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High on Sinai?

How do you explain Moses' hearing the voice of God from a burning bush which never burned up? Miracle? Myth? Parable? All a bit obvious really.

Benny Shanon, professor of psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has come up with something more creative: he was zonked. Shanon has extensive experience of the drugs used to give Amazonian worshippers a sense of the divine, and he has found the same combination of holy herbs growing in Israel.

His paper 'Biblical Entheogens: A speculative hypothesis', published in the journal Time and Mind in March, lists events in the life of Moses that seem to bring theology and pharmacology together.

The potent brew not only puts you through to God but can make time stand still - hence the bush not burning up. It can make you see snakes, so Pharaoh and his magicians clearly partook too for the rods-into-snakes contest. As for Moses meeting the Lord on Sinai, Shanon says, the fire, the trumpets, the thunder and the fear of death are all common side effects of these drugs. Though the Torah is perhaps a less common one. And the radiance of Moses' face as he came down the mountain? His face shone because he was off it.

All very stimulating to be sure, but rather mild compared to John Allegro's 1970 book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. It argued not merely that Jesus used but that he was a psychotropic mushroom. How much sense that makes probably depends on what you're on.