Outside Subjects

As an erstwhile biblical scholar—the lines of time separating things are sometimes not easily discerned—I have to keep reminding myself to pay attention to those outside the academy.  That was, after all, the point of Holy Horror.  Academics assume that because they study a subject more deeply that only other scholars have insight into it.  Pop culture, however, begs to differ, particularly when it comes to the Good Book.  Far more people watch movies, surf the net, and read novels than ever pick up a copy of the Journal of Biblical Literature.  To learn what the Bible means to people you need to listen to people.  I had to remind myself of this repeatedly when finally watching Chris Bennett’s documentary, “Kaneh Bosm: The Hidden Story of Cannabis in the Old Testament” on YouTube.  I’ve never used marijuana, although I know many people who have, and I have no interest in starting now.  But still, this film led to a kind of revelation.

Biblical scholars, on their own, are unlikely to explore such “outsiders’” claims, like those who find references to cannabis in the Bible, do.  Clearly cannabis was known in the ancient world and people then didn’t have our modern filters of “the war on drugs,” or, as Bennett makes clear, prohibition, to tell them drugs were bad.  In fact, traditional cultures around the world believed natural hallucinogens were sacred, or at least gateways to sacred experiences.  Bennett presents an overarching revisionist view of the Hebrew Bible (including the Apocrypha).  There are many parts where my scholarly spidey-sense was tingling—one of the first things you learn in the academy is that connections have to be tested and retested and run by other scholars for their approval before they can be deemed valid—but overall it’s clear a lot of research went into this.

The academic heart that still beats in this weary chest says, “but wait, too many connections are made and it all fits into too tidy a package.”  The reason, I suspect, that I was contacted about this video is that I had written about cannabis before, and because I wrote a widely available book on Asherah.  And yes, Asherah is part of this tidy package too.  There are some very interesting ideas here.  While scholars argue about J, E, D, and P and their possible non-existence, others have already moved on to some interesting conclusions based on a fiery cup and its contents.  I was ousted from the academy for being too liberal in a conservative environment.  I have watched how the academy behaves for at least thirty years now.  It seems to me that we should pay attention to what those outside, who have larger followings than those in ivory towers do, are saying.

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