4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. Exodus 16:4
“Bread from heaven,” elsewhere known as “manna,” which has fascinated humanity for hundreds to thousands of years. For centuries now, theologians and others thus have puzzled over the meaning of this story about magical manna from heaven, which purportedly appeared supernaturally all over the desert, in order to feed the [2 and a half to 3 million] Israelites miraculously during their grueling 40-year desert entrapment prison.
This manna fell all over the place, mostly on the sand and dirt of the ground. It probably was like the Isrealite's clothes that never got dirty or worn for 40 years. After the manna fell on the dirt it probably also didn't get dirty!
We saw previously that this mysterious “food” is described variously, as a wafer “made with honey” or tasting also like “fresh oil.” Manna is explained also as a “flake-like thing,” “round thing” or “coriander seed” with an appearance like “bdellium,” a gum resin, revealed in the frost on the ground as the dew evaporates in the morning. Philo (Moses 1.37.200, 208) muddies the waters further by claiming that the manna is like both a grain such as millet and “honey cheesecake.”
24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven. KJV of Psalm 78:24
Adding to the confusion, manna is called “corn of heaven,” an erroneous statement because corn or maize was not brought to the “Old World” until after Columbus.
The biblical word rendered manna is מן man, which Strong’s (H4478) defines as:
a) the bread from Heaven that fed the Israelites for 40 years of wilderness wanderings
b) it means “What is it?”
This “what is it?” word is used 14 times in the Old Testament. Gesenius gives the naturalistic explanation of this “heavenly bread”:
…manna Arabica, a sweet gum-like honey, which, in Arabia and other Oriental regions, exudes from the leaves of several trees and shrubs, especially those of the tamarisk kind; this takes place mostly in July and August, before sunrise. ...British naturalists have proved that certain insects...aid in producing the manna ... the manna flows out after the leaves are punctured by insects.
However, Gesenius notes in brackets:
No one who simply credits the inspired history of the giving of the manna can doubt that it was something miraculously given to the Israelites, and that it differed in its nature from any thing now known.
Hence, although the Bible states manna is like coriander seed and bdellium, biblical fundamentalism excludes any naturalistic explanation such as this “gumlike honey” from plants like the tamarisk.
Natural or Supernatural?
Attempts at identifying manna as a lichen, secretion of the tamarisk or hamada plant, insect excretion or other natural substance thus have not been received universally. According to Bible literalists, the naturalistic explanation fails, because it cannot account for manna’s ubiquity: “The fact that manna has been provided through all the different terrains that Israel has passed through suggests something far different from what the various natural explanations can provide.”
Needless to say, no one has discovered the location of these supernatural miracles, which would have produced an estimated 10,000 cubic meters of manna falling from heaven every day. Is this miraculous tale truly credible as history. Even if there were a naturalistic source of manna, could it ever produce such a massive amount on a daily basis?
And it was delivered is all sorts of weather conditions of the desert like dusty high winds and wet rainy conditions and even lengthy deluges. On bad weather days you might want to skip a meal.
Who or What?
Speaking of the pre-Hebraic Semitic word manna, Near Eastern and biblical scholar Dr. Edward Lipiński (b. 1930) remarks:
In Amorite, ma-an-na, “who?”, and ma-a, “what?”, are both attested in proper names.... there is an interrogative ma-an-na..., “what?”, certainly related to the Ugaritic mn, “what?”, which can be explained in the light of Minaic mhn, “what?”, as *mahna > manna.
The word manna in Amorite means “who?,” while in Old Canaanite it means “what?”282 Thus, although this term seems mysterious to us, giving its air of supernaturalism a boost, manna was commonly and mundanely used in preHebraic antiquity, including as a name. As we shall see, a similar “divine food” folktale can be found in pre-Hebraic Ugaritic or Canaanite mythology.
Manna and Heavenly Bread
15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. Exodus 16:15
The manna story is implausible as history, and, as previously noted, the mysterious “cakes” of the Egyptian gods and glorified spirits called khus sound similar to the biblical substance. It should be recalled that the apparently proto-Israelite Shasu was known for their aromatic gum, possibly included in the Moses myth in order to give a divine origin to their renowned product.
We have seen that it associates the manna with bread;
29 Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” Exodus 16:29
31 The people of Israel called the bread manna. It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. Exodus 16:31
The idea of heavenly bread is abundant in Egyptian mythology too, and it would appear that the biblical motif is designed to compete with and subordinate the popular Egyptian theme as well.
