possibly get up to go out and make bricks under the overseer’s lash, by the rivers of Babylon, in that frame of mind.

Interestingly, though, in the Old Testament wine is strictly recommended, when it’s recommended as anything but a dietary supplement, as a recreational obliviant. The prophet Isaiah specifically condemns it as a ceremonial adjunct, in his typically colorful way. His condemnation of the sottish priests of the tribe of Ephraim in Chapter 28 is as lurid and graphic as any vituperation that Martin Luther later expended on the alcoholic Romish clergy:

  1. But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment.
  2. For all the tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean.

As for cannabis, well, they do mention rope in the Bible, and any time you have rope you have dope—it comes with the plant. But since you can hunt high and low in both Testaments—as God knows I have—and nowhere find a single law against doing cannabis, you have to conclude that no one was doing it back then, not the Israelites nor their enemies. One thing you can always bank on is this: that if people take any sort of intoxicant for kicks, that intoxicant will take up beaucoup sheepskin in ordinance compilations like Leviticus and Deuteronomy. And that’s only speaking of intoxicants!

“Thou shalt not boil a kid in its mother’s milk”: That’s the sort of substance that gets controlled in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, plain milk. Those who go kosher to this day have a superstitious aversion to milk which is as violent as any drug taboo, as I discovered once at a Drug Abuse Conference at Grossinger’s in the Catskills, when I tried to smuggle a few liters of good old Presbyterian Grade A up to my room. There were at least a hundred people in that hotel carrying around methadone with them, but when word got around that a High Times hack had tried to sneak milk into Grossinger’s, it damn near made the late news, film at eleven. And why? Because 3,000 years ago, when Deuteronomy and Leviticus were legislated, the Israelites were non-milk-drinking pastoralists, and the unclean Canaanites and such, on their settled farms and in their wicked cities, loved the stuff. (If you do not pause here to meditate on the genesis of drug taboos in general, you are not being an intelligent reader. Shape up!)

So obviously no one at all in the so-called Holy Land was abusing hemp back then, not the tribes of Israel nor the tribes of goyim, or there most assuredly would be biblical laws against hemp. Instead, all we get is a very clear green light to employ any growing green thing under the sun, for any purpose whatsoever. Genesis 1:29:

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth… to you it shall be for meat.

Now, by all accepted rules of biblical exegesis, that passage there is as rock-bottom fundamental and permanent as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If you hold by strict construction of the Scriptures, then every law against cannabis, this herb bearing seed, is plain, bleeding blasphemy, a hawk-chuck of hubris into the face of Almighty God. Someone should bring this to the attention of Creation Scientists like Dr. Duane Gish, and ask them why, if they’re so blessed torn up that we don’t teach Genesis 2:22 in public schools—Eve’s cloning from Adam’s rib—then why the hell aren’t they just as anguished about all those blasphemous cannabis laws on the books? Someone, by God, should ask those Creationists this in court, just to knock them off their pins.

Their only plausible response could be that God rather quickly took it all back, on the face of it, with this Genesis 3 flimflam about the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Having once bit into this original mind-manifester, whatever it was, Adam and Eve faced a grotesquely altered environment from that day forth forever:

  1. Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
  2. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
  3. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Maybe only a Presbyterian would think this way, but all this Divine donner-und-blitzen seems to me to level a perfectly equitable, even economical penalty in exchange for the gift of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Would you rather be a mule, as the song goes? We’re simply condemned to work for a living, and to die, and to ingest the herb of the field in the meantime. Small enough price to pay, seems to me, speaking as one of the Damned; you hear different from the Elect, of course, those snotty bastards.

