MANNA (Heb. מָן), referred to as "bread from heaven" (Ex. 16:4; cf. Ps. 105:40). Manna is described in Exodus as coming down in the wilderness of Sinai within the area of the Israelites' encampment every morning except on Sabbaths in the form of "a fine, scale-like thing, fine as the hoarfrost on the ground." The Israelites collected "an Omer a head," which they ate within 24 hours, for if left until the next morning it bred worms and rotted. When the sun shone on the ground the manna melted. The double portion collected on the sixth day, however, did not rot and sufficed also for the Sabbath when no manna fell. In form "it was like coriander seed, but white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey." For 40 consecutive years the Israelites ate the manna, "until they came to the land of Canaan" (Ex. 16:26–36).
Some, drawing an analogy between the manna and the quails, which also miraculously descended to the children of Israel, contend that, like the latter, the manna was a phenomenon of nature which sometimes occurs in the wilderness of Sinai. Something similar is stated by Josephus (Ant. 3:26ff.): "And to this very day all that region is watered by a rain like to that which then the Deity sent down for men's sustenance." As early as from the time of St. Anthony (c. 250–355 c.e.), Christian pilgrims tell of a tradition, current among the monks of the monastery of St. Catherine in Sinai, that the biblical manna comes from the secretion of insects on the branches of tamarisk trees, which to this day grow in the wadis of the southern Sinai mountains. Bodenheimer has suggested a similar explanation of the origin of the manna. Two genera of coccidae parasitize on tamarisk trees of the species Tamarix mannifera. On those growing in the Arabah Valley, in the lowlands of the southern Negev, and in Sinai, there are large numbers of the coccus Najacoccus serpentinus minon, which is covered with a pocket in the form of an elongated tube in which it lays its eggs. Another coccus, the Tradutina mannipara, lays its eggs in a cone-like pocket. These two coccidae extract the sap, rich in carbohydrates, of the branches of the tamarisk, the excess carbohydrates which their bodies cannot absorb being secreted in the form of drops of transparent liquid that congeal into white globules, composed chemically of glucose, fructose, and a very small quantity of pectin. The globules melt in the heat of the sun. A large proportion of these globules of "manna" is eaten by ants, which collect them in their nests. In years of plentiful rain, the Sinai Bedouin, who also call the globules man, gather as much as 600 kilograms (about 1,300 lbs.) of them, which they use as a substitute for honey.
Although there is some resemblance between this "manna" and that described in the Pentateuch, and despite the importance of the early tradition supporting that identification, it is very doubtful whether this is the manna of the Bible, lacking as it does several features of the biblical food. There is the additional fact that the nutritional value of the "manna" produced by the cocci of the tamarisk is very slight, since it contains no proteins at all, whereas the Pentateuch speaks of the manna as "bread" and as a basic food. And finally, the quantity of this "manna" is not enough to feed a tribe or even a family, let alone a nation wandering in the wilderness. Some identify the biblical manna with the Lecanora esculenta, a species of lichen, large quantities of which are sometimes borne by winds to the central Asian steppes and to the heights of the Atlas Mountains. This species, however, has thus far not been found in the Arabian Peninsula or in the neighborhood of Israel.
In the Aggadah
Manna was one of the ten objects created in the twilight on the eve of the Sabbath of Creation (Avot 5:6). It was ground by the angels in heaven (Tanḥ. B., Ex. 67), where manna is constantly being prepared for the future use of the pious (Ḥag. 12b). Manna deserved its name, "bread of the angels" (lit. "bread of the mighty" לֶחֶם אַבִּירִים, Ps. 78:25) because those who ate it became equal to the angels in strength. Furthermore, like angels, they had no need of relieving themselves since the manna was entirely dissolved in their bodies (Tanḥ. B., Ex. 67), and it was not until they sinned by complaining about the taste of the manna that they once again had to relieve themselves like ordinary mortals (Yoma 75b). Each day sufficient manna to sustain the Jewish people for 2,000 years fell (Tanḥ. B., Ex. 66), and this spared the Israelites the need of carrying it during their wanderings, and thus also enabled them to enjoy it while it was still hot. Receiving a new supply every day constantly made them turn their hearts to God for their daily bread (Yoma 76a).
