Just 35 miles south of Jerusalem at the archaeological site of Tel Arad lies the only Judean Temple ever discovered, and just the third House of YHWH, the other two being the Elephantine Temple and Solomon’s Temple.
In the cella, or holy of holies of the Tel Arad Temple lies two limestone altars, one larger and one smaller. For decades, attempts to figure out what exactly the black deposits on each altar was came out inconclusive – until now.
A team of archaeologists made a dope discovery using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry and published their findings in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.
The tests, conducted at Israel’s Hebrew University and Technion Institute of Technology, revealed the larger altar contained traces of frankincense. However, according to Eran Arie, curator of Iron Age archaeology at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and lead author of the study, their “revolutionary” discovery was on the smaller altar: traces of cannabis, or marijuana.
“Here, the official state religion of the kingdom of Judah was using this substance. We know from all around the Ancient Near East and around the world that many cultures used hallucinogenic materials and ingredients in order to get into some kind of religious ecstasy. We never thought about Judah taking part in these practices. The fact that we found cannabis in an official cult place of Judah says something new.”
Arie said the discovery is the “first time we see psychoactive substances in Judahite religion.” The analysis also revealed it was burned atop dried animal dung to lower its temperature for consumption to get high.
“Importing cannabis and frankincense was a big investment that could not be made by some isolated group of nomads, it required backing from a powerful state entity. If they just wanted to make the temple smell nice, they could have burned some sage, which grows in the area of Jerusalem.”
Arie’s report suggest use of cannabis was widespread throughout Israel, saying its possible biblical scholars don’t know the word the ancient texts used for the plants or the custom died out before Scripture was written down.