In fact, the enforced prohibition of herbs is consistently presented in the Bible as a truly horrible thing, and thus a fitting fate for the adversaries of God and His Chosen. I understand certain Born Agains are all aslaver to paraquat the whole Pacific Coast from the Cascades to San Francisco Bay, herbiciding the hell out of every last herb bearing seed there. They could probably sell the project to the Sacramento legislators easily, if they only knew where to look: videlicet, Isaiah’s loin-girdling sermon to the Children of Israel in Chapter 42:

  1. I have long time holden my peace; I have been still, and refrained myself; now will I cry like a travailing woman; I will destroy and devour at once.
  2. I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and I will dry up the pools.

By golly, that passage is tailored for the Born Again New Right! This long-suffering Deity, goaded beyond patience by the wicked, effete, citified and arrogant Babylonians, condones not merely herbicide, but a comprehensive desolation of the environment as thorough and efficient as any Born Again-sponsored industrial construction scam. Like James Watt says, what’s to worry about the environment, here in the Final Days and all?

There is this one problem though: Despite all these glorious revelations and prophecies and loin-girdling sermons from Isaiah, the Children of Israel just got their asses kicked bad in the subsequent hostilities. It could be that Isaiah fibbed about the herb part, and God got back at him for it.

Mandrake the Magnificent

Besides wormwood and wine, the only intoxicating substance that is specifically mentioned in the Holy Bible, either section, is mandrake: Mandragora officinarum, a wild solonacae flower which is chock-full of the tropane belladonna alkaloids, atropine and hyoscyamine and scopolamine. If you want to try it yourself, be advised that the aboveground parts of the potato and tomato plants are just as stony as mandrake, and so is any other “deadly nightshade” plant, such as jimsonweed; and Parke Davis, Inc., merchandises Contac over the counter, which is merely belladonna with the “legal stimulant” phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, added. All these substances (except PPA) fall under the general designation of datura, used by shamans the world over, from the Stone Age to Carlos Castaneda’s revolting Don Juan, to see things that aren’t really there.

In the Holy Bible, though, it’s recommended strictly as an aphrodisiac, which is passing curious. In low, Contac-type dosages, any type of datura merely dries up all one’s mucus membranes and conduces to a foggy-headed lethargy. In high doses it turns mucus surfaces to parchment, and promotes a delirious “waking coma” trance state that can go on for days and days. People go flying around the world with weird animals, usually large cats, and talk to their dead ancestors and their gods, while their bodies just lie there in one spot, flailing around and squeaking. Nobody I ever heard of who did any sort of datura at this dosage ever wanted to do it again, and I’d never do it myself except at gunpoint, even if the Born Agains did dry up all our herbs. It really can’t be a very pleasant high, or Parke Davis would have been in beaucoup trouble with the feds a long time ago. Think of the children!

The Children of Israel, from every evidence, were using mandrake at subcoma dosages to enhance sexual activity, but Jehosaphat only knows how! From its pharmacological properties—especially the way it dries up mucus membranes, as in the vagina—datura would seem to be the very last thing the witch doctor would order as a moxie-booster. Still, as recently as A.D. 1527, Niccolo Machiavelli was wisecracking about mandrake’s legended moxie-boosting properties in his vaudeville sex farce, La Mandragora. The plant has a vaguely anthropoform root, with bifurcated “legs,” and sometimes even “arms,” and it has plenty of weird mind-mojo, so Wise Men have always accorded it supernatural powers. To this day, in fact, wherever there are Latino botanicas, High John the Conqueror Root is still peddled as an aphrodisiac, so obviously people do still get randy behind it; but it’s damned unlikely they’d get randy behind Contac, which hasn’t got an anthropoform root.

It probably works this way. Devoutly religious people are notorious for having problems with their moxie, and many really can only perform efficiently when they’re a little out of their heads on something. For all its awkward antihistaminic and stuporous properties, a carefully measured mandrake potion probably would bomb out a devout patriarch, prophet or prince to the point where he could get it up and get off, without feeling terrible about it afterward—since the stuff actually promotes amnesia, unlike low-dose alcohol. Still, it’s unlikely that women, who need their mucus membranes slick for such hanky-panky, ever did the stuff. And the main biblical references to mandrake—from Genesis and the Song of Songs—appear to bear that out.

