Image: "Moses Receiving the Law"
F.W. McCleave
In this 1877 lithograph, Moses is shown receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/12/2008 2:48:01 PM ET 2008-06-12T18:48:01

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, he may have been high on a hallucinogenic plant, according to a new study by an Israeli psychology professor.

Writing in the British philosophy journal Time and Mind, Benny Shanon of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University said two plants in the Sinai desert contain the same psychoactive molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca is prepared.

The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an “altered state of awareness,” Shanon hypothesized.

“In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings,” Shanon wrote.

“On such occasions, one often feels that in seeing the light, one is encountering the ground of all Being ... many identify this power as God.”

Shanon wrote that he was very familiar with the affects of the ayahuasca plant, having “partaken of the ... brew about 160 times in various locales and contexts.”

He said one of the psychoactive plants, harmal, found in the Sinai and elsewhere in the Middle East, has long been regarded by Jews in the region as having magical and curative powers.

Shanon acknowledged that he had "no direct proof of this interpretation" and said such proof cannot be expected.

Biblical scholars scoffed at Shanon's suggestion. Orthodox rabbi Yuval Sherlow told Israel Radio: “The Bible is trying to convey a very profound event. We have to fear not for the fate of the biblical Moses, but for the fate of science.”

This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com.

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