Original Research

‘He said that the manna is that called taranjebin’: Ibn Ezra against Hiwi al-Balkhi’s interpretation of the biblical story of the manna

Abraham O. Shemesh
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 4 | a6342 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i4.6342 | © 2021 Abraham Ofir Shemesh | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 23 September 2020 | Published: 26 February 2021

About the author(s)

Abraham O. Shemesh, Department of Israel Heritage, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ariel University, Ariel, Israel


The biblical story on the miracle of the manna in the Sinai Desert aroused many discussions and interpretations over the generations. The current study focuses on Ibn Ezra’s controversy with Hiwi al-Balkhi on the question of whether the manna was a natural or miraculous phenomenon. The article explores the claims of the two sides in light of the historical evidence and the literature describing the phenomenon of ‘falling manna’ in various areas of the Sinai Desert and Eastern countries. According to Hiwi, the manna that rained down on the Israelites is taranjebin, a semi-liquid resinous sweet secretion of insects (honeydew) that exudes onto plants. Ibn Ezra deals with Hiwi’s claims through a series of refutations and arguments. He argues that the characteristics of the taranjebin do not fit the description of the biblical manna. For example, it does not come down in the Sinai Desert, it appears during a limited season, does not melt in the sun and does not rot during the night, and serves as a medicine rather than as food.

Contribution: This article contributes to the understanding of Hiwi al-Balkhi’s identification of the biblical manna as honeydew and Ibn Ezra’s claims against his thesis. It expounds the commentators’ interpretations from a multidisciplinary perspective, such as the reality of harvesting the taranjebin in Iran and North Africa and its uses as food and medicine in the medieval culture.


Bible; miracle; manna; taranjebin; Abraham Ibn Ezra; Hiwi al-Balkhi; Khorasan; Sinai Desert; Alhagi maurorum; gaz angebin


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