King Esarhaddon

Publication Year: 
2001

Image retrieved from assyriangc.com on October 2nd, 2013.

In the second quarter of the first millennium B.C., the “word qunnabu (qunapy, qunubu, qunbu) begins to turn up as for a source of oil, fiber and medicine “ (Barber 1989). In our own time, numerous scholars have come to acknowledge qunubu as an early reference to cannabis. “It is said that the Assyrians used hemp as incense in the seventh and eight century before Christ and called it 'Qunubu'” (Schultes & Hoffman 1979).

Further, the pioneering research of etymologist Sula Benet led to the claim that “The ritual use of hemp as well as the name, cannabis... originated in the Ancient Near East” (Benet 1975). Benet's research is in agreement with that of the earlier German researcher Immanuel Low, who also regarded the ancient Near East as the location from where the modern name cannabis was derived. (Low 1925; reprinted 1967) This ancient Assyrian name qu-nu-bu, is the phonetic equivalent of the ancient Hebrew name for hemp, q'aneh-bosm and the strong connections between the two can be seen in the similar ways both Mesopotamian and Hebrew worshipers utilized the plant.


In a letter written in 680 B.C. to the mother of the aforementioned king Esarhaddon, reference is made to qu-nu-bu, that give clear indications as to what substance was burning in the king's incense tent. In response to Esarhaddon's mother's question as to “What is used in the sacred rites”, a high priest named Neralsharrani responded that “the main items.... for the rites are fine oil, water, honey, odorous plants (and) hemp [qunubu]”. As was mentioned, the symbol behind kind Esarhaddon, which also appears in numerous other depictions, has “in modern literature on the subject... [,been] often described as the tree of life... but unfortunately no texts are known which describe in more detail the contents of these pictures” (Ringgren 1973). Scholarly suggestions thus far for the botanical identity of the Tree of Life motif have been that it is a completely mythical tree; that it is a stylized palm tree; and that it depicts a combination between the pine and lotus.

Like wise, not one single item from all of the existing ancient pictorial inscriptions has ever been suggested as an illustration of the ancient qunubu, which by all accounts played a very important role in both life and worship in the ancient Near East. Moreover, the use of cannabis is particularly tied to the rights, which are what the aforementioned inscriptions represent. This study proposes that the unidentified symbol of the sacred plant, and the undepicted plant for the word qunubu, are in fact a word and picture that describe the same thing---Cannabis, which was grown and revered as the Tree of Life in the ancient Near East

In the second quarter of the first millennium B.C., the “word qunnabu (qunapy, qunubu, qunbu) begins to turn up as for a source of oil, fiber and medicine “ (Barber 1989). In our own time, numerous scholars have come to acknowledge qunubu as an early reference to cannabis. “It is said that the Assyrians used hemp as incense in the seventh and eight century before Christ and called it 'Qunubu'” (Schultes & Hoffman 1979).

Further, the pioneering research of etymologist Sula Benet led to the claim that “The ritual use of hemp as well as the name, cannabis... originated in the Ancient Near East” (Benet 1975). Benet's research is in agreement with that of the earlier German researcher Immanuel Low, who also regarded the ancient Near East as the location from where the modern name cannabis was derived. (Low 1925; reprinted 1967) This ancient Assyrian name qu-nu-bu, is the phonetic equivalent of the ancient Hebrew name for hemp, q'aneh-bosm and the strong connections between the two can be seen in the similar ways both Mesopotamian and Hebrew worshipers utilized the plant.


In a letter written in 680 B.C. to the mother of the aforementioned king Esarhaddon, reference is made to qu-nu-bu, that give clear indications as to what substance was burning in the king's incense tent. In response to Esarhaddon's mother's question as to “What is used in the sacred rites”, a high priest named Neralsharrani responded that “the main items.... for the rites are fine oil, water, honey, odorous plants (and) hemp [qunubu]”. As was mentioned, the symbol behind kind Esarhaddon, which also appears in numerous other depictions, has “in modern literature on the subject... [,been] often described as the tree of life... but unfortunately no texts are known which describe in more detail the contents of these pictures” (Ringgren 1973). Scholarly suggestions thus far for the botanical identity of the Tree of Life motif have been that it is a completely mythical tree; that it is a stylized palm tree; and that it depicts a combination between the pine and lotus.

