John Marco Allegro, after years of researching the Dead Sea Scrolls and Hebrew languages, came to the conclusion that the New Testament’s main subject, Jesus Christ, is actually just a mushroom. Specifically, Jesus was an Amanita mascaria, and the researcher believed Christianity is falsely based off an ancient fertility cult obsessed with keeping their entheogenic rites hidden from their persecutors.
From his seminal work The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross (SM), Allegro uses philology and linguistics to bridge previously disconnected languages: ancient Sumerian with Indo-European (e.g., Romance languages) and Semitic languages (e.g., Hebrew and Aramaic). Considering the Bible is based on interpretations of unknown Sumerian words translated into Hebrew rather than on smooth translations, the room for error in mistranslations and false assumptions grows exponentially, to which Allegro took notice.
As Allegro explains in the introduction to SM, religion was formed “out of this deep sense of dependency and frustration” with nature. “Somehow man had to establish communications with the source of the world’s fertility, and thereafter maintain a right relationship with it” (Allegro xix). Over the course of millennia, humans built up initiations and rites as a means of promoting this “fertility deity” by “singing, dancing, orgiastic displays and, above all, by the performance of the copulatory act itself.” If it makes sense that man’s ejaculation into a woman produces life, then it is the mighty phallus of God in the sky and the earth bearing its offspring as the womb. In other words, to produce life it becomes necessary to be God and perform “divine” acts. “Judaism and Christianity,” argues Allegro, “are such cultic expressions of this endless pursuit by man to discover instant power and knowledge.” In order for “such a glimpse” into this power and knowledge (i.e., the apple in Eden), the sacred mushroom was necessary to send the initiate into an evolving trance of wonders.
But how credible is his theory?
As Allegro argues: “It is primarily a study in words” (Allegro xxiv). He linguistically creates Sumerian compound words, not yet extant, using newly discovered Sumerian phonemes that are translatable to Hebrew, Greek and other languages mentioned above. Here is a small passage explaining the method Allegro uses in creating the Sumerian words (the capitalized words are Sumerian phonemes):
The fertility aspect of divine and royal shepherding can be seen in another Sumerian word for “shepherd” which appears right across the ancient world in names and epithets. It is SIPA, literally “stretched horn,” or “penis.” We may now recognize it in the biblical phrase Yahweh Saboath, from *SIPA-UD, “penis of the storm.” The Sumerian storm-god, Iskur, has a name with much the same meaning, “mighty penis.” Among the Semites he was known as Adad, “Mighty Father,” with the same general idea of the great fecundator of the skies. In the Old Testament, the name we know as Joseph means “Yahweh’s penis,” really just a shortened form of Yahweh Saboath. (Allegro 24)
Allegro uses word associations like these to prove that many names in the Bible and the New Testament specifically hide the real meanings that only initiates of the mushroom-fertility cult can possibly understand.
The main points of Allegro’s argument are as follows: (a) because of ancient writers’ use of personification with plants and trees, which was quite popular prior to the writing of the New Testament, it is possible that Jesus could be the personification of the sacred mushroom; (b) when the ancient fertility cults (now believed to be the Essenes) were being persecuted to their existential ends, it became necessary to preserve their oral traditions in secret writings using puns or word plays that hide the truth; (c) proper names and words in the Bible can easily be traced back, using Allegro’s method, to the sacred mushroom itself through Sumerian phoneme construction; (d) the name and concept of Amanita muscaria is intentionally excluded from the bible, which is remarkable considering the previous point; (e) and the New Testament is full of errors unresolved even to the highest level of researchers to this day.
Considering the extent Allegro argues this point into possibility, it falls apart upon closer inspection. Instead of working with other top researchers in the study of entheogens, Allegro often excluded those who would have helped his theories. It seems he was more concerned with becoming a famous researcher rather than being right. In the 1950s when Allegro first began inspecting the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls, he popularized himself and his research through multiple BBC broadcasts. Colleagues from Jerusalem responded to the broadcasts by citing “conjectures which the materials do not support.”
After publishing SM in 1970, Allegro ignores all criticism received, even the lighter judgments of those who could have supported him. R. Gordon Wasson, the leading scholar on entheogens, reached out in order to find out how Allegro came to his conclusions; Allegro never responded. The story of Allegro is quite fascinating, which is summarized by Michael Hoffman.
Since then, Allegro’s findings have largely been proven yet still need plenty of research. Carl A. P. Puck, Jan R. Irvin and others working today are extensions of Allegro (dying of a heart attack on his birthday in 1988) in researching the sacred mushroom’s history with human cultures. They have proven Amanita muscaria and similar entheogens’ abundance across ancient cultures and texts, including European Christian art from the “birth of Christ” onward. Each researcher argues this same point: More serious academia and work needs to be done in order to explore “the role that entheogens in general have played in the evolution of European civilization” (Puck’s addendum in SM, 381).
To continue from their viewpoint and take it further, which Allegro and others fail to explore, is the mushroom’s role in the development of human language. It seems that when the Sumerian language was forming, sexual-fertility imagery played a massive part in relating expressions to ideas. By relating expressions to the two ingredients for survival common among humans—fertility and food—it becomes possible to express ideas others will understand. For instance, to explain rain and its ability to grow plants on earth, it is necessary to relate it to their own copulatory actions, which falls in line with Allegro’s theory.
It seems that the Bible relays one message clearly: “be fruitful and multiply…” (Genesis 1:28). Where Allegro sees the tales of the Bible as remnants of a mushroom cult, I see them as fertility folk-tales that relied heavily on the few words ancient Sumerian used. One concept, Amanita muscaria, is found with abundance because it closely relates to sexual imagery: Just watch the growth of the Amanita muscaria and it becomes clear that the best way to define the fungus is through sexual terms, red knob and all.
In writing the Bible as a tale of ancient people surviving through fertility rites, the Amanita muscaria could have been mixed up through the differing dialects and translations from Sumerian cuneiform to phonetic texts. Furthermore, because the sacred mushroom was one of the first concepts defined when the Sumerian language was developing, it becomes necessary to trace that development to find if it had a firsthand role in developing the language itself (i.e., taking a look at the finger pointing rather than what the finger is pointing at).
Considering Allegro’s evidence is based on extinct Sumerian words, his theory becomes riddled with errors. In SM’s introduction he claims the only way to fully understand the ancient texts are to pierce the original author’s intent; the problem is that this task is impossible. Allegro essentially defeats his own argument.
What we know today for certain is the existence of ancient fertility cults that expanded into both Judaism and Christianity, and possibly other religions. We also know of Amanita muscaria’s role in ancient cultures as a universal language mediator in bridging binaries and possibly languages previously disconnected—without knowing why it is the mediator.
The reason to read Allegro’s SM is for an example of free and independent thinking in a field where slow, academic procedures rule over thought. Allegro took this method too far in excluding other prominent entheogenic researchers for his renegade, celebrity, self-styled Vidalian literary gangster appearance, which could have unified the tangled field in advancing a truly remarkable quest to find humanity’s existential roots. Let that be a lesson of sorts.