Mind you, the patriarch Jacob in Genesis 29-30 shows little enough evidence of needing a moxie-booster of any sort, at least not early in his patriarchal career. Having wandered into Haran, the fabulous Bronze Age supercivilization twixt the Tigris and Euphrates around 2000 B.C., he takes a shine for Rachel, youngest daughter of a certain Laban, and asks for her hand. Laban, however, flimflams Jacob into marrying the older daughter Leah, a rather inferior piece. “Leah was tender-eyed,” concedes the Good Book, “but Rachel was beautiful and well formed.”

Amen. So Jacob indentures himself to Laban for 14 years to win the comely Rachel, who ultimately comes to him, like Leah, complete with various comely maidservants. Amen and ahem!

And Jacob proceeds to pump the Ten Tribes of Israel out of all these ladies. Onto the tender-eyed Leah he begets Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah in brisk order. The gorgeous Rachel turns out, though, to be even as unleavened bread in this very important department. So presently she says to Jacob, “Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.” This subterfuge produces Dan and Naphtali.

Poor Leah, having “left bearing” herself for the time being, indignantly presses her own serving-wench, Zilpah, into service; and on her Jacob gets Gad and Asher.

After eight boy-children among three women—not to mention all the patriarchal effort undoubtedly expended on the beautiful and shapely Rachel—there are suggestions that Jacob may have pretty much out-patriarched himself. Clearly time for a moxie-booster.

“And Reuben went in the days of the wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, Give me, I pray thee, of thy son’s mandrakes.”

“And she said unto her, Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? And wouldst thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes.”

Bingo! Out of Leah pops Issichar and Zebulon, to round off the Ten Tribes at last. And she goes yet further, with the aid of the deadly nightshade, to furnish Dinah, the sweet moon-goddess deity who somehow shows up in all Bronze Age religions. The Greeks called her Danae, of golden-shower fame.

But Rachel, God bless her, ultimately scores some mandrakes of her own, and goads a twelfth and final effort out of the lucky old geezer: This one, Joseph, with his coat of many colors, cuts a rather bigger figure in scriptural narrative than all his eponymous brethren put together.

Now, I’ve heard no end of horseshit about these mandrakes from Born Again dopers, each of whom has some code drug for which “mandrake” was supposedly only a euphemism. But I’ve checked this one out with Orthodox rabbis who think in Bronze Age Hebrew, and that drug there is mandrake, and not some other damn-fool kind of dope. “Love-apples” is the raciest of its euphemisms, and “love-apples” are what they call mandrake flowers to this day.

Love-apples: “The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have saved up for thee, O my beloved”: the Song of Songs, Which is Solomon’s, the Shira Shirim.

This also says “mandrake,” and not some damn-fool other drug. And this, the Song of Songs, is a supremely erotic context. In fact, it’s a vintage Babylonian wedding ceremony, circa 550 B.C., picked up there during the memorable Captivity and brought back to the Promised Land after Cyrus let their people go, a couple generations later. It’s a full-fledged charivari, meant to be sung by the friends and in-laws of the betrothed while the happy couple Do the Deed, either right there in the chapel or somewhere within earshot. This one somehow wound up in the Holy Bible, with the Babylonian place-names deftly switched to scenic spots between Dan and Beersheba.

For Babylonish wedding ditties, it’s actually comparatively tame. The stuff archaeologists find on potsherds from Nineveh measure up well with all the vilest, spiciest libels the prophet Ezekiel lays against that ultradecadent cosmopolis: “My beloved is a jackass-buck, I am his jenny,” they tend to croon. “Let the buck’s penis be enlarged greatly, let it swell to the ruby tip, let the buck mount the jenny,” and so on and so forth. And they do lots weirder stuff than mere solonacae to whet their appetites, too.

