Opium Poppyseed Addiction in First Century Ancient Israel, a cause for the destruction of the Second
The Baetyl in the Broken Poppyseed Chalice
The above two coins were minted during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in AD 69. Note the elongated object in the cracked cup on the coin obverse, the photo below is what it should look like. There is no doubt the first coin is communicating a different message than the one pictured below. Now lets review history and see what the Jewish defenders, who were surrounded by the armies of Titus, are trying to tell us. PS, the reverse of the coin has fruits present and not baetyls.
The elongated object in the cup appears to be a stone baetyl. Baetyl is a corruption of Bethel meaning "House of God." Jacob erected a stone in commemoration of his dream of the ladder to heaven. This was the first "Bethel." The Herodian Second Temple was still standing when this coin was struck, so the meaning is not clear and we have to put ourselves in the context of a starving Jewish defender or priest against a large Roman army.
Baetyls did not appear on Jewish coins and worshiping stone idols or objects was forbidden under Jewish law. This is a clear pagan image on a Jewish coin before the destruction of the Second Temple, so we must concentrate on this fact. Baetyls were very commonly shown on the coins of the pagan world. The above coin obverse shows a Baetyl next to the Roman god Saturn, minted in Rome in 57 BC. These Baetyls are associated with military victories, medicinal healing, and worship as objects from the gods such as meteorites. Many of the coins of the Roman Decapolis displayed Baetyls after the destruction of Jerusalem. The Roman Emperor Elagabalus brought one to Rome from Syria and had a temple built for it in AD 220. He worshiped it as a god.
Coin from Tyre , Elagabalus with Baetyl and a medicinal snake.
Coin showing a Baetyl from Syria, note the solar eclipse symbol in the temple pediment.
The above coin was minted in Jerusalem under Antiochus IV. He placed a baetyl on his coins with Apollo. Note opium was used throughout the Greco-Roman world to worship Apollo. Antiochus IV desecrated the Second Jewish Temple in 168 BC. A Jewish defender in AD 70 would have remembered this terrible act. The below coin is from his father Antiochus III. See the opium tripod in the upper left with two poppies on either sides. The residents of Jerusalem clearly understood the pagan symbolism with baetyls, opium, tripods and Apollo. The Book of Maccabees describes the death of Antiochus IV in a manner similar to an opioid induced bowel obstruction. Much like Herod Agrippa I in another post.
We even see graffiti on the below coin from the time of the Maccabees. It is likely a Jewish defender "stabbed" Apollo with a knife on the reverse.
A modern Baetyl still holds cultural symbolism with objects from the heavens, i.e. meteorites or spaceships. It is also important to remember the account of Josephus in which he relates the voice of God or His Angels departing from the Temple and the "chariots in the sky." I disagree with the assumption that a desperate defender of Jerusalem would revert to pagan imagery in the hope of supernatural rescue. The next piece of information is critical in understanding the "Baetyl in the broken poppyseed chalice."
Chalice and 3 pomegranate buds on a silver Jewish war shekel
The chalice or "Omer Cup" is a topic of debate among Jewish historians and numismatic experts as to the meaning and symbolism. One area of agreement is the beaded rim is not meant for drinking liquids and the contents of the cup are not represented on the coins of Israel during the war with Rome. The reverse clearly shows three pomegranate buds. It has been proposed the cup is meant to hold opium poppy seeds. The beaded rim would allow metered amounts to be communally distributed. Poppy seeds have a prominence in the Jewish festival of Purim. It is a tradition that Esther fasted on poppy seeds as the Jewish race was threatened with extinction by the Persian King. This is how a first century Jew may have used poppy seeds in the war with Rome both from a practical and spiritual viewpoint.
We will now look at the numismatic history of the opium poppy on Jewish coins. For more information please see my prior post "Herod the Great and the Roman Opium Trade."
Coin of Herod the Great, minted in Samaria , Ancient Israel. Caduceus , symbol of trade on obverse and opium poppy on reverse
Opium poppy leaves on the military helmets of Herod the Great.
BOEOTIA. Thebes. Ca. 395-338 BC. AR stater , Palmyra Heritage VCoins
Clear indication of Greek influence of opium poppyseed container
We even see cut dried opium poppies in ornamental harvesting devices on the coins of Herod the Great. Faint seeds can be seen on the above coin coming out of the dried bulb.Unwashed poppy seeds are drugs and have resulted in opioid overdose deaths around the world today. Please Google recent articles in 2018 about the removal of unwashed poppy seeds from Amazon and Walmart due to opioid toxicity.
Breaking open a poppy head to get the seeds is messy.
