The Manna of the Sinai Wilderness
and the solving of the 3000 year old mystery as to "why" it was
ground, beaten, boiled and baked into cakes

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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in the Exodus as being at Ras el Ballah (my Baal-zephon)

18 August 2003 (Revisions through 26 May 2010)

This article in a nutshell:

Over the past 200 years some devout conservative scholars have maintained that the manna associated with the tarfa tree (tamarisk tree) in the Sinai cannot be the manna being described in the Bible as having fed Israel in her Wilderness Wanderings. I understand these scholars are correct. What they failed to realize is that the Bible's manna is actually Kurdish oak tree manna; the Jewish author living in Mesopotamia in the 6th century B.C. Exile was apparently unaware that the manna he had probably eaten (Kurdish manna) was different in properties and preparation from the tarfa manna Israel encountered in the Sinai. So, _in error_, this Exilic author is describing the properties and processing of Kurdish oak tree manna, assuming that the Sinatic manna would possess the same properties and be processed in a similar manner. That is to say Numbers 11:8 was not written by Moses or some other eyewitness in an Exodus circa 1512 B.C. (some Catholic scholars) or 1446 B.C. (some Protestant scholars) it was written by a Jew in the Babylonian Exile of the 6th century B.C. (562-560 B.C.) who knew next to nothing about the properties of the tarfa manna found in the Sinai beyond the fact that hoary traditions existed about a substance in the Sinai called manna which he, in error, thought was like the Kurdish manna.

A search of the internet for a scholarly, detailed description of the miraculous Manna which Yahweh-Elohim fed his people with in the Exodus narratives left me with great dissatisfation, so I have reproduced below an outstanding article by a scholar, Frederick Simon Bodenheimer (1897-1959; an Entomologist, a biologist specializing on insects of bible lands) who in person, traveled to the Sinai in 1927 to observe first-hand how Manna is created.  His report based on personal observations, while confirming the veracity of some of the biblical statements about manna, also noted several errors in the biblical presentation, and offers suggestions for how these errors arose in the course of the transmission of the oral traditions.

F.S. Bodenheimer (Emphasis mine):

"In Exodus 16 and Numbers 11 we find reports of manna in the desert. Some believe that this manna was similar to bread and that it was furnished in quantities large enough to feed a whole people. Others regard it as a natural phenomenon which contributed to the diet of the Israelites in the desert. Only the latter view permits analysis and discussion. Since biblical history often is confirmed by archaeology, why not confirm the reports of manna by existing natural phenomena?

The most widely accepted view in textbooks is that the lichen Lecanora esculenta is identical with the manna of the Bible. This lichen grows on rocks and produces fructifications in the form of pea-sized globules which are light enough to be blown about by the wind. The natives of the Irano-Turanian steppes, from Central Asia to the high Atlas plateau, collect these globules for their sweetness ("halvah"). The idea of a manna rain based on this phenomenon is impressive, even though the collected bits remain as delicacies and do not appear in quantities large enough to replace bread. However, these rains of Lecanora are rare and unique occurances and usually happen during the day. The Bible reports that the manna appeared at night, and also stongly indicates a regular recurrence of the event. Another fact which refutes the idea of Lecanora as the manna of Sinai is its complete absence in the region of the Sinai during the last 150 years when many collections of rock lichen were made. During this same period not one traveler has ever reported a manna rain or heard about it from the local monks or nomads.

The record of the oldest local traditions of Sinai comes from Flavius Josephus and the early monks of the St. Catherine monastery. These reports link the manna with the tamarisk thickets in the wadis of the central Sinai mountains. Here year after year in June appears a granular type of sweet manna from pinhead to pea size. It appears on the tender twigs of tamarisk bushes for a period of three to six weeks. The quantity of this manna fluctuates according to the winter rainfall. The crop may fail entirely in one wadi and at the same time be plenteous in others. Certain wadis such as Wadi Nasib and the wadi esh-Sheikh are especially famous for their manna production. Usually the annual crop does not exceed several kilograms, but one steady man may collect over a kilogram [2.205 pounds] a day at the peak of the season. This certainly does not allow for the "bread" or daily food of the wandering Israelites. However, we must note that lehem does not have an original meaning of bread, but of food in general. Otherwise, it could not have come to mean "meat" in Arabic. All in all, the nutritive value of these few kilograms of manna could not have been important enough to deserve a recording in Israel's history. There must have been a special quality to justify its inclusion in the chronicle. The special quality was its sweetness.

A chemical analysis reveals that this type of manna contains a mixture of three basic sugars with pectin. One who has wandered with nomads in the desert knows that sweetness is their highest culinary dream. At the time in which the Israelites wandered in the desert, neither sugar beets nor sugar cane was known. Sweet dates had  only a limited productivity and may have been unknown or almost unknown in the deserts. Therefore, the sudden discovery of a source of pure and attractive sweetness would have been an exciting event.

This manna was regarded until recently as a secretion of the tamarisk. Ehrenberg, however, about 120 years ago connected it with an insect which he described as Coccus manniparus. His description is so mixed in character that we must suppose he described the larva of a lady beetle within the ovisac of a scale insect together with the insect itself. Ehrenberg assumed that the insect sucked on a plant, and from these sucking holes or punctures oozed the manna.

In June of 1927 the writer visited the valleys of central Sinai in order to study this manna. It soon became obvious that two closely related species of scale insects produce the manna by excretion. These are Trabutina mannipara Ehrenberg, and the Najacoccus serpentinus Green, which is easily recognized by the very long, snow-white, narrow, and cylinderical ovisac. Of these two, the former is the manna producer in the mountains, the latter in the lowlands. This manna is none other than the well-known honeydew excretion of so many plant lice and scale insects. The honeydew drops are excreted mainly by the growing larva and immature females. Rapid evaporation due to the dry air of the desert quickly changes the drops into sticky solids. These manna pieces later turn a whitish, yellowish, or brownish color. The reason that insects excrete and waste high-valued foodstuffs in great quantities, such as pure sugars, can be explained on a physiological basis. These insects suck great quantities of plant saps which are rich in carbohydrates but extremely poor in nitrogen. In order to acquire the miniumum amount of of nitrogen for the balancing of their metabolism, they must suck carbohydrates in great excess. This excess passes from them in honeydew excretion.

Now, we shall compare briefly the biblical report with the actual manna phenomenon in the Sinai. But first, we must make clear one thing about the biblical report. All the statements about manna in the early traditions of Scripture (i.e., the Elohim or Yahweh codes), agree closely with our observations. However, Priestly materials which were added hundreds of years later and which are based on conjectures or on misinterpretation of the oral tradition, show definite divergences (cf. F. S. Bodenheimer and O. Theodor, Ergebnisse der Sinai-Expedition [Leipzig, 1929], pp. 79 ff.).

We begin with the criteria of space and time. The location of the manna excreation which is given in the older codes as beginning at Elim (near Wadi Gharandel) and ending at Rephidim (the oasis Feiran), agrees well with the northern limits of the manna excretion in our day. Manna first was discovered on the 15th day of the second month after the Exodus from Egypt. This would be the middle or end of Siwan, which is late May or early June. This date agrees with the natural season of manna production. The description of manna in the Bible, which likens it to small, light brown cummin seeds and to the stickiness of bdellion resin, is a remarkably suitable description of the tamarisk manna. In the Bible its taste is described as like that of sappihit bidhas, which easily may refer to crystallized grains so often found on the surface of honey. Exodus 16:14 and Numbers 11:9 state that the manna fell from heaven during the night. Actually, most of the dropping of manna, or at least its accumulation on the soil, occurs at night when the ants are not collecting it. And in many countries the honeydew of aphids is called "the dew of heaven," because the causal connection between insects and the honedew is not recognized.

An easy explanation can be offered for the worms and stinking decay of the manna which was collected in excess of need (Exodus 16:20,21). The manna grains are eagerly collected by ants, and in a primitive tent there is little protection against them. These ants could be called worms, while the addition of stinking decay is a later misinterpretation and interpolation. The Bible has a special word for ant (nemalah), but in this place it uses the general word for worms and vermin  
(tola). However, a personal experience may explain this. When I asked our nomad guide for the name of the the many manna-collecting ants, he called them dudi, which corresponds to the Hebrew tol`at. When I asked him if they might be called nimleh (nemalah), he answered that it was possible. Since he knew both designations he had used the more general one. This was almost certainly the procedure of the oral tradition.

Exodus 16:21 tells us that the manna was collected early in the morning and that it "melted when the sun grew hot." We must regard the melting as a late and mistaken interpolation. The ants begin to collect the manna only when the temperature of the soil surpasses 21 degrees Centigrade (70 degrees Fahrenheit). In most of the wadis at the time of our visit the rays of the sun usually accomplished this about 830 AM. This activity of the ants ceases in the early evening. In the lowlands the ants begin much earlier. All those manna grains which drop from late afternoon to early morning remain until the beginning of ant activity in the morning. Then, however, they are speedily collected and carried away.

These and a number of other agreements between the biblical report and the tamarisk manna have led people to connect them since olden times. We have seen that all the eye-witness reports of the Bible can be taken as literal descriptions of the tamarisk manna of Sinai.

However, this tamarisk manna of the Sinai is no isolated event. It is not even the most abundant manna known to us. If it were not for the biblical record we would know very little at all about it. "Man" is the common Arabic name for plant lice, and "man es-simma" (the manna of heaven) for honeydew. This confirms our views, because a number of small cicadas 
(Homoptera of various families) are found in Sinai, southern Iraq, and Iran, and are locally called "man." They produce a product in small quantities which is similar to manna and which is used as a delicacy and as an ingredient in popular medicenes. The large Cicada orni L. produces a like excretion on ash trees in Italy. The most famous manna product of the Middle East is the Kurdish manna which is collected by the thousands of kilograms every year in June and July. It is used for the preparation of special confections which are sold in the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere under the name of "man." This manna is also produced all over the general Kurdistan region in the extensive oak forest by a still undetermined aphid. This plant louse sucks on oak leaves and copiously excretes a honeydew which solidifies with fragments of the leaves. We were unfortunate in July 1943, when we visited one of the famous manna-producing forests near Penjween in northeastern Iraq, for the manna crop was a complete failure that year. We could not observe even abortive manna production. This type of manna is composed principally of a rare polysaccharide trehlose.

Accordingly, we find that manna production is a biological phenomenon of the dry deserts and steppes. The liquid honeydew excretion of a number of cicadas, plant lice, and scale insects speedily solidifies by rapid evaporation. From remote times the resulting sticky and oftentimes granular masses have been collected and called manna." (pp. 76-80. F. S. Bodenheimer. "The Manna of Sinai." G. Ernest Wright & David Noel Freedman, editors. The Biblical Archaeologist Reader. Chicago. Quadrangle Books. 1961, a reprint of an article by F.S. Bodenheimer of The Hebrew University."The Manna of Sinai." The Biblical Archaeologist. published by the American Schools of Oriental Research.  Vol. X.1, Feb. 1947, pp. 2-6. )

Below, a black and white photograph of the gelatinous insect excretion, Manna, on some Tamarisk branches taken by F.S. Bodenheimer in 1927. (cf. p. 124. Werner Keller. The Bible As History, Archaeologists Show the Truth of the Old Testament. Oxford, England. A Lion Book. 1991. ISBN 0-74592168X)

Some Conservative-Fundamentalist scholars have denied that Manna could be as above identified based on their presupposition that the Bible is the word of God, has no error, and consequently, any proposal that "contradicts" Holy Writ is flawed. In this case, they note that God provided Manna for his people for 40 years of wandering in the Wilderness as well as quail for flesh. If Manna is a "seasonal" item, restricted to certain locations and appearing only in the Spring and Summer, then God's ability to provide it year-round is questioned. They thus have concluded that Manna, whatever it is, cannot be as above described by Bodenheimer.