Considering what it does to the mucus membranes, of course, we can assume that the dusky Queen of Sheba wasn’t on mandrake when she put out for King Solomon here. In fact, the Song of Songs has distinct baritone, soprano and full choral sections, and the soprano is mainly involved with administering aphrodisiac potions, not taking them. “I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house, who would instruct me; I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine and of the juice of my pomegranate.” (“Pomegranate” was slang for “pussy,” or so Robert Graves insists.) These soprano sections read like an erotic perfumery, everything smelly for the good of the lust: myrrh, camphire, frankincense, calamus, spikenard, a tasteful assortment of adult marital aids.

As for the baritone section of the Shira Shirim, this guy is definitely on something swell! “Behold thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s eyes within thy locks; thy hair is like a flock of goats, that appear from Mount Gilead. Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that is even shorn….” Being that this passage always read like hysterical gibberish to me until I first got laid under the influence of hashish, I am absolutely convinced now that this is out-and-out hash imagery. King Solomon nowhere says so out loud, but dig on this part: “How pleasant and fair art thou, O love, for delights! This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes. I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples; and the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.”

This is either drug-induced synesthesia, or somebody who was simply goddamn head-over-tea-kettle in plain old love sneaked a few verses past the filthy old farts in Alexandria who compiled the Old Testament—a couple hundred years after the poet was dead. Therefore, I personally suspect that some sort of ritual cannabis preparation was involved here, though there isn’t a syllable of solid substantiation for it. You sure don’t get that sort of imagery out of mandrake, is all.

Mushrooms: What Damned Mushrooms?

Forget about the mushrooms. When you hear Born Again dopers prattling about magic mushrooms in the Scriptures, you can bet they picked it up either from a 1976 book called The Magic Mushroom and the Cross, or from some other twit who read that book and swallowed it. This one is a double ripoff, of the Holy Bible and of R. Gordon Wasson’s exuberant Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality. Wasson, who died in 1980, spent his whole adult life tracing down magic-mushroom references in the Rig-Veda, in heroic sagas from Lapland, in Siberian medicine-man chants, pre-Colombian Aztec and Mayan codices and the Santa Claus myths, to mention only these few sources. Though this may sound like scattershot mycological obsession, everything in Wasson checks out, six ways to Sunday. About the only ancient myth-compendium from which he never extracted any magic-mushroom lore was the Holy Bible, for the simple reason that there’s no magic-mushroom lore in it anywhere.

The authors of this 1976 ripoff endeavor nevertheless to identify Amanita muscaria in every edible substance mentioned in the Scriptures. This they most commonly do by divining in each stray Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek food-term a Sumerian root meaning “mushroom,” and thus they discover white-dappled scarlet amanitas sprouting out of every camel-dollop from Dan to Beersheba. This is a truly awesome feat of scholarship, since no one else has so far been able to securely translate a single syllable of Sumerian. The Sumerians were in Mesopotamia an awful long time before the Canaanites, even, not to mention latecomers like the Children of Abraham. Their language, however it worked, had no resemblance at all to any Semitic or Indo-European tongue, and the Sumerians were all dead ages before Abraham’s Ur of the Chaldees was formally incorporated. Therefore, whatever they may have called their trippy ’shrooms, if indeed they tripped with ’shrooms at all, it’s exceedingly unlikely the terms survived the Flood and the subsequent toppling of the Tower of Babel.

Forget about the mushrooms, okay? It just makes us all sound dumb when dopers prattle about magic mushrooms in the Scriptures.

Opium and Jesus

“But what about opium?”

Opium is nowhere mentioned in the Holy Bible.

“It is so. They gave it to Jesus on the cross. It’s right there in every one of the Gospels. They gave him vinegar and gall on the cross, and that’s opium. It was so he’d pass out and pretend to be dead, so they could get him to the tomb and revive him before the third day.”

