The Mandrake Connection
First Edition - 1999
Annotated and Referenced Second Edition – 2011-2012
© James Stewart Campbell, MD.
All commercial rights reserved
There are many interpretations of the life and death of Jesus, most of which are based on fantasy or fiction masquerading as miracle. The Mandrake Connection, however, is a product of my skepticism of miracles. This critical interpretation of the crucifixion story is based on the gospel texts, pharmacognosy, medicine, ancient history, old-world geography, and Judean sociology. Virtually every statement is referenced with footnotes to biblical texts, scientific studies, or historical writings.
The Mandrake Connection hypothesizes that Jesus was drugged to appear dead on the cross, and that his compatriot, Lazarus, tested the potion first to be sure it would work. Close examination of the known gospels and other historical writings strongly supports this hypothesis.
I have chosen to present this research as a story, followed by a discussion of the pharmacological and historical facts known today. Much of this work uses the Christian gospels to reconstruct the time-line of Jesus’ life - where he went, what happened when, and who he knew. This approach was used to great effect by Rabbi Hugh Shonfield in his writings including The Passover Plot, which suggested the possibility that Jesus was drugged. If this was a possibility, I wanted to find out how it could have been accomplished. My extensive research led to The Mandrake Connection. Here emphasis is placed on Jesus’ strong belief that he was the Messiah as guided by Old Testament scripture, and the way he directed those who helped him with the task to fulfill that scripture. The discussion section contains recent medical findings and references to the new-found gospels. Readers are especially encouraged to follow the story in their personal Bibles as they read.
But be forewarned - your views on the story of Jesus may never be the same.
JSC, MD. November 2011
Roman-occupied Israel in the last year of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
It was fall in Israel and Jesus had encountered a setback. After many months of healing and teaching the multitudes, he had returned to the Nazareth of his childhood and, although he did have some devoted followers, the main population of Nazarenes had rejected his ministry. Indeed, he had not been able to perform many miracles there, and the setback made him realize that the people of Galilee were not going to embrace him as the living Messiah. Yet it was too late to turn back. His deep belief was unshakable - he was the Messiah as told by the oracle of the Old Testament. He must go forward, though the oracle prophesied what lay ahead - betrayal, rebuke, judgment by his enemies, torture, and an ignominious death. He also knew that he had to miraculously survive these ordeals and appear to the multitudes again to fulfill the scripture. Only then would the Israelites follow the teachings that he fully believed - that the people should follow God’s law and treat rich and poor alike with love and respect, thus bringing salvation to Zion. To be the Messiah and bring about this social revolution was a most awesome challenge, and his spirit was up to the task.
But how could he accomplish this? It would take much knowledge of religious customs, laws, and human nature. And help - human as well as divine - would be required. Jesus took the original twelve disciples aside and told them what was to come: that he was to be captured, tried, and put to death. Most of the disciples flatly rejected the whole idea, as they had already assumed they would be part of the leadership of the upcoming Kingdom of God on Earth. How could they form the administration of the new order if the leader was to be crucified? From their replies, Jesus realized that he could not confide in all twelve disciples if secrecy was needed in the upcoming events. He would need outside help. Help from people who would not be under surveillance and who could keep a secret.
So Jesus left Galilee and traveled in private to Judea, following after a larger party that had gone ahead for the October Feast of the Tabernacles. He sent messengers ahead to prepare for his arrival in Jerusalem. When Jesus later arrived, he stayed with the brother and two sisters named Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, who welcomed him into their house in Bethany, just two miles’ walking distance from the temple in Jerusalem.
In the following months, Jesus would plan the final scenes of the upcoming drama, confide in Lazarus and other confidants, and direct each secretly to do his or her part. He knew that if he were declared the Messiah and crucified for this treason against Rome, he would need a lot of help to survive the ordeal. Then, and only then, would the populace accept him as the Messiah.
Jesus was very familiar with the scripture, and had read that trickery and even outright lying had been important to the Israelites back in the times of Genesis. A powerful trick would be required for this upcoming task. Jesus apparently knew of a potion made from herbs indigenous to the area that was probably known to only a few healers at that time. This potion would induce a deep state of anesthesia and apparent death quickly when administered by mouth. It could be made very strong so that only a sip would be needed for effect, and it was potent in a vinegar solution. The biblical prophesy that the Messiah would be mocked and given vinegar to drink during his travails could provide a perfect method for administration of the drug. Jesus worked out plans on how it might be given to him at the critical time. There was only one problem: the dose of the potion needed to create the near-death state was critical. Too little and it wouldn’t work, too much and the drug itself could be fatal. In those days there was no standardization of medications, no milligram scales, no Food and Drug Administration. Herbal potions are known to vary widely from batch to batch, and there would probably be only one opportunity to act, with no second dose possible. Thus it was imperative to have someone test the potion to be sure it was right. That task fell to Lazarus. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, Mary and Martha were apparently not informed of this plan.