Look at the nodal point on the stem and debris on the sides
One can see striations on the sides of the device to help get the poppy seeds from the non edible poppyhead pulp.
Dried unwashed opium poppy heads and seeds, are a very potent drug.
Poppies outside the walls of Jerusalem.
The Jewish people were very rational in the worship of their God which differentiated them from the pagan world. They did not traditionally engage in Hellenistic worship rituals with drugs, trances, or sex under good kings. If opium poppy seeds filled the Omer cups during temple rituals, did this change Jewish worship on some fundamental level? We know that the Second Temple from the time of Herod the Great became more progressively pagan and the drug culture definitely was present from the numismatic evidence. I find it likely Herod the Great profited from the eastern opium trade with Rome. It is likely that this wealth contributed to his massive building projects in ancient Israel. The Jewish defenders were some of the best soldiers the Roman army had ever fought against. Could it be opioids that leveled the playing field with both sides? The military implications of opioids and ancient armies must not be overlooked and Rome would have paid handsomely to any king that could supply this precious commodity. After Herod the Great, poppies disappear from Jewish coins and could it be that Rome took over the opioid trade with making Judea a Roman province in AD 6? Was the ministry of Jesus Christ responsible for briefly interrupting this drug culture that inevitably brought idolatry to dominate Temple worship?
The Omer cup is broken and cannot hold any seeds and is replaced with an overtly pagan symbol. The Jewish defenders knew their eventual fate under Rome. Death, slavery and the destruction of the Temple was the natural result of idolatry. This was well known since the time of Jesus Christ. Somehow I believe the engraver of this coin is relating the role of the opium poppy in the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Drug use during worship leads to paganism and severed the Jewish relationship with God. The Baetyl in the cup takes God's place. The drug culture likely contributed to the irrational zealotry that led to the Jewish Rebellion with Rome. It also likely played a role in the Jewish people not recognizing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Later, Rome was falling apart under Nero. The succeeding Roman emperors may have continued to fight each other and the Empire may have passed into the dustbin of history if it weren't for the First Jewish Revolt. The rebellion provided Rome an excuse to reclaim her narcotic wealth from Judea and to continue for another 200 some years till Constantine. The engraver of this coin gave this wealth back to Rome in the form of the "Baetyl in the Broken Poppyseed Chalice." The communication from this coin is now clear , what was in the Omer cup was replaced with paganism in the form of a baetyl. Drugs, that is opioids (poppyseeds), were the main factor leading to the Jewish Revolt against Rome and the conversion of Judaism to a form of Temple Idolatry.
One may ask why doesn't the Bible speak of absolute prohibitions for drug use and slavery. I think there are two good reasons, one practical and the other spiritual.
1. Speaking out publicly against drug use or slavery would attract attention from the Roman government and would likely get you executed. The economy was dependent on these two factors.
2. Jesus Christ was frequently questioned with "Catch 22" or no win scenarios. The questions of drug use and slavery fall into this category. Poppyseeds likely had significant medicinal value. Drug use is essential to relieve human suffering. At some level we are all servants and to brand all servitude as slavery only leads to rebellion. One can see "abuse" as the defining factor in the above questions. Idolatry leads to abuse because it takes away from our individual relationship with the one, true, and living Judeo-Christian God.
Prutah of the Jewish War, Chalice designed to look like opium poppy on the obverse, conical lid for poppyseeds.
Coin of Herod Agrippa II, Caesarea Paneas mint , AD 60
Photo Fontanille Coins
We even see the above coin as a plea for peace from the grandson of Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa II. The hand has a "thumbs" down posture while clutching opium poppies. In gladiatorial combat a "thumbs down" meant swords down. "Peace over poppies," five years before the outbreak of the Jewish War with Rome.
Claudius AD 50/51 Alexandria . Poppies and Grain Tribute to Rome, Note how the hand position is different than the coin of Herod Agrippa II above, the thumb is level
Photo Pavlos S. Pavlou, Numismatist
This brings us to the most important conclusion. The Roman General Titus reported, according to Josephus, " there was no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God," when speaking about the fate of the Second Temple. Propaganda or not this statement has had a profound effect on ancient Jewish thought and has given the impression to the Judeo-Christian religion that God abandoned His people during the Roman siege. The fact is the ancient Jewish people, at some level, abandoned God by the idolatry of drug use in the Second Temple period. The numismatic evidence is overwhelming. Note on the first coin the Jewish slogan "To the redemption of Zion" is carved over the baetyl. Was Zion to be redeemed from the effects of opioids? Was the Jewish revolt an "opium revolt" to take back the profits of this trade from Rome? These questions change history.
Four great articles on opium cultivation in the Eastern Mediterranean.