The Gospels mention vinegar, sure. They never mention opium. Or gall, either.

“Idiot. Haven’t you ever tasted opium? Vinegar and gall, dammit!”

Opium does, for those who haven’t had the privilege, taste decidedly bitter and astringent. But it’s not sharp like vinegar, nor nearly a tithe as stomach-churning as acid-indigestion gall. Opium tastes oddly like powdered Valium, only smoother: a slippery, pervasive blur of bitterness that fades quickly, and is not really at all unpleasant, once you develop the taste into a mental cue for the sublimity that follows shortly afterward. I much prefer it that way over smoking, myself, since I like the sustained mental high better than the instant-gratification rush. A lump half the size of a chick-pea under the tongue, dissolving gently: no way that’s “vinegar and gall.”

But ever since The Passover Plot, the disgusting notion that Jesus Christ tranked himself out with opium, at the ultimate moment of his Passion, has become a broadly accepted pop superstition. It was decisively exploded only seconds after the book came out in 1965—and this was at the peak of “fashionable irreligiosity,” the heyday of the intellectual God-ls-Dead fad—but now it’s back on us in force, especially in dope circles.

It’s inconceivable, really. How can these Born Agains possibly accept Christ as their personal Savior, if they believe he weaseled through his final Passion with the aid of a little dope? If the guy didn’t croak and come back from the dead, then he’s just Jesus of Nazareth, no better or worse than you or me. You simply cannot have this one both ways, or so at least we learned in Presbyterian Youth Fellowship Summer Camp. But the times, maybe they have a-changed since Bob Dylan took up the Cross. After that, any lunatic blasphemy may now be permitted for all I know.

Consider the Gospels, then. They’re really all we have, and the most strictly journalistic of them—Luke—doesn’t mention this gall-and-vinegar business at all. None of them, for that matter, mentions gall. The case is already pretty thin.

Jesus of Nazareth, they all agree, on the day before Passover, was handed over by the Jewish Sanhedrin of Jerusalem to the Roman occupation army for execution, and was duly crucified. They crucified him. They stretched him out on his back on a cross, nailed his wrists and feet to it and hoisted it up vertical, with nothing to brace his butt on but a little round peg.

The genius of crucifixion, as a mode of capital punishment, was that your body would not let you die, for quite a long time. You were suspended in such a position that, if you relaxed just a little, your trachea would fold over like a bent garden hose, inducing asphyxiation. For the first few hours on public display, if you were a stout and lusty felon, undoubtedly you’d haul yourself up by the wrist nails to keep from choking. But this would inevitably become onerous in the long run, even depressing, whereat you might reasonably opt for self-extinction, and let yourself choke to death.

But surprise! We are forbidden to let ourselves choke to death, thanks to the gag reflex. At this point your medulla oblongata would kick in automatically, without fail, and every time your trachea folded over you’d go into convulsions, gasping in the blessed breath of life, whether you wanted it or not. Depending on the carbohydrate reserves in your fatty tissues, this could go on for days.

(If we must have capital punishment, I would be pleased to see crucifixion reinstated. Strap the bastards to all the latest high-tech diagnostic gimmicks, and you’d have a terrific opportunity to minutely measure the activity of beta-endorphin, Substance P, ACTH and other unique emergency hormones produced within the human organism when subjected to extreme, inescapable, prolonged stress. People like me could make a bundle writing about stuff like that, if the courts would only furnish an “ethical” way to assemble the in vivo data.)

So anyhow, here’s Jesus hanging there on Golgotha—they all agree on that much. Hours pass, says St. Matthew’s ghostwriter, and then Jesus cries, “God, God, why hast thou forsaken me?” in Aramaic: “Eloi, Eloi,” et cetera. The Roman execution squad standing by, merrily sadistic as any foreign-occupation grunts from Apocalypse Now, fancy he’s calling on “Elijah,” and decide to have a little fun with him—moisten his mouth, and hear some more superstitious delirium. “Straight away one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.” And Jesus “cried again in a loud voice,” and he died.

