Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Two Accounts of Quail & Manna

Last Shabbos while discussing the story of the manna in Parsha Behaloscha, I wanted to make a point regarding how monotonous it must have been to eat "cake baked with oil" every day for 40 years, as the manna is described as tasting in Numbers 11:7. Didn't the people in the desert have every right to complain? (I'm not a minimalist and do treat many of the stories of Torah as having some basis in fact.) One of my kids said, "I thought that the mann tasted like a honey doughnut?" (They have long learned to take midrashim with a large grain of salt and so didn't even mention the near-universal belief among Orthodox Jews that it could taste like almost anything a person desired.) I told them that, yes, that is how it is described in Exodus which says that the manna tasted like "wafers made with honey". I started looking at other aspects of the story and NOW JUST WAIT A MINUTE - how come I never noticed before all of the similarities - and more importantly - the differences between the two accounts of Exodus 16 and Numbers 11??

Here's a synopsis of the Exodus 16 account:

The Israelites travel to the wilderness of Sin on the 15th day of the second month after departing Egypt. The whole congregation of the children of Israel complains against Moses and Aaron because of their hunger, saying how they remember the flesh-pots of Egypt. God tells Moses that He is going to rain down bread from heaven and on the people will have to gather a double portion. This will be a test to see if the people will keep His law. Moses and Aaron say that their complaints are against God and not them. Moses has Aaron tell the people that God has heard their complaints and the people see God's glory in the clouds. At night quails come up and cover the camp. In the morning there is a layer of dew and when it evaporates, there is the manna (a fine, scale-like thing.) Everyone is told to gather an omer. Some gather more, some less, but when they measure, it is an omer. They aren't supposed to leave any over to the morning; when they do it gets wormy and rots and Moses gets angry. On the sixth day they gather two omers each - Moses tells them tomorrow is the Sabbath - and the double portion doesn't rot. Some people go to gather it on the Sabbath and don't find any - God responds that the people aren't keeping the commandments. The people give it the name "mann". It looks like coriander seed, is white, and tastes like wafers made with honey. Moses tells Aaron to store away an omer for all generations. "The children of Israel ate manna forty years until they came to the borders of Canaan." [Obviously an indication that this section was written long after the fact]. An omer is 1/10 of an ephah.

And now the Numbers 11 account:

The people complain. God gets angry and his fire consumes the edge of the camp. The people cry, Moses prays, the fire stops. The place is called Taberah ("burning"), because God's fire burned them. The mixed multitude crave meat and the children of Israel also weep. They recall the fish and veggies from Egypt and they have nothing to eat but manna. The manna is like coriander seed, and has a pearl-like luster. The people gather it, grind it up, cook it and make cakes. It tastes like cake baked with oil. The dew falls upon the camp at night, and the manna falls on the dew. Moses hears the people weeping; God gets angry and Moses is displeased. He complains to God: "These people are too much of a burden. Where am I going to get meat? Please kill me God!" God says to gather 70 elders and He will give them some of the spirit that is on Moses. He says that the people will get flesh not only tomorrow, but for a whole month until it is coming out of their nostrils and is loathsome. This is a punishment for rejecting God. Moses says, God, how are you going to feed 600,000? God says, no problem, I'm God. Short interlude of the Elders, Eldad, and Medad prophesying. A wind brings in quails from the sea; they are flapping around all over the camp for a distance of one day's journey on each side. The people gather large amounts of quail, and are afflicted with a plague while the meat is still between their teeth. The place is called Kivroth HaTaavah ("Graves of Craving"), because there they buried the people that craved. They then journey to Chazterot.

Note that although the events of each story are similar, the themes are quite different. The Exodus account uses the story of the manna to convey important lessons regarding the Sabbath, trusting in God, etc. The Numbers account goes into great detail regarding the despair that Moses felt and how some of his burden was relieved by granting others the power of prophecy.

Here is a chart that summarizes the two accounts of "the Manna and the Quail".




Exodus 16Numbers 11
WhenIyar, 1st yearNisan, 2nd year (Numbers 9,10)
Protagonist(s)Moses and AharonMoses
Who ComplainedAll IsraelFirst mixed multitude, then Bnai Israel
The ComplaintThey wanted meatThey wanted meat
What The People RememberedMeat in Egypt
Fish & veggies in Egypt
God's Reaction to the ComplaintsHe'll give them mannaVery angry
What God Said They'd GetMeat & breadMeat (they've already been eating bread/manna)
When The Manna CameWith morning dewFell with dew at night
The Manna Looked LikeWhite coriander seedCoriander seed, pearl-like or resinous
The Manna Tasted LikeWafers made with honeyCake baked with oil
When the Quail CameAt nightWind blew them in during the morning
After Eating the QuailNothing mentionedThe people died as a result of eating it
God Gets Angry BecausePeople were gathering manna on SabbathPeople were complaining
Mose's Reaction to the Complaints"People are Complaining Against God"He despairs from the burden
SabbathCentral ThemeNothing mentioned
Prophecy of EldersNothing mentionedCentral Theme

I had never before seen this mentioned in my readings on various theories of the Torah's multiple authorship and it hit me like a lead pipe: of course these are two variants of the same story! It is so obvious; complaints about wanting meat and remembering Egypt, the quail that God then provides, the description of the manna's appearance and taste. But I wasn't so naive to think that this was my own chiddush - scholars must have noticed this before. And, indeed, a web search quickly showed me that this was the case. But the real shocker were the links that mentioned the 12th century commentator, R. Joseph ben Isaac, otherwise known as the Bekhor Shor. A French tosafist and a student of Rabbeinu Tam and the Rashbam, R. Isaac "noted that a number of wilderness narratives in Exodus and Numbers are very similar, in particular, the incidents of water from the rock, and the stories about manna and the quail. He theorized that both of these incidents actually happened once, but that parallel traditions about these events eventually developed, both of which made their way into the Torah."