Like wise, not one single item from all of the existing ancient pictorial inscriptions has ever been suggested as an illustration of the ancient qunubu, which by all accounts played a very important role in both life and worship in the ancient Near East. Moreover, the use of cannabis is particularly tied to the rights, which are what the aforementioned inscriptions represent. This study proposes that the unidentified symbol of the sacred plant, and the undepicted plant for the word qunubu, are in fact a word and picture that describe the same thing---Cannabis, which was grown and revered as the Tree of Life in the ancient Near East

The reason that this connection has not been noted before may be due to the fact that in the Ancient Near East matters involving religious and technical methods were considered closely guarded secrets. Professor H.W.F. Saggs noted that texts dealing with such matters ended with instructions such as ; “Let the initiate show the initiate; the non-initiate shall not see it. It belongs to the tabooed things of the great gods”. Such holy knowledge was generally not written down but rather passed along verbally or was “written in a manner which was deliberately obscure...” (Saggs 1969). The image of the Tree of Life and its divine association with the king, as well as the use of cannabis as a holy incense and entheogen both fall into such a category.

Amongst the first to connect the sacred and unnamed tree in Assyrian art with the mythical Tree of Life, was Sir A.H. Layard, who described and commented on the symbol over a century and a half ago. “I recognized in it the holy tree, or tree of life, so universally adored at the remotest period in the East, and which was preserved in the religious systems of the Persians to the final overthrow of their Empire... The flowers were formed by seven petals” (Layard 1856). The “seven petals”, referred to by Layard, can be seen to be more likely stylized depictions of seven distinct spears of the cannabis leaves. Likewise, the pine cone-like objects held by the figures often surrounding the plant, represent the pinecone like buds of the sacred qunubu.

Behind the sacred tree and Esarhaddon in fig. 1, sits the Bull of Creation, while below are the early tools of ancient agriculture perhaps indicating an intimate connection between the three symbols, Carl Sagan has speculated that early man may have begun the agricultural age by first planting hemp. Sagan used the pygmies from south west Africa to demonstrate his hypothesis, as the pygmies had been basically hunters an gatherers until they began planting hemp, which they used for religious purposes. (Sagan 1977)

As the oldest known piece of woven fiber was made from hemp, along with the fact that the agricultural history of cannabis, extends far-back beyond recorded history, one could speculate with Dr, Sagan that cannabis was indeed the first crop of ancient man. Cannabis hybridizing, whether for narcotic or fiber purposes, is certainly known to predate recorded history. Indeed, with its useful fiber , nutritious seeds, and fragrant incense it could have easily been conceived of as a Tree of Life in the ancient world. In line with this view, are the words of the feminist Biblical scholar Tikva Frymer-Kenshky, which would seem to indicate an intimate connection between weaving and the forbidden tree, possibly hinting at a candidate offering both entheogenic and fibrous properties.

The coming of knowledge is stated very simply: “the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked”, a category they had not perceived in their childlike innocence, but, in addition, they are now able to sew themselves loincloths out of the available big leaves. Somehow the knowledge, has come with the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of all things. (Frymer-kenshky 1992).


Considering this fibrous and entheogenic connection of the forbidden tree, it is also of interest to note the ponderings of William Emboden: “The earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia brewed intoxicating beer of barley more than 5000 years ago; is it not much to assume that even earlier cultures experienced euphoria, accidentally or deliberately, through inhalation of the resinous smoke of cannabis while clothed in the coarse fibers of its stem” (Emboden 1972). As Harvard University Professor of ethnobotany, Richard Evans Schultes has commented: “Early man experimented with all plant materials that he could chew and could not have avoided discovering the properties of cannabis (marijuana), for in his quest for seeds and oil, he certainly ate the sticky tops of the plant. Upon eating hemp, the euphoric, ecstatic and hallucinatory aspects may have introduced man to the otherworldly plane from which emerged religious beliefs, perhaps even the concept of deity. The plant became accepted as a special gift of the gods, a sacred medium for communion with the spiritual world and as such it as remained in some cultures to the present.” We can be sure that such effects were attributed to the plant by its ancient Near Eastern partakers, just as they have been by partakers of the plant the world over.

Engravings from the time of Assurbanipal, another ancient Assyrian king associated with cannabis, also depict the sacred tree shown in the basalt of his father, King Esarhaddon. Professor Widengren postulates that every temple had a holy grove, or garden with a Tree of Life that was taken care of by the king, who functioned as a 'master-gardener'. By watering and caring for the Tree of Life, the king gained power over life (Widengren 1951. As a scribe of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal recorded in 650 B.C.: “We were dead dogs, but our lord the king gave us life by placing the herb of life beneith our noses,” (Ringgren 1973). This last points to an incense, and by its name, the “her of life”, we can easily visualize it as the plant depicted in the ancient stone engravings. Interestingly, we find that Assurbanipal's ancient cuneiform library contained recies for hashish incense which “are generally regarded as copies of much older texts” and this archeological evidence “serves to project the origins of hashish back to the earliest beginnings of history.”. (Walton 1972)

pp. 12-15 Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible by Chris Bennett and Neil McQueen (2001)The reason that this connection has not been noted before may be due to the fact that in the Ancient Near East matters involving religious and technical methods were considered closely guarded secrets. Professor H.W.F. Saggs noted that texts dealing with such matters ended with instructions such as ; “Let the initiate show the initiate; the non-initiate shall not see it. It belongs to the tabooed things of the great gods”. Such holy knowledge was generally not written down but rather passed along verbally or was “written in a manner which was deliberately obscure...” (Saggs 1969). The image of the Tree of Life and its divine association with the king, as well as the use of cannabis as a holy incense and entheogen both fall into such a category.