Before the manna fell, a north wind swept the surface of the desert, which the rain then washed clean; dew next descended and was congealed into a solid substance by the wind so that it would serve as a table for the manna which next fell from heaven; it was then covered by another layer of dew which protected it from vermin and insects (Mekh., Va-Yassa, 4). The manna fell directly in front of the homes of the righteous, but the average person had to go out and gather it, and the wicked had to go far from the camp to attain their share (Yoma 75a). At the fourth hour of the day when the manna melted, it formed a river from which the righteous will drink in the hereafter. The heathens also attempted to drink out of these streams, but the manna that tasted so delicious to the Israelites had a bitter taste in their mouths. They could enjoy it only indirectly, by catching and eating animals that drank the melted manna; even in this form it was so delicious that the heathens cried, "Happy is the people that is thus favored" (Tanḥ. B., Ex. 67). There was no need to cook or bake the manna. It contained the flavor of every conceivable dish. One had only to desire a specific food, and the manna assumed its taste (Yoma 75a). To the child it tasted like milk, to the adolescent like bread, to the old like honey, and to the sick like barley steeped in oil and honey (ibid.). The manna exhaled a fragrant odor, and served the women as perfume and cosmetics. Together with manna, precious stones and pearls also fell down from heaven to the Israelites (Yoma 75a).
The amount of manna gathered by each family was found to correspond to the number of its members. This rendered the manna useful in solving many difficult problems. For instance, when two people came before Moses, one accusing the other of having stolen his slave and the other claiming to have bought the slave, Moses deferred his decision to the following morning, when the quantity of manna in their respective houses revealed to whom the slave truly belonged (Yoma 75a). When, many centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah exhorted his contemporaries to study the Torah, they responded by saying, "How shall we maintain ourselves?" The prophet then brought forth the vessel with manna which had been placed in the Temple, and exclaimed: "O generation, see ye the word of the Lord; see what it was that served your fathers as food when they applied themselves to the study of the Torah. You, too, will be supported by God in the same way if you will devote yourselves to the study of the Torah" (Mekh., Va-Yassa, 6). When the destruction of the Temple was imminent, the vessel with manna was concealed along with the Ark and the sacred oil. In the messianic period, the prophet Elijah will restore all those hidden objects (ibid.).
F.S. Bodenheimer, Ha-Ḥai be-Arẓot ha-Mikra, 2 (1956), 297–302; F.S. Bodenheimer and O. Theodor, Ergebnisse der Sinai-Expedition 1927 (1929); Kaiser, in: zdpv, 53 (1930), 63–75; Ginzberg, Legends, index; B.J. Malina, Palestinian Manna Tradition (1968).
Manna is food provided for the Israelites in the desert by God in reply to one of their chronic murmurings (Ex 16.4–36; Nm 11.6–9; Dt 8.3). This "bread from heaven" appeared first in the second month after the Exodus as fine flakes on the ground. It was "like coriander seed, but white, and it tasted like wafers made with honey" (Ex 16.31). Ground into flour, it made palatable loaves, and it helped sustain the people for 40 years.
The manna of the Exodus was certainly providential and may even have been miraculous with reference to the times at which and the quantity in which it was supplied. Basically, however, it is a natural product, widely found in the Near East to this day. It is produced by excretion by two scale insects (Trabutina mannipara Ehrenberg and Najacoccus serpentinus Green ) and is similar to the honeydew of many types of plant lice; it falls to the ground as drops and there hardens into the grains described in the Bible.
That a deeply religious significance was seen in the providential supply of manna is already evident in the accounts in Exodus and Numbers and becomes more apparent in Dt 8.3, in the midrash in Wis 16.20–29, and in the
New Testament. In 1 Cor 10.1–6 the manna is termed "spiritual food" and is referred to Christ, together with water from the rock. St. Paul concludes: "Now all these things happened to them as a type …" (v. 11); then, inv. 15 he turns his attention to the Eucharist (see type and antitype). In Jn 6.32, 48 Jesus contrasts the manna with the "true bread from heaven" given by His Father. He leads his audience from physical bread (the loaves multiplied for them) to divine teaching, and finally, to the Sacrament of His flesh (6.51–56). Part of the background of this miracle was the rabbinic belief that the manna would reappear in the messianic era.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 1434–36. j. schildenberger, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche 2, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (Freiburg, 1957–65) 6:1360–61. r. meyer, g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935–) 4:466–470. f. s. bodenheimer, "The Manna of Sinai," The Biblical Archaeologist, 10 (1947) 2–6. a. de guglielmo, "What Was the Manna?" The Catholic Bible Quarterly 2 (1940) 112–129.
[m. k. hopkins]
man·na / ˈmanə/ • n. (in the Bible) the substance miraculously supplied as food to the Israelites in the wilderness (Exod. 16). ∎ an unexpected or gratuitous benefit: the cakes were manna from heaven. ∎ (in Christian contexts) spiritual nourishment, esp. the Eucharist. ∎ a sweet secretion from the manna ash or a similar plant, used as a mild laxative and as a principal source of mannitol.
The extended use of manna to mean ‘an unexpected or gratuitous benefit’ (frequently in manna from heaven) is recorded from the early 17th century.