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Professor Benny Shanon, whose book The Antipodes of the Mind investigated the Amazonian shamans’ brew ayahuasca, has stirred controversy by claiming that Moses may have been on a psychedelic trip when he received the Ten Commandments:

Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.

“As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics,” Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the “burning bush,” suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.

Now, when they say Shanon has “dabbled”, they of course mean that he has drunk the potent ayahuasca brew over 160 times (each of which normally entails a psychologically and physically demanding 6 to 8 hours minimum). There are certainly ayahuasca analogues in the Middle East (that is, plants that contain similar psychotropic chemicals as to the ones used in South America), but I haven’t heard of any hard evidence for usage in the Middle East. Probably worth getting a hold of the Time and Mind paper mentioned in the article to see what Shanon has to say about it all…

You can pick up Shanon’s classic The Antipodes of the Mind from Amazon US and UK. Thanks for the heads-up Filip.