Mark, secretary to St. Peter much later, relates much the same thing: “One ran and filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.” And he “cried in a loud voice,” and died.

St. Luke omits any mention of this incident. As a degreed physician, Luke may have had his doubts about the whole episode.

As to St. John the Divine, while nobody knows who this shady character was, exactly, it’s pretty clear he (or she, or them) was a crypto-Gnostic, putting all sorts of frankly un-Christian words into Jesus’ mouth. Just about anything the “synoptic” Gospels say about Jesus’ teachings is refuted in John, and vice versa, which is politically convenient for everyone. But as to this sponge incident, John is quite specific and minute:

“Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put upon it hyssop, and put to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar he said, It is finished; and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”

And that’s the total of the scriptural suggestions, three out of four Gospels, that Jesus swallowed anything on the cross: vinegar, and maybe hyssop. (But the hyssop is beaucoup unlikely, since it was a mint which was used by the orthodox Jewry to purify the dying, like Extreme Unction in Papism. It was the orthodox Sanhedrin, remember, that set up this murder of Our Lord in the first place!) In Aramaic, it’s true that “vinegar” in 30-odd A.D. was a slang term for a brand of vile skid-row wine, but chances are it was plain vinegar. Palestine was hardship duty for colonial Roman grunts, they were always being offed by guerrilla zealots like Barabbas and his goons, and the colonial office’s procurator was always some sleazy office-seeker like Pilate, playing political games with the Sanhedrin. If you want a graphic description of what a zoo the Holy Land was then—much like today, all told—read The Jewish Wars by Flavius Josephus. If you, as a bored and pissed-off colonial legionnaire, had a chance to stuff a sponge full of vinegar into a dying Heeb’s mouth, that was just recreation. Imagine the look on the gink’s face when he’d thought he was getting real wine. Sure as Diana at Ephesus, though, you wouldn’t give him opium. That’d make it altogether too easy for the villain.

What happens, after all, if you do opium whilst being crucified? First of all, it’s unlikely you could possibly suck enough dope out of a sponge to get even drowsy, under those exceedingly stressful circumstances, much less lapse into a convincingly narcoleptic coma. And if you could do so, you wouldn’t just pass out, you’d die within moments. Opium, like all downs, abolishes the gag reflex. If you’re hanging by your outstretched wrists, with your trachea doubled over like a bent garden hose, and your gag reflex is abolished by opium, that’s all she wrote. D.O.A. If anybody slipped opium to Jesus on the cross, they killed him with it. At that point, this would have been a consummation so devoutly to be wished, there’s no way the Romans would’ve let any opium anywhere near a crucifixion victim. They knew what opium was, and how it worked.

There is every reason, in fact, to believe that this whole spongia somniferum incident is a total fabrication, inserted after the atrocity itself, to fulfill the very crucial prophecy in the 69th Psalm, wherein the future Messiah guarantees: “They gave me also gall for my meat; and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” So the word “gall”—signifying some active poison, the rebbes tell me, corrosive and abrasive to the body—actually occurs in the Scriptures from at least 200 years before the epoch of Jesus. It never meant opium, and it was never even supposed to mean opium.

Opium is nowhere mentioned in the Holy Bible. Back then, opium was strictly a medicine, cultivated at one sole plantation way up the Nile at Thebes. Opium Thebaicum was Nero’s brand name for it. It was so rare that only top ministers of state and the incredibly wealthy had access to it at all, and none of them ever had enough to “abuse” it properly. Therefore, it was beneath the notice of the Bible writers, if not entirely beyond their ken, so they never mentioned opium at all, anywhere.

