At one point or another all students of the Bible are told something along those lines.
However, as one continues to study one soon discovers that "true scholarship" also means something else. In many circles "true" scholarship means taking a metaphysical position. Now you might expect, given that students are studying the Bible, that this position would invovle something like the following: the natural world is not a closed system; the supernatural can sometimes break in and effect the natural order of things.
Such a position would be consistent with the beliefs of those who actually wrote the Bible. It would also be consistent with the worldview and culture in which the biblical texts were produced.
Unfortunately, such a position is not generally seen as acceptable for scholars.
Instead, students soon learn that "true" scholarship means accepting a very different metaphysical position. That position is as follows: the world is a closed system and there is no supernatural intervention within the natural order.
Make no mistake about it--that is a metaphysical claim as well. It makes a claim not only about the natural world but also about its relationship to the supernatural. Yet somehow this metaphysical claim is not only tolerable among academics, it is often seen as a prerequisite position for scholarly work.
Which leads us to the following actual news story relating the findings of one Israeli researcher:
No kidding, this has actually passed for "news" story. (Someone call Baruch Spinoza and tell him someone is stealing his press!) Here is the source.
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.
Moses was probably also on drugs when he saw the "burning bush," suggested Shanon, who said he himself has dabbled with such substances.
"The Bible says people see sounds, and that is a clasic phenomenon," he said citing the example of religious ceremonies in the Amazon in which drugs are used that induce people to "see music."
He mentioned his own experience when he used ayahuasca, a powerful psychotropic plant, during a religious ceremony in Brazil's Amazon forest in 1991. "I experienced visions that had spiritual-religious connotations," Shanon said.
He said the psychedelic effects of ayahuasca were comparable to those produced by
concoctions based on bark of the acacia tree, that is frequently mentioned in the Bible.
Now, let's see here... just who is it that is allowing presuppositions to determine their conclusions about what happened to Moses? Ah, yes, that would be me, of course, since I believed the account of Moses talking to God was actually about Moses talking to God! I guess I totally read that into the text. Whew, I really missed the boat on that one! Drugs--it's so obvious. I see it now: Moses was a hippie. My mistake.
By the way, I'm preparing a press release of my own. Newsflash...: "Professor Says Ancient Account of Moses Talking to God Relates That Moses Talked To God".
Look for the following related story: "New Claim: Researchers Who Use Experimental Substances Misread Ancient Texts Due To Poor Reading Light From Lava Lamps".
(On the right there's a visualization of what me presenting this post orally would have looked like. You should also note that David Currie is not impressed.)