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MANNA (Heb. mān, Gr. manna). A special food provided for the Hebrews during the exodus from Egypt. The name is of uncertain meaning. The Hebrew mān is a question and prefixed to hu would be “What is it?” On the other hand, it may be an adaptation of the Egyptian mennu, food. Josephus and other ancient writers attribute the name to the question “Is it food?” which is in keeping with the wilderness setting. Just what it was has puzzled naturalists for ages. It came at night, resembling hoarfrost, coming with the dew (Num.11.9), and may have collected in dewdrops (Exod.16.4). It was white, of delicious flavor, and resembled seed of the coriander, a plant of the eastern Mediterranean area that was both tasty and nourishing (Exod.16.31). That it came by miraculous means is shown by its nature, its time of coming, and its preservation over the Sabbath (Exod.16.20-Exod.16.26; Deut.8.3). Being seedlike in form it had to be ground (Num.11.7-Num.11.8). As soon as other food was available, the manna ceased (Josh.5.12).

Although many attempts have been made to explain the manna as a natural phenomenon, ancient Hebrew scholars knew it to be of supernatural origin (Wis.17.20). No known substance meets the description of this food. A tamarisk plant that grows along the route of the Hebrews from Sinai exudes a sweet liquid, which collects at night on twigs and falls to the ground. After sunrise it disappears unless protected. But this plant produces the food for only a brief period each year. Other naturalists would identify manna with a peculiar mossy plant that at maturity is round and is eaten with honey. But neither is it available for the entire year.

The Bible makes it certain that manna came as a temporary provision for the chosen people. The poet Asaph called it “corn from heaven” (Ps.78.24). It was also bread from heaven (Ps.105.40). Hebrew writers called it “angels' bread” (2Esd.2.1; Wis.16.20). Jesus, referring to himself, used it as a metaphor (John.6.31-John.6.58). John called it spiritual food, meaning a hidden agent for spiritual sustenance for the risen saints (Rev.2.17).——JDF

MANNA (מָ֥ן; μάννα, G3445). The Heb. word “man” implies a sweet gum or resin. It was, of course, the food given miraculously by God morning after morning to the children of Israel. This manna was supplied all the years of their wanderings. It says in Numbers 11:6—“nothing at all, but this manna.” It is described in Numbers 11:7 as looking “like coriander seed,” and in Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses says: “...fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know.” He did this “that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” The Lord Jesus quoted this text to Satan at the time of His temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:4).

The miraculous falling down of the manna ceased “on the morrow, when they ate of the produce of the land” (Josh 5:12). The psalmist (Ps 78:24) makes it clear that the manna came down like rain, i.e. “rained down upon them manna to eat.” In the NT, manna is mentioned three times: in John 6:31, 49, “our fathers ate the manna,” and in Hebrews 9:4, reference is made to the putting of the manna into a golden urn. This refers to Exodus 16:33, where Aaron put an omer of manna in a jar which was laid up “before the Lord” in the Tabernacle. Future generations could see the special type of “bread” with which God fed them during the wilderness wanderings.

This white coriander seed-like manna was described as tasting like wafers made with honey (Exod 16:31). The last reference to manna appears in Revelation 2:17, where the giving of manna is spiritualized, i.e. “to him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna.”

Those who find it difficult to believe in the miraculous provision of manna by God refer to the Apoc, where in the book of Baruch 1:10 (KJV) it says: “Prepare a cereal offering and offer them upon the altar of the Lord our God.” As this instruction was given long after the daily supply of manna had ceased, it therefore refers to some substance that could be bought. This is presumed to be a gum-resin, which exuded from trees such as Alhagi maurorum, called the Prickly Alhagi—sometimes the Sinai manna. Two other trees which are found in Pal. and could produce similar globules of gum are Fraxinus ornus, a flowering ash, and Tamarisk gallica, variety manifera. Syn. Tamarisk nilotica, variety manifera.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

The Hebrew man is probably derived, as Ebers suggests, from the Egyptian mennu, "food." In Ex 16:15, we have a suggested source of the name, "They said one to another, What is it?" i.e. manhu, which also means, "It is manna" (see margin).

1. Old Testament References:

2. New Testament References:

In Joh 6:31-63, our Lord frequently refers to "the manna" or "bread from heaven" as typical of Himself. Paul (1Co 10:3) refers to it as "spiritual food," and in Re 2:17 we read, "To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna."

Manna, as might be expected, figures largely in rabbinical literature. It was, it is said, adapted to the taste of each individual who could by wishing taste in the manna anything he desired (compare The Wisdom of Solomon 16:21). Manna is reserved as the future food of the righteous (compare Re 2:17), for which purpose it is ground in a mill situated in the third heaven (Chag 12b; Tan. Beshallach 22).

3. Natural Explanations:

No substance is known which in any degree satisfies all the requirements of the Scriptural references, but several travelers in the wilderness have reported phenomena which suggest some of the features of the miraculous manna.

(1) In the Peninsula of Sinai, on the route of the children of Israel, a species of tamarisk, named in consequence by Ebers Tammaris mannifera, is found to exude a sweet, honey-like substance where its bark is pierced by an insect, Gossyparia mannifera. It collects upon the twigs and falls to the ground. The Arabs who gather it to sell to pilgrims call it mann-es-sama, "heavenly manna"; it is white at first but turns yellow; in the early morning it is of the consistency of wax but when the sun is hot it disappears. This substance occurs only after mid-summer and for a month or two at most.

(2) A second proposal is to identify manna with a lichen--Lecanora esculenta and allied species--which grows in the Arabian and other deserts upon the limestone. The older masses become detached and are rolled about by the wind. When swept together by sudden rain storms in the rainy season they may collect in large heaps. This lichen has been used by the Arabs in time of need for making bread. It is a quite reasonable form of nourishment in the desert, especially when eaten with the sugary manna from the trees.