What was manna? Did Jesus use mandrakes? Can Christians use hallucinogens?


  • Question 214, from RJ

    A friend and I are doing a Bible study, and it has come up regarding what manna really is, and what mandrake was used for by Jesus. Also, have hallucinogens been used in any place by Godly characters in the Bible to achieve a better spiritual enlightenment?

    We are not interested or remotely tempted to test this theory! We are just interested in knowing what the Bible says.

    It is difficult to know what ‘manna’ actually was. Various theories have been proposed, for example, that it was a nutritious ‘crust’ that formed on the ground as the morning dew evaporated or it was some kind of fungus (see Exodus chapter 16, verse 14). It’s impossible to know as it was extremely perishable (Exodus chapter 16, verses 19-21) and no samples survive (although a portion was sealed in the Ark of the Covenant according to Exodus chapter 16, verse 34 and Hebrews chapter 9, verse 4).

    Non-literal interpretations of the exodus story may discount the existence of manna. Certainly the image is of a large group of people on the brink of starvation who may have been desperate enough to eat anything that was available, which may have later been interpreted as miraculous provision of food. There is no textual evidence to say that manna was a hallucinogenic aid to enlightenment and it was not used in any religious rites. It is considered a mark of divine provision in a time of dire need, reinterpreted by New Testament writers as a prophetic foretaste of the true ‘Bread of Life’, i.e. Jesus Christ (see John chapter 6 and also consider the use of ‘bread’ in the Lord’s Supper).

    There are no Biblical references to Jesus using mandrakes. The only references to mandrakes are in the Old Testament, where Leah and Rachel have a disagreement over them (Genesis chapter 30) and a passing reference in the Song of Songs (also know as song of Solomon) in chapter 7 verse 13. Mandrakes are toxic and can cause hallucinations. They have been used for a long time in various religious practices. There is a theory that Jesus was drugged using mandrake root to appear dead on the cross; this would explain Jesus’ ‘resurrection’ as simply waking up from the mandrake-induced coma in the tomb.

    The gospels are full of details regarding the crucifixion that seem to have been included to discount the idea that Jesus was simply unconscious or drugged when he was removed from the cross. Specifically, the way Jesus is stabbed with a spear (John chapter 19, verse 34) implies Jesus was dead. All four gospel accounts relate Jesus refusing a mild pain-killer, vinegar-wine mixed with gall, let alone any other drugs.

    The crucifixion procedure was brutal and effective – the Roman authorities crucified literally thousands of people each year and the soldiers in charge will have been experienced killers. It would be exceedingly difficult to fake one’s own death through crucifixion, even if a person was drugged to appear dead. In addition there are details of how the tomb was sealed up. It would be difficult for a person to escape such a tomb after waking from a drug-induced coma and still carrying the injuries inflicted by crucifixion.

    In conclusion, then, the mandrake theory is unattested in the Bible and is pure conjecture. It is one of many theories put forward to ‘explain’ the resurrection while denying that an actual resurrection took place. There are other theories that seek to do the same, many of them dating back to the early days of Christianity. The gospel writers do seem to include several details specifically to refute these alternate theories and ‘prove’ the resurrection happened.

    Finally, the use of hallucinogenic substances in Christian mysticism has not been common. Christian mystics tend to rely on other means, such as extreme self-denial, fasting and meditation. This non-use of hallucinogens could be due to a rejection of pagan practices that were common in the cultural environment of the earliest Christian communities. LSD and other manufactured hallucinogens have been used in more recent years by fringe Christian groups but have not been accepted by the majority of Christians. Visions and revelations received while are under the influence of any intoxicant or hallucinogenic substance achieve any traction in the wider Christian community very rarely. Many Christian groups have a strong anti-drug stance and would not accept any ‘spiritual enlightenment’ received under the influence of hallucinogens.

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