Was Moses on Drugs?
Benny Shanon, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has recently introduced a novel approach to interpreting the biblical narratives regarding Moses’ experience with the burning bush and reception of the Ten Commandments. Shanon claims Moses was high on some type of mind-altering drug that caused him to hallucinate and have “visions.” Shanon puts forth this idea because he says that he does not think Moses was involved in “a supernatural cosmic event,” nor does he believe that the story was simply a “legend” (“Moses Was...”, 2008), so he believes the events must have some natural explanation.
Shanon attempts to add credence to his claim by admitting to using mind-altering drugs himself. In fact, he explained that he used a “powerful psychotropic plant” known as ayahuasca “during a religious ceremony in Brazil’s Amazon forest” that caused him to “experience visions that had spiritual-religious connotations” (“Moses Was...”, 2008).
Such an outlandish claim as Shanon’s can be shown to be egregiously false for several reasons. First, the books penned by Moses, with the Ten Commandments as the focal point, are the most ingenious books of codified law that the ancient world had ever seen. They are filled with scientific foreknowledge and medical practices that were light years ahead of the knowledge of surrounding nations (see Butt, 2007). The depth of ethical understanding and legal justice presented in Moses’ writings have been the bedrock of legal philosophy and practical legislation upon which Western society is based. To attribute the Ten Commandments, which are among the most concise, cogent summary statements of law ever penned, to a drug-induced psychotic stupor is an untenable, irrational conclusion.
Furthermore, in order to attribute Moses’ Mt. Sinai experience to drug use, Shanon would be forced to dismiss the fact that the entire nation of Israel experienced the presence of God at Sinai. The Bible states: “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.... Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off” (Exodus 19:18; 20:18). There is no possible way that some two to three million Israelites could all have been smoking some “psychotropic” plant that would have caused them all to see the exact same hallucination. In Shanon’s attempt to dismiss God’s supernatural encounter with Moses, the professor has arrived at false conclusions that cannot be defended logically.
In addition, the Old Testament, especially the first five books of Moses, gives extensive and very detailed instructions as to how the Israelites were supposed to worship God. Conspicuously absent from these writings are any instructions pertaining to psychotic drugs to be used in their religious ceremonies. In fact, Aaron and the priests were specifically instructed not to drink wine or intoxicating drink when they performed religious ceremonies (Leviticus 10:9). It would be unreasonable to conclude that they could not drink alcohol, but they could smoke a plant that would send them into a state of hallucination.
In truth, there is no historical, logical, or rational evidence that would remotely suggest that Moses was on drugs. The historical truth is that God supernaturally appeared to Moses and delivered to him the Ten Commandments. In the scenario that Professor Shanon has presented, there is only one person that used powerful, mind-altering drugs—and it is not Moses.
Butt, Kyle (2007), Behold! The Word of God (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
“Moses Was High On Drugs: Israeli Researcher” (2008), [On-line], URL: http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080304/od_afp/israelreligionoffbeat;_ylt =AkpuHg_GDQDWrvVQZxWJKeoZ.3QA.