Professor Hoerth, a Conservative scholar (recently retired from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois) on Manna (note: Hoerth appears to be unaware that Manna is _not_ a plant secretion but an insect's excretion):

"It is occasionally claimed that manna can still be found (Keller 1981:128-30), an assertion largely based on the modern Arab term manna, which describes the seasonal secretion of a certain plant found in some areas of the Sinai. But there are several dissimilarities between the biblical manna and this secretion: biblical manna was not seasonal, it was not similarly localized, and it spoiled quickly. Such differences preclude the correctness of the suggested identification, and the biblical declaration that manna ceased to be provided once the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land argues against the possibility of its presence at any time since then." 

(pp. 168-169. "Enroute to Mount Sinai." Alfred J. Hoerth. Archaeology and the Old Testament. 1998. Baker Books. Grand Rapids, Michigan)

Conservative Christians noting that the Bible's description of Manna does not agree in all particulars with the Manna of the Tamarisk, have rejected the association and have declared that Manna was a "miracle" food which was provided by God only during the Exodus and never again.

Bonar a devout Christian who traveled the Sinai in the Spring of 1856, goes into lengthy detail as to why the Manna of the Tamarisk _cannot_ be the Manna of the Exodus:

"As it must have been somewhere in this neighbourhood that the manna was first given (Nu 33:12; Ex 16:1-4), it may be well to notice the theory which makes it a mere natural growth, -produce of the tarfa-tree. It is impossible that it could be so for such reasons as the following: -(1) The tarfa exudes only small quantities of what is called manna. The Arabs could not exist upon it for a week. A whole wady full of tarfas would not exude enough to support half-a-dozen travellers. Will those who adopt this theory put it to the test by going to Wady Gharandal without provisions and trust to the tarfa for food? They will get water there, and if their hypothesis be the correct one, they will find enough upon the tarfas to sustain them. If these trees fed two or three millions, they will surely feed two or three individuals, especially as Gharandel seems more productive now than in past ages. The theory is absurd; and its absurdity is easily shewn...The tarfa only exudes at certain seasons, March and April (Seetzen says June). When we passed through the desert there were no exudations...Israel required manna constantly, in all seasons. Grant that they entered the desert just at the proper season, that would not supply them for the rest of the year. The manna was not confined to any month or season, but was found at all times...The tarfa does not yield its exudations regularly, even once a year. It sometimes omits four or five years, and cannot be reckoned on. But Israel was fed of forty years upon the manna...(Ex 16:35). Two millions of people fed for forty years upon the exudations of the tarfa! He who believes this need stumble at no miracle...The exudations of the tarfa come out from the branches of the tree, they do not come down from the air or sky. But Israel's manna is several times over said to fall from heaven. "He commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and rained down manna upon them to eat, and gave them of the corn of heaven." (Psa. 78:24). Each of these narratives implies it was something which came down like rain. "I will rain bread from heaven for you." (Ex 16:4) Is this like an exudation? The tarfa-exudations are in composition and consistency somewhat like honey. They are quite unfit for grinding, or pounding, or baking, or boiling. Who could grind honey? Yet we read of the manna that the people "ground it in mills or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans,and made cakes of it" (Nu 11:8), nay boiled it (Ex 16:23). We brought home several little pots of the tarfa-manna, and we are willing to give a handsome reward to any German or English rationalist who will undertake to grind it, or beat it in a mortar, or bake it in a pan. They would find it easier to believe the miracle; for certainly it is less difficult to believe a miracle than to work one...The tarfa-manna does not stink nor breed worms in a single night. Our manna which we brought from the desert is as fresh and good this day as it was ten months ago, when we bought it from the monks. There is not a worm in it...The ancient manna evaporated as the sun rose (Ex 16:21). The tarfa-manna does not evaporate. It gets soft in the sun, or when exposed to heat, but that is all...The tarfa-manna does not fall in double quantity of Fridays, and cease to fall entirely on Saturday. This, however, was the case with the ancient manna. (Ex 16:29) On the sixth day, God "gave the bread of two days," and on the seventh day "there was none." (Ex 16:26) Was this natural or supernatural? Did Moses write the truth, or is his narrative a fiction? The tarfa-manna is medicene, not food. No Arab would think of feeding on it. It is moreover purgative, and it would hardly do to feed a man upon purgative medicene, -and nothing else,- all the days of his life." ...The ancient manna was a thing quite unknown to the Israelites. "He fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know." (De 8:3) "They wist not what it was." (Ex 16:15). Surely they would know what the exudation of a desert-tree was. Surely Moses could have told them its proper name, for he had been forty years in this very desert. Or if he did not know it, Jethro could have told them...if Israel had lived upon the manna of the tarfa-tree, two miracles would have been necessary, one to render the tarfas about ten thousand times more productive than they are (and this all the year through), and then another to keep the children of Israel in bodily health while living on that one article. Without the first miracle they could not have been fed at all, and without the second they would have died in a few weeks."

(pp.146-151. "Miracle of Manna." Horatius Bonar. The Desert of Sinai, Notes of a Spring Journey from Cairo to Beersheba. London. James Nisbet & Co. 1857. Reprinted 2005 by Adamant Media Corporation for Elibron Classics)

Greenwood (1997) on the location of trees associated with the production of Manna identifying several wadies in the southern Sinai (Note: Greenwood like Hoerth appears to be _unaware_ of the 1927 research of F. S. Bodenheimer which etablished that manna is a secretion of insects, and _not_ a "gummy exudate of trees" as thought by Carl Ritter in 1866):

"Of the various plant foods of Sinai, none fired the imagination of European explorers like manna, the "bread of heaven." Speculation is rampant on what it really was or is...Theories fall along two main lines" "wind-blown" (lichens) and "honey-dew" (gum resins). Most theorists settle for the latter.

In Sinai, it is the honey-dew manna obtained from desert shrubs that receives most attention. Most tamarisks, some acacias, and even camel thorn produce exudates. The focus, however, is on the Tamarix mannifera (tarfa), also rendered T. gallica mannifera (French tamarisk). The exudate production of all other shrub species is probably less than that of the tarfa. Both volume and quality set it apart.

Carl Ritter, the noted German geographer, in his exhaustive 1866 study of the Sinai, devoted twenty-four pages plus numerous indirect references to touting tarfa as the biblical manna. While other scholars may not agree with Ritter, tarfa seems to be the logical candidate. Tarfa manna has for centuries been collected by Bedouin for their own diet and to sell to the pilgrims visiting the Judeo-Christian shrines of the peninsula. Distribution of Tamarix mannifera in Sinai is controlled by elevation and moisture; hence most occurrences are in wadi valleys below the 3,000-foot (914-meter) contour. Three fairly localized occurrences dominate Sinai: Wadi Sheikh, Wadi Feiran, and Wadi Gharandal. Wadi Sheikh is a tributary of Wadi Feiran. For part of its course, just above the juncture with Feiran, it is known as Wadi Tarfa. This concentration around Wadi Sheikh is convieniently close to Gebel Musa (widely accepted as Mount Sinai) and Er Rahah (Plain of the Promulgation of the Law). In addition to tarfa manna, many other gummy exudates have over the years yielded economic value to the Sinai." 

(pp. 94-95. "Manna." Ned Greenwood. The Sinai, A Physical Geography. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. 1997. ISBN 0-292-72799-2 paperback)

Burckhardt (Spring of 1816) on manna:

"I have already mentioned several times the Wady el many parts it was thickly overgrown with the tamarisk or Tarfa; it is the only valley in the peninsula where this tree grows, at present, in any great quantity, though small bushes of it are here and there met with in other parts. It is from the Tarfa that the manna is obtained, and it is very strange that the fact should have remained unknown in Europe, till M. Seetzen mentioned it in a brief notice of his tour to Sinai, published in the Mines de l'Orient. This substance is called by the Bedouins, mann, and accurately resembles the description of manna given in the Scriptures. In the month of June it drops from the thorns of the tamarisk upon the fallen twigs,leaves, and thorns which always cover the ground beneath that tree in the natural state; the manna is collected before sunrise, when it is coagulated, but it dissolves as soon as the sun shines upon it. The Arabs clean away the leaves, dirt, etc. which adhere to it, boil it, strain it though a coarse piece of cloth, and put it into leathern skins; in this way they preserve it till the following year, and they use it as they do honey, to pour over their unleavened bread, or to dip their bread into. I could not learn that they ever make it into cakes or loaves. The manna is found only in years when copious rains have fallen; sometimes it is not produced at all, as will probably happen this year. I saw none of it among the Arabs, but obtained a small piece of last year's produce, in the convent; where having been kept in the cool shade and moderate temperature of that place, it had become quite solid, and formed a small cake; it became soft when kept sometime in the hand; if placed in the sun for five minutes it dissolved; but when restored to a cool place it became solid again in a quarter of an hour...Its colour is a dirty yellow, and the piece which I saw was still mixed with bits of tamarisk leaves: its taste is agreeable, somewhat aromatic, and as sweet as honey. If eaten in any considerable quantity it is said to be slightly purgative.

The quantity of manna collected at present, even in season when the most copious rains fall, is very trifling, perhaps not amounting to more than five or six hundred pounds. It is entirely consumed among the Bedouins, who consider it the greatest dainty which their country affords. The harvest is usually in June, and lasts for about six weeks; sometimes it begins in May. There are only particular parts of the Wady Sheikh that produce the tamarisk; but it is said to grow in Wady Naszeb, the fertile valley to the southeast of the convent, on the road to Sherm [the modern port of Sharm el Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula]." 

(pp. 453-454. Johann Ludwig Burkhardt [Anglicized: John Lewis Burkhardt]. Travels In Syria and the Holy Land. London. John Murray. 1822)

Burkhardt's observation of manna or "mann" _lying on the ground_ upon leaves fallen about tamarisk trees somewhat mirrors the biblical description of manna _lying on the ground_ in the early morning twilight. Burkhardt's mention of mann _dissolving in the sun_ appears to mirror somewhat the biblical description of the biblical _manna melting_ in sunlight. So too, his description of the Bedouin _boiling_ the mann to preserve it "mirrors" the Bible's description of Israel _boiling_ its manna to preserve it. While the Bedouin do _not bake_ mann they do place it on unleavened baked bread like a honey to consume. So there is some sort of association of manna with baked bread. Perhaps because the custom was to eat manna WITH BREAD, the biblical narrator _took the liberty_ to call it "the Lord's bread"? That is to say when an Israelite ate a piece of unleavened bread with manna on it he was eating "the Lord's bread"? That manna could be preserved for at least a year is testified by Burkhardt who noted if it was kept in a cool dark place it coagulated "into a cake," could this "coagulated cake" be the "wafers made with honey" description of the BIble? In the Bible it is placed in a jar and placed in the cool darkness of the chest called the Ark of the Covenant or "Testimony." As regards the appearance of "worms," I wonder if what is being described is in fact  THE LARVAE associated with the production of mann:

Bodenheimer on larvae:

"The honeydew drops are excreted mainly by THE GROWING LARVAE and immature females."

Exodus 16:11-36 RSV

"And then Lord said to Moses, "I have heard the murmurmings of the people of Israel; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God...and in the morning dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoar-frost upon the ground...Moses said to them, "It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat...gather it...Let no man leave any of it till the morning. But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and became foul...Morning by morning they gathered it...but when the sun grew hot, it melted...bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is leftover lay by to be kept till the morning. So they laid it by till the morning, as Moses bade them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it...Now the house of Israel called its name manna; it was like corriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey...And Moses said to Aaron, "Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord to be kept throughout your generations. As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the testimony, to be kept."

