Suggestions have been made that the Dictamnus albus plant, found throughout northern Africa is a candidate for the burning bush. In the summer, the plant, also known as the “gas plant,” exudes a variety of volatile oils that can catch fire readily and may give the impression that the bush is burning. So was Moses witnessing the combustion of a mix of terpenes, flavonoids, coumarins and phenylpropanoids? An interesting hypothesis about the burning bush, but one that can be readily doused.
The plant’s volatile oils do not catch fire spontaneously, they need a source of ignition. Moses is unlikely to have been walking around with flintstones looking for bushes to ignite. And when the vapours coming off the Dictamnus albus plant do ignite, the flash lasts just a few seconds. Had the flash managed to set the leaves on fire, the bush would certainly have been consumed. So if the Moses really did see a burning bush that was not consumed, well, maybe he was seeing things. At least that is the opinion of Benny Shanon, professor of cognitive psychology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Professor Shanon suggests that Moses may have been having a hallucinatory experience. And he bases that theory on his own fling with plants that can alter consciousness. It seems Shanon was once invited to a religious ceremony performed by natives of the Amazon where he had the opportunity to taste a potion made from the ayahuasca plant. Off he went on a hallucinogenic trip which he described as having spiritual connotations! It isn’t clear exactly what he meant by that, but clearly he liked the experience because he claims to have repeated it hundreds of times, even writing a book on the subject. If it happened to him, it could have happened to Moses, he suggests, perhaps somewhat tongue in cheek.
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