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FRAGRANT CANE IN EXODUS 30:23
Rabbi Diana Villa

Question

Dear Rabbi,

What is the fragrant cane (qaneh besem, kaneh bosm, kineboisin, etc) mentioned in Exodus 30:23? I understand that calamus was a mistranslation. Is it the lemon grass that I've been reading about or is it cannabis? Finally, were there prohibitionist laws against cannabis in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus?

Respectfully,

Gene

 

Answer

Dear Gene,

Yehudah Felix has written three books in Hebrew that relate to your questions: Biblical Vegetation published in 1957, Nature in the Biblical land, published in 1992, and Spice, Forest and Ornament Plants, published in 1997. "Kinamon" or "kinman bosem" is definitely cinnamon. It was originally used for perfume and incense and only began to be used as a spice in the Middle Ages. The tree it comes from is the cinnamonum zeylanium, which can be found in India or China. Felix, in Biblical Vegetation, writes that the Biblical kind was from China. In Spice, Forest and Ornament Plants, he says it's the Indian kind. In any case it is cinnamon. Kneh Bosem is an expensive fragrance imported from far away lands. It's apparently a tropical kind of plant. In Nature in the Biblical land, Felix writes that Kneh Bosem might come from East Africa. Other possibilities are:

1) Cymbopogon Schoenanthus, found near the Sea of Galilee;
2) Cymbopogon Martini, found in India;
3) Kalamos eodes, found near the Sea of Galilee;
4) Acorus calamus, but the reeds are not hollow as a kaneh should be;
5) Andropogon nardus, a fragant reed from India.

In all my research, I found no reference whatsoever to cannabis, and I don't know whether it existed in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus and whether there were prohibitionist laws.

Sincerely,

Rabbi Diana Villa
mailto:diantami@netvision.net.il

 
 

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The Schechter Institutes, Inc.:

Box 3566, P.O.Box 8500, Philadelphia, PA, 19178-3566, Tel: 1-866-830-3321, schechter@thelapingroup.com

Jerusalem Campus: Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies:

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42 Chelouche St., Neve Zedek, Tel: 03-5170358, office@neve.org.il, www.neve-schechter.org.il