About the Author
Richard Strassman, M.D. is an American psychiatrist who is probably best known for his DEA approved research on the safety of hallucinogenic drugs. Dr. Strassman intravenously injected several volunteers with n,n-Dimethyltryptamine (or n,n-DMT), which has been described as the most powerful psychedelic compound known to mankind. Dr. Strassman published some fascinating information about his research in his popular book DMT: The Spirit Molecule: A Doctor’s Revolutionary Research into the Biology of Near-Death and Mystical Experiences, which has become the gold standard for those interested in the idea that the pineal gland is the “third eye” of Hinduism and the “seat of the soul.”
More recently, in 2014, Dr. Strassman published a book called DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible. Dr. Strassman’s thesis is that proposed parallels between his research subjects’ DMT trips and the prophetic experiences described in the Hebrew Bible may be evidence that endogenous DMT (i.e. DMT that is naturally produced in the human body) is responsible for some cases of biblical prophecy.
This book has a wide range of content and there is a lot more to discuss than what I will present here. However, this review will inform you of Dr. Strassman’s main hypotheses, along with some important notes on how he handles the text of the Hebrew Bible.
About the Book
Dr. Strassman’s introduction to the Hebrew Bible and analysis of a few select Hebrew words is academically sound yet simple and digestible for the average person, which seems appropriate for this type of book. Also, for anyone who enjoyed the intriguing stories of DMT trips described by Dr. Strassman’s research subjects in DMT: The Spirit Molecule, you will be happy to known that DMT and the Soul of Prophesy has several never-before-published descriptions of his subjects’ DMT experiences. Unfortunately, these descriptions are mostly small anecdotes and therefore not nearly as exciting as the descriptions you typically find in DMT: The Spirit Molecule.
I really appreciate Dr. Strassman’s honesty about the methods and limitations of his hypotheses. It’s always refreshing to read controversial hypotheses presented in a fairly open-minded and non-dogmatic manner. For example, Dr. Strassman does not only show parallels between DMT trips and prophetic experiences described in the Hebrew Bible, but also mentions points of discontinuity as well.
Dr. Strassman describes the thought experiment that he used to interpret the Hebrew Bible in the following way:
“I suspended all disbelief and decided that the world of the Hebrew Bible, for all I knew, was as real as this one. I then could follow the various consequences of accepting the text at face value.” (Page 69)
He also adds the following details:
“My primary guides in this thought experiment have been the medieval Jewish philosophers, who lived from the ninth to fourteenth centuries CE.” (Page 69)
The problem with this approach to the Hebrew Bible should be obvious. Dr. Strassman submits a real world hypothesis about the relationship between endogenous DMT and the ancient Israelite prophet in the Hebrew Bible, yet his examination of the Hebrew Bible is based on a mere thought experiment and the commentaries of Jewish philosophers who lived hundreds of years after the texts of the Hebrew Bible were originally written. Perhaps because of this approach, Dr. Strassman entirely neglects any mention of higher criticism and other important cultural and literary aspects of the biblical texts.
Dr. Strassman gives dangerously isolated quotations of the prophetic descriptions in the Hebrew Bible; for example, Dr. Strassman fails to mention the symbolism of Cherubim in the ancient Near East when comparing the vision of Ezekiel to DMT trips where the subjects witnessed strange creatures (Pages 153-154). The fact is that Cherubim are commonly depicted as an amalgamation of multiple animals in ancient Near Eastern art, and the four creatures in Ezekiel’s vision have clear astrological parallels. When one considers the fact that Ezekiel’s vision is based on symbols that would have been familiar to an ancient Israelite, one may be more likely to conclude that Ezekiel’s vision is probably not describing a truly psychedelic theme. If readers are not familiar with this context, they might be more likely to see a meaningful parallel between Ezekiel’s vision and the DMT trips.
So while some of the parallels that Dr. Strassman finds may make one think more objectively about the nature of the prophetic experience, the reader must be extremely cautious because there are often necessary contexts for understanding these prophetic visions that are simply not discussed in DMT and the Soul of Prophecy.
“The End of Prophecy”
Dr. Strassman further suggests that not only did endogenous DMT create supernatural prophetic experiences in ancient Israel, but also that the “end of prophecy” mentioned in Rabbinic literature might refer to a point when the human brain ceased to produce psychedelic compounds in a way that induced prophetic visions. He sums up his argument in the following way:
“My own contribution to possible biological bases of the ‘end’ of prophecy invokes endogenous psychedelics. If these compounds mediate elements of the prophetic state, decreased activity of this system would result in the disappearance of those experiences. This diminished activity might relate to the synthesis or breakdown of, sensitivity to, or relative proportions of different psychoactive molecules. However . . . I know of no data either supporting or refuting this hypothesis.” (Page 276)
I think Dr. Strassman presents his hypothesis very well here. He is careful to point out that his hypothesis is merely conjecture with no solid data in support of it.
If you are interested in learning more about some of Dr. Strassman ideas that have been mentioned here, you will do yourself well to get a copy of DMT and the Soul of Prophecy in your hands, because you won’t likely find this content published anywhere else. This book is truly unique. Just keep in mind that the hypotheses submitted in this book is not entirely based upon hard evidence. If you decide to read this book, be sure to keep in mind that Dr. Strassman’s use of the Hebrew Bible is often deceitfully simplistic, so make sure you have a good understanding of the contexts of the pericopes that Dr. Strassman refers to before jumping to any conclusions.