Amongst the first to connect the sacred and unnamed tree in Assyrian art with the mythical Tree of Life, was Sir A.H. Layard, who described and commented on the symbol over a century and a half ago. “I recognized in it the holy tree, or tree of life, so universally adored at the remotest period in the East, and which was preserved in the religious systems of the Persians to the final overthrow of their Empire... The flowers were formed by seven petals” (Layard 1856). The “seven petals”, referred to by Layard, can be seen to be more likely stylized depictions of seven distinct spears of the cannabis leaves. Likewise, the pine cone-like objects held by the figures often surrounding the plant, represent the pinecone like buds of the sacred qunubu.

Behind the sacred tree and Esarhaddon in fig. 1, sits the Bull of Creation, while below are the early tools of ancient agriculture perhaps indicating an intimate connection between the three symbols, Carl Sagan has speculated that early man may have begun the agricultural age by first planting hemp. Sagan used the pygmies from south west Africa to demonstrate his hypothesis, as the pygmies had been basically hunters and gatherers until they began planting hemp, which they used for religious purposes. (Sagan 1977)

As the oldest known piece of woven fiber was made from hemp, along with the fact that the agricultural history of cannabis, extends far-back beyond recorded history, one could speculate with Dr, Sagan that cannabis was indeed the first crop of ancient man. Cannabis hybridizing, whether for narcotic or fiber purposes, is certainly known to predate recorded history. Indeed, with its useful fiber , nutritious seeds, and fragrant incense it could have easily been conceived of as a Tree of Life in the ancient world. In line with this view, are the words of the feminist Biblical scholar Tikva Frymer-Kenshky, which would seem to indicate an intimate connection between weaving and the forbidden tree, possibly hinting at a candidate offering both entheogenic and fibrous properties.

The coming of knowledge is stated very simply: “the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked”, a category they had not perceived in their childlike innocence, but, in addition, they are now able to sew themselves loincloths out of the available big leaves. Somehow the knowledge, has come with the eating of the fruit of the knowledge of all things. (Frymer-kenshky 1992).


Considering this fibrous and entheogenic connection of the forbidden tree, it is also of interest to note the ponderings of William Emboden: “The earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia brewed intoxicating beer of barley more than 5000 years ago; is it not much to assume that even earlier cultures experienced euphoria, accidentally or deliberately, through inhalation of the resinous smoke of cannabis while clothed in the coarse fibers of its stem” (Emboden 1972). As Harvard University Professor of ethnobotany, Richard Evans Schultes has commented: “Early man experimented with all plant materials that he could chew and could not have avoided discovering the properties of cannabis (marijuana), for in his quest for seeds and oil, he certainly ate the sticky tops of the plant. Upon eating hemp, the euphoric, ecstatic and hallucinatory aspects may have introduced man to the otherworldly plane from which emerged religious beliefs, perhaps even the concept of deity. The plant became accepted as a special gift of the gods, a sacred medium for communion with the spiritual world and as such it as remained in some cultures to the present.” We can be sure that such effects were attributed to the plant by its ancient Near Eastern partakers, just as they have been by partakers of the plant the world over.

Engravings from the time of Assurbanipal, another ancient Assyrian king associated with cannabis, also depict the sacred tree shown in the basalt of his father, King Esarhaddon. Professor Widengren postulates that every temple had a holy grove, or garden with a Tree of Life that was taken care of by the king, who functioned as a 'master-gardener'. By watering and caring for the Tree of Life, the king gained power over life (Widengren 1951. As a scribe of the Assyrian king Assurbanipal recorded in 650 B.C.: “We were dead dogs, but our lord the king gave us life by placing the herb of life beneath our noses,” (Ringgren 1973). This last points to an incense, and by its name, the “her of life”, we can easily visualize it as the plant depicted in the ancient stone engravings. Interestingly, we find that Assurbanipal's ancient cuneiform library contained recipes for hashish incense which “are generally regarded as copies of much older texts” and this archaeological evidence “serves to project the origins of hashish back to the earliest beginnings of history.”. (Walton 1972)

pp. 12-15 Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible by Chris Bennett and Neil McQueen (2001)

assurbanipal, mesopotamia, hemp, cannabis, tree of life, agriculture, weed
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