The Hebrew translation of this word literally means, “What is it?” Manna is referred to repeatedly in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Hermetic scrolls and the Bible. It is the mfkzt (Milk of Hathor/Ishtar), depicted on ancient stone carvings and pharonic cartouches, being offered to feed the Ka (spiritual body) of Pharaohs and was the essential key to transforming them and others into Light Beings.
It is the shem-an-na (highward fire-stone) believed to be the superconductive source of the blinding white light and terrifying destructive force of the Ark of the Covenant. It is the White Powder of Gold whose levitation properties, proven by modern science, was a closely guarded secret of ancient temple builders, master craftsmen and stonemasons, who would sooner die than reveal their privileged knowledge. It is an integral basis of the metaphysical philosophy of the earliest Freemasons.
It is the Philosophers Stone Instrumental in transmutation alchemy, whose goal was a heightened state of enlightenment and perception (from a lead state of being to a golden one), that was symbolized by the fiery rebirth of the Phoenix.
One initial discovery of its ancient manufacture and storage was found by the Petrie expedition in search of the biblical holy mountain of Moses, then called Mount Horeb and presently known as Serabit el Khadim (on the Sinai peninsula). They found, within the ruins of a temple dedicated to the Goddess Hathor, alchemical equipment including a metallurgist’s crucible and a considerable amount of pure white powder, concealed beneath flagstones.
The stelae inscriptions described a substance called mfkzt (pronounced mufkuzt). Mfkzt was believed to be refined primarily from traditionally mined gold, but other sources were later brought to light. The excavation of Qumran, Judea revealed a complex system of conduits, channels and numerous water cisterns, some of which led directly from the Dead Sea. This salt-laden water was not suitable for drinking, but its high mineral content has been found to be a source of high quality m-state material for the processing of white gold powder.
In the Hebrew Bible
In the Hebrew Bible, manna is described twice: once in Exodus 16:1–36 with the full narrative surrounding it, and once again in Numbers 11:1–9 as a part of a separate narrative. In the description in the Book of Exodus, manna is described as being “a fine, flake-like thing” like the frost on the ground. It is described in the Book of Numbers as arriving with the dew during the night. Exodus adds that manna was comparable to hoarfrost in color, and similarly had to be collected before it was melted by the heat of the sun, and was like a coriander seed in size but white in color. Numbers describes it as having the appearance of bdellium, adding that the Israelites ground it and pounded it into cakes, which were then baked, resulting in something that tasted like cakes baked with oil. Exodus states that raw manna tasted like wafers that had been made with honey. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Stored manna “bred worms and stank”: the exception being that stored the day before the Sabbath (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered. This manna did not spoil overnight. Exodus 16:23–24 states:
This is what the Lord commanded: “Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.
In the Quran
The word mana appears three times in the Quran, at 2:57, 7:160, and 20:80. It is narrated in the Sahih Muslim that Muhammad said: “Truffles are part of the ‘manna’ which Allah sent to the people of Israel through Moses, and its juice is a medicine for the eye.”
Some scholars have proposed that manna is cognate with the Egyptian term mennu, which designated a substance that figured in offerings. At the turn of the twentieth century, Arabs of the Sinai Peninsula were selling resin from the tamarisk tree as man es-simma, roughly meaning “heavenly manna”. Tamarisk trees (particularly Tamarix gallica) were once comparatively extensive throughout the southern Sinai, and their resin is similar to wax, melts in the sun, is sweet and aromatic (like honey), and has a dirty-yellow color, fitting somewhat with the biblical descriptions of manna. However, this resin is mostly composed of sugar, so it would be unlikely to provide sufficient nutrition for a population to survive over long periods of time, and it would be very difficult for it to have been compacted into cakes.
Other researchers have believed manna to be a form of lichen – a plant colony that often has a low mass per unit volume density and a large “sail area”. In particular, Lecanora esculenta has been postulated. Known natural aerial falls of various lichens have been described as occurring in accounts separate from that in the Bible. “In some parts of Asia Lecanora esculenta covers the soil to such a degree that, according to Parrot, it forms beds 15 to 20 centimetres thick.”
In 1921, the American consul in Jerusalem reported to the American government that he had identified manna as a “form of dew” that “hardens and assumes the form of a grain” when it falls on the leaves of oak trees.