Oily or Honeylike Manna?
The above verse Exodus 16:31 this miraculous manna from heaven for the Israelites to eat in the desert is described as tasting like “wafers made with honey.” But, at Numbers 11:8, the substance’s taste is that of “fresh oil.”
8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. Num 11:8
Wheless points out that this discrepancy was written supposedly by one person, Moses, whose vague and brief descriptions of this divinely sent food he had purportedly eaten daily for 40 years appear inexplicable, if he really wrote the Pentateuch.
Moreover, Exodus 16:35 states that, upon Joshua’s entrance into the Promised Land, the diet of the chosen people switched from the manna to the local grain (Jos 5:11–12).
35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan. Exodus 16:35
11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after[a] they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan. Jos 5:11-12
Wheless rightly asks how the supposed author, Moses, could have known that alleged fact, if he had died previously? It is obvious that Moses did not write this pericope or passage of text. In his critical analysis, Is It God’s Word? Wheless gives many other evidences of the fact that an allegedly historical Moses could not have composed the Pentateuch.
In addition to the khu cakes as a type of manna, the Egyptian concept of the “bread of life” can be found in the Book of the Dead, as in chapter/spell 53: “I eat bread from the house of the Lord of offerings.” This sacred bread was used by the Egyptians to propitiate the gods, miraculously provided also to the deceased in order to feed him or her during the journey through the afterlife wilderness. As I relate in Christ in Egypt, bread is one of the main symbols of sustenance for the immortality of the dead in the Egyptian heaven, as in the Pyramid Texts as well.
In the Pyramid Texts (c. fifth millennium BCE), we read:
…[Osiris] N. lives on the morning bread, which comes at its (appointed) time.
…The bread of your father is for you…
Here it is morning bread, like the manna forming on the dew in the morn.
The Coffin Texts of the third millennium also discuss the sacred meal, including as the “bread of Osiris” likewise called the “daily bread.” The numerous references in Egyptian texts to this spiritual bread of life are reflected also in the gospel of John, in which Jesus is says,
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35
Indeed, the manna story’s allegorical nature and connection to Christ can be seen;
Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:31–33
The "earthly manna eaten in the wilderness is a figure of the ‘true’ heavenly bread given by God in his Son.”
In the Sumerian text Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld (c. 1900–1600 BCE), we see reference to the “food of life” and “water of life” used by Father Enki to bring others back to life.709 This ritual acts also like a baptism, as in the goddess Inanna’s story of death and resurrection, after she is killed and hanged “from the nail”:
One of you sprinkle upon her the “food of life,” the other the “water of life.” Then Inanna will arise.
After Inanna is sprinkled, she resurrects out of the underworld, in a story evidently passed along in one form or another for many centuries and emulated in significant part in the Christ myth.
The motif of foodstuff from heaven and in the desert valleys can be found also in the Ugaritic texts, recalling the biblical claim that manna tasted like “oil”: “The heavens rain down oil; the wadis run with honey...” This passage has been likened to Hosea 6:1–3 and Psalms 65:9–13 and 68:9, reflecting not physical manna but the Baal cycle of vernal fertility, with its life-giving rains.
Other texts, such as the Indian Atharvaveda (c. 1000 BCE), likewise depict ambrosia falling and “streams of honey” that flowed “upon the earth,” resembling the Dionysian myth as well, to be discussed later.
No Sheep, Goats and Cattle?
In order to bring about the need for miraculous manna from heaven to feed the two million Israelites, Yahweh must make them starve. Although many apologies have been put forth, it remains to be explained adequately why, if the Israelites had so many oxen, sheep and goats with them, they needed to be fed through miraculous means.
Moreover, in the Pentateuchal book of Leviticus, we read about the numerous animal sacrifices, including thousands upon thousands of birds per day, but we are not told where these birds come from in the middle of the desert. Indeed, throughout the Pentateuch appear detailed instructions on how to sacrifice all these animals, repeated abundantly; yet, the common people apparently were kept out of that feasting and were fed flake-like round things found on rocks instead.
30 Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. Exod 25:30
2 And from the finest wheat flour make round loaves without yeast, thick loaves without yeast and with olive oil mixed in, and thin loaves without yeast and brushed with olive oil. Exod 29:2
While the Israelites were starving and subsisting off manna and water, Yahweh required not only the sacrifice of thousands of animals and but also heaps of “shewbread” or “bread of the Presence” made with “fine wheat flour”. From where, one might ask, did the Israelite priests obtain this “fine flour” out in the middle of the desert, where the people were starving?
