Tuesday, March 04, 2008

News Flash: Moses Was A Hippie?

"True scholarship involves attempting to remain objective. It means allowing the text and not presuppositions to determine one's conclusions."

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.)


Chris Weimer said...

Hey Michael,

I do not understand how you equate these quacks with mainstream historical-critical (if also secular) scholarship?


Chris Tilling said...

Moses was on psychedelic drugs? *Convinced*
*Doubts faith*
*Eats a dougnut to calm nerves*

Anonymous said...

If most biblical scholars take the stand that the world is a "closed system", then why do they bother to study the bible in the first place? If God doesn't somehow enter in to our world, what would be the point of any religious scholarship? Why would someone waste their life's work in studying something that God "didn't" say?


Chris Weimer said...


So are you suggesting that in order to study Classics, we ought to believe in Jupiter and Zeus? Do I have to believe in Anu and Re to be an Egyptologist? Sounds like a pretty weird idea to me. Why not be able to study the Bible just like any other Ancient Near East document?

Chris Weimer
U. Memphis

Danny Garland Jr. said...

Gee, it's too bad Shanon was on those drugs. God could have actually been talking to him and he missed it!

Maybe Shanon was on drugs when he was writing his article...

DimBulb said...

Dear Mister Barber,

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.

We must say, we find the hermeneutical methodology underlying this statement to be quite fascinating and enlightening. The possibilities this method opens up could finally resolve all the mysteries of the Bible!!! Indeed, we have begun working on some of them according to the profound wisdom that is ours in virtue of our status as a sci-fi movie maker and whatever the hell it is Simcha does for gainful employment.

No doubt you're interested in these theories. We'd be interested in anything we had to say too, however, we have chosen to refrain from revealing our findings at the present time; instead, we will reveal all on some third-rate cable station sometime in the future; preferably near one of the high holy days.

James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici

Chris Weimer said...

Ah, jeez, DimBulb...don't *encourage* them!

DimBulb said...

Mister Weimer,

Originally I planned to add a PS, but I forgot. Here it is: PS: Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to torch a couple of doobies and do some further research.

Do I have to believe in Anu and Re to be an Egyptologist?

No, but it might be very beneficial to the discipline if you did.

Michael Barber said...

Chris (Weimer),

I'm NOT equating mainstream biblical scholarship with these quacks--if I sounded like I was I should have been more clear. Obviously, this theory is WAY out there.

Nor do I think that one has to be a believer to be a good exegete.

What I am concerned with are approaches which rule out a priori the mere possibility of something taking place unexplainable by natural science.

I don't think that's critical scholarship--I think that is being closed-minded.

I think this theory exemplifies the dangers of methodological naturalism which I think is simply reductivist.

I know the post was dripping in sarcasm--that was for comedic effect, not for disdain for the historical method.

Thanks for your input.

Paul Cat said...

Moses being a hippie is an unsubstantial meaningless claim at best unless it can proven that Moses also was a tree-hugger.

DimBulb said...

Dear Mister Cat,

We humbly suggest that you take a journey to the center of your mind by dropping a couple of tabs of acid, thereby expanding both your horizons, and your knowledge of the Scripture. It is a research method that has done wonders for us.

To prove such a claim we merely direct your attention to Deuteronomy 20:19- "When you are at war with a city and have to lay siege to it for a long time before you capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them. You may eat their fruit, but you must not cut down the trees. After all, are the trees of the field men, that they should be included in your siege?"

We think that the above text is sufficient to prove that Moses was indeed a tree hugger.

James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici

Anonymous said...

Chris (Weimer)
I am not at all saying that one has to be a believer in order to be a good exegete. I suppose that you can study the Bible as if it were any other near East document. But my question remains...to what end? What does one gain by spending a lifetime studying a document that isn't inspired? I am not a scholar, so maybe that disqualifies me from the discussion.

Chris Weimer said...

Hey David,

To what end? The same end as one who would study Cicero, or Catullus, or Caesar. There's history, poetry, epic adventure, moral precepts, and plenty of linguistic fun to be found in the Bible.

Why do pianists study Beethoven? Why do poets study Frost? May I misquote Shakespeare? "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

I.e., I do not need to see the Bible as divinely inspired to draw inspiration from other humans!

Chris Weimer

Anonymous said...

I can appreciate your point. I can also see how my original post was a bit naive. However, either the bible is inspired or it isn't. If it isn't, then it is truly no different than any other "classic." But if it is, then wouldn't a scholar miss out on much of the meaning if he considered our world a "closed system" as Michael stated in the original post. So in the end, doesn't being a believer give an exegete an advantage over one who isn't? If this isn't an appropriate forum, I would be glad to continue a dialogue with you via email. You can contact me at coxxy_21@yahoo.com


Chris Weimer said...

I'll send you an email then.


kentuckyliz said...

Well, I know what to do now. I'm going to tear the pages out of my Bible and roll them up and smoke them.

*coff coff*

Good sheet, Maynard.