Numbers 11:7-9 RSV

"Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it, and GROUND IT in mills or BEAT IT in mortars, and BOILED IT in pots, and MADE CAKES of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it."

Hobbs on manna:

"Like quail, the biblical manna may have been a genuine resource of the Sinai. Many researchers have concluded that manna is secreted by two insect species, Trabutina mannipara and Najacoccus serpentinus, which infest tamarisk trees in the mountainous south and the lowland of the Sinai, respectively. Fritz Bodenheimer explained that in the early summer following good winter rains, these scale insects suck the carbohydrate-rich sap of the tamarisk and excrete a surplus onto the tree's twigs as small globules that crystallize and fall to the ground. People must collect the edible, sticky substance before the day's heat comes on or ants find it. In 1844 Constantine von Tischendorf was delighted to be able to eat the "excrescences hanging like glittering pearls or thick dew drops from tamarisks in Wadi Feiran:

"These thickish lumps were clammy, and had the same powerful scent emitted by the shrub. I tasted it, and its flavour, as far as I could find a suitable comparison, greatly resembles honey. My Bedouins told me that no manna had been collected for three years, but that this year a rich harvest was expected. In the month of July, the Bedouins, and also the monks of St. Catherine's monastery, collect it in small leathern bags, chiefly from the ground, whither it drops from the branches upon hot days. As it is not produced in very large quantities, it is sold tolerably dear, and chiefly to the pilgrims to Mecca and Mount Sinai. Yet do the Bedouins themselves indulge in it; they eat it spread upon bread, like honey."

(p. 48. Joseph J. Hobbs. Mount Sinai. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. 1995. ISBN 0-292-73094-2. paperback)

Professor Hoffmeier on the third new moon after leaving Egypt equating to a journey of 6 weeks:

"Exodus 19:1-2 offers the final datum related to the itinerary to Mt. Sinai: "On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai...Since Israel departed Egypt on the fifteenth of Abib (Exod. 12:18; 13:4), the first day of the third new moon would be six weeks later. Abib falls in the months of March and April, meaning that six weeks should take one into May and June. As we have seen in chapter 3 section 4, southern Sinai is more temperate during the summer months than north and central Sinai, and water is more available. These ecological considerations made south Sinai more attractive to the seminomadic population of the peninsula during the summer months." 

(p. 171. "From Egypt to Mt. Sinai." James K. Hoffmeier. Ancient Israel In Sinai, the Evidence For the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. New York. Oxford University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-19-515546-7)

Hoffmeier noted that manna, if an excretion of insects associated with tamarisk trees, is found in the south Sinai in the general vicinity (Wadi Feiran and its headwaters) of Gebel Musa and Ras Safsafeh in the same months Israel arrives at the Holy Mount:

"...F. S. Bodenheimer...prefers the explanation of Ehrenberg that Robinson accepted, namely, that manna is produced by the excretion of certain insects. He notes that this phenomenon occurs annually in June, and he observed it himself during a visit to Sinai in June 1927. He also noted that it was during the period of May-June that the Israelites would have reached the area where tamarisk manna occurs. This concurs with the dating observed in the previous section, based upon chronological data provided by the Torah." 

(p. 172. "From Egypt to Mt. Sinai." James K. Hoffmeier. Ancient Israel In Sinai, the Evidence For the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. New York. Oxford University Press. 2005)


Below is a fine scholarly article on Manna by Benjamin Fleischer and Dr. Jeffery Tigay Please click on the following url  to access the original article in its "original formatting" and accompanying footnotes which have not been reproduced below.

Manna: Bread from Heaven Or the Tamarisk?

Benjamin Fleischer
Exodus in Translation
Dr. Jeffery Tigay
Spring 2000

The Hebrew Bible contains numerous miraculous episodes wherein God bends nature to his will. One possibly natural act that has spawned many legends is the miracle of God’s providing manna in the wilderness (Ex 15:27-16:36). Manna was a sweet food ‘rained down’ in the southern Sinai (Ex 16:1) for the Israelites to cook and prepare with other foods (Ex 16:23). It has been a long-asked question what the Israelites experienced in the wilderness, to what event the episode is referring. The text provides few details and cryptic terminology in describing the episode. God’s provision of manna is meant to be seen as miraculous as shown by the Sabbath episode. But what is the historical event behind the narrative? To gain a better picture to what the text is referring one looks to natural phenomena. Two basic approaches to the text are either to show the text as a legendary account of a natural occurrence or to show the miracle as the divine amplification of a natural event. The approach of this paper will be not to explain what happened in the wilderness, but what the manna is to which the text refers. The integrity of the text will generally be maintained.

Biblical Descriptions of Manna

The thesis of this paper is that Exodus 16 is the manna story from which the other scriptural accounts are drawn. Thus, it would be appropriate to first comment on how Exodus 16:14,20-21,23,31 sees manna. Manna is fine and flaky, like frost, becomes infested with maggots when left out, melts in the sun, can be baked, was like coriander seed, white and tasted like wafers in honey. Numbers 11:7 adds that manna was like coriander seed, the color of bdellium, and tasted like rich cream when prepared. Numbers 11:8 adds that it could be ground, pounded, boiled and made into cakes. These are the most concrete descriptions of manna as an earthly product. It is perhaps in verse 15 referred to as lechem which may here mean food or meat rather than the usual bread[1]. We will keep this reading in mind wherever the text reads ‘bread’.

Scientific Explanation

Scholars have come to the conclusion that the most likely natural explanation for manna is found in the Sinai pennisula to this day. It is the excretion of two types of insect that feed on the Tamarisk shrub: Tamarix gallica variety mannifera [2]. The local Bedouins call this extract man (manna). The shrub has been consistently identified over the past 200 years. However, even Josephus [3] and Dioscorides [4] were familiar with a manna that still rained down. The most often quoted scientific data is from a trip to the southern Sinai made by F.S. Bodenheimer in 1927. All opinions since this trip rely on it except for El-Gammal. The conclusions he made have been quoted as the primary source by the Anchor Bible, Cassuto, Donkin, Encyclopedia Judaica, Shurney, and Bates in all sources explicating a scientific explanation. Let us examine the characteristics of this manna in comparison to the biblical description. 

Ancient Evidence

The name manna itself, man in Hebrew, has been preserved in Arabic by the Sinai Bedouins who harvest it. This is likely an Aramaic or Syriac expression and hence a late gloss in the text [5]. (The late Egyptian is mnu). Manna in the Torah is called “heavenly grain” (dagan shamayim) and “heavenly bread” (lechem shamayim). This is nicely paralleled by the Bedouins calling it the “dew of heaven” [6] and “manna/gift from heaven” (man-es-simma) [7]. As to the term dagan itself, the meaning is quite explicit. However, lechem as used in the Torah itself has multiple meanings and may mean food in general [8]. The name man may also be understood as “separated from (min)” an insect or tree [9]. It is unlikely that Bedouins knew that it came from an insect since they called it ‘from heaven’. Manna gum was sold in the markets of Egypt perhaps at the time the Israelites were there [10] so that they may have been familiar with it.

Appearance: Size, Color, Texture

Tamarisk manna falls from branches and leaves in drops from pin-head size to pea-sized [11]. Though Ex 16:14 reads “a fine and flaky (mhsps) substance, as fine as frost on the ground”, 1QExodus reads “fine as rime” (khsps) [12]. Rime is hoarfrost, a very fine covering and nicely parallels “fine as frost”. It is thus apparent that the covering of manna was very fine upon the ground and matches Tamarisk manna. The text also compares manna to coriander seeds which are small and yellow-brown [13]; though not white, they are the right shape. Another possible meaning for hsps is ‘revealed’ [14] or perhaps ‘crystallization’ or ‘scaliness’ [15].

Freshly fallen Tamarisk manna is whitish in color [16]. Older manna (stored for a year) becomes a yellowish or brownish color [17]. Coriander seeds are small and yellow-brown [18]. Thus, the Tamarisk manna continues to be supported by the text. Sarna comments:

“The information about the nature of the manna is provided for those who are no longer familiar with it The comparison with coriander seed relates only to the shape and size, not to its color, which is dark. In Numbers 11:7 the manna is described as having the appearance of bdellium (Heb. Bedolah). It is assumed that the reader is familiar with the term, whose precise meaning is now uncertain. In Genesis 2:12 it is associated with gold and a lapis lazuli, and so should refer to some precious stone. The Septuagint understands the depiction of the manna in this way, as do Rashi and Saadia. Josephus, however, compares the manna “with the spicy herb called bdellium.” The Akkadian cognate budulhu is, in fact, an aromatic resin [19].”[20] 

Bdellium is pale yellow or white [21]. Rashbam understands it as being hard and dry [22]. Taking this into account, Bodenheimer accounts that Tamarisk manna are sticky, solid drops [23]. Burckhardt recounts that manna is like a solid little cake in the cool shadow [24]. Rabbinic legend resolves the contradiction between Number 11:9 and Ex 16:14 regarding the dew by offering that the manna was between two dews[25]. This is explanation is too fanciful to merit scientific explanation.


Exodus 16:31 describes the taste of manna as “wafers in honey” (though Num 11:8 has rich cream)[26] which Rashbam and Bekhor Shor reconcile by offering that the taste changes from honey to cream when ground [27]. Bodenheimer recounts that Tamarisk manna is sweet as honey and sticky. The Bedouins consider it a sweet-tasting dainty [28].


Bodenheimer describes Tamarisk manna as melting in the sun or in fire [29]. Due to discrepencies in Bodenheimer’s description, Cassuto attempts to understand melted (we-namas) as “became loathsome” (we-names) [30]. Since there is sufficient evidence that Tamarisk manna melts, it is unnecessary to reinterpret the Masoretic text. The Encyclopedia Judaica adds that some manna melts in the sun while some is eaten by ants [31]. 

The Manna must be collected between 6 am and 8:30 am while it is coagulated and before the ants start gathering it [32]. This corroborates the biblical account that manna collected at night, was gathered early in the morning, and melted in the heat of the sun.


Exodus 16:20 reads “some of them left of it until morning and it became infested with maggots (wyrwm thl’h) and stank.” Exodus 16:24 reads “it did not turn foul [on the Sabbath], and there were no maggots (rymh) in it.” This is in complete contradiction to the known gathering of the manna by ants. Interestingly, today’s Bedouins call the ants dudi (worms) rather than nimleh (ants) [33]. This would then be an acceptable divergence between the text and the natural explanation. Even so, we are still left with the difficulty that Tamarisk manna does not sour and rot [34] six out of seven days of the week. In fact, manna may be stored for over a year if kept away from the ants! [35]


When the text reads “bake what you would bake”, Cassuto understands “Bake together with the manna” because “manna was [not] their sole food throughout the period” (Ex 16:35); cattle provided milk and meat. (It was those without cattle who murmured)[36]. The question becomes: is manna bakable? Bodenheimer wrote that Tamarisk manna was too soft to be pounded [37]. Donkin understands that manna must have broken leaves in it to be grindable and bakable [38]. The manna Bodenheimer and Burckhardt found at St. Catherine’s monastary was dirty and still mixed with leaves [39]. In fact, today’s Bedouins do cook and prepare manna for food. They clean away the leaves and dirt, boil it, strain it through a coarse piece of cloth, and put it into leathern skins to preserve for following year. Buckhardt was not sure if they made it into cakes or loaves. They then use it to pour over unleavened bread and dip bread into. [40] Thus, manna may be bakable and seems to have been used much like honey with wafers (ktsaphychith bidebash).

