Ah, Manna from Heaven. And Quail. Sign of God’s… Hey, This Shit’s Raw!

After long last we come to a pivotal biblical story, manna from heaven, a story so oft repeated that it has hardened into a cliche, powerful but a cliche never-the-less. God aids his starving people in the form of bread or manna in the morning and quail in the evening. Ever notice how it’s always “manna from heaven” and never quail. Were they from somewhere else?  Manna from heaven and quail from hell?    Ooh, those do sound scary.  And cool.  I’ll admit that together they just don’t have the same simplicity that we weak minded fools crave.  So manna from heaven it is, though personally, being a fat guy, I’d prefer the meat. I mean bread’s great, but if I have a piles of “Manna” and a nice steaming roasting fowl, well… I may use the bread to sop up the juice, but the bird’s definitely the main course.

Again, I digress. This is the story Christians often rely on to bring hope in times of need, a story used as proof of God’s love for the Israelites and, as chums of God’s little boy, all of Christianity.  Yay! See how God helped a bunch of whiny Israelites, thus he will help us. I do have to wonder how many people stranded on an island or lost in a desert had this thought running through their minds right up until their desiccated and starved brain ceased functioning. Sad isn’t it?

The Israelites are well into their march through the desert when, of course, they are starving. And of course, they complain to Moses and his God. God seems to be perpetually oblivious to their plight until they remind him.  How come he seldom remembers to feed them before they are dropping from hunger?  Where the hell has he been, really?  He’s got a single group of “Chosen ones” on a forced march through one of the worst deserts on earth, yet he continually forgets the logistics of that one operation? Didn’t he ever think about meals ahead of time? “Oh shit, what day is it anyway?” Then when he does finally remember is he sorry?  No!  When he finally deigns to feed or water them, he acts as if they are busting his balls, assuming he has balls, of course.  (that’s another discussion) Why? When I forget to feed my son for three days, as a purely random example, and he crawls up to my Easy-boy complaining about hunger and weakness I don’t do the whole ” Damn it! Trust and obey me!” routine. I think, “Oh yeah, food,” and apologetically get him some. Again, father of the millennium, God is not. Personally, I don’t even think he’s trying.

So the people are hungry and God feeds them and finally sets up a long term plan. Quail every evening and little bits of bread every morning.

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp. In the morning a dew lay all about the camp and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.

Hoarfrost? In case you don’t know that’s the frost you get on trees and such after a fog moves in, each crystal about the size of a Rice Krispy. Wow! That’s some tiny bits of bread!  Why so small?  Did God bake the bread in the heavenly ovens then toss it in the shredder just for fun? Well, the Israelites are supposed to gather some of it up for their breakfast, one omer’s worth, no more no less. For those of you who ignorantly don’t know what an omer is, the Bible helpfully tells you it’s one-tenth of an ephah.  Uh, yeah…   Wikipedia is slightly more enlightening in a thorough and hilarious and convoluted series of translations bringing the omer to about 3.5 liters or roughly a gallon. Each man was to provide for his own tent so using the family of four standard that comes to each man picking up 4 gallons of manna every day. If we then continue with the Rice Krispy standard, there are about 18480 Rice Krispies in a gallon so that’s 73,920 little bits of bread to pick up every day. (BTW, don’t even ask how I figured that out. It has to be one of the damnedest questions I’ve ever researched, and let me tell you my figures are on the low side.  Son-of-a-bitch! Sometimes my obsessions even concern myself!) Can you just imagine crawling around on the ground every morning “harvesting” this. 26036.  26037. 26038.  WTF!  Don’t believe me? Use a different standard then, perhaps the Cheerio scale or the Cornflake standard just as long as it matches a plausible hoarfrost description. Hoarfrost does not come in convenient family sizes, so matter what, it’s going to be a bitch to collect.  Hopefully, God sent a little breeze along to gather them up into drifts, but judging from his previous actions, I doubt it.  For our 3 million refugees? Can you imagine how much land this would take up? I know you may be getting sick of numbers but if each man just had a 40 foot square to harvest, it would take almost 35 square miles of land.  Absurd!

