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Encyclopedia > Cannabis (etymology)

The plant name cannabis is from Greek κάνναβις (kánnabis), via Latin cannabis, originally a Scythian or Thracian word, also loaned into Persian as kanab. English hemp (Old English hænep) may be an early loan (predating Grimm's Law) from the same Scythian source. Look up Cannabis in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... The Scythian languages are the Northeastern Iranian dialects spoken by the Scythian (Sarmatian, Saka) tribes of the nomadic pastoralists in Scythia (Central Asia, Pontic-Caspian steppe) between the 8th century BC and the 5th century AD. Very little is known about them; they likely formed a dialect continuum, the western... The Thracian language was the Indo-European language spoken in ancient times by the Thracians in South-Eastern Europe. ... U.S. Marihuana production permit. ... Grimms law (also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift) is a set of statements describing the inherited Proto-Indo-European (PIE) stops as they developed in Proto-Germanic (PGmc, the common ancestor of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family) sometime in the 1st millennium BC. It...

The further origin of the Scythian term is uncertain. It may be of Semitic origin, Hebrew קַנַּבּוֹס (qannabbôs): Sara Benetowa of the Institute of Anthropological Sciences in Warsaw is quoted in the Book of Grass[1] as saying:

The astonishing resemblance between the Semitic 'kanbos' and the Scythian 'cannabis' lead me to suppose that the Scythian word was of Semitic origin. These etymological discussions run parallel to arguments drawn from history. The Iranian Scythians were probably related to the Medes, who were neighbors of the Semites and could easily have assimilated the word for hemp. The Semites could also have spread the word during their migrations through Asia Minor.

Hebrew קַנַּבּוֹס (qannabbôs) < קְנֵה בֹּשֶׂם (qěnēh bośem) may derive from Sumerian kanubi.[citation needed] Sumerian ( native tongue) was the language of ancient Sumer, spoken in Southern Mesopotamia from at least the 4th millennium BCE. It was gradually replaced by Akkadian as a spoken language in the beginning of the 2nd millenium BCE, but continued to be used as a sacred, ceremonial, literary and scientific...

Raphael Mechoulam and co-workers at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem suggest an alternative etymology for cannabis: Greek cannabis < Arabic kunnab < Syriac qunnappa < Hebrew pannag (= bhanga in Sanscrit and bang in Persian). They explain that in Hebrew, only the consonants form the basis of a word and the letters p and b are frequently interchangeable. The authors think it probable that pannag, mentioned in the Bible by the prophet Ezekiel (5, 22), is in fact Cannabis.[2]

The Biblical Hebrew term qěnēh bośem, literally "reed of balm", probably[3] refers to cannabis according to some etymologists,[1] but is more commonly thought to be lemon grass, calamus, or even sweet cane, due to widespread translation issues.[4] The Hebrew Bible mentions it in Exodus 30:23 where God commands Moses to make a holy oil of myrrh, cinnamon, qěnēh bośem and cassia to anoint the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle (and thus God's Temple in Jerusalem). Notably, this anointing oil is a special herbal formula that functions as a kind of polish and fragrance for the Ark and Tabernacle, and the Bible forbids its manufacture and use to anoint people (Exodus 30:31-33) with the exception of the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 30:30). Moses with the Tablets, 1659, by Rembrandt This article is about the Biblical figure. ... 100g of Myrrh. ... Binomial name J.Presl Cassia (Chinese cinnamon) is also commonly called (and sometimes sold as) cinnamon. ... Binomial name Cinnamomum aromaticum Nees Cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum, synonym ), also called Chinese cinnamon, is an evergreen tree native to southern China and mainland Southeast Asia west to Myanmar. ... The Ark of the Covenant (ארון הברית in Hebrew: aron habrit) is described in the Hebrew Bible as a sacred container, wherein rested the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments as well as other sacred Israelite objects. ...

Elsewhere, the Hebrew Bible simply uses "reed" qānēh as the name of a plant in four places whose context seems to mean "reed of balm" as a fragrant resin, Isaiah 43:24, Jeremiah 6:20, Ezekiel 27:19 and Song of Songs 4:14. The Hebrew name "reed of balm" comes from qěnēh (the noun construct form of qāneh) means a "reed" or "cane" and bośem means "balm" or "aromatic" resin. Hebrew may have adapted the name qannabbôs from "reed of balm" qěnēh bośem as a substitute for the ambiguous name "reed".

This Biblical Hebrew term is often mistranslated as "calamus", also called "lemon grass" (Cymbopogon citratus) or "sweet flag" (Acorus calamus), following an ancient misunderstanding in the Greek Septuagint translation. The Hebrew Bible was written across centuries well up to the 5th Century BCE. However, centuries later, by the time the Septuagint was written around the 2nd Century BCE, the archaic Hebrew word qěnēh bośem appears to have already abbreviated into the later Hebrew form qannabbôs, which is attested in Post Biblical Hebrew literature. Thus, the Septuagint did not recognize the Hebrew expression "reed of balm" and mistook it to refer to some unidentified plant. As a dynamic equivalent, the Septuagint rendered it as "calamus" (Greek kalamos), which indeed is a "balmy" (scented) reed. The calamus plant was known in Greek mythology and processed into an aphrodisiac. Binomial name L. Calamus or Common Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus) is a plant from the Acoraceae family, Acorus genues. ... The Septuagint: A column of uncial text from 1 Esdras in the Codex Vaticanus, the basis of Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brentons Greek edition and English translation. ...

Unambiguous Hebrew or Aramaic references to cannabis are rare and obscure. Syriac has qanpa (a loan from kannabis) and tanuma (see the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon.) but neither is found in the Peshitta, the Syriac Bible. Late Syriac Ahiqar texts include qanpa as "ropes of hemp" (tunbei de-qanpa). The Hebrew word qanbes, a loan word from kannabis, is used in the Mishnah as hemp [Kilaim 2:5; 5:8; 9:1,7; Negaim 11:2] in the sense of a constituent of clothing or other items.

Likely, the name 'cannabis' was known from the Semitic merchants who sold this commodity throughout the ancient trade routes of Southeast Asia.


  1. ^ a b Benetowa, Sara = (Sula Benet). 1936. Tracing one word through different languages. Institute of Anthropological Sciences, Warsaw. Reprinted 1967 In: The Book of Grass. George Andrews and Simon Vinkenoog (eds.) Grove Press, New York, "pp. 15-18.
  2. ^ Mechoulam, R., W. A. Devane, A. Breuer, and J. Zahalka. 1991. A random walk through a Cannabis field. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 40(3): 461-464.
  3. ^ Weston La Barre. 1980. Culture in Context; Selected Writings of Weston Labarre. Duke University Press.
  4. ^ Immanuel Löw. 1924-1934. Flora der Juden, vol. I-IV. Reprinted 1967. Hildeshein: Georg Olms (source not confirmed)



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