Explaining the Manna in Exodus

Explaining the Manna in Exodus
The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot

Christians sometimes make the mistake of devising naturalistic theories to explain biblical events. A classic example of this is explaining the manna of Exodus 16:14-35. It is true that certain insects in the Middle East secrete an edible substance. Some restaurants serve it and claim that it is the same manna that God provided to Israel in the wilderness.

The best-known example of wild explanations of manna was by Immanuel Velikovsky in his book Worlds in Collision, which was popular in the 1950s. Velikovsky claimed that Venus was ejected by Jupiter and became a comet that contained edible fragments containing carbohydrates which provided the manna of Exodus 16. Now we have people claiming that fragments from the ort cloud of material outside our solar system are the source of the manna.

We should first point out that there may be hydrocarbons in space, but there are no carbohydrates. There is a vast difference. The biblical account tells us that the manna could be baked (Exodus 16:23) and that if it was kept overnight, it “bred worms and stank” (verse 20). Baking would ignite a hydrocarbon. The Bible describes the manna as “like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey” (verse 31). None of those things match the composition of a comet or Venus. We have landed on Venus, and the surface is familiar rock types like ones found on Earth.

Many things in the biblical account can be explained in natural ways. For example, it is not difficult to believe that quail could descend on a population in significant numbers (also described in Exodus 16). Explaining the manna as a product of insects, as it is today in smaller quantities, would not explain its properties and regard for the Sabbath (verse 23). We could only interpret that as an act of God. How the manna was produced becomes an untestable question, and constructing explanations with wild assumptions damages faith instead of supporting it.

— John N. Clayton © 2021