We read in Exodus 16:15 that the heavenly bread fell, and “when the children of Israel saw [it], they said to one another, ‘It is manna,’ because they did not know what it was.” But what does “manna” mean?


Good question. In the original Hebrew the word is מן, more accurately transliterated as mon. So what does mon mean? There are a number of schools of thought.

Some say that mon means a portion of food.1 They did not know what it was, but they knew that it was a portion of ready-to-eat food, so they called it just that.

Others explain that mon is Egyptian for “what.”2 Over the 200-plus years that they had lived in Egypt, a fair amount of Egyptian had crept into their lexicon. Thus, when they said, “It is manna,” what they were actually saying was, “What is it?” Eventually, that became the name of the mystery food that they had found.

A third interpretation is that the root word of mon means status or importance.3 In other words, they saw the stuff fall from heaven, did not know what it was, but were absolutely sure that it was something special.