It's not only possible, but plausible that Moses' legendary encounter with the ever burning bush, his conversation with Yahweh, and the bestowing of the Torah could have happened to him while he was under the influence of DMT, according to professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Benny Shanon.
"It seems logical that something was altered in people's consciousness," explains Shanon. "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. The use of such substances, most of which fall in our contemporary Western culture under the label “drug,” has in many traditions been considered sacred."
Shanon argues that the acacia tree and the peganum harmala bush, both native to the Negev and Sinai, may have been used in a brew that the Israelites during religious ceremony. There is also frequent mention of acacia through out the bible and it was wood from the acacia that was used to construct the Ark of the Covenant. What we know now is that the native acacia trees are particularly high in DMT content and the peganum harmala is rich with MAOI, a DMT inhibitor which allows the DMT compound to be activated orally. The ceremonial potion the Israelites were consuming likely produced experiences very similar to that of ayahuasca.
2 And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a
flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked,
and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush
was not consumed.
3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this
great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4 And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see,
God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and
said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
-Exodus 3:2-4 Old Testament-
Had Moses partaken in the ancestral, ceremonial brew, it would have certainly induced a powerful, lengthy vision quest during which he could have experienced vivid hallucinations, revelational thoughts, internal struggles, and connectivity with the divine. A disassociation with the passage of time is also an experience commonly associated with DMT. Shanon suggests "that's why Moses thought the bush was not consumed. It should have been burned in the time he thought had passed. And in that time, he heard God speaking to him."
Shanon's argument, formulated using the old testament, is based entirely off of the assumptions that the events of the bible are true and that a man named Moses existed. Unfortunately, due to historical inaccuracies, the bible is not a reliable source of evidence. The possibility is still fascinating because of how consistent some of the passages of the bible are to that of experiences involving entheogens during religious practice. "Hypotheses have been around for 20 years connecting the beginning of religions with psychoactive materials," said Shanon.
Whether or not it was a person by the name of Moses, the tale of the Burning Bush is certainly a testimonial of somebody's experience. Considering the accuracy of the events described in the bible have been under scrutiny since the time of its origin, Shanon's hypothesis of biblical entheogens will likely remain yet another un-entertained theory of humanity's theological roots.
Published in the Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture, Benny Shanon's Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis offers additional evidence to support his claim and some more of the details of this argument.
Shanon, Benny. "Biblical Entheogens: A Speculative Hypothesis." Volume I—Issue I March 2008 Pp. 51–74. Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology Consciousness and Culture, n.d. Web.
Exodus 3 The Burning Bush of the Old Testament