Now during these months, Jesus was walking to the Temple in Jerusalem during the day and teaching ideas that were very radical for that age. The Jewish leaders and the Pharisees were incensed and tried to get him to say unlawful things so they could arrest him on the spot, but Jesus’ skillful oratory combined with the body blocks of his followers thwarted their attacks at every turn. His goal was twofold - to teach those who wished to hear his ideas, and to purposefully set the stage for his eventual arrest and rapid trial by stirring up the hornets’ nest of his enemies. For Jesus knew his cause was lost if he was to be merely imprisoned. He would be forgotten and his chance of being the Messiah would be lost forever. He had to get the Jewish Council and priests angry enough that they would insist on putting him to death. So he attacked the status quo by day, when the surrounding multitudes of followers could buffer him from arrest, and then retreated to hide in safety in Bethany by night, where he and his confidants could plan for the happenings to take place during Passover, which was several months away.
These daytime skirmishes became more intense as time went on. After several narrow escapes, Jesus decided to leave the area for the sake of safety, so he traveled East across the Jordan River to where John had baptized. There in the river wilderness he continued his teaching to the multitudes that flocked after him. Meanwhile, back in Bethany, Lazarus decided that the time was right to test the potion.
What happened next is related in the Book of John, chapter eleven. Mary and Martha apparently found their brother quite ill, and immediately sent for Jesus to come and help. But when Jesus heard it, he said, "This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it." He was, in fact, explaining exactly what was happening. After this, Jesus waited two more days to see what would transpire. It must have seemed a long two days. When he heard nothing further, he became concerned and decided to return to Bethany. His followers reminded him of the danger awaiting him back in Judea, but he calmed them and said, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to wake him out of sleep." Again, his followers did not understand. Frustrated, Jesus decided to use their ignorance to advance his cause, saying: "Lazarus is dead. And for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." Jesus realized that he could turn the situation into a sign for these doubting disciples. If Jesus had been with Lazarus at the time he took the potion, he would probably have "spotted" for him, watching over the body during the profound anesthetic out-of-body experience, preventing Lazarus from being declared dead and placed in the tomb, and thus not be credited for perhaps the greatest of his known miracles.
So Jesus returned to Bethany. By the time he got there, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days. He probably had recovered within 24 hours after taking a large dose of the potion, but was unable to get out of the tomb and had been patiently awaiting rescue. According to the authors of John, Jesus became quite eloquent, telling Martha, who seemed genuinely troubled: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”… “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” With this, he convinced them to roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb. And Lazarus came out alive but probably quite dehydrated and famished, “his hands and feet bound in bandages, and his face wrapped with a cloth.” The stage was now set for the Son of Man to be given up to his enemies - the potion had been tested and verified. It was only necessary to wait for the Passover for the final act.
Jesus was still in danger, however, so he went north to Ephraim, a town near the wilderness, to wait for the Passover. Six days before the Passover he returned to Bethany, and stayed again with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary while word was spread by his followers to prepare for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem the next day, the first Palm Sunday. The simple but impressive ride into the holy city that day again stirred his hornets’ nest of enemies, who now also targeted Lazarus for death. With Lazarus under surveillance, Jesus’ other confidants had to take over the preparations. Just who these helpers were is under much debate, but it is quite possible that one was Nicodemus, a Jewish priest who had access to the goings-on in the upper echelon of Jewish leaders. With this help and inside information, Jesus was able to pick the right time for his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. As mentioned before, timing was of the essence. Jesus' cause was lost if he languished in prison. If he was to be crucified, he planned to use the potion tested by Lazarus. Given at the right time, it would make him appear dead so other helpers could take his body down before actual death occurred. Then he would appear alive later as foretold by Hosea. Jesus decided that the crucifixion must take place the day before Passover, preferably around noon. By Jewish law, Passover begins at sundown, and the holy day could not be desecrated by having a crucifixion in progress. With this in mind, Jesus planned for his arrest to be the night before Passover. His sense of timing can be felt as he encourages Judas - “What you are going to do, do quickly.”
