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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Manna, or Man. The name given to the miraculous food upon which the Israelites were fed for forty years, during their wanderings in the desert. The same name has in later ages been applied to some natural productions, chiefly found in warm dry countries, but which have little or no resemblance to the original manna. This is first mentioned in Exodus 16. It is there described as being first produced after the eighth encampment in the desert of Sin, as white like hoar frost (or of the color of bdellium, ), round, and of the bigness of coriander seed (gad). It fell with the dew every morning, and when the dew was exhaled by the heat of the sun, the manna appeared alone, lying upon the ground or the rocks round the encampment of the Israelites. 'When the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, What is it? for they knew not what it was' (). In the Authorized, and some other versions, this passage is inaccurately translated—which indeed is apparent from the two parts of the sentence contradicting each other. Josephus (Antiq. iii. 1. § 6), as quoted by Dr. Harris, says: 'The Hebrews call this food manna, for the particle man in our language is the asking of a question, What is this? (mah-hu). Moses answered this question by telling them, 'This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.' We are further informed that the manna fell every day, except on the Sabbath. Every sixth day, that is on Friday, there fell a double quantity of it. Every man was directed to gather an omer (about three English quarts) for each member of his family: and the whole seems afterwards to have been measured out at the rate of an omer to each person: 'He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.' That which remained ungathered dissolved in the heat of the sun, and was lost. The quantity collected was intended for the food of the current day only; for if any were kept till next morning, it corrupted and bred worms. Yet it was directed that a double quantity should be gathered on the sixth day for consumption on the Sabbath. And it was found that the manna kept for the Sabbath remained sweet and wholesome, notwithstanding that it corrupted at other times, if kept for more than one day. In the same manner as they would have treated grain, they reduced it to meal, kneaded it into dough, and baked it into cakes, and the taste of it was like that of wafers made with honey, or of fresh oil. In , where the description of the manna is repeated, an omer of it is directed to be preserved as a memorial to future generations, 'that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness;' and in we learn that after the Israelites had encamped at Gilgal, and did eat of the old corn of the land, the manna ceased on the morrow after, neither had the children of Israel manna anymore.'


Fig. 251—Manna Plants—1. Alhagi maurorum. 2. Tamarix gallica.

This miracle is referred to in;;;;;; . Though the manna of Scripture was so evidently miraculous, both in the mode and in the quantities in which it was produced, and though its properties were so different from anything with which we are acquainted, yet, because its taste is in Exodus said to be like that of wafers made with honey, many writers have thought that they recognized the manna of Scripture in a sweetish exudation which is found on several plants in Arabia and Persia. The name man, or manna, is applied to this substance by the Arab writers, and was probably so applied even before their time. But the term is now almost entirely appropriated to the sweetish exudation of the ash trees of Sicily and Italy. These, however, have no relation to the supposed manna of Scripture. Of this one kind is known to the Arabs by the name of guzunjbeen, being the produce of a plant called guz, and which is ascertained to be a species of tamarisk. The same species seems also to be called toorfa, and is common along different parts of the coast of Arabia. It is also found in the neighborhood of Mount Sinai. 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 the tree in the natural state. The Arabs use it as they do honey, to pour over their unleavened bread, or to dip their bread into; its taste is agreeable, somewhat aromatic, and as sweet as honey. 'If eaten in any quantity it is said to be highly purgative.' When Lieut. Wellsted visited this place in the month of September, he found the extremities of the twigs and branches retaining the peculiar sweetness and flavor which characterize the manna. The Bedouins collect it early in the morning, and, after straining it through a cloth, place it either in skins or gourds; a considerable quantity is consumed by themselves; a portion is sent to Cairo; and some is also disposed of to the monks at Mount Sinai. The latter retail it to the Russian pilgrims.' 'The Bedouins assured me that the whole quantity collected throughout the Peninsula, in the most fruitful season, did not exceed 150 wogas (about 700 pounds); and that it was usually disposed of at the rate of 60 dollars the woga.'

Another kind of manna, which has been supposed to be that of Scripture, is yielded by a thorny plant very common from the north of India to Syria, and which by the Arabs is called Al-haj: whence botanists have constructed the name Alhagi. The Alhagi maurorum is remarkable for the exudation of a sweetish juice, which concretes into small granular masses, and which is usually distinguished by the name of Persian manna. The climates of Persia and Bokhara seem also well suited to the secretion of this manna, which in the latter country is employed as a substitute for sugar, and is imported into India for medicinal use through Caubul and Khorassan. These two, from the localities in which they are produced, have alone been thought to be the manna of Scripture. But, besides these, there are several other kinds of manna. Indeed, a sweetish secretion is found on the leaves of many other plants, produced sometimes by the plant itself, at others by the punctures of insects. It has been supposed, also, that these sweetish exudations being evaporated during the heat of the day in still weather, may afterwards become deposited, with the dew, on the ground, and on the leaves of plants; and thus explain some of the phenomena which have been observed by travelers and others. But none of these mannas explain, nor can it be expected that they should explain, the miracle of Scripture, by which abundance is stated to have been produced for millions, where hundreds cannot now be subsisted.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Manna'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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