Exodus Food

Last week I reviewed some notes I posted here in 2011 regarding the New Exodus themes in the Old and New Testaments. Associated with those notes I also reviewed some material from Brant Pitre's book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist regarding the second coming of manna:

Recall from that discussion of New Exodus material that in light of the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15-18, many scholars have suggested that Jesus invoked the idea that he was the one Moses foretold--a second Moses leading a New Exodus.

As noted, there were a variety of things that were expected to accompany this second Moses--a New Exodus, a New Passover, a New Law, a New Covenant, a New Tabernacle, and a New Promised Land.

And along with all this there was also the expectation that the Exodus miracles would return with the second Moses. And one of these was the return of manna.

You'll recall the original manna story:

Exodus 16.4-5, 11-15
Then the LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

The LORD said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’”

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat."
"What is it?" As Pitre recounts, there was actually a great deal of rabbinic speculation regarding that question. And the bible gives some clues. For example, the manna "tasted like honey" (Ex. 16.31) suggesting that the manna was a foretaste of the Promised Land, a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex. 3.8). Supporting this association, that manna was Exodus food, is the fact that the day the Israelites began to eat the food of Canaan the manna stopped:
Joshua 5.10-12
On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.
Manna is the food of travelers and sojourners, the bread eaten between Egypt and Canaan, between Liberation and Consummation.

More, manna is bread from heaven. Manna is supernatural, the food of angels:
Psalm 78.23-25
Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;
he rained down manna for the people to eat,
he gave them the grain of heaven.
Human beings ate the bread of angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat.
In light of the New Exodus expectations, the Second Temple Jews believed that one of the signs of the Messiah, as the second Moses, would be the return of manna, the "bread from heaven." Given that expectation, and that in various places Jesus hints at being the second Moses, we can ask: Did Jesus ever speak of the return of manna?

Pitre argues that we find one reference to manna smack in the middle of the Lord's Prayer:
Give us this day our daily bread.
The echo of manna should be obvious in the phrase "give us this day." As you know, manna was collected each day and not kept over for the next. So the frame here in the Lord's Prayer is a New Exodus frame. And according to Pitre there is more.

You'll have noticed a repetition in the prayer: a mention of "day" and "daily." In the Greek these aren't the same word. The first occurrence is the word we all know as "day." But the second word, translated as "daily," is a bit of a mystery.

The word in question is a neologism and it occurs nowhere else in the bible or in antiquity. This is the only time the word is used which makes it hard to know its meaning. The word is epiousios:
Give us this day our epiousios bread.
What does epiousios mean? Opinions differ. Ousia means "existence," "being," or "nature." Thus, some translate "epiousios bread" as the "bread we need for being/existence." But Pitre points out that the prefix epi means "on," "upon," or "above." Thus he argues that the better translation of "epiousios bread" is the "bread above nature/existence." In short, "epiousios bread" is supernatural bread or heavenly bread--the manna spoken of in Psalm 78. In light of this, we could translate the Lord's Prayer like this:
Give us this day our heavenly bread.
Or, if you want to convey the New Exodus motif directly:
Give us this day our manna.
In this translation the Lord's Prayer become an Exodus prayer for a people liberated from bondage and journeying to the Promised Land. It is a prayer for manna, for supernatural sustenance during the journey. It is a prayer for those who have been set free from slavery but who have yet to reach the New Heaven and the New Earth, the land flowing with milk and honey.

While some may question this interpretation of the Lord's Prayer, we are aware of a more explicit discussion of Jesus and the new manna in the gospels: Jesus' Bread of Life discourse.
John 6:30-35
So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
We see the New Exodus expectation voiced by the people: If Jesus is the Messiah, the second Moses, then where is the manna? Jesus responds with "I am the bread of life." A few verses later Jesus makes the association with manna more explicit: He is "the bread of heaven."
John 6.48-51a
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
There it is. Jesus himself is the new manna. Jesus is the bread that sustains the Exodus community.

Pitre is a Catholic scholar. Consequently, when he reads "I am the bread of heaven" he thinks of the Eucharist, of Christ being actually, if miraculously, present in the bread of the Eucharist. In this reading the Eucharist is the manna, the actual body and blood of Jesus. This reading is supported by the final part of the Bread of Life discourse:
John 6.51b-58
"Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
As Pitre rightly points out, Catholic theology, with its doctrine of transubstantiation, is well positioned to interpret this text, and even more so in light of the new manna theme. The actual body and blood of Jesus is present in the Eucharist. Immanuel, God physically with us in the Eucharist, sustaining us as manna on our Exodus journey. And like we saw with the Israelites, the presence of Christ in Eucharist tastes like honey, it's a foretaste of heaven. The Eucharist is our daily manna, our taste of Christ, until we reach the Promised Land.

That's a pretty powerful argument for transubstantiation. The Eucharist--Christ's mystical presence among us--is our manna, the bread of heaven that daily sustains the church on her journey to the Promised Land.

That said, I don't think Protestants are excluded from this understanding. Though we don't believe that the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus, we do believe that when two or more are gathered in Jesus's name Christ is present amongst us. And thinking along these lines we might move Pitre's analysis in this more "Protestant" direction.

Specifically, where is the body of Christ? Is it found in the mystical doctrines of transubstantiation? Or in the koinonia of those gathered in the name of Jesus?

True, this need not be an either/or. But if the "body of Christ" can be associated with koinonia, if Christ is with us in the mutual love we share, then might not the corporate body of Christ be the new manna?

Might manna--our daily bread--look like this:
Acts 4.32-35
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Might our