The manna would have been pounded with common household millstones still found with today’s Arab Bedouins [41]. It is possible that manna powder and grain was mixed with water to make a paste and then baked into bread. The paste is still used to thicken marmalade [42].


An important objection to the Tamarisk manna theory is that it is not sustantive. Tamarisk manna is composed of mostly sugars [43] . Man cannot live by sugar alone; it is not nutritious enough and has no protein [44]. Furthermore, Tamarisk manna if eaten in high enough quantities causes diarrhea [45] though Bedouins ascribe it medicinal properties! Indeed, the quantity of Tamarisk manna one may gather is about 1.5 kg/day at the peak of its season [46] and is not nearly enough to feed a tribe or even a family [47].

Sinai Bedouins may gather up to 600 kg. total of manna. However, there are not enough insects to supply food for 40 years for a large people. “I [Bodenheimer] agree therefore, with the opinion of K. von Romer and Weilstead, that explains that the scriptural manna was different from the manna of our times.”[48] However, if we understand the Israelites as being composed of 600 families and using manna as a flavoring and dainty, then the use of Tamarisk manna is reasonable [49].

Chemical Makeup and Medicinal Properties (see Merck Index)

Tamarisk manna is comprised of sucrose, glucose, fructose and a small amount of pectins [50]. Other mannas are differently composed. El-Gammal reports that manna is sucrose, glucose, dextrin, 20% water. Manna from the Ash or lichen are 40-60% mannitol, 10-16% mannotetrose, 6-16% mannotriose; glucose, mucilage, fraxin[51]. Aphid honeydew contains 34% glucose, 32% sucrose, 29% fructose, 5% trehalose (previous accounts reported 70-80% trehalose)[52]. The cocoons of a parasitic beetle, trehala manna, contains 23-30% trehalose[53]. Thus we see, there are many sources of manna with varying contents. For this purpose, we should restrict our analysis to Tamarisk manna.

The manna of northern Iraq (called gazzo) is used for sweetening pastry and is produced by serveral insects. It contains 0.4% protein[54]. Ash manna is a laxative[55]. Tamarisk manna is an aperient and expectorant; cures teeth-gum ulcers; its seeds, fruit and leaves give diarrhea; its leaves are anti-rheumatic and a fever reducer; its ashes cure skin ulcers. It may help control acute viral hepatitis in men[56]


The quantity of manna the people were to gather was one omer per person[57]. The family head would go out and gather for his dependents[58], “for as many of you as there are, each of you shall fetch for those in his tent”. Bekhor Shor gives a naturalistic explanation for the quantity gathered. He says that the excess over an omer was thrown off by hand while the needed amount was added[59].

The omer is either 1-2 liters[60] or 3.5 liters[61]. Since a liter of water weights 1 kg, the Anchor Bible figure agrees nicely with the maximum daily gathering per person. A plain reading of the text supports that each family head gathered the appropriate amount for his family. There need not have been a miracle in the quantity gathered[62]. The manna was gathered partly from the ground and partly by beating manna covered branches as the peasants in Kurdistan[63].


The sources are not precise as to when Tamarisk manna falls. The earlier ones report that it falls in August and September. Some report it falls in July and August. The most recent sources report it falling in June and July, perhaps even May.[64] In June, Tamarisk manna flows on branches and leaves that fell from the shrub[65]. Tamarisk manna is produced continuously by the insects but accumulates at night when the ants are not collecting it. Thus, it must be collected in the morning before the ants are active or the sun melts it. Tamarisk manna fall lasts 3-6 weeks at most[66]. A lack of rain in the previous season in important to manna production. The bible says it fell in from the 16th of Iyar which is late May or early June.

Geography (see maps)

Tamarisk manna is found in the southern Sinai where the insects are located. It is produced in the lowlands by Najacoccus serpentinus minor and in mountain valleys by Tradutina mannipara [67]. In the Torah the manna episode occurs between Elim and Rephidim (Wadi Gharandel to oasis Feiran). This concurs geographically to where manna has been found [68]. Tamarisk shrubs have also been found in Wadi El Sheikh by Burckhardt [69] and from Wadi Gharandal to Wadi Isla and Wadi Nasib [70]. Post puts the location of T. mannifera through the Sinai and at Wadi Fayran. It also ranges from the South end of the Dead Sea to Petra. Baum has T. mannifera growing in the desert, wadis and coast of Egypt and Jordan and ranging from Wadi Else, Oasis Khargeh, the Arava, and Wadi Abiad. Tamarisk shrubs grow at altitudes less than 3,000 feet. 

Timing of Manna Fall

Two important questions then becomes 1) when did manna fall begin, according to the Torah, with regard to Sinai and 2) for what portion of the Israelites’ wanderings did the manna fall? The manna episode takes place in the Torah before Sinai. However, the Sabbath laws are first taught here and are assumed to be known [71] which would imply the episode took place after Sinai. However, if the manna episode were to have taken place after Sinai, then the Israelites who gathered on the Sabbath day should have been liable for death as the man who gathered sticks [72].

The manna narrative itself parallels the Creation account of Genesis [73]. Thus, the Sabbath law as taught in the text is seen as ancient. But this does not answer whether the Israelites were aware of the law beforehand in some form. 

Furthermore, it would be problematic for the eating of quail-meat to take place before the institution of the sacrificial cult. This would assume that the manna episode either follows Sinai or foreshadows it [74]. But what actually happened? It is difficult to say. I would prefer to say it happened where the narrative places it: between Elim and Rephidim and before Sinai.

Secondly, though the Torah states that manna fell for 40 years to sustain the Israelites, one may understand this number as an interpolation [75]. That being the case, the Israelite manna fell from Elim till when they entered a settled land, Rephidim. This geography matches nicely with the range of Tamarisk manna production.

Manna According to the Torah
The Bible gives differing accounts of the nature of manna. Yet, even if we are to accept just the Torah’s description of manna we would never find a naturalistic explanation without emendation. Only a dismantling of the text could allow it to agree completely with the properties of Tamarisk manna. Even a careful analysis of the literary structure of the text cannot dispel its miraculous intent with regard to the Sabbath. It would seem improbable that twice as much Tamarisk manna could be gathered on the sixth day even if Moses allowed it or that it would not spoil that day like it would on the others. The Torah has a didactic purpose in recording the manna episode. It intends to show God’s providence and caring relationship for the Israelites, here. In Deuteronomy, the manna episode serves the purpose of humbling man and teaching him that he is always dependent on God for food. In any event, the Sabbath episode is intended to promulgate the laws rather than record history [76]. “It is improbable that the text refers to a miracle on ordinary days and a commandment on the sixth day. For both, a testing is intended to Israel’s faithfulness regarding the laws.” On weekdays the test was not to keep the manna over whereas on the sixth days the manna must be kept over [77].

The manna in Numbers has properties different from both from the Exodus account and the other sources. There, manna has the taste of rich cream. If we assume there is no inconsistency in the Torah account, nothing will ever match this account for manna. “No naturalistic explanation can do justice to the manna tradition as it is presented in biblical literature.” [78] The best we can understand is that the manna episode was “based on a local phenomenon of nature, but was exceptional in regard to scale and details.”[79]

Malina on Manna Throughout the Hebrew Bible

Now that we understand what the biblical basis for manna is, we may attempt to substantiate it by a literary analysis of the manna accounts in the Hebrew Bible. The descriptions of the manna miracle occur in numerous places in the Hebrew Bible and teach different messages [80]. Following is an analysis of the biblical source-texts as analyzed by Malina (1968).

Exodus 16 is composed to four [81] separate story elements [82] according to Malina’s form analysis. The first element consists of the people murmuring against Moses and Aaron, being told they should redress God, the promise of meat and bread, and seeing God’s glory. The second element consists of the people preferring slavery’s meat and bread, God hearing the murmuring and promising meat at night and bread in the morning, the coming of quail and manna, the finding of manna, the collection of an omer per person by the tent-head, the manna melting, the naming of manna and its description, and the duration of manna. The third element consists of YHVH promising to rain bread to prove the people, the promise of doubled produce on the 6th day, the allocating of the manna, the command and disobedience of not leaving it out, the fulfillment of the doubled bread promise, the proclamation of the Sabbath and preparing for it, the disobedience of the command, the people desisting on the 7th day, the duration of the manna. The fourth element consists of Moshe’s command to keep some manna as a memorial and putting it in the testimony.

Now that we have waded through that synoptic analysis, Malina then further comments on the subject-matter of these elements and their glosses. The first element does not deal with manna but with finding God in the wilderness. The second element deals with manna as a response to the murmuring. The quail element is mentioned briefly and forgotten; manna is the focus. The description of manna here is not miraculous and the narrative does not make a theological point [83]. The origin of the word “man” is emphasized. The only miraculous mention is the gloss about manna’s continuous supply; the inhabited land (v35a) might well be the next watering hole in the wilderness. The third element Malina calls a halakhic midrash. The author uses the manna tradition to teach the Sabbath precept. Here the manna is doled out in miraculous amounts. The fourth element describes miraculous and manna that lasts till the border of Canaan. It seems to be a later addition to the text.

Malina then quotes P. Skehan’s work on the Hebrew calendar where he derives that the narrative as a whole takes place over one week. It begins in verse 1 on Friday and lasts till verse 25-30 on the Sabbath. That is, the quail arrive in verse 13 after Shabbat and the manna arrives Sunday morning (Malina 19).

In Numbers 11:6-9 the people complain abut eating only manna. Then a description of the manna and its use is given with details not found in Exodus. The manna came down on the dew and tasted like oil cake (is grain like). Thus the accounts are not entirely in sync. The Numbers version may reflect an amplification of the Exodus version. The account is not necessarily miraculous.

In Numbers 21:5 the people again complain to God about lack of food and water. They denigrate the “worthless bread [84]” they are given. This bread is likely the manna. The description of the manna makes it seem like a meager ration. This may, however, be the perspective of the people and not reality.

Deuteronomy 8:3,16 see the manna as an novelty given to the hungry people to teach them man can subsist on anything God decrees. The manna was here supposed to have a humbling effect.

Joshua 5:10-12 sees the manna as lasting till the Israelites celebrated passover at Gigal. Here, the Exodus part four duration is challenged. The manna is perhaps seen as a substitute for the produce of the land. The manna is used for a halakhic midrash on Leviticus 23:3,5-7. Malina sees this midrash as based on the Exodus 16 story.

Psalm 78:23-25 describes the manna and quail as being after the water-from-the-rock episode. The manna is described as being a result of questioning as before. The clouds are then commanded to rain down manna, heaven’s grain. The quail are then sent by strong winds and the people are unsatisfied so God kills some of them. Psalm 105:40-42 sees quail and ‘heaven’s bread’ to come before the water from the rock. The manna is called lechem shamayim which I note is curiously similar to the Bedouin name man-es-simma[85]. Here, the murmuring motif is ignored.

In the context of a prayer of praising God’s fidelity in the exodus, Nehemia 9:13-21 records some account of manna. Here, the manna comes after the Sabbath at Sinai [why aren’t people killed then for gathering?] and before the water from the rock. The manna continued after the sin of the golden calf.

A brief review of the points we have made so far [86]: manna is intimately bound up with food in the desert, a desire to return to Egypt, the complaint is directed incorrectly at Moshe, the giving of the manna is less emphasized than its properties, the manna was meant to humble the people, the manna was the epitome of the wanderings, the manna was God’s response to a test.

Thus, since most scriptural sources seem to be referring to Exodus 16, it would be appropriate to take this as the source text to understand with the other reading reflecting possible variant traditions or misunderstandings.