Opium and Jesus Reconsidered

Then again I could be wrong. Jesus of Nazareth and his gang had rich friends in high places with political influence, such as this Joseph of Arimathea, who bribed the body loose of Pilate on Passover Eve, and donated the tomb and all. Possibly he could also have scored some high-test opium Thebaicum, and bribed a guard to slip it to Jesus on the cross—it’s not out of the question. There’s still no way it wouldn’t have killed him on the spot, though, thanks to the gag-reflex phenomenon. So if Jesus really did walk out of Joseph’s tomb on Easter Sunday, it wasn’t just some flimflam involving narcotics. Think on that one, Jews! Maybe you did kill Our Lord!

There’s a possible way to check it out, y’know. There’s that weird linen burial-shroud in the altar of the Royal Chapel at the Cathedral of Turin in Italy. It’s been there since 1353, certified, and the linen weave obviously dates from at least a millennium before that. At one point, very early on, it was wrapped around the body of a six-foot Caucasian male who had been impaled through wrists and insteps, flogged heartily, pierced in the left rib cage by a sharp instrument and excoriated around the forehead and temples by something that could have been a circlet of thorns. The body outline is etched onto the linen in dramatic negative, obviously by uric acid, which is exuded from sweat glands in such abundance only under extreme, inescapable, prolonged stress. And the body was obviously removed from the winding-sheet within 72 hours after interment, or those handsome Caucasian features wouldn’t have been etched onto it with such daguerreotype clarity. It’s not just dopers who are absolutely, permanently and irrefragably convinced that this is the True Shroud of the Christ Jesus. If only those dog-in-the-manger Romish Papists would consent to snip out a couple square centimeters for scientific analysis .

It still wouldn’t prove Jack Shit, sorry to say. All the scientific analysis in the world couldn’t determine whether the body slipped out of that winding-sheet under its own power, or was removed, stone-dead forever, by other parties. And since no one, so far as we know, took any tissue samples from Jesus of Nazareth when he was alive and preserved them to this day, clearly labeled and notarized for the purposes of comparison, we’ll never know if the stiff in that sheet had been Jesus or somebody else. Any number of hedge messiahs were crucified in the centuries after Jesus, striving as arduously to fulfill all the Old Testament prophesies as scrupulously as Jesus allegedly did. If a condemned heretic asked the Roman grunts to flog him, crown him with thorns, nail him up and stick him in the heart with a spear, chances are they’d be glad to oblige, nine times out of ten.

And then there’s the likelihood of ritual murder. Some of those early Christian cults were weird in the extremis (check St. John Chrysostom or Eusebius sometime, for kicks. Check Iraeus, for heaven’s sake!). You sure couldn’t put it past a gang of them to have been kidnapping the occasional six-foot Caucasian, to put him through all the orthodox Stations of the Cross, even unto unwrapping the winding-sheet within 72 hours of the grand sacrifice. And if they came up with the occasional uric-acid daguerreotype on the winding-sheet, that would certainly be a relic worth hanging onto for a few thousand years, wouldn’t it? You could flimflam the credulous with it to the year A.D. 2000 and beyond.

Accepting for the sake of a swell punch line that it was Jesus in that shroud, though, maybe we could clear up this foul opium speculation with just a few shreds of it. Merely send them to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s elite Southeastern Regional Laboratory in Miami. Their master lab tech there could run the stuff through every space-age forensic technique from gas-liquid chromatography to neutron back-scatter, and if that six-foot Caucasian had imbibed a single nanogram of any controlled substance within a few hours of being wrapped in that sheet, you can be sure the DEA would sniff it out (or at least that’s the sort of thing the DEA guarantees us taxpayers). Of course, then Bud Mullin might feel obliged to report the Cathedral of Turin to the United Nations High Commission on Narcotic Drugs, or the International Association of Chiefs of Police…

Yeah, maybe that’s why those Romish Papists won’t yield up a snip of shroud for analysis. Too bad we Presbyterians didn’t get hold of it, we’d have settled it all long ago. We got guts, dumping purgatory and indulgences and all that chickenshit flimflam, and we’d damn well dump the True Shroud, too, if it turned out to be a fake. Ein Feiste Burg Ist Unser Gott!

