Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sula Benet, Kaneh Bosm, and the Amazon Women

Polish anthropologist Dr. Sula Benet (aka Sara Benetowa), whose 1936 doctoral thesis ''Hashish in Folk Customs and Beliefs'' won her a Warsaw Society of Sciences scholarship for graduate study at Columbia University, theorized that the biblical incense kaneh bosm, meaning "aromatic cane" was cannabis, mistranslated as "calamus" in the modern bibles.

Benet proposes that the term cannabis is derived from Semitic languages and that both its name and forms of its use were borrowed by the Scythians from the peoples of the Near East. This predated by at least 1000 years hemp's mention by the Greek historian Herodotus, who in the fifth century B.C., observed that the Scythians used the plant in funeral rituals, thowing hemp seeds on the fire and "inhaling the smoke and becoming intoxicated, just as the Greeks become inebriated with wine."

"Tracing the history of hemp in terms of cultural contacts, the Old Testament must not be overlooked since it provides one of the oldest and most important written source materials," Benet writes. "In the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament there are references to hemp, both as incense, which was an integral part of religious celebration, and as an intoxicant. Cannabis as an incense was also used in the temples of Assyria and Babylon 'because its aroma was pleasing to the Gods." (Meissner 1925 (II): 84)."

Benet continues, "Both in the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament and in the Aramaic translation, the word 'kaneh' or ' keneh' is used either alone or linked to the adjective bosm in Hebrew and busma in Aramaic, meaning aromatic. It is 'cana' in Sanskrit, 'qunnabu' in Assyrian, 'kenab' in Persian, 'kannab' in Arabic and 'kanbun' un /chaldean. In Exodus 30: 23, God directed Moses to make a holy oil composed of 'myrrh, sweet cinnamon, kaneh bosm and kassia.' 

"In many translations of the Bible's original Hebrew, we find 'kaneh bosm' variously and erroneously translated as 'calamus' and 'aromatic reed,' a vague term. Calamus, (Calamus aromaticus) is a fragrant marsh plant. The error occurred in the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, in the third century B.C., where the terms 'kaneh, kaneh bosm' were incorrectly translated as 'calamus.' And in the many translations that followed, including Martin Luther's, the same error was repeated.

"Another piece of evidence regarding the use of the word 'kaneh' in the sense of hemp rather than reed among the Hebrews is the religious requirement that the dead be buried in 'kaneh' shirts. Centuries later, linen was substituted for hemp (Klein 1908).

"In the course of time, the two words 'kaneh' and 'bosm' were fused into one, 'kanabos' or 'kannabus,' known to us from Mishna, the body of traditional Hebrew law. The word bears an unmistakable similarity to the Scythian 'cannabis.' Is it too far-fetched to assume that the Semitic word 'kanbosm' and the Scythian word 'cannabis' mean the same thing?

"Since hemp was originally used in rituals, it may be assumed that the Scythians spread their custom among the people with whom they came into contact. The Siberian tribes of Pazaryk in the Altai region (discovered by the Soviet archaeologist, S. Rudenko) left burial mounds in which bronze vessels containing burnt hemp seeds to produce incense vapors were found. Rudenko believes that these objects were used for funeral purification ceremonies similar to those practiced by the Scythians (Emboden 1972: 223)."

In her book The Amazons: Lives & Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, Stanford Professor Adrienne Mayor presents new archeological and DNA evidence for the existence of the once-mythical Scythian Amazon Women. She puts them at the funeral fires, inhaling hemp smoke and also availing themselves of other intoxicants like fermented milk or honey and haoma/soma, which may have been mead, cannabis, Amanita muscaria, other mushrooms, ephedra or opium (or a combination).

As Mayor tells in her Google Talk on the subject (which served as my Easter /Ishtar sermon today): whereas Ancient Greek women were confined indoors to sew and weave, Scythian girls learned to ride horses, hunt and fight with bows and arrows, and their women fought with swords and battle-axes alongside their brothers. Like men they could revel in their physicality, with freedoms including wearing trousers and choosing their own sexual partners. Mayor points out that burial mounds found in the Altai region housed both male and female warriors, along with weapons, hemp clothing, and "personal kits for smoking hemp."

Also see: What's Wrong with "Wonder Woman"

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