“And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking.” Thus the book of Exodus describes the impressive moment of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
The “perceiving of the voices” has been interpreted endlessly since these words were first written. When Professor Benny Shanon, professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads the verse, he recalls a powerful hallucinatory experience he had when he visited the Amazon and drank a potion made from a plant called ayahuasca.
“One of the things that happens when you drink the potion is a visual experience created via sounds,” he says.
Shanon presents a provocative theory in an article published this week in the philosophy journal Time and Mind. The religious ceremonies of the Israelites included the use of psychotropic materials that can found in the Negev and Sinai, he says.
“I have no direct proof of this interpretation,” and such proof cannot be expected, he says. However, “it seems logical that something was altered in people’s consciousness. There are other stories in the Bible that mention the use of plants: for example, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden.”