The story of the burning bush and Moses’s experience with God is very well known but some people think the key to Moses’s religious experience was actually something else all together. Let’s examine the evidence.
Summary of the Burning Bush Story
For those who do not remember or may not know the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, here is the entire Biblical reference:
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.Exodus Chapter 3 1:6
In short, he comes across a bush that is on fire, looks around and hears the voice of God speaking to him from a bush. He seems surprised that he has spent so much time near the bush to find it still on fire. God then has an elaborate conversation with him, disclosing his plans for the nation of Israel.
What is DMT?
Also known as the “spirit molecule” or “hipster LSD”, DMT is a chemical present throughout nature, including in our own brains. Dimethyltryptamine, the technical name, is easily derived from a number of plants found throughout the world. When purified, it can be smoked, taken orally or injected. Unlike LSD and “magic mushrooms”, DMT leads to a nearly instant trip that is short lived and unusually intense.
DMT has become famous for a couple of reasons. One reason is that it is the first psychedelic substance to be studied since the 60s. Famously, it was studied by Richard Strassman from the University of New Mexico from 1990 to 1995. There is a wonderful documentary about his findings but, in summary, nearly all of the patients rated the study as the most significant event of their lives and the majority felt like they were communicating with a super-human intelligence, regardless of their religious affiliation. Strassman himself quit research entirely to focus on it because he felt that conducting studies such as that were not honoring the power of the drug.
DMT is also famous as being the active hallucinogen in Ayahuasca, the ceremonial brew used for thousands of years in South America, which originated in the Amazon. Ayahuasca also has something called a MAOI (Monoamine oxidase inhibitor) which slows the breakdown of the molecule in our bodies and allows it to be absorbed slowly, extending the experience to a few hours.
How would Moses have found it?
Since ancient times, the Burning Bush has been referenced as coming either from the Acacia bush that grew in the region or the a similar bush with the scientific name, Peganum harmala. In Islamic tradition, it is the latter but in Christian and Jewish traditions, it is assumed to be the Acacia bush. The Acacia tree is the most mentioned species of tree in the Bible, it turns out. The Ark of the Covenant is also made of Acacia wood. In either case, both species of tree are the two species of trees with the highest DMT content in the Middle East and are sometimes still used today for purifying it in illegal drug labs.
In fact, there are reports of people having a mild trip by smoking pulverized acacia bark, similar to what may have been practiced by this ancient shaman in Bolivia. There is circumstantial evidence that ancient Israelites may have been aware of its effects. A professor by the name of Benny Shannon at Hebrew University in Tel Aviv put out a paper claiming that the use of entheogens (psychedelics that have a spiritual dimension).
In it, he puts forth the case that MAOIs were very common in the region and there are Islamic, Zoroastrian and Jewish references to those plants as well as their infusion into a drink. He also argues that Manna from heaven may have been involved.
A more likely possibility is that Moses may have inhaled a lot of smoke from the bush, providing a noticeable spiritual experience. It would have seemed entirely out of the ordinary in a world where alcohol and common modern drugs are always manipulating our mindset.
There is no direct evidence, yet, that something like Ayahuasca in ancient Israel or the Middle East in general but other entheogens such as “magic mushrooms” were easy to find. Similar to the Oracle at Delphi, there could also be some geological reason for the experience.
There are also biblical references to entheogens, like this one:
And Reuben [Jacob’s first son, whose mother is Leah] went in the days of wheat harvest, and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them unto his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah: Give me, I prayGenesis 30: 14–15
thee, of thy son’s mandrakes. And she said unto her: Is it a small matter that thou hast taken my husband? and wouldest thou take away my son’s mandrakes also? And Rachel said, Therefore he shall lie with thee tonight for thy son’s mandrakes.
Mandrakes were a highly psychoactive drug commonly used in the ancient world. For now, we can only speculate but after Shannon’s research, other archaeologists are beginning to look for connections.