John Allegro’s 1970 book “The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross”: Was Jesus actually a “magic mushroom”?

By on October 13, 2015

In 1970, a new book with the scholarly-sounding title The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross: A Study of the Nature and Origins of Christianity Within the Fertility Cults of the Ancient Near East — written by philologist, archeologist and Dead Sea Scrolls expert John Marco Allegro (1923–1988) — presented a rather interesting theory, postulating that early Christian theology was derived from an ancient fertility sex-and-mushroom cult revolving around the entheogenic consumption of a specific hallucinogenic mushroom, Amanita muscaria.

More specifically, Allegro argued in his scientific book that Jesus Christ never actually existed and was actually a mythological creation of early Christians under the influence of psychoactive mushroom extracts such as psilocybin.

In other words, Jesus was a mushroom.

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Allegro thought that he could prove, through etymology, that the roots of not just Christianity but many other related-religions may be tied back to pagan fertility cults, and that cult practices, such as ingesting magic mushrooms in order to perceive the mind of God, may have actually led to early Christians to fabricate some of the things that they believed they were seeing and hearing under the mushroom’s effects.

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Allegro believed that the fresco of the Plaincourault Chapel depicted, accurately, as seen here, the ritual ingestion of Amanita muscaria as the Eucharist, i.e. the body of Christ.

The interesting thing to note here is that Allegro was a well-respected scholar of ancient languages, and he was one a member of the first international team of scholars invited to work on translating what became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (he was studying Hebrew at Oxford in 1953 at the time).

Before he authored The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross (1970), he had already written numerous works centered around his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Dead Sea Scrolls (1956), The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1958), The Treasures of the Copper Scroll (1960), The Shapira Affair (1965), Search in the Desert (1967), and Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan, Qumrân Cave 4. V (4Q158-4Q186) (1968).

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The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross challenged the common teachings and understandings about the nature of religion, and tried to provide scientific answers to questions like “Where did God come from?” “What do the bible stories really tell us?” and “Who — or more specifically — what was Jesus Christ?”

Allegro — as a philologist — thought that the sacred mushroom could open the door (or maybe unlock the door?) which provides a passageway back in time to a place where we can find the truth about where Christianity came from. Since his educational background combines literary criticism, history, and linguistics, the book is a little heavy on establishing the authenticity of early Christian documents in order to make sense of what they meant to the cultures who may have used these mushrooms in their religious rituals.

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Allegro provided some insight into his ideas in this rare interview, recorded for and broadcast on Dutch TV in December 1976:

Wikipedia tells us that Amanita muscaria — known as both the fly agaric or fly amanita — is a large white-gilled, white-spotted, usually red mushroom, like the ones you see here.

It is a “psychoactive basidiomycete fungus”, one of many in the genus Amanita. “Native throughout the temperate and boreal regions of the Northern Hemisphere, Amanita muscaria has been unintentionally introduced to many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, generally as a symbiont with pine and birch plantations, and is now a true cosmopolitan species. It associates with various deciduous and coniferous trees.”

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“To some biblical scholars in Britain, the new book looked like the psychedelic ravings of a hippie cultist,” wrote a reviewer for Time Magazine, on June 8, 1970. “To others, it was merely an outlandish hoax. One described it as reading ‘like a Semitic philologist’s erotic nightmare.'”

Allegro’s idea, says Time‘s writer, “was that the New Testament was concocted by addicts of the mushroom as a code for their mystical lore; and that the God of Jews and Christians is ultimately nothing more than a magnificent phallic symbol.”

More from Time: “Allegro’s method is to delve behind the surface meaning and context of biblical words, conjuring instead with their frequently erotic root meaning (‘Christian,’ he says, is a derivation from the Sumerian meaning ‘smeared with semen’). These half-forgotten roots, Allegro maintains, link the characters and stories of the Bible to the orgiastic, often outlawed mushroom cults of the Near East.”

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As you might expect, Allegro was pretty much vilified by Christians for his theory, and criticized and discredited by academics and theologians alike. Christian author John C. King even wrote a detailed rebuttal of Allegro’s theory, presented in the 1970 book A Christian View of the Mushroom Myth, where he points out that these mushroom trees aren’t even found in the Middle East, even though host cedars and pines are found there (certain types of mycelium have a symbiotic relationship to the trees under and around which they grow, and under which the mushroom fruiting body appears).

King concluded that if Allegro’s theory was true, the use of the mushroom must have been “‘the best kept secret in the world’ as it was so well concealed for two thousand years.”

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Allegro’s theory, however, did get some support from scholars in the field of ethnomycology, who understood that it was a primarily philological work, looking at the relationships of the languages from the ancient middle east, an examination of the connections between Sumerian (and the meanings tied to the Sumerian glyphs), Hebrew, and the Koine Greek used in the Bible.

Some of you out there may already be familiar with so-called “magic mushrooms”, or, simply, “shrooms,” and you may already know they are a naturally-growing plant which (like marijuana) is banned by the U.S. Government.

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Scientists, nevertheless, have long thought they may have a medicinal use that we do not fully understand, and one day they may be used to treat depression, eradicate mental illness, and improve cognition. According to their research, the active component psilocybin, which is found within psychedelic mushrooms, is able to grow new brain cells—potentially offering treatment for mental illness and improving cognition.

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One study, published in Experimental Brain Research, says psilocybin is able to bind to special receptors in the brain that stimulate healing and growth and promotes new brain cell growth. In their experiments with mice, the researchers found psilocybin to actually help repair damaged brain cells and cure or relieve the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and depression.

Psilocybin, they believe, has numerous functions in the brain that can improve hippocampus health, which is the part of the brain responsible for learning as well as converting short-term memory to long-term memory. New brain cells in the hippocampus from the introduction of psilocybin translates into a healthier and sharper brain overall.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • mahershallelhashbaz

    “It was on the way, on the road to dreams, yea…”
    “Deserted Cities of the Heart” by Cream.

    The village of Emmaus (Luke 24:13) was known to have a Judaic mystical school from which a “Rabbi Nehuniah ben HaKana, a Talmudic sage of the first century, and the leading mystic of his generation”…”was known to be the leader of a major mystical school that flourished in the Holy Land” (“The Bahir; Illumination” by Aryeh Kaplan, p. XI).

    “Rabbi Nehuniah ben HaKana said:
    One verse (Job 37:21) states, ‘And now they do not see light, it is brilliant (Bahir) in the skies. . . [round about God in terrible majesty].:
    Another verse, however, (Psalm 18:12), states, ‘He made darkness His hiding place.’ It is also written (Psalm 97;2), ‘Cloud and gloom surround Him.’ This is an apparent contradiction.
    A third verse comes and reconciles the two. It is written (Psalms 139:12), ‘Even darkness is not dark to You. Night shines like day – light and darkness are the same'” (“The Bahir,” p. 1).