Posted 20 February 2005 - 03:06 PM
As to "the truth" about mannah, following is a piece I wrote some years ago:
Of all the events described in the Bible, there are few that inspire more awe than the miracle of manna. The Sinai Dessert is an especially harsh environment, but for forty years as the Hebrews wandered through the dessert in search of the Promised Land, they had no problem in finding their daily food. Every morning, shortly after dawn, the Hebrews were graced with as much of this wafer-like delicacy as they could consume during the day. Delivered directly from the heavens, one had to do no more than gather his or her share, eat as much as they liked and then look forward to the next day's crop.
There is of course, another, somewhat more caustic view about manna. Even though the Old Testament and tradition concur that manna contained the ingredients of every delicious food and suited the taste of all who partook of it, some speculate that forty years of manna made for a fairly monotonous diet. So unhappy were the Israelites that at one point they actually complained to Moses that "...we have naught save this manna to look to". With neither a bowl of chicken soup or a good pate de foie gras in sight, life might have been fairly difficult.
While the fine flavor of manna remains unquestioned, many have devoted their thoughts to the issues of just what it was and from whence it came. Rashi and other Jewish commentators observe that while manna was not a true bread, it settled to the ground shortly after the first dew had fallen and then was covered again with a second coating of dew. In Exodus we learn that it was "white and sweet, looked like coriander seed but tasted like wafers made with honey". Later, in the Book of Numbers, we find that it could be "ground, pounded like meal, boiled and made into cakes". From other Biblical writings we also know that it had the appearance of bedellium (a gum resin similar to myrrh obtained from various trees) and then when cooked it had the taste of cake baked with oil.
Some etymologists suggest that the Israelites, puzzled over the mysterious substance, called it man, the name of a sweet with which they had become familiar when in Egypt. Even today this sticky, honey-like juice exudes in heavy drops in May and June from certain shrubs found in Sinai. In the Rashbam commentaries, however, it is noted that while this may account for the naming of the miraculous provender, it cannot account for the feeding of so many people, for man is found only in minuscule quantities.
Others suggest that the name simply reflects the confusion of the people who could not identify the substance and comes from ma-nah, a word combining a Hebrew root with an Egyptian stem and meaning "what is this?"
Since the 4th century, scholars and monks at Saint Catherine's monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai have held that manna originated from the secretions of the scale insects that made their homes on the tamarisk shrubs that are common to the Sinai. Modern scientists concur with this as a possibility and speculate that a massive swarm of Trabutina mannipara had invaded the Sinai during this time, thus allowing for large quantities of their secretions to be "harvested" each morning.
Although gathering manna was not a difficult task for the Israelites, modern men are sometimes confused by the fact that each member of the family was expected to harvest and consume an omer of manna each day. Those interested will be pleased to know that an omer is "the tenth part of an ephah". In more modern terms that comes to about 2 liters.
For better or worse, the original recipe for manna has been misplaced. To capture at least the basic flavors of manna, one might care to try the following pancakes.
225 gr. cake quality matzo flour, sifted
2 tsp. dried coriander leaves (gad in Hebrew, cusbara in Arabic), ground extremely finely
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
about 2 Tbs. honey
Resift the flour together with the ground coriander. Place the flour in a bowl and in the center make a well. Into this pour 1/2 cup of boiling water and the oil. Mix into a dough and then knead on a well floured board until smooth and elastic. Divide the dough into 12 equal portions.
Roll out a portion of the dough into a 10 cm. circle and brush with the sesame oil. Roll a second portion and with this cover the first. Roll the combined circles to make a 15 cm. pancake sandwich. Continue the process until all of the dough has been used and 6 pancakes sandwiches are ready.
Heat a heavy skillet, without oil, and in this one at a time fry the sandwiched pancakes, turning once so that both sides are cooked. The skillet should be kept moving constantly to prevent the pancakes from sticking, and cooking should be done over a moderate flame.
When all of the pancakes have been cooked, separate the sandwiched pancakes. Spread one side of each pancake lightly with honey and fold each single pancake in half and then in half again. Serve at once or cover with a lightly dampened cloth and set aside to keep warm until ready to serve. Yields 12 pancakes.