As the day of Jesus' birth sweeps across the land, a sect of Christians will be celebrating with more than Christmas trees. A rising tide of Christians not only smoke pot, but think Jesus used the drug. They're gaining mainstream legitimacy, challenging religious and political dogma, and sometimes going to jail for their faith in unprecedented numbers. Sure, Jesus rocked some sandals, a beard, robes, and a message of everlasting love, but did he round out his hippie persona with dope?
According to pot historian Chris Bennett's chapter on "Early/Ancient History" in Dr. Julie Holland's The Pot Book (Park Street Press, 2010), Jesus didn't smoke pot, he rubbed it on people in the form of medicinal holy oil. Archaeological evidence shows Mesopotamia had been rife with the stuff since the time of the Assyrians until four hundred years after Jesus' death. Through a strange story of linguistics, being a Christian literally means 'a person with pot oil smeared over their face,' Bennett said.
Bennett's a self-described Vancouver stoner/surfer-turned-hemp activist and weed historian. In short, he has a credibility problem. But the 48-year-old high school drop-out has become a leading authority on the topic. He's published three books, one with Neal McQueen, who speaks ancient Hebrew and is getting a Ph.D in Religious Studies. C.Scott Littleton, former professor at Occidental College, blurbed his last book as follows:
"As Chris Bennett amply demonstrates in this seminal book, the ritual use of cannabis has a very long history. It extends from Vedic India in the second millennium, B.C.E., where the hallucinogen in question was known as Soma, classical Greece, ancient Israel where it appears as keneh bosem. ... I heartily recommend Bennett's book to anyone seeking a better understanding of this well-nigh universal, albeit all too often misunderstood hallucinogen and its crucial role in the history of human spirituality."
The King James Bible doesn't contain any of this stuff for two reasons: a mistranslation from Hebrew to Greek by Alexander the Great's people; and Constantine's suppression of the Gnostic Gospels. Bennett points to Polish comparative etymologist Sula Benet, who discovered in 1936 that the original Hebrew word keneh bosem, literally "sweet cane," had been mistranslated as "calamus." Versions of the Hebrew word "keneh bosem" appear five times in the original Hebrew Old Testament. Moses made holy oil with it and preached underneath its spell, Bennett says.
Working with McQueen on Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible, Bennett says the two found lost references to Jesus' use of pot oil in the Gnostic Gospels. In the Acts of Thomas and elsewhere there are references to Jesus' "unguent box" and "pouch of medicine." These books were cut when Constantine consolidated Christianity under one book. Only the Gnostic Book of Revelations — where plant medicine is considered a form of sorcery — made the cut. Ever since, fundamentalist Christians have waged a war against the "devil" weed. All of these suppressed texts have since come out through leading scholars like Elaine Pagels.
Bennett said a pot doctor Jesus makes more sense than a deity Jesus. Son of God pulls a lot of lightweight miracles like treating skin lesions, stomach problems, menstrual issues, eye problems, epilepsy and asthma, all of which respond to cannabis therapies. "These theories that he was performing supernatural miracles, I just kind of think that's just less believable than the idea that it was knowledge of plants like other cultures, where use of plants was considered spiritual," he said.
The ancient Jews had a love-hate relationship with the tall, fragrant cane stalks of hemp, according to the original Old Testament. First Jehovah spoke to Moses through it, but later Jehovah rejected sacrifices with pot-infused oil because of its foreign roots. By the time of Jesus' birth, pot use was restricted to royalty and Jewish priests like the Levites, Bennett says. There's no way to know who taught Jesus how to heal with pot oil, but there's a huge gap between Jesus' alleged virgin birth and the time he begins to minister. It's possible Jesus learned it from outlaw priests, Bennett speculates. Supplies would've come from traders along the Mediterranean coast. No one knows for sure.
Since the 19th century with French poet Gérard de Nerval, stories of chronic-tinged Christianity have grown. Rastafarian use of pot combined with Christian ideas started to flourish by the 20th century, and in the 21st, the Internet is now driving the debate, Bennett said. "The tide is always rising. I think that even if I drop dead tomorrow, god forbid, the idea would keep perpetuating and growing," he said. "It's the type of thing people scoff at and then they look at it and they go, 'Oh, hey, there's something to this.' It's not easily poo-poo'd."
Sites like Google Books are putting entire libraries online, allowing for new research and spreading news of persecuted chronic Christians. Hawaiian THC Ministries leader Roger Christie has become somewhat of a cause célèbre online after he was arrested on federal weed trafficking charges in July. Christie is being held without bail as a "danger to society" with trial set for April, 2011.
Bennett has also brought his own case against the Canadian government for denying his request for a religious exemption to the country's anti-pot laws. "I think sooner or later there'll be some documentary on National Geographic or something like that and they'll go into it and then the idea will really spread all over the place," he said. "Once it's out it's hard to put back in the bag."