Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

manna, a food God provided for the Hebrews in the wilderness (Exod. 16:1-36; Num. 11:4-9). The manna was found each morning on the ground and is described as ‘a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost’ (Exod. 16:14). It is further described as being white (Exod. 16:31), like coriander seed (a small, globular, grayish-colored seed, Exod. 16:31), and like bdellium (a sticky resinous gum, Num. 11:7). Each Hebrew was to gather one omer (approximately two quarts) of manna each day, but two omers on the day preceding the Sabbath (Exod. 16:16, 22). The manna could be boiled in pots or ground into a meal and baked into cakes (Num. 11:8).

Manna that was left on the ground after the sun warmed the earth quickly disappeared. The Hebrews interpreted this as meaning that it melted (Exod. 16:21). The disappearance is more likely the work of ants, which remove any manna once the ground warms. Likewise, the description of worms in any excess manna (Exod. 16:20) is probably a description of the ants that would seek out and remove manna stored in the tents of the Hebrews. A jar of manna was kept, along with Aaron’s budding almond branch, in the Holy of Holies beside the Ark of the Covenant (Exod. 16:33-34).

F. S. Bodenheimer has suggested that manna was the honeydew secretion of two kinds of scale insects feeding on the sap of the tamarisk. These insects ingest large amounts of plant sap, which is rich in carbohydrates but poor in nitrogen. The excess carbohydrate ingested in order to obtain the needed nitrogen is then excreted as honeydew. This honeydew is rich in three basic sugars and pectin. In the dry desert air most of the moisture quickly evaporates from the honeydew, leaving sticky droplets on the plants or ground.

Bodenheimer notes that the geographical area where manna was found according to the earliest writings of Scripture, from Elim to Rephidim, agrees well with his own observation of the limits of manna production. Bodenheimer also notes that the season of manna production begins in late May or early June, precisely the time indicated by the biblical account.

In the nt, Jesus is challenged to do great signs like the provision of manna in the wilderness. He responds that the manna, bread of heaven, came as a gift from God, and that he (Jesus) was the bread of life (John 6:25-35). Similarly in Rev. 2:17, the faithful are promised some of the hidden manna, a reference to Jesus’ offering the bread of life.


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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