Altared States: Give Me Some of What He Was Having


Moses was just tripping.

That’s the theory of an Israeli professor of cognitive psychology at Hebrew University who seems to see in Moses’ epiphanies some similarities to experiences he had hopped up on hallucinogens in the Amazon jungle.

High on Mount Sinai, Moses was on psychedelic drugs when he heard God deliver the Ten Commandments, an Israeli researcher claimed in a study published this week. Such mind-altering substances formed an integral part of the religious rites of Israelites in biblical times, Benny Shanon, a professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in the Time and Mind journal of philosophy.“As far Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don’t believe, or a legend, which I don’t believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effect of narcotics,” Shanon told Israeli public radio on Tuesday.

Alrighty. As the cognitive psychologists say, “Let’s explore this.”

First, let’s examine the achievement we’re trying to attribute to smoking tree bark. Moses came down from an extended mountain retreat carrying a moral code that was unlike anything previously known on earth. It was concise, revolutionary, and established an ethical foundation upon which all of Western Civilization would eventually stand.

Now, I don’t have any personal experience with psychotropic foods and snacks, but from what I’ve read, most people who attempt better living through bio-pharmacology don’t come up with “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.” They come up with, “Let’s attack the neighbor’s wife because she is a bat-demon whose face is melting.”

Take, for example, author William Burroughs account of trying peyote in his book, Queer:

Horrible stuff. Made me sick like I wanted to die. I got to puke and I can’t. Just excruciating spasms of the asparagras, or whatever you call that gadget. Finally the peyote comes up solid like a ball of hair, solid all the way up, clogging my throat. As nasty a sensation as I ever stood still for. The high is interesting, but hardly worth the sick stage. Your face swells around the eyes, and the lips swell, and you feel like an Indian, or what you figure an Indian feels like. Primitive, you understand. Colors are more intense, but somehow flat and two-dimensional. Everything looks like a peyote plant. There is a nightmare undercurrent. I had nightmares after taking it, one after the other, every time I went back to sleep. In one dream I had rabies and looked in the mirror and my face changed and I began howling. Another dream I had a chlorophyll habit. Me and five other chlorophyll addicts are waiting to score. We turn green and we can’t kick the chlorophyll habit. One shot and you are hung for life. We are turning into plants.

Not exactly conducive to inventing monotheism, wouldn’t you say? But the Ten Commandments weren’t the only revelation Moses delivered out there on the plains of Moab. Moses filled the entire book of Leviticus with sanitary, dietary, health and civil laws he said he got directly from the mouth of God.

The civilizational guidelines were millennia ahead of their time and reflect scientific knowledge that wouldn’t be obtained, in some cases, until the 20th Century.That’s some mighty potent tree bark. I’ll have what he was having.

Or perhaps one athiest professor of cognitive psychology was still feeling the after-effects of some bad jungle mushrooms when he came up with that theory.