A Rishon who admitted to a multiple authorship theory?? Now when an OrthoFundie challenges me I no longer have to rely only on the authority of James Kugel!

11 comments:

Baal Habos said...

According to REF, the Man story is actualy a triplet. I.e. The Exodus story is part P and Part J. The Numbers is E. Do you have a reference to that Rishon on-line. He may not have meant it as two traditions of the same story, rather two "tellings" of the story from two different perspectives.

Anonymous said...

"I had never before seen this mentioned in my readings on various theories of the Torah's multiple authorship and it hit me like a lead pipe: of course these are two variants of the same story!"

How much reading on it can you have done?

Frum Heretic said...

Baal - On what basis does Friedman divide the mann accounts into multiple documents? Note that YHVH is used exclusively in both.

I'm sure that the Bechor Shor is someone on-line and I'll try to find this inside.

Frum Heretic said...

Anonymous - I'm not widely read regarding the DH. It is also possible that I have come across this before but didn't remember. I even said that "I wasn't so naive to think that this was my own chiddush - scholars must have noticed this before." My point was how obvious it is that these are two variants on the same story.

J. said...

Can we have a mareh mokom for that Bechor Shor?

Baal Habos said...

Frum, I'm far from being knowledgable on DH, but there is a common misunderstanding as to the issue of YHVH and Elohim. According to REF, the difference between the authors is a matter of time. It's a matter of Ushme Hashem lo nodatti lahem. But all authors agree that after Moshe's time, which includes the Mann, everyone, J,E,P & D used YHVH. J used YHVH even before Moshe. E, P do not use YHVH until Moshe's time. The split of J P E is usually done by means other than God's name, REF does not usually get into how the assignments were made. and I don't know exacty.

Frum Heretic said...

Baal - you beat me to the punch! I logged back on just to say that my comment may have unwittingly - and erroneously - implied that everything is divided simply on the basis of YHVH vs Elohim. For example, much of the DH division results from claims regarding the types of documents that the Northern Kingdom would have made vs the Southern Kingdom. The Aaronide priesthood vs anti-Aaronide themes. Etc.

But I find that DH proponents are often guilty of circular reasoning. An example is how REF attempts to divide the tribes of Israel mentioned in Genesis into E and J documents. When I read it, it seemed to be a blatant contrivance without any underlying textual basis except his preconceived notions that certain tribes would be mentioned by an E vs J author. I then found Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb's comments on Who Wrote the Bible - http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/comments/Who_Wrote_The_Bible.htm - where he takes Friedman to task on this (and other) points. Although I feel that Rabbi Gottlieb is guilty of promoting very flawed "proofs of Torah", his comments on WWTB did reflect some of my own opinions of the book. The bottom line is that I can't read REF anymore without feeling that he is just as biased on the one side of the argument as Gottlieb is on the other!

In the case of the quail/mann stories, however, the assertions of the DH'ers seem likely.

Baal Habos said...

Frum,

>For example, much of the DH division results from claims regarding the types of documents that the Northern Kingdom would have made vs the Southern Kingdom. The Aaronide priesthood vs anti-Aaronide themes. Etc.But I find that DH proponents are often guilty of circular reasoning


Not so fast. To date the only books I've read about DH are REF. It is my opinion, that generally speaking, it is not he who has come up with the divisions, it was prior scholars such as Knoll, etc. What REF did, I think, was package it all nicely without going into the underlying divisions. I may be wrong, but I don't think it was divided on the basis of North and South, rather, after it was divided, people started noticing the convergence and the way the Authors were split, there just mappened to be a North/South split. In other Breishis may have been assigned on the bases of God's name (pre-moses) and other linguistic issues and THEN they noticed the North South split.

Anonymous said...

Sorry.

Yair said...

Just to clarify a bit, the powerful aspect of the DH isn't that the names of God are different. It is that there are doublets and triplets in the Torah, and when you examine these duplicate stories, each version almost without exception has consistent and distinctive linguistic and political leanings - one element of which is the name used to refer to God.

[I'm no expert, but I hate it when people talk about the DH as being solely based on differences in the names of God. This would be a pretty weak argument and is commonly used as a straw man in discussions of higher criticism.]

Rabban Gamliel said...

"Just to clarify a bit, the powerful aspect of the DH isn't that the names of God are different. It is that there are doublets and triplets in the Torah, and when you examine these duplicate stories, each version almost without exception has consistent and distinctive linguistic and political leanings - one element of which is the name used to refer to God."

It is circular as the names YHVH and Elohim are used in the same places but are then divided by the theory and sections are divided by the theory to make it conform more with theory. Then the DH divisions are said to prove the cases. The divisions of J and E are made on the basis of saying each name was distinct despite the fact that Elohim was not G-d's proper name. YHVH is the national name for G-d. Elohim by contrast is used even for foreign gods such as when it says Elohim Acheirim which means "other gods." No speaker of Hebrew would have not used the term Elohim. It simply meant Deity in general such as when Pharaoh said about Joseph is there anyone in all the land asher ruach Elohim bo which means that there is in him the spirit of G-d. Obviously Pharaoh did not believe in G-d. When Moses says YHVH says let the Israelites go Pharaoh said who is YHVH that I should let them go. Thereupon Moses said he is Elohei HaIvriim which means the G-d of the Hebrews. Elohim also is used for rulers and judges.