Then in the evening, as the Bible says, the camp is covered in quail. I think I’d just skip the bread and get me a few extra birds. But this is fascinating also. Even if you just allow that God magically made 3 million quail appear every evening, how the hell did the Israelites cook them? They’re in a desert for Darwin’s sake. Trees don’t grow in a desert, not enough to cook 3 million quail every night. Where’d the fire wood come from to roast or boil these tasty little morsels? Were the quail carrying small bundles of sticks with them? Did they just walk into the tents and burst into flame on their own, a sort of delicious type of spontaneous combustion? Now, even I have to admit that would be cool.  If I become God, that’s what I’m doing! All the Israelites relaxing outside their tents when along come flocks of birds, each walking up and immolating itself into a perfect little barbecue. I can hear it now. Gobble, gobble gobble… Fooom! (I am aware that quail do not gobble, but for the life of me I don’t what noise they actually do make, so gobble it is. The other choice was cock-a-doodle-do and that, with great wisdom, was rejected.) Ah, the screams of little quail torches. The smell of burning feathers.  The poor birds staggering about in flames until they gasp their last little fiery breath…  Damn!  I mean damn!  That’d be disturbing…  for the first few thousand times.

Whew! On second thought, I’ll stick with the bread.

Having lost our appetite we now begin the era of arbitrary rules.  I know we’ve had arbitrary divine rule throughout the Bible, but here it picks up.  The Hebrews are instructed to only pick one omer per person and don’t save any.  Why?  Who the hell knows  Because God said so, damn it!  Should that not be enough?  Apparently not. Being human, some of them try, but it soon becomes wormy and rotten.  Moses is displeased that they have disobeyed God’s commands and let’s them know. The only time they are allowed to take more manna is on the sixth day to prepare for the Sabbath. Then they are to pick a double portion.  Miraculously, this extra does not get wormy.  In fact Moses says, “That is what the LORD prescribed. Tomorrow is a day of complete rest, the sabbath, sacred to the LORD. You may either bake or boil the manna, as you please; but whatever is left put away and keep for the morrow.”  When they put it away for the morrow, as Moses commanded, it did not become rotten or wormy. Again where do they find the wood to bake or boil it?  Did they cook it over the exploding quail?  You would have to admire the efficiency of such a feat.

But people still go out to look for bread on the seventh day and they find none.  As you can imagine with mere people disobeying his petty commands, God gets pissed.  None of these jackasses are listening to him.  Have they not become God’s bitches yet?  Grrrr!

Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and laws?  Take note! The LORD has given you the sabbath. That is why on the sixth day he gives you food for two days. On the seventh day everyone is to stay home and no one is to go out.”  After that the people rested on the seventh day.

Ah, now they’re his bitches at last!  And for forty years they ate manna and quail. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Um… No.  This is just the beginning of the great arbitrary reign of Yahweh.  Soon comes a stampede of nearly random rules and restrictions.  Few make sense and many are simply displays of unbridled power, controlling just to control.  Now the Christian says that following God’s plan exactly will make all people happy, that if we just submit to the will of the Lord completely life will be good.  But truly, can you see any benefit to these laws or restrictions?  What possible good does the strict keeping of the sabbath do?  What was the harm in gathering up two omers a day then resting every other?

The harm is in the not following rules for rules sake.  The harm is not to people, for human beings are happier when they are free. The real damage here is to the religion, to belief in God himself.  It’s not in Yahweh’s interest to simply allow you to do as you wish.  What is power unless you exercise it?  Why have power unless you use it?  Why strive for power unless people fear you.  Like Machiavelli said, power is for power’s sake.  The use of arbitrary power breeds fear, and fear in those under you leads to more power.  Here is the question we should all be asking ourselves, was it really Yahweh, that great obsessive tooth fairy, who was building his own influence?  Was God himself demanding all these random rules?  No.  Yahweh doesn’t exist, and much more of this story is plainly ludicrous and false, but a kernel of truth exists, a nugget of reality.

Moses, the Israelite’s witch doctor, gathered up this power with fear, his own little cult.  Like all such cult preachers, he used incomprehensible rules and the terror of breaking them to keep everyone under his thumb.  Like all such people he was jealous of this power.  A man named Moses may have actually led a SMALL  ragtag group of people through the desert for a bit, but it was not God that made the rules.  It was Moses.  By speaking for a fictitious god, Moses made himself divine.  By holding up the fear of such a God, Moses kept his people in check.  It comes down to that great Latin saying: “Cui bono” or who benefits?  By using this logic one can point to the person most likely to be the cause of the trouble.  By following this motive finding wisdom we can often see the truth more clearly.