Judas indeed worked quickly, and before early dawn Jesus was in the hands of the Jewish leaders. They interrogated him and turned him over to the Romans. Without Roman agreement, no one could be put to death in occupied Judea. The Romans almost blew the whole thing, refusing to find fault in Jesus, but a crowd packed with anti-Jesus protesters (and possibly pro-Jesus sympathizers) called for the release of Barabbas. So Jesus was flogged by the Romans and eventually handed over to the Jewish authority for crucifixion at noon, the sixth hour of the day. Just in time.
Jesus was then taken to the hill called Golgotha, “the place of the skull,” for crucifixion. Apparently, these gruesome affairs were public shows in those days, with people and soldiers milling about, drinking, gambling, and mocking or grieving for the unfortunate people being executed. Women as well as men were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. The twelve “official” disciples were probably not present to avoid being recognized and arrested as collaborators. Mingling with the crowd, however, were anonymous followers of Jesus, including an unnamed disciple concealing the rescue potion under his robe and waiting for the right moment to act.
He may have tried to act right away. According to the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus was offered wine mixed with Gall or Myrrh before he was actually crucified, but he turned it down or took only very little at that time. Perhaps he realized that the timing was too soon, that he had to suffer and appear to die later in the day. It must have been hard to say no. So the executioners hung him on the cross for at least three hours, during which time Jesus was conscious enough to talk to his mother and Mary Magdalene. The chief priests, accompanied by some scribes, came by to observe that all was going as they had planned, mocking the false king who would think of deposing them. And during these hours, a multitude of women and acquaintances of Jesus watched from all around, crying and lamenting for their suffering hero.
The sun was getting low in the sky, and the soldiers would soon break the legs of those crucifixees unfortunate enough to be still alive. This was to be done to hasten death before sunset - which was the start of the upcoming Holy Day. Suddenly, Jesus called out in a loud voice. Just what he said is under gospel dispute, but the meaning to his waiting friends was clear. It was the signal for the potion to be administered. At this signal, the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John agree that vinegar was put on a sponge, which was then held to Jesus’ mouth despite the protestations of other witnesses. There is no mention of the sponge being offered to the other two men being crucified. Where this drink came from, and why it was up there on Golgotha during those grisly executions, we are not told. We are also not told what was in the vinegar, but these three gospels go on to say that Jesus quickly bowed his head and gave up the spirit after being given the vinegar. The sudden onset of the powerful, easily absorbed, and highly concentrated anesthetic potion produced a convincing death that all the witnesses could appreciate, especially when the Roman soldier’s spear failed to provoke a reaction from Jesus. Unresponsive, with flaccid muscles and dilated and fixed pupils, he was obviously dead, thus his legs did not need to be broken, again fulfilling the prophecies.
At this point another secret disciple of Jesus enters the picture - Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph, the gospels tell us, was well off, and a respected member of the Judean council, yet he was definitely on Jesus’ side, and was probably an active member of the plan to help the Messiah. Because of his connections and influence, he was allowed to take the body of Jesus to a new tomb he had made near Golgotha. Thus, now under care of friends, Jesus was taken down from the cross, wrapped in linen cloths, and carefully placed in the tomb. Then a large stone was placed in front of the entrance. It was not until the next morning that Judean soldiers were assigned to guard the tomb against tampering. Inside that cold, hand-hewn cave, Jesus lay quiet, his breathing slow and scant, his pulse rapid but thready, his body temperature low. Only his mind was active as it experienced the intensity of a profound out-of-body experience brought on by the potion. The coma would last about six hours or more before he slowly awakened.
No one knows for sure how Jesus got out of the tomb, but it may have happened like this: Jesus’ compatriots removed him from the unguarded tomb late on the first night, then replaced the stone to delay the discovery of the empty tomb. This occurred before the Jewish Council placed the guards at the tomb in the morning. On the second night, when the crowds of followers would have dispersed or become involved in the Passover celebrations it would have been easy to befriend the Judean guards at the tomb, giving them food and conversing or gaming into the night. Then some wine laced with the potion caused them to “tremble and become like dead men” – both are signs of mandrake intoxication. While they were drugged, some strong compatriots rolled back the heavy stone door, revealing the empty tomb. Jesus, meanwhile, was recovering in a safe place –perhaps back in Bethany. He must have been in very poor physical shape - drugged, dehydrated, covered with superficial wounds from the flogging, and probably feverish and suffering from peritonitis brought on by the spear wound in his abdomen or cellulitis and osteomyelitis from the nail wounds in his arms and legs. His brain may also have been affected by periods of anoxia while in coma on the cross, producing a condition of partial brain damage. But his body was gone from the tomb, resurrected by the miracle of the human mind, body, and sprit. The word of the prophets had been fulfilled.