Quail May Be Explained

An important point to make is that the quail episode is tied to the manna in both biblical accounts [87]. The quail seems from the text to be a one-time phenomenon. Furthermore, it seems that the quail episode corresponds in location and time of year to the migration path of Coturnix coturnix. These quail migrate in huge flocks twice a year land exhausted on the Mediterranean coast. They are easily caught by hand and are said to be tasty [88]. Furthermore, when the Israelites are commanded to prepare for the Sabbath, they are told to boil (bshl) what they may boil and cook what they may cook. The root bshl refers to boiling meat [89]. Thus the commandment includes both boiling meat and baking foodstuffs. It has been pointed out, that since the two episodes are intertwined [90] and both have natural explanations. The lechem that rained down was quail [91]. This would support Malina’s idea that part of the Exodus 16 manna story is a midrash on the earlier mentioned event. 

Why Did the People Grumble?

We must ask is why the Israelites were hungry at all. Did they not leave Egypt a month before with bread, grain, and cattle? The Anchor Bible Commentary says that the unleavened bread was used up whereas the cattle and grain were not [92]. Even here, they should have had milk and grain with which to make food. We have already discussed that manna is of little nutritive value. It thus becomes likely that the manna story is not really about lack of food but serves a didactic purpose. Manna was a historic event recast to show that God cares for his people and is a beneficent God as well as war-god. 
The manna event must have been remembered before it was applied to teaching the Sabbath. Manna was not a normal food. It was sweet. To this day, the finding of sugars by the Bedouins is an unforgettable experience [93]. The manna was also remembered as like dew which symbolizes divine favor [94]. 

The Danger of Searching for a Natural Explanation

The benefit of finding a natural explanation is that we may better understand the intent of the text. The danger is that we may subsequently bend the text to fit our proposed explanation. This paper has been full of reinterpretations that would support a natural explanation for manna within the text itself. Sometimes, these may even be at odds with the apparent intent of the text itself. Nearly all commentators are of the opinion that some part of the manna episode is miraculous. Each differs in how he understands the miracle.

Much proof offered for the natural explanation is actually supportive rather than definitive. For example, that Tamarisk manna is called man to this day by Sinai Bedouins proves nothing. It may be a misplaced tradition rather than a strong support. Cassuto does damage to the text by suggesting that “it melted” be read as “became loathsome” if that reinterpretation is unnecessary. That is, reinterpretations are a clever way of forcing the text to agree with one’s theory. Furthermore, numerous scholars have asserted that the date that manna stopped is a later addition [95]. This approach eliminates whole words from the text to attain the desired meaning. Bodenheimer’s approach is to attribute any verses that do not match the properties of Tamarisk manna to interpolations or misunderstandings within the text [96]. He throws out whole verses essentially to bend the text to his will. Lastly, the Anchor Bible Commentary sees the entire manna episode as a mythologization of honeydew [97]. This last approach recognizes the didactic purpose of the text and concludes that since the text’s purpose is not to provide a history, any properties that do not match the natural explanation must be myth. Thus, though there is much support for the Tamarisk manna theory, it is by no means definitive. At best, it may be seen as the event to which the Torah refers if we are to maintain the integrity of the text.
Other options

Tamarisk manna is not the only explanation for the manna episode. Manna is a widespread phenomenon and consists of different properties in each location [98]. Another possible explanation for the manna episode is the well-known fall of the lichen: Lecanora esculenta. This manna actually falls from the sky and may be baked and cooked and resembles wheat. It is starch with some sugar. It may be mixed with tamarisk manna [99]. Thus, it is commonly cited in scholarly papers. However, it is probably not biblical manna for geographical and temporal reasons [100]. It is not impossible that the lichen once rained down in Sinai though it would be unlikely [101].

New understanding of bible story: Conclusion

In spite of the many objections, Tamarix mannifera is the strongest case for the manna Israelites experienced [102]. Though the text gives varying descriptions of manna and tends to see it as a miraculous occurrence, there is sufficient grounds for supporting that Tamarisk manna was part of the Israelites diet in the historical biblical exodus and gave rise to the manna stories.


Once we conclude that Tamarisk manna accounts for biblical manna, we may make further claims. Firstly, any substantial manna fall requires a lack of previous rainfall [103]. This may have implications of our understanding of the Exodus story itself. Tamarisk manna only falls within a certain geography of the southern Sinai. This may help in proposing routes the Israelites took during the exodus. 

Tamarisk manna is often used to sweeten bitter water [104]. Since the episode at Marah took place near the manna episode if we assume chronological sequence, it is possible that the stick Moses threw into the water was coated in manna. Furthermore, in Numbers [105], a man is put to death for gathering sticks on the Sabbath. It is not impossible that the sticks he was gathering were Tamarisk branches coated in manna. Thus, the stick-gathering episode would be a clear parallel to the Exodus episode.


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Edition: 1st ed. 
Publisher: New York : Doubleday, c1999. 
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“Manna” Encylopedia Judaica, 1972, 833f.
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Assyrian dictionary: of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago: (Chicago, 1964) 
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Bodenheimer F.S., “The Manna of Sinai” Biblical Archeologist 1947: 10:1-6.
Cassuto, U., A commentary on the book of Exodus, trans. Israel Abrahams. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1967) 186-199.
Donkin R.A., Manna: An Historical Geography, (London: Dr. W Junk BV Publishers, 1980) 1-11, 72-79. 
El-Gammal, S.Y. “Manna of Moses”, Hamdard Medicus 1994: (37)2:17-19.
Haupt, P., “Manna, Nectar, and Ambrosia”, American Journal of Philology 1922: 43:247-249.
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Sarna, N. Exploring Exodus. (New York, Schocken Books, 1986) XX.
Sarna, Nahum. The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991) XX.
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Translations in this paper have been according to the NJPS 1985 translation


Camel Thorn Manna:

It's called camelthorn because it leafs out in the dry season when so many plants are leafless. Hence it is an important fodder, especially for camels, in the dry desert summers. That;s when it also exudes its sugary manna, a gummy liquid which soon solidifies into solid edible sugary grains. These can be gathered by shaking the branches (DEP); . Even the roots are said to be edible during famine (WO3). But the Biblical manna could be a survival food for man, like the Biblical herb could be a survival food for camel.

Camelthorn Manna (Biblical)

...we have sent you money to buy burnt-offerings, and sin offerings, and incense, and prepare ye manna...Baruch 1

Since the Baruch manna was for sale, it was probably the resinous gum from some tree of the Levant. During the heat of the day, a sweet gummy substance oozes from the leaves and stems. This hardens upon contact with the air and is then collected by shaking over drop-cloths. The sugary secretion (manna) obtained is edible, occuring in small round grains, consisting mostly of sugar: melizitose, 47.1; sucrose, 26.4 and invert sugar, 11.6 percent. The plant is given as fodder to camels. The twigs are much used in making screens (tatties).

Regarded as antibilious, demulcent, expectorant, and laxative, camelthorn is a folk remedy for the chest, for polyps, and for tumors, especially of the abdomen and glands (4, 41). In Iran, the white grains of manna are administered as a laxative and expectorant (31). Ayurvedics, considering the plant diuretic, laxative, refrigerant, and tonic, use it for bad appetite, brain ailments, bronchitis, epistaxis, leprosy, and obesity. Unani consider the manna as aperient, aphrodisiac, cholagogue, depurative, diuretic, and expectorant, using it for asthma, nausea, piles and smallpox eruptions. They use an oil from the leaf for rheumatism. Regarding the whole plant as alexiteric, aperient, attenuate, and suppurative, they use it for opacities of the cornea and hemicrania. In the Konkan, the plant is smoked with jimsonweed, tobacco, and ajwan seeds for asthma. In Ormara, the root decoction is used to bathe abscesses and swellings (52).

Hieronimus & Co., Inc., P.O. Box 648, Owings Mills, MD 21117 USA

Encyclopedia Iranica:

CAMEL THORN (Alhagi Adans. spp.), common name for wild thorny suffrutescent plants of the Papilionaceae family, called šotor-kār and kār-e šotor (lit. “camel’s thorn”) in Persian.

Rechinger (1984, pp. 470-75), following the botanical interpretation and terminology of B. A. Keller and K. K. Shaparenko (1933), reports (for the area covered by the Flora Iranica) five species of Alhagi of which the following three (plus a hybrid) occur in Persia: 1. A. mannifera Desv. (= Hedysarum alhagi L., now discarded because taxonomically inappropriate, A. maurorum Fisch.); it is abundant especially in western and southern Iran (including the island of Qešm); it is also indigenous to north Africa, Palestine, Syria, Arabia, and Iraq. 2. A. persarum Boiss. & Buhse (= A. camelorum Fisch., etc.); it grows almost everywhere in Iran (see also Ghahreman, VII, no. 755, with details in color); it is also found in eastern Anatolia, Iraq, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. (The hybrid A. manni­fera x persarum has been reported from Fārs.) 3. A. pseudalhagi (M. B.) Desv. (= Hedysarum pseudalhagi M. B., A. camelorum Fisch. var. turcorum Boiss., etc.); abundant almost everywhere in Persia; also found in Asia Minor, the Caucasus, Transcaucasia, Afghani­stan, central Asia, and Pakistan.

Alhagi species typically grow in barrens and arid lands, for they can endure the most unfavorable ecological conditions (they occur even in soils covered with a salt crust). In search of underground humidity, they may develop roots up to 5-6 m deep (Hāšemī, p. 3; cf. Bešr b. `Abd-al-Wahhāb Fazārī, quoted by Bīrūnī [Ar. text, p. 146], saying that the roots of al-hāj [ > Eng. alhagi] may go down “two hundred cubits” [45-55 m]). Whereas they are often a very importunate weed in cultivated fields and in fallow lands, they constitute a valuable food for the local livestock in desert or semidesert areas of Persia and adjacent territories (cf. Abū Hanīfa Dīnavarī [3rd/9th cent.] who reports [p. 120, no. 249] from the Bedouin Abū Zīād that “al-hāj . . . is liked by domestic quadrupeds [al-māšīa] better than the yanbūt [Anagyris foetida L.]”).

Alhagis seem to be sought for and relished particularly by camels (cf. the Šaraf-nāma-ye monīrī, quoted by Dehkodā, s.v. oštor-kār: “it fattens up the camel”),—hence the several Persian names compounded with šotor or (archaic) oštor: kār-e oštor, oštor-gīā (lit. “camel grass”), and oštor-kār (see, e.g., the Borhān-e qāte`, ed. Mo`īn, s.vv.; the last name, however, should not be confused with its doublet oštor-gāz, arabicized from obsolete Pers. oštor-gāž, also lit. “camel thorn,” which probably designated the asafetida plant; see asafetida in the Supplement). Other, obsolete local names include tar in Khorasan, arūd in Fārs, and oštor in Isfahan, all three quoted by Bīrūnī (p. 113, on the authority of Hamza Esfahānī), and ārū (cf. arūd), quoted by Kaempfer (p. 725), according to whom Persian herbalists called camel thorn “sweet ārū” (different from “bitter ārū”) because in Kermān its leaves were collected for their excellent manna, called taran jobīn. The dialects of Baluchistan, where the Kār-e šotor is plentiful and camels and goats are preferred to much more demanding livestock, are particularly rich in names for it (Parsa, 1327 Š., pp. 431-32, has recorded twelve names, including šotor-Kār, Kār-e boz [lit. “goat’s thorn”], and šīnz).