Ask yourself, in all these manipulations and all these rules, who really benefits, who becomes more powerful?  The answer is obvious.

Moses, of course.  These people weren’t God’s bitches. They were Moses’

  1. So that’s …

    Two omers to the ha’penny, 24 ha’pennies to the shilling, 21 shillings to the guinea (or 5 quails to the guinea, just in case you’re fowled up over the system[sorry!]), 5 guineas to the yard, and change left over for a bag of chips and a pint of Old Snurglefollocks Real Ale on the way home.

    I love imperial units!

    • clare
    • July 11th, 2010

    That was laugh out loud funny … especially the Rice Krispie mathematics :)

  2. “Rice Krispie mathematics”!:-))

    “Two quails to the guinea, just in case you’re fowled up over the system…” @daz–
    that’s so awful I’m going to have to tell my dad (who *lives* for really bad puns:))

    Here is the great Joseph Campbell on this “unsubstantial phantasmagoria of folklore motifs and…congeries of considerably differing gods”:

    “Let us concede , in short, that no one has yet been able to explain when, how, or why any part of this imposing legend took place, let alone the continuity of its stages. Viewed, however as a normal origin myth, instead of as a clue to history, the narrative reveals immediately both the form and the function of its message. The form is of a great cycle of descent into the underworld and return. What entered Egypt (Underworld: Land Below the Waves) were the Patriarchs (Joseph into the well and on down into Egypt); what emerged were the People (Passage of the Red Sea). As in all such myths of descent and return what is brought forth is a boon or elixir; in the present case: a) the knowledge of Yahweh, b) the nuclear force of the Chosen People, and c) the promise to that people of a destiny with the gift of a Promised Land….the hero here is not an individual–not even Moses–but the Jewish Folk.”

    I really love Joseph Campbell. He starts the next chapter on the greek gods like this:

    “Fortunately it will not be necessary to argue that Greek, Celtic, or Germanic myths were mythological. The peoples themselves knew that they were myths, and the European scholars discussing them have not been overborne by the idea of something uniquely holy about their topic.”

    Ouch! The 4 volumes of The Masks of God take time to read, but they are *so* worth it. The videos about it with Campbell and Bill Moyers are good (if only to watch Bill Moyers squirm:)), but the books are unbelievably eye opening. At least, they were what opened my eyes a decade or so ago.

    KK–thanks for another hoot of a post!

  3. Sorry to post again, but does anybody else see the Google ad just above the comments here?

    “I receive Jesus as my Savior” in big, bold type. A photograph of the aforementioned, in one of His many film incarnations. In smaller type,
    “I want to become A God’s Children”, and–piece-de-resistance– a button to click with the words,

    “Yes, I want to be Saved” and an *arrow*.

    KK–did you put that there just for us to laugh about, or is it for real?

    • There’s really a born again ad there? Cool! I hope you clicked on it. Or even better took a picture! Damn. What wonderful irony.

      As for Joseph Campbell, I’ve only read the his and Moyers’ um.. book? interview? discussion? “The Power of Myth” It was a great view of mythology in general. I’ll have to read his other works. Amy you have a fun blog and adorable children. As open minded as my wife is, I think the line would be drawn at the snake. I also love how you have as favorite authors Brian Greene, J.K. Rowling, John Stuart Mill, and Lucretius listed in the same line. I’m pretty sure I could look long and hard and not find similarly diverse interests. Fascinating!

      • Yes! Yes there is—WAS! Ahhh! Now it’s gone. And I didn’t take a picture–fooey!

        So it was just there by accident–and here I thought you’d put it there just for us:))

        I went out and came back in, and I can’t get the same one to come up:(( Ah well, maybe another time.

        The curious thing about reading The Masks of God was that I came away from it *respecting* the Bible–for the first time, really. As Dale McGowan’s son Connor said upon finding out (figuring out) about Santa, “I guess I feel relieved. Like the world makes sense again.” That’s exactly how I felt about the Bible after reading Masks of God–like, for the first time, the thing finally made sense. Things made sense. The world made sense again. Campbell picks up the jewel that is the Bible and presses it back firmly into its place in the sparkling diadem of World Mythology. It’s easy to feel respect for it again from that standpoint–the standpoint from which the stuff in it finally makes something like *sense*.