It is here that our scenario ends. What happened to Jesus after the rescue is a matter of much conjecture. Some say he died quickly of his wounds and his place was taken by a disciple of similar physique who then appeared to witnesses from Judea to Galilee. Others say he left Palestine, married, had children, lived to a ripe old age, and died in Europe, Eurasia, or the Far East. The Bible says Jesus lived forty more days, which is possible with deep wound infection followed by sepsis, shock, and death. During those last days he apparently was so physically and mentally changed by the trauma of crucifixion that his disciples could not fully recognize him, although his physical wounds did convince a “doubting Thomas.” He was probably cremated or buried in secret and his grave remains unknown to this day.
Is there such a potion as described in the scenario? What is it made of, and how could Jesus have known of it?
The existence of powerful potions capable of making a person appear temporarily dead have been known to man probably since prehistoric times. However, because use of such medications was accompanied by wild visions, unpleasant after-effects, and could occasionally be fatal, they have been generally regarded by the general population as sacred or magical, and used only by those few seekers or shamans willing to take the risk to experience the near-death experience with its remarkable effects on the mind. We have no record of the experiences or whereabouts of Jesus from his teenage years to the age of thirty. It is quite likely that a young man seeking for God in those years would come into contact with the shamans of the day and be given entheogenic potions to help him on his spiritual journey. Thus Jesus well may have had knowledge of drug-induced out-of-body experiences as both an observer and a participant. One hint from the Bible is contained in the story of Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana - the turning of water into wine. It is quite possible that Jesus placed distilled alcohol perhaps containing a mind-altering drug into one of the stone vessels before ordering the servants to add water. The process of distillation was very difficult and known only to a few in those days, but it would have been of great importance to the shamans for extraction and purification of herbal essences.
Of the various herbal agents available in the area of Palestine in Jesus’ time, Atropa Mandragora, commonly known as Mandrake, is the most likely one to have been used for the main ingredient of the potion. It is mentioned in Genesis as being quite prized, even being used in payment for sexual favors. We know that this agent existed in the region around the time of Jesus because the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, who died circa 100 CE, mentions it under the name Baaras. The famous herbalist, M. Grieve, places its original habitat as Southern Europe. The effects of large doses of Mandrake are due to its atropine and scopolamine content: fixed dilation of the pupils, suppression of sweating and saliva, rapid weak pulse, delirium, coma, and death. Mandrake was used in Pliny’s time as an anesthetic for operations, and centuries later the medieval herbalist Bartholomew referred to Mandrake as an anesthetic: “the rind thereof medled with wine… gene to them to drink that shall be cut in their body, for they should slepe and not fele the sore knitting.” Shakespeare wrote about such a potion in Romeo and Juliet, which is based upon a true story from the fifteenth century Girolamo de la Corte’s History of Verona. In this famous tragedy, Friar Laurent gives Juliet a vial of potion to drink, which was evidently based on Mandrake. In more recent times, the United States Dispensatory of 1894, a large compendium of medicinal compounds, listed Mandrake as Mandragora Officinalis, explaining “it was used by the ancients as an anesthetic agent before surgical operations, and Morion or Death-Wine… was made from it.” It is most likely that the potion used by Jesus and Lazarus contained Mandrake.
The potion probably had a second ingredient - extract of Papaver Somnificum - the Opium Poppy. Opium was also well known in the Near East around the time of Jesus. Homer’s Odyssey (c. 700 BCE) mentions the land of the Lotus Eaters, which depicts a place where the inhabitants constantly ingested a plant that induced a sleep-like euphoria matching that produced by Opium. The land of the Lotus Eaters may have been the southern coast of present-day Turkey, not far via Mediterranean trade routes from the land of Palestine. The active ingredient in white poppies - mainly morphine - can be extracted by boiling mashed opium pods in water containing some burnt lime (calcium oxide). After the sludge settles, the strained liquid is then evaporated in the hot, dry desert air to make extremely strong brown residue that can be dissolved in wine or vinegar. A large dose of this crude morphine would make the skin cold, clammy and cyanotic (blue), the muscles flaccid, the respiration very slow, and the body insensitive to pain stimulation. These effects of Opium, combined with the effects of Mandrake (rapid, weak pulse, dilated pupils) would simulate a profound death-like state.