Another type is turkey oak manna, also called Persian gezengevi- gezo, men, Turkish Kudret helvasi, man-es-simma, also Diarbekir manna, or Kurdish manna. It is formed by aphids and appears white. It was common in western Iran, northern Iraq and eastern Turkey. When dried it forms into crystalline lumps which are hard and look like stone. They are pounded before inclusion in breads.
Some form critics posit conflicting descriptions of manna as derived from different lore, with the description in Numbers being from the Jahwist tradition, and the description in Exodus being from the later Priestly tradition. The Babylonian Talmud states that the differences in description were due to the taste varying depending on who ate it, with it tasting like honey for small children, like bread for youths, and like oil for the elderly. Similarly, classical rabbinical literature rectifies the question of whether manna came before or after dew, by holding that the manna was sandwiched between two layers of dew, one falling before the manna, and the other after.
Manna is from Heaven, according to the Hebrew Bible and to Jesus in the New Testament, but the various identifications of manna are naturalistic. In the Mishnah, manna is treated as a natural but unique substance, “created during the twilight of the sixth day of Creation”, and ensured to be clean, before it arrives, by the sweeping of the ground by a northern wind and subsequent rains. According to classical rabbinical literature, manna was ground in a heavenly mill for the use of the righteous, but some of it was allocated to the wicked and left for them to grind themselves.
Use and function
Until they reached Canaan, the Israelites are implied by some passages in the Bible to have eaten only manna during their desert sojourn, despite the availability of milk and meat from the livestock with which they traveled, and the references to provisions of fine flour, oil, and meat, in parts of the journey’s narrative.
As a natural food substance, manna would produce waste products; but in classical rabbinical literature, as a supernatural substance, it was held that manna produced no waste, resulting in no defecation among the Israelites until several decades later, when the manna had ceased to fall. Modern medical science suggests the lack of defecation over such a long period of time would cause severe bowel problems, especially when other food later began to be consumed again. Classical rabbinical writers say that the Israelites complained about the lack of defecation, and were concerned about potential bowel problems.
Many Christian vegetarians say that God had originally intended man would not eat meat because plants cannot move and killing them would not be sinful: manna, a nonmeat substance, is used to support this theory. Further, when the people complained and wished for quail, God gave it to them, but they apparently still complained and some greedily gathered the quail. “While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people.”
Food was not manna’s only use; one classical rabbinical source states that the fragrant odor of manna was used in an Israelite perfume.
Exodus says each day one omer of manna was gathered per family member (about 3.64 litres), and may imply this was regardless of how much effort was put into gathering it; a midrash attributed to Rabbi Tanhuma remarks that although some were diligent enough to go into the fields to gather manna, others just lay down lazily and caught it with their outstretched hands. The Talmud states that this factor was used to solve disputes about the ownership of slaves, since the number of omers of manna each household could gather would indicate how many people were legitimately part of the household; the omers of manna for stolen slaves could be gathered only by legitimate owners, and therefore legitimate owners would have spare omers of manna.
According to the Talmud, manna was found near the homes of those with strong belief in God, and far from the homes of those with doubts; indeed, one classical midrash says that manna was intangible to Gentiles, as it would inevitably slip from their hands. The Midrash Tanhuma holds that manna melted, formed liquid streams, was drunk by animals, flavored the animal flesh, and was thus indirectly eaten by Gentiles, this being the only way that Gentiles could taste manna. Despite these hints of uneven distribution, classical rabbinical literature expresses the view that manna fell in very large quantities each day. It holds that manna was layered out over 2,000 cubits square, between 50 and 60 cubits in height, enough to nourish the Israelites for 2,000 years and to be seen from the palaces of every king in the East and West.
According to Exodus, Shabbat (Sabbath) was reinstituted the first week manna appeared. It states that twice as much manna as usual was available on the sixth morning of the week, and none at all could be found on the seventh day; although manna usually rotted and became maggot-infested after a single night, that which had been collected on the sixth day remained fresh until the second night. Moses stated that the double portion of Preparation Day was to be consumed on Shabbat; and that God instructed him that no one should leave his place on Shabbat, so that the people could rest during it.
Form critics regard this part of the manna narrative to be spliced together from the Yahwist and Priestly traditions, with the Yahwist tradition emphasizing rest during Shabbat, while the Priestly tradition merely states that Shabbat exists, implying that the meaning of “Shabbat” was already known. These critics regard this part of the manna narrative as an etiological supernature story designed to explain the origin of Shabbat observance, which in reality was probably pre-Mosaic.