Is it believable that 600,000 warriors would subsist solely on manna, watching their wives and children also go hungry, while thousands of food animals were being immolated, and expensive and difficult to procure fine wheat flour was given as bread to Yahweh?
The apology/excuse for the starvation of the chosen avers it a deliberate “test” from Yahweh, to see if the “stiff-necked” will follow his law, especially as concerns the sabbath, which the god himself observes by not providing the massive amount of needed manna that day.
10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exod 20:10–11
Thus, the heaven-sent manna represents a literary device to train people in the six-day week, with a non-working sabbath, the manna’s six day delivery providing an example from God himself. The mythical manna tale serves to give origin and authority to a law already in existence, however, as the six-plus-one work week and Sabbath formula could be found also in Babylon,286 where the Jews purportedly were exiled for decades during the sixth century BCE. After its adoption into Yahwism, the custom apparently was given Jewish authority by creating this story about Moses.
29 "Trillion" Quails?
In one initial act of relief from the starvation, at Exodus 16:13 Yahweh brings a huge amount of quails from the sea to feed his chosen. First of all, during that time were there even quails at the sea at all, much less millions upon millions of them? Secondly, we read at Numbers 11:31 that these quails were “stacked up on the face of the earth” to a height of two cubits, equivalent to about 44 inches high, in a row the length of “a day’s journey round the camp.” Wheless calculates that, based on the settlement’s descriptions at Numbers 2 and 24, the camp’s total mass would be 4,569.76 square miles or 452,404,727,808 cubic feet of birds!287 He further computes that such a mass of quails would be equivalent to almost 29 trillion individual birds.
Even if these calculations are off by a factor of 99 percent, we would still be discussing 290 million birds, to be picked up immediately, cleaned, cooked and consumed by a couple of million people, providing dozens or hundreds of quails per person. Where did they get all the wood to cook with, and what did they do with the birds’ remains?
One also may ask reasonably, since there are billions of hungry people in the world today, why doesn’t God do the same for them, bringing trillions of birds and manifesting manna from heaven? The all-powerful Lord miraculously feeds two million in the desert for 40 years, but he cannot end world hunger?
Where Did the Wood Come From?
Once encamped for four decades, the Israelites were instructed to offer up mass sacrifices of animals, which must be burned.
11 But the hide of the bull and all its flesh, as well as the head and legs, the internal organs and the intestines— 12 that is, all the rest of the bull—he must take outside the camp to a place ceremonially clean, where the ashes are thrown, and burn it there in a wood fire on the ash heap. Lev 4:11–12
Where did the wood come from for these enormous holocausts, which were attended by a handful of priests, the elderly Aaron and his two sons. The two sons were struck down for looking into the ark, thus leaving only Aaron as a priest.
And what about all the remains and ashes? How were they disposed of, as Yahweh demanded ritual cleanliness? (Deut 23:12–14)
29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. Levi 26:29,
Yahweh threatens his chosen people with the cannibalism of their own children if they do not obey him, a threat repeated elsewhere biblically. With such an atrocious punishment for disobedience and/or apostasy, we must question whether or not Yahweh is truly the God of the cosmos and if the “Good Book” is actually history ... and has faithfully recorded God’s words.
Disposition of the Dead
In other such episodes of Yahwist bloodthirstiness, after the second manna miracle (Num 11:7–9), at Numbers 11:33–34 the God decides to punish Israel for its “lust” by slaying huge numbers of his people with a “great plague.” The Isrealites being in number 2.5 to 3 million people, this bloody episode raises up the issue of the burial of Israel’s dead during the 40 years in the desert;
…as Yahveh got angry with his chosen, whom he had repeatedly promised to bring into Canaan, and he caused every one of them, except Joshua and Caleb, to die in the wilderness, there were on the average 1700 deaths and funerals per day for forty years, at the rate of 72 per hour, more than one for every minute of every day; and all the corpses must also be carried “without the camp” for burial, an average of six miles going and returning. And as the census taken at the end of the forty years shows but a slight decrease in numbers from that taken at the beginning, the entire host was renewed by a birth-rate of over one a minute for forty years; and all the debris must be lugged without the camp and disposed of.
As can be seen, the biblical tale once more ranks as very implausible.
In other myths, the legislator receiving the law code on a mountain or elsewhere represents a fictional foundation archetype found in other cultures as well.