A third herbal extract containing Harmine and Harmaline from Wild Syrian Rue (Peganum harmala) may have also been an ingredient. These compounds are soluble in dilute acids such as vinegar. Peganum had been used for centuries before Jesus’ time for religious ceremonies and medicine. It is native to the Middle East and grows well in dry climates such as Palestine. Peganum ingestion lowers sensitivity to pain. Extracts of P. harmala may also reduce the toxicity of Mandrake, while prolonging and intensifying the effects of both opium and Mandrake. Peganum, therefore, may be the key to the effectiveness of the potion.
Thus it is quite likely that the “Passover Potion” contained a trinity of herbal agents - Mandragora, Opium, and Harmala. Acting together, they could have the power to produce a profound and convincing image of death to all but the closest observer. Other early followers of Jesus may have known about this potion. The resurrection of Dorcas is an example.
How would it be possible to survive entombment without suffocating?
We are told of Lazarus coming out of the tomb “with his head wrapped in a cloth.” If indeed his face were heavily wrapped during preparation of the body after death, would not suffocation occur while in the comatose state? Light is shed on this question by Joe Zias, an archaeologist at the Rockefeller Museum of Jerusalem. Mr. Zias, an expert on ancient Judean burial methods, states that, according to Jewish custom of the first century, the head was left uncovered when the body was wrapped for burial. It is possible that Lazarus put the cloth over his head when he walked out of the tomb to protect his dilated eyes from the bright sunlight. As for Jesus, once he was taken down from the cross by his friends who knew he was really alive, it is likely that his nose and mouth were kept clear to allow any possible respiration, and perhaps, once in the privacy of the tomb, he may have been given artificial respiration to assist his survival before being left alone with his head uncovered by the burial shroud. Thus it is quite possible for both Jesus and Lazarus to survive the entombment procedures common in first-century Judea.
If this scenario is what really happened, why isn’t it told plainly in the Bible?
One must remember that two thousand years ago, society was far less advanced. With little technology, almost no scientific knowledge, and no advanced medicine, the average person was superstitious as well as religious, and believed strongly in miracles including miraculous births and resurrection. These attributes would be expected of any person claiming to be the Messiah. Jesus knew this through the oracle of the Old Testament, and thus planned to survive the crucifixion to fulfill the prophecies. The resurrection was to help bring about the end of days and usher in the Kingdom of God. When the kingdom later failed to occur, a new religion based on the teachings and life of Jesus struggled to survive in an increasing hostile environment. Palestine was ripe for revolution against Roman occupation, and within 40 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, was the stage for an extremely brutal “War of the Jews” as described by the historian Josephus. In response to the insurrection, hundreds of thousands of Jews throughout the Roman Empire were slaughtered, any member of the house of David – the lineage of Jesus - was to be arrested or killed on the spot if identified, temples and records were torched, and those who followed the original path of Jesus were scorned, scattered, and their belongings looted. Followers of Jesus were banned from the Jewish temples and the center of power of the infant church was destroyed in Palestine to be taken over by the followers of St. Paul who eventually ran the church from Rome. In all this chaos, just about everyone who might have known the truth of the crucifixion story was killed or discredited. It was after this war that the four gospels of the New Testament were written, and it was important for the writings to reflect the life of a supernatural persona - the miraculously resurrected Jesus – in order to gain converts. It would have been counterproductive for the leaders of the early church to damage the new religion by telling the true story behind the resurrection. Of course, once the fledgling church started to gain power and be an accepted religion, it had to maintain the integrity of its basic tenets, the most important of which were Jesus’ miraculous conception and resurrection. The text of the Nicene Creed, which was written in 325 CE, emphasizes these miracles. To not believe the Nicene Creed is considered heresy in the Roman Catholic Church to this day.
Doesn’t this story destroy the teachings of Jesus by explaining his resurrection as non-miraculous?
Absolutely not. It does affect the power of the “religious-industrial” theocracy that grew up around the persona of Jesus, but it only enhances the picture of this devout and determined man who had the intelligence and willpower necessary to complete such a difficult, painful, and dangerous task. Jesus combined the discipline of an Olympic athlete, the calm of a Buddhist monk, the skills of a social psychologist, and the techniques of an old-world shaman to fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah and help bring about the “end of days.” To see Jesus in this light increases the power of his six main teachings - do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not bear false witness, love your neighbor as yourself, and honor your father and mother. After all, if Jesus as a man could willingly plan and survive the torture of crucifixion, we remaining mortals just might muster the ability to bring great joy and justice to the planet by following his six simple rules.