  1. Interesting read but the entire basis of the article is flawed. They’ve found weed older than the bible in ancient jars like the kind they stored herbs and grains in which stands to reason it was consumed in some way.

  2. Interesting read. I am a (…Kid? I’m 34 now but still am like a kid, oh man…) who has kind of stumbled into Christianity more seriously the last few years, as well as grown my own poppies for the last few years. Before that, I was strictly into, I guess the more widely accepted medicinal plants like tobacco, cannabis, coca (when I could import it from Peru), and had long-since left opiates behind, in high-school, pretty much thinking I would never return, especially after very transformative experiences in college with mushrooms, which I later grew at home, and collected around town (psilocybe Cyanescens-group), and am now terrified of (mushrooms I mean). I have been a dedicated barefoot runner for years, as well as celibate and seeking to never ejaculate for over 10 years (as hilarious as that may sound to just about everyone, it has real existential significance), and all of my use of plants, psychoactive or otherwise, has been towards the cultivation and preservation of health. Anyway, I now include Opium Poppies in this category, of plants that I think are more intended-for, and beneficial-for, human beings than is generally assumed or accepted in our modern culture. I have yet to finish this article, but wanted to chime-in as soon as I read of your preference to orally ingest natural opium. I wholeheartedly agree and share that preference. I have never had reliable income or employment, and have spent much of my efforts in organic horticultural gardening-works at home and in the local community, as per my beliefs and desire to spread and showcase what is possible, but it has left me broke at this point. I live in suburbia with my parents, and have limited space to grow things, so have grown what I can, experience exceptional productivity via eating poppies during the season, but always run out, and gone through the dreaded “withdrawal” experience several times, and probably will have to put all of that aside until I can get to a home and garden of my own. I digress… back to the potential benefits and using poppies in the way I believe was originally intended for humans broadly… Poppies can literally be treated as a vegetable (albeit, one with powerful systemic effects, and to be approached with respect, caution, and calibration to some extent at least). The animals in the garden will actually show the way. Rats, mice, and I suspect many other creatures, highly prefer the seed and latex-bearing pods of poppies. When ingested in too-great of a quantity, raw poppies/opium will show the consumer, perhaps via its other constituents and alkaloids, by generating unwanted effects. Some people may like the experience of “nodding”, but for me it is frightening and not desired. When the dosage is right, poppies support a dramatic increase in quality of life and ability to operate in this human form. Mental and physical benefits to-the-max! I found myself running both before, and after (at the end of my day) any given day of ingesting poppies. This also kept tolerance from developing. I earnestly think we have a very distorted conception of Opium, and are missing out on a major potential blessing, that allows for a more full-flowering of many people’s potential, and resolution of many modern ailments. Perhaps refined, isolated single-molecule concentrations like morphine, codeine, thebaine, or their derivatives have usage in emergency-administration and in a medical context, but for the most part none of those should be compared or misconstrued with the original, raw, whole-plant form. I am terrified of potential risks, as anyone else may be, but I cannot ignore the obvious value. No one wants to be dependent on anything, but being incarnated in this context we may call “earth” and “humanness”, we do accept some context of dependence, especially on what we categorize as FOOD. Poppies are easier to grow than most foods, and certainly can greatly support and facilitate our efforts to work in growing other foods, for ourselves and beyond. There is great apparent value in these plants, that I seriously hope humanity will open up to, and try to figure out. Having access to poppies may not solve for us the mysteries of life and death, and our concern for the passing of people we love, but it certainly can raise the quality of our earthly lives, and ability to be mobile and present for each other, far beyond what many are currently experiencing. Thank you for reading. I may be a fool, but I am earnestly concerned with this topic. May we all be headed towards a brighter future of care and providing for one another, and no one feeling alone or left out.

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