        Thanks so much for stopping by my blog–I’m flattered beyond words! When I stop reading everybody else’s blogs here in a minute, I’ll put up photos of Mr. Beetle–he’s awfully cute. Yes, I do have eclectic taste–it’s a bad habit, I suppose, but it’s probably the reason I’m rarely drawn into “true believer” types of arguments. Or maybe the reason I never really was (or could be) a True Believer to begin with. It’s hard to be a True Believer when you just naturally can see three sides to every argument:)

  4. OOH! OOH! The ad is back–and I took a picture! I think you can read all the words…

    How do I send it to you?

    • Ok–I clicked on the link. There’s a longish video letter of cherry-picked bible verses and Hallmark images called “A Love Letter from the Father” that ends with (no, really–I watched it to the end!)

      Your Dad

      Almighty God”

      Yup–just like that. Just as if the Creator of the Known Universe would sign Himself that way…:)

  5. @ Amy:
    Bad pun? That wasn’t a bad pun! That was an awful pun! I got my taste for them from Isaac Asimov, a truly bad punster. I’m busy jotting down authors’ names here. I only re-discovered the joys of non-fiction reading a few years ago, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

    You could stick the picture of the advert on Photobucket and link it. I never realised that using Adblock would lead to me actually missing something good…

    • @daz–now you’ve let yourself in for it. Now we’re all going to expect a pun that awful/wonderful in every comment:))

      • Oooh, I actually can’t think of one off-hand. Must be stage fright or summat. The normal problem with my sense of humour is that I can’t turn it off. I could find something to laugh at at a funeral.

        I’ve added your blog to my links page. Hope that’s okay.

  6. Daz, you are correct. It was a truly awful pun, therefore wonderful.

    Amy please send me the picture. kkbundy@bis.midco.net. The link is also on the About Me page. I knew that WordPress puts an occasional ad here and there but I’ve never seen one. They probably won’t send it to me on my own page, anyway. I would love to see it, and I’ll likely post it.

    “Love, your dad.
    Almighty God”

    I love how he signs his name. Almighty God! Who does this? I should start doing this. The Most Wonderful KK or Bundy the Baddass or… Eh, maybe not. There’s such a root arrogance to this entire aspect that is completely unnoticed by the believer.

    Send the picture, please. I’ll owe you.

  7. I was sat here, sipping at my breakfast juice, when a thought appeared. This is such a rarity (I mean, cogent thought at 7:00am!) that I had to share it.

    What’s the nutritional value of a non-stop manna-and-quail diet? No veg, no fruit…

    I’d think scurvy would become a problem, at the very least.

    • Absolutely, I think that there’d be several long term health effects. But the believer will say that God added all essential vitamins and minerals.

      Daz and Amy, I just started reading In a Sunburned Country by Bryson. I quickly got to the part where he fell asleep in the car of the rep who was driving him around. I swear I laughed so hard tears ran from my eyes. Wow! Was that funny. Thanks for telling me. As I believe I said before, Bryson’s a Short History of Nearly Everything is one of my favorite books.

    • Anonymous
    • August 11th, 2010

    shut up the lot of you

    • Amos M. Capps
    • October 15th, 2010

    Very funny piece.

    Where you are going on about the quail, I am reminded about a piece I wrote when I was living in Belize in the 90’s. It’s a wonderful, beautiful country, but food is not on the list of attractions.

    I wrote a cookbook mocking Belizean cuisine. This is from memory, as the manuscript was lost on an unbacked up hard drive that crashed.

    “All chicken recipes begin with getting the feathers off the bird. This is most easily done by dousing the chicken with a little kerosene and setting it alight. In inclement weather, when you are forced to do this indoors, it’s a good idea to kill the chicken first.”

    • “This is most easily done by dousing the chicken with a little kerosene and setting it alight. In inclement weather, when you are forced to do this indoors, it’s a good idea to kill the chicken first.”

      Mr. Amos–that’s the funniest mental image I’ve had in quite a while. I would dearly love to read your cookbook:)) Even if it’s been lost, please post bits you remember from time to time. It would delight us all, I’m sure!

    • Amos M. Capps
    • October 15th, 2010

    Damn. The quote marks didn’t work.

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