The camel thorn is also stored away locally as winter reserve fodder. In view of its relatively remarkable food value for cattle, which, according to Hāšemī (p. 1), is comparable with that of clover and alfalfa, it is systematically propagated (in barrens and steppes), harvested, and siloed in countries such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan (idem, pp. 8, 16). A similar methodical propagation and exploitation in Iran was strongly suggested at an agricultural seminar in Yāsūj in 1364 Š./1985 (see Hāšemī) with the double objective of obtaining more food for the live­stock in arid regions and of providing a minimal vegetable undergrowth in saxaul (tāg) and tamarisk (gaz) associations developed in areas with unstable soils and quicksands. Camel thorn bushes are also used as a fuel by nomads and semidesert dwellers (shepherds, cameleers, etc.). Until a few decades ago it was used as fuel in bakeries (See bread). The traditional fire made on the eve of Čahāršanba-sūrī (q.v.) is fuelled mainly by dried camel thorn bushes brought and sold in towns for that occasion (Jazāyerī, p. 167).

To the common people, however, the camel thorn is important for a kind of manna (commonly called taranjabīn; see below) yielded by some of its species, namely the Alhagi mannifera and the A. persarum (see Rechinger, loc. cit.). Yet these species do not yield taranjabīn everywhere they grow. This phenomenon, as noted by Bīrūnī (p. 146), seems to be connected with certain temperature and soil conditions (Schlimmer, p. 357). Already Ebn Sīnā (I, bk. 2, p. 443) remarks that “this dew (tall) falls mostly in Khorasan and in Transoxiana, and [that] in our region it occurs most frequently on the hāj.” Some 19th-century authors have also remarked that “the alhagi does not yield any kind of sugary exudation in Arabia, India, and Egypt, whereas this product is rather abundant in Persia and Bukhara” (Baillon, pp. 1-2, s.v. Alhage; see also Balfour, I, p. 72, s.v. Alhagi maurorum, who adds that “Kandahar, Herat, Persia, and Bokhara seem its proper districts, thence the turunjabin is imported into India”). Concerning Persia proper, Schlimmer (loc. cit.) specifies that the Alhagi yields manna only in certain areas such as Khorasan, Tabrīz, Tabas, Zarand, Tegerūd near Qom, and the seaport of Būšehr, and only during the hot season. Then he adds that, whereas allegedly in Lebanon the Hedysarum alhagi yields manna only after the goats have grazed its leaves and buds, in Persia natives of those regions where taranjabīn is harvested had told him that, on the contrary, the shepherds are bound by communal institutions to keep their herds away from the plains where the manna-producing species is abundant, because the sheep and goats would not fail to spoil the manna harvest.

Taranjabīn (colloq. taranjebīn; arabicized also as taranjobīn/taranjobīn, etc., from Pers. tar-angobīn, lit. “moist/fresh honey”; cf. the incorrect literal meanings “dew honey” [`asal al-nadā] given by Eshāq b. `Emrān [d. ca. 292/901], apud Ebn al-Baytār, pt. 1. p. 137, s.v., and “honey of the rose” given by Levey, in Samarqandī p. 202 n. 248; Bīrūnī, p. 113, quotes oft oštorangobīn, lit. “camel honey,” from Hamza as current in Isfahan) is not “a dew falling from the sky” (Eshāq b. `Emrān, ibid.), but a semiliquid resinous compound substance exuded by the leaves and branches of the manna-yielding alhagis “toward the close of the summer during the night, and [which] must be gathered during the early hours of the morning” (Laufer, p. 345, on the authority of Vámbéry, p. 189). It hardens in the form of white granules. It is gathered by shaking it from the dried cut-off bushes into a large cloth (Hāšemī, p. 20), and then by winnowing the grosser leaves, thorns, etc., from it (that is why the taranjabīn on the market is usually mixed more or less with such impurities). Whatever manna still adheres to the bushes is separated by dissolving it in water, straining this water, and then evaporating it to consis­tency; this kind of taranjabīn, which occurs in small agglutinated masses, is, however, considered an inferior quality (see `Aqīlī Korāsānī, p. 270, s.v., and Dymock et al., I, p. 419). It is sweet (because of its saccharose content according to Zargarī, I, 2nd ed., pp. 448-49, 3rd ed., p. 472, on the basis of the analysis by Moghadam). The sweetness and nutritional value of taranjabīn have led some authors (e.g., see Bīrūnī, p. 114, quoting Mohammad Sūqābādī) to believe it to be the miraculous manna which sustained the Israelites during forty years of journeying in the wilderness of Sinai (cf. the taxonomically incorrect name Manna hebraica formerly applied by D. Don to the Alhagi mannifera; see also Dehkodā, s.v. hāj); but because reportedly the camel thorn does not produce any sugary substance in Egypt and Palestine (see also Baillon, loc. cit., and Laufer, p. 346 n. 3) and for other reasons, this identification is incongruous (gaz-angabīn, the manna yielded by the Tamarix mannifera Ehr., may be a likelier substance for the identification of the Biblical manna; see gaz and manna).

In the Islamic period the earliest description of the hāj as the source of taranjabīn, and of the medicinal properties of the latter is probably that by Eshāq b. `Emrān (loc. cit.): “It is a dew resembling honey, solid and granulateḍ . . . It occurs oftenest on the hāj, and that is the `āqūl which grows in Syria and Khorasan. This plant has green leaves, red blossoms, and does not bear fruit. The choicest taranjabīn is the white one from Khorasan. It is moderate (in hotness and coldness), laxative, useful against acute fevers, pectoral, and when dissolved in pear and jujube juice beneficial to hot-­tempered (mahrūr) persons.” Additional medicinal data quoted by Ebn al-Baytār (ibid.) are: “it is more detersive (jālī) than sugar, alleviates the burning sensation in acute fevers, quenches the thirst, is aperient, and antitussive” (Hobayš b. Hasan, 3rd/9th century). “It is mildly cholagogic” (Ebn Sīnā, d. 428/1037). “Dosage: from 10 to 20 metqāls [as per temperaments]” (Ebn Māsūya, ca. 160-243/ca. 777-857). In our times, although Schlimmer (loc. cit.) classes taranjabīn only as an indigenous laxative or purgative—which is indeed the property to which taranjabīn owes its reputation in the East—it is also used as a demulcent in coughs. As an aperient, however, it is usually mixed as a sweetener and additive with another purgative having an unpleasant taste (e.g., senna and the purging cassia; see Baillon, p. 2, Schlimmer, pp. 357-58, Pārsā, Gīāhān I, p. 223, and Dehkodā, s.v. hāj). According to Thompson (p. 270), it is sometimes used as a substitute for sugar in Bukhara and Basra. Taranjabīn still constitutes an export article of Iran. The latest official statistics indicates that in 1365 Š./1986-87, 54,000 kg were ex­ported to Austria for a total value of Rls 10.8 mill (see Gomrok-e Īrān, pt. 2, “Sāderāt,” p. 25).

Medicinal virtues have also been attributed to the camel thorn itself. Ebn al-Baytār (pt. 2, p. 3, s.v. hāj) quotes the following from his teacher Abu’l-`Abbās Nabātī (the herbalist/botanist): “Some natives of Mosul have told me that [in their country] the hāj extract is used [as an eye-salve] to cure corneal leucoma (bayāż al-`ayn), corneal opacity (zolmat al-`ayn), and cold humors (borūdāt) in the eye.” In modern times, Parsa (1948, loc. cit.) reports that in Baluchistan “a decoction of the root of the Alhagi camelorum is applied on the skin to cure abscesses,” and Hāšemī (p. 4) says that “in folk medi­cine a ptisan of the Kār-e šotor is used to cure rheuma­tism, belly ache, etc.” Nowadays in Iran a distillate of the camel thorn is commercialized under the name of `araq-­e kār-e šotor, and publicized as “a strong diuretic, a blood purifier, a kidney detersive,” and a cure “for whooping-cough, renal and vesical calculi, and hot or intermittent fevers.”

Bibliography : Mohammad-Hosayn `Aqīlī Korāsānī, Makzan al-adwīa, Calcutta, 1844. H. Raillon, “Alhage, Alhagi ou Halhagi,” in Dicti­onnaire encyclopédique des sciences médicales III, Paris, 1875. E. Balfour, The Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia . . ., London, 3rd ed., I, 1885 (repr. Graz, 1967). Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī, Ketāb al-Saydana, ed. and tr. M. Said and R. E. Elahie, Karachi, 1973. Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnavarī, Ketāb al-nabāt, The Book of Plants; parts of the alphabetical section, ed. B. Lewin, Uppsala, 1953. W. Dymock et al., Pharmacographia Indica . . ., 3 vols., London, etc., 1890-93. Ebn al-Baytār, al-Jāme` le mofradāt al-adwīa wa’l-agdīa, 4 pts. in 2 vols., Būlāq, 1291/1874. Ebn Sīnā, Ketāb al-qānūn fi’l-tebb, 3 vols., Būlāq, 1294/1877. A. Ghahreman (Qahramān), Fiore de l’Iran en couleur naturelle/Flor-e rangī-e Īrān VII, Tehran, 1364 Š./1986. Gomrok-e Īrān, Sāl-nāma-ye āmār-e bāzargānī-e kārejī-e Īrān, 1365, Tehran, 1366 Š./1987. M. Hāšemī, “Gīāh-e kār-e šotor . . . raveš-e kāšt o kawāss o sīlū kardan-e ān,” in Maqālāt o gozārešāt-e erāʾa-šoda dar semīnār-e modīrīyat-e manābe`-e tabī`ī-e . . . mantaqa-ye Zāgros, Yāsūj, 1364 II, Tehran, n.d. (1364 Š./1985? mimeographed, variously paginated). G. Jazāyerī, Zabān-e Korākīhā, Tehran, 3rd ed., 1354 Š./1975. E. Kaempfer, Amoenitatum Exoticarum Politico-Physico-Medicarum Fasciculi V . . ., Lemgovia, 1712. B. Laufer, Sino­-Iranica . . ., Chicago, 1919 (repr. Taipei, 1967). S. Moghadam, Les mannes de Perse, Paris, 1930. A. Parsa (Pārsā), Flore de l’Iran II, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948. Idem, Gīāhān-e šamāl-e Īrān, 2 vols., Tehran, n.d. K. H. Rechinger, “Alhagi,” in idem, ed., Flora Iranica, no. 157: Papilionaceae II, Graz, 1984. Abū Hāmed Mohammad Najīb-al-Dīn Samarqandī, The Medical Formulary of al-Samarqandi, ed. and tr. M. Levey and N. Khaledy, Philadelphia, 1967. R. C. Thompson, A Dictionary of Assyrian Botany, London, 1949. Mohammad Mo`men Hosaynī Tonokābonī (Hakīm Mo`men), Tohfat al-mo`menīn (Tohfa-ye Hakīm Mo`men), Tehran, n.d., pp. 210, 266-67. A. Vámbéry, Skizzen aus Mittelasien, Leipzig 1868. `A. Zargarī, Gīāhān-e dārū`ī, 2nd ed., I, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966.

(Hūšang A`lam)

Simmonds (1861) on the various kinds of manna found in the Middle East:

"Burchardt states that a species of manna which exudes from a variety of the tamerisk (T. mannifera) is used by the bedouin Arabs of the neighbourhood of Mount Sinai with their food; it does not, however, contain any mannite, but consists wholly of mucilagianous sugar. The tamarisk manna is produced through the puncture of Coccus manniparus, an insect inhabiting the tamarisk trees which grow abundantly in the neighbourhood of Mount Sinai. The monks from the monasteries of the district collect the saccharine secretions which exudes as a thick, transparent syrup, covering the smaller branches from which it flows. The collection of the manna takes place in August; it requires to  be performed very early in the morning, at which time, owing to the coolness of the night, the saccharine juice has become to some extent congealed. Later in the day the solar heat causes it to drop upon the ground. When collected it is usually stored away in large earthen vessels, which are preserved in cellars during the entire year. To strangers the tamarisk manna is sold in little vessels of tinned iron. Dr. Landerer says that he purchased one of these of a pilgrim who had been in Palestine. The manna was a yellowish granular syrupy mass, very sweet, and intermixed with the little leaves of the tamarisk. It dissolved in water or in alcohol, and the aqueous solution readily fermented; the alcohol obtained by distillation had a peculiar odour, resembling that derived from the fruits of Certonia siliqua, which contains butyric acid.

The manna is eaten in Palestine and in the neighbourhood of Sinai as a delicacy, and is reputed effacious in diseases of the chest. 

Manna of the desert is the exudation of the camel's thorn (Alhagi maurorum, Dec.; Hedysarum Alhagi, Linn.), an erect throrny shrub, belonging to the natural order Leguminosae. Extensive plains are entirely covered with the plant in Arabia and Palestine, and especially in Egypt and Syria. It appears to afford the manna chiefly through the wounds occasioned by the browsing of the sheep, goats, etc. It is collected by the leaders of the caravans, and by the Arabs who cross the deserts, and who avail themselves of this manna as nutriment. This substance occurs in small, round, unequal grains, the size of coriander seed, of yellowish-white or greenish-yellow colour, caking together and forming an opaque mess, in which are found portions of the thorns and fruits of the plant. This manna is inodorous, its flavour is sweetly saccharine, followed by slight acidity. A good analysis of it is still a desideratum. As a medicene its effects correspond to those of the ash manna. The inhabitants collect these exudations and make them into loaves or cakes. These soon become a black colour, owing to a kind of fermentation produced by the influence of the air and moisture. Little care is bestowed upon the collection of the manna, and hence it is always mixed with a large portion of broken leaves and branches, by which its value is diminished. The odour of these manna loaves or cakes resembles that of senna; in taste also they resemble senna, combined with sweetness. These two characteristics would leave us to suppose that this manna is more purgative than nutritive.

The manna should be collected, according to the statements of travelers, in the morning, as the rays of the sun cause its liquefaction. In many parts of the East it is used as a substitute for sugar. Tournefort states that it is common on the Alhagis, in the environs of Taurus in Persia. At Bussorah the manna is collected on a small thorny bush, also common in Khorasan, and called el hadsji. The Nepal alhagi is also stated to afford this secretion. Some authors, as Hale and Guillemin, supposed that this manna of the Alhagi maurorum was that which constituted the manna of the Hebrews; but at the present day it is more generally supposed that Lecanora affinisEverem, was the substance upon which the Israelites fed in the wilderness,"

(pp. 227-228. Peter Lund Simmonds. Editor. The Technologist. A Monthly Record of Science Applied to Art and Manufacture. Volume One. London. Paternostro Row. Kent and Company. 1861)


"Pseudococcidae (mealybugs) 
Naiacoccus (= Najacoccusserpentinus Green, sweet manna excretion
Trabutina mannipara (Ehrenburg), sweet manna excretion
Manna production by the various insect groups

Bodenheimer (1929) identified two small "cicadas," Euscelis decoratus Hpt. and Opsius jucundus Leth. (Jassidae), as additional manna producers on tamarisk (pp. 75 ff.; vide Bodenheimer 1951, p. 221). Bodenheimer (1929; vide Leibowitz 1943) identified the manna of the Sinai desert as the excretion of the scale insects, Trabutina mannipara and Najacoccus serpintinus, on the leaves of Tamarix mannifera. Leibowitz (1943) analyzed scale manna supplied by Prof. Bodenheimer from northern Iraq, noting that, "The Bedouin gather this sweet product from leaves of trees and bushes, and use ­it as a sugar substitute in coffee." The sugar fraction was found to consist mainly of the rare disaccharide trehalose. Two samples contained 30% and 45% of trehalose, respectively, calculated on the basis of total dry matter, and 70% and 80%, respectively, calculated on the total carbohydrate content. The remaining carbohydrate consisted of sucrose and invert sugar containing an excess of glucose.

Bodenheimer (1947) argues that the manna of Biblical history (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11) was the excretion of two species of scale insects, Trabutina mannipara Ehrenberg and Najacoccus serpentinus Green. First, he gives strong biological evidence against the widely held view that the lichen, Lecanora esculenta, was identical with the manna. Then he says:

"The record of the oldest local traditions of Sinai comes from Flavius Josephus and the early monks of the St. Catherine monastery. These reports link the manna with the tamarisk thickets in the wadis of the Central Sinai mountains. Here year after year in June appears a granular type of sweet manna from pinhead to pea size. It appears on the tender twigs of tamarisk bushes for a period of three to six weeks. The quantity of this manna fluctuates according to the winter rainfall. The crop may fail entirely in one wadi and at the same time be plenteous in others. Certain wadis such as Wadi Nasib and the Wadi esh Sheikh are especially famous for their manna production. Usually the annual crop does not exceed several kilograms, but one steady man may collect over a kilogram a day at the peak of the season. This certainly does not allow for the 'bread' or daily food of the wandering Israelites. However, we must note that lechem does not have an original meaning of bread, but of food in general. Otherwise, it could not have come to mean 'meat' in Arabic. All in all, the nutritive value of these few kilograms of manna could not have been important enough to deserve a recording in Israel's history. There must have been a special quality to justify its inclusion in the chronicle. The special quality was its sweetness."
Bodenheimer says that sweetness is the highest "culinaric dream" of the nomad in the desert, and, therefore, "the sudden discovery of a source of pure and attractive sweetness would have been an exciting event."

According to Bodenheimer, all of the statements about manna in the early formations of Scripture agree with the biological observations; it was the later commentaries that produced divergences. He says:

"We begin with the criteria of space and time. The location of the manna excretion which is given in the older codes as beginning at Elim (near Wadi Gharandel) and ending at Rephidim (the oasis Feiran), agrees well with the northern limits of the manna excretion in our day. Manna was first discovered on the 15th day of the second month after the Exodus from Egypt. This would be the middle or end of Siwan, which is late May or early June. This date agrees with the natural season of manna production. The description of manna in the Bible, which likens it to small, light brown cummin seeds and to the stickiness of bdellion resin, is a remarkably suitable description of the tamarisk manna. In the Bible its taste is described as like that of sappihith bidhvash, which easily may refer to the crystalized grains so often found on the surface of honey. Exodus 16:14 and Numbers 11:9 state that the manna fell from heaven during the night. Actually, most of the dropping of manna, or at least its accumulation on the soil, occurs at night when the ants are not collecting it.... All those manna grains which drop from late afternoon to early morning remain until the beginning of ant activity in the morning. Then, however, they are speedily collected and carried away."

Accordinq to Bodenheimer, T. mannipara is the manna producer in the mountains, N. serpentinus in the lowlands. The manna, of course, is the well known "honeydew" excretion of many aphids and scale insects, and the drops, which are excreted mainly by the larvae and immature females, evaporate quickly to sticky solids in the dry air of the desert. "Man" is the common Arabic name for aphids, and man es simma (the "manna of heaven") for honeydew. A number of small cicadas found in Sinai, southern Iraq, and Iran are locally called "man," and they produce small quantities of a product similar to manna which is used as a delicacy and as an ingredient in popular medicines. Bodenheimer states that: "The most famous manna product of the Middle East is the Kurdish manna which is collected by the thousands of kilograms every year in June and July. It is used for the preparation of special confections which are sold in the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere under the name of 'man.' This manna is also produced all over the general Kurdistan region in the extensive oak forest by a still undetermined aphid."

Bodenheimer (1951, pp. 217-225) discusses Middle East mannas in general, incorporating information from his earlier works. Of the Kurdish manna from northern Iraq, a sample of which was analyzed by Leibowitz (see above), Bodenheimer gives the following information (p. 222): "In October, 1942, Gelal Bey, then Qaimakam of Shuarta, treated us to some manna in the same condition as above [from Turkey] and also with a purified morsel, which had been boiled and pressed through cloth. It is collected in the surrounding oak forests and is consumed by the peasants as a sweet for breakfast in the form of sherbet drinks, or as a popular medicament. Mixed with flour the manna is turned into delightful cakes." In Iraqi Kurdistan, the oak, Quercus infectoria is the source of the manna. Other oak species are the source in Iranian Kurdistan. Bodenheimer states that, without a doubt, the producer of this manna is an aphid (species unknown). The main season is June, with a second minor peak in September.

Bodenheimer (p. 223) cites a report by Jafar al Khayat in 1937, in the files of the Directorate General of Agriculture, that the Iraqian manna is regarded as a secretion of oak leaves believed to be caused by the feeding of a small green aphid. Bodenheimer's account, from Khayat's report, is as follows:

The manna first appears on the under surface of the leaves as a gummy liquid, which drops on the upper surface of the lower leaves, on branches and on the soil. It is collected in a great many places of the Liwa Sulaimaniya and also in the Halebje district. It is entirely restricted to the forests of Quercus infectoria in the higher altitudes. Its normal season is from the middle of June to the second half of July, and it is collected in the coldest hours of the early morning. The peasants believe that it drops from the sky on the leaves and soil. When rains are heavy in spring and in June, the manna and the insects which produce it are washed off the oaks, and the manna production is small. Cold winds increase, hot winds and warm, cloudy weather decrease its quantity. When the weather has been favourable and much manna has formed on the trees, the collectors begin their work. They cut large numbers of the branches on which manna has been formed in any substantial quantity. The branches are then beaten until the manna has dropped off. It is gathered into skin bags and brought to the market as LUMPS OF CRYSTALLIZED MANNA mixed with pieces of oak leaves and dirt. Very rarely pure, WHITE MANNA IS FOUND. The confectioners who buy it there, BEAT IT INTO PIECES until it becomes soft. Then it is filled into jars, mixed with water and left for 24 hours. The liquid is poured into bags (al shal), which are suspended above vessels. The bags are pressed and the liquid which passes out is collected in the vessels. This liquid is then mixed with eggs50 eggs for each 400 gr. of manna, with almonds or nuts and with some essences. The whole is boiled, cooled and cut into pieces, which are covered with fine sugar powder. This is the manna which is sold in the markets and streets of Baghdad. The Iraqi authorities estimate that annually about 30,000 kg. of manna are sold on the markets throughout the country, two ­thirds of which come from the Iranian side of Kurdistan.

Kosztarab (1987) makes brief reference to Trabutina mannipara (Ehrenburg) and Naiacoccus serpentinus Green (Pseudococcidae), the manna producers on Tamarix trees in the Sinai Desert. Brown (1975; vide Kosztarab 1987) reported on the chemistry of aphids and scale insects.

Logan (2005) on Kurdish oak tree manna:

"Each June and July, the Kurds wait for the sweet drops to begin to congeal on the leaves of Quercus infectora. Early in the morning, before the ants have had a chance to visit the leaves, they beat the branches over a cloth laid out on the ground, dislodging the crystalized manna. Sometimes it is brownish, sometimes greenish, sometimes as black as tar, and sometimes pure white, but always it is very sweet. They use it to make a breakfast drink, or they mix it with eggs, almonds, and spices to make a delicious sweet cake. Records from the early twentieth century show that at that time the Iraqis consumed more than thirty tons of this cake each year.

Through all of antiquity, it was thought that this manna dropped from heaven...In fact, it is the product of aphids and scale insects, who insert their mouth parts into the sweet elaborated sugar and carbohydrates that run through the phloem just beneath the tree's bark. They digest what they can -primarily the scarce nitrogen- and the rest passes through them and drips from the trees."

(William Bryant Logan. Oak: The Frame of Civilization. W. W. Norton & Company. 2005)

Brauer on Kurdish oak tree manna, as per interviews with Kurdish Jews who had emigrated to Israel by 1942:

"Mana is plentiful in Kurdistan. [According to my informant, in Amadiya, the mana is called, in Targum, ar'ura. It is found among the leaves of trees, especially among acorns. A cloth is spread beneath the branches, which are then shaken so that the mana falls off them onto the cloth.]

The Jews regard it as the manna provided for the Israelites in the Wilderness. Hence, mention of it is often made in travel literature and is, indeed, rarely omitted from any description of a journey through this area. Benjamin II describes it thus:

"Another extraordinary appearance which reminds us of the journey of the Jews through the wilderness is the manna which here, in the form of grain, descends with the dew. The grain is of a whitish color and is hard to the touch. It is collected in vases at break at day, and placed in the sun; in the warmth of which it melts and becomes a cheesy kind of substance in which state it is eaten with bread at breakfast." [Eight Years in Asia and Africa. p. 136]

[Rabbi David d`Bet Hillel writes, of the mana that falls in the vicinity of Suleimani:

In Summer manna is found here which falls every morning with the dew. When it falls on the rocks it is as white as snow, but it is difficult to obtain as it is gathered for the governor and the notables. The mana which falls upon the trees and the grass, looks white and green as its color intermingles with that of the leaves and the blades. It is plentiful and is sold in the form of ballsWhatever is left in the field after sunrise melts like water. I have eaten some of it myself, and it is sweet and of a pleasant taste. In the language of the natives, and in Arabic, it is known as man shama,that is manna from heaven.]"

(pp. 102-103. Eric Brauer [Whose pre 1942  interviews with Jewish Kurds were collected, edited, and published by the Israeli anthropologist Raphael Patai]. The Jews of Kurdistan. Wayne State University Press. 1993. First published in 1947 in Hebrew)

Title: Investigation of oak manna of Quercus infectoria (Gas-e-Alafi) and production mechanism and utilization.
Personal Authors: Mohammadi, M., Dini, M., Tavakkoli, M.
Author Affiliation: Research Institute of Forests and Rangelands, P.O. Box: 13185-116, Tehran, Iran.
Editors: No editors
Document Title: Iranian Journal of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants Research


Gaz-e-Alfi (oak manna) is a valuable by-product of western oak forests especially in northern parts of Zagros, Iran. The material has high medicinal and commercial value. The manna is produced on the leaf surfaces and young branches of two Quercus species: Quercus infectoria and Q. brantii, by nymphs and adults of two aphids: Tuberculoides annulatus and Thelaxes suberi. The material become sticky as crystallized sugar. The production and utilization time of the material is on late spring and sometimes on first autumn. The distribution of the host plants and aphids is in west Azarbaijan, Kordestan, Kermanshah and Lorestan provinces of Iran.

Publisher: Research Institute of Forests and Rangelands

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The biblical account suggests for some scholars that some 600,000 Israelite men of warrior age left Egypt in the Exodus, extrapolated to 2 million souls (grandparents, parents, children being factored in). Such a huge number could not have been sustained by the manna of the tarfa tree as noted by Bonar and others. However, it is a different case with the Kurdish oak tree manna, as Logan (2005) claims that _each_ year at the turn of the 20th century A.D. some _30 tons_ of this manna was consumed in the form of baked sweet-cakes in Iraq. Certainly 2 million Israelites would have been sustained by the staggering abundance of the Kurdish oak tree manna. I suspect that the anonymous Exilic author assumed _in error_ that because Mesopotamian (Kurdish, Iranian and Iraqi) manna was availabe in such huge quantity throughout Mespotamia, thus the manna Israel encountered in the Sinai would be abundant too and in sufficient quanity to sustain 2 million Israelites in their Wilderness wanderings.

The Kurdish manna is described as being _hard_ , like a _grain_ and _whitish_ and melts away in the heat of the sun, all of these characteristics describe tolerably well the manna encountered in the Sinai by Israel. In other words, I understand that the Exilic author, _in error_, is describing local Kurdish/Iraqi/Irani oak tree manna and its properties and transferring it to the manna encountered in the Sinai. He is _unaware_ that the tarfa tree manna is nothing like the Mesopotamian (Kurdish/Iranian) oak tree manna.

I am a Secluar Humanist, a non-believer in the Bible being God's word. The "objections" enumerated above by the "faithful" (Bonar and Hoerth) against manna being a product of Tarfa (Tamarisk) trees or shrubs are for me merely examples of how the Hebrews have exaggerated and embellished the properties of the manna of the Tarfa in order to take a common physical phenomenon and transform it into a "miracle food" or "bread of heaven" of God, feeding two million souls for 40 years, year-round.

As noted above by Tigay and other scholars, Tarfa manna if eaten in its raw state in any quantity acts upon the human body as a purgative resulting in diarrhea.

I find it rather humorous that the anonymous narrator of the Exodus narratives was apparently unaware that God had _daily_ afflicted his nation of two million for 40 years with diarrhea (man, woman and child) having fed them manna over that period of time. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to experience diarrhea knows how "sore" one's behind can get. There must have been daily two million "sore behinds"! 

All the above tongue-in-cheek humor aside, the biblical description of manna being prepared via grinding or pounding, boiling and then baking (Numbers 11:7-9), appears to somewhat duplicate similar prodecures found today in Turkey, Iraq and Iran by natives who use man es-simma as a sweetner for bread dough which is baked and made into confectionaries. So the "bread of heaven" was apparently a bread dough that had manna as a sweetner extract mixed into it before being baked. 

For some 3000 years many have wondered what manna is. The notion that it was an exudate of a tarfa tree insect has long been rejected by some of the devout because it was not processed by the Sinai's bedouin as portrayed in the Bible by grinding, pounding, boiling and baking (Numbers 11:7-9) they only boiled it, straining it via a cloth to remove leaves and dirt.

Bonar (1857) is quite adamant that Sinai tarfa manna is _not_ ground and beaten, then baked, as he portrays it having the consistency of honey and he sarcastically commented "Who would grind and pound honey in a mortar?":

"The tarfa-exudations are in composition and consistency somewhat like honey. They are quite unfit for grinding, or pounding, or baking, or boiling. Who could grind honey? Yet we read of the manna that the people "ground it in mills or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans,and made cakes of it" (Nu 11:8), nay boiled it (Ex 16:23). We brought home several little pots of the tarfa-manna, and we are willing to give a handsome reward to any German or English rationalist who will undertake to grind it, or beat it in a mortar, or bake it in a pan."

(p. 148. "Miracle of Manna." Horatius Bonar. The Desert of Sinai, Notes of a Spring Journey from Cairo to Beersheba. London. James Nisbet & Co. 1857. Reprinted 2005 by Adamant Media Corporation for Elibron Classics)

My research (said "discovery" or "realization" being made today at 10 a.m. on Sunday, the 21st of September, 2008) suggests that these biblical procedures (Nu 11:7-9 ) are essentially duplicated by the natives of Turkey, Iraq and Iran in that the dried and hardened or cystalized man es-simma (from oak tree insect honey-dew excretions) is indeed ground, pounded and pulverized, then it is boiled, extracted from a cloth acting as a seive and then mixed into flour to sweeten bread dough. 

I understand that Genesis-2 Kings was written by one author in the Babylonian Exile circa 560 B.C. in Babylonia (for the reasons why please click here). Today Babylonia is in modern Iraq and it is in Iraq that natives still process oak tree man es-simma via pounding, boiling and baking into flour cakes. 

I suspect that the anonymous Jewish author of Genesis-2 Kings, in the Babylonian Exile, _assumed_, in error, that the "Mesopotamian way" of processing man es-Simma (oak tree insects' _CRYSTALIZED_ AND_HARDENED_honey-dew exudate) would be the "same procedure" for Israel who encountered a substance called manna  in the Sinai.

If my hunch is correct, then Mesopotamian procedures for processing oak tree man es-simma in the 6th century B.C. Babylonian Exile were, _in error_, understood to be the same procedure Israel would have used in the Sinai.

Bonar is quite clear, Sinaitic tarfa manna is _not_ agreeable to being ground up or pounded or pulverized in a mortar as portrayed in Numbers 11:7-9, it is _not_ found in a hardened crystalized state requiring grinding or pounding like the Mesopotamian oak tree manna, it is found as a SOFT STICKY SUBSTANCE upon twigs, leaves and the gound beneath the tarfa tree and gathered in this state. Its soft sticky gummy state does not lend it to being ground or pounded as noted by Bonar. 

What Bonar and other scholars failed to realize was that the Mesopotamian man es-simma (oak tree insect exudate) _was_ agreeable to such a processing because it crystalizes or hardens, thus requiring grinding or pounding (to "soften" it) before boiling as described in the Bible.

My "humble contribution" here to unraveling the 3000 year old mystery of why the Bible (Nu 11:7-9) portrays manna being ground, pounded, boiled and baked is that Mesopotamian procedures of the 6th century B.C. Babylonian Exile were probably known by the anonymous Jewish author who may have even eaten some of the local Iraqi man es-simma being hawked in the local bazaars.

He probably was _unaware_ that the Sinai tarfa manna was of the consistency of honey and thus unsuitable for grinding and pulverizing and baking as was the crystalized and hardened Mesopotamian manna or man es-simma (modern Arabic: "man of heaven") he had consumed in Babylonia (Mesopotamia or modern Iraq).

His confusion might have arisen because of the association of manna or man with bread in both regions and cultures, the Sinai and Mesopotamia. 

The Sinai bedouin after boiling the tarfa manna and seiving it through a cloth to remove its impurities (leaves, dirt, and insects) place it on bread like honey to consume while the Mesopotamian (Iraqi) procedure (after pounding, boiling, and seiving) is to stir the manna extract into flour which is then is kneaded and baked as sweetened flour cakes as appears in Numbers 11:7-9.

If the above observations are "on target," obviously Numbers 11:7-9 was _not_ written by Moses circa 1512 B.C. (Catholic Exodus) or 1446 B.C. (Protestant Exodus) nor by _anyone_ else_ who had ever visited the Sinai _in person_ because such individuals would have known that the tarfa manna possessed a sticky viscosity similar to honey and could not be beaten, pulverized and "baked" into a substance which was similar in taste to "cakes made with oil."
Some scholars have proposed that the Primary History, Genesis-2 Kings, was composed in the Exile (Please click here for their arguments). The above observations on Mesopotamian oak tree manna, if on the mark, buttress this notion "driving another nail into the coffin" that Moses or an eye witness did not write this account in the 16th or 15th century B.C. it was written in the 6th century B.C. Babylonian Exile, in Mesopotamia.

If I am right on "all of the above" then the Bible quite clearly cannot be the word of God, for the Holy Spirit isn't supposed to make errors, confusing Mesopotamian processing procedures for oak tree crystalized and hardened man es-simma with the Sinai's sticky-honey-like consistency manna of the tarfa tree.

Below, Persian (Iranian) Gaz, a white nougat with a garnish of pistachio nuts:

For additional scholarly information on the manna-creating insect, Trabutina mannipara, which is associated with Tamarisk trees from Egypt, the Sinai and Dead Sea areas, please click here.

Below, a photograph of some Tamarisk trees near Bir Nasib in the Central Sinai 
(cf. p. 125. Werner Keller. The Bible As History, Archaeologists Show the Truth of the Old Testament. Oxford, England. A Lion Book. 1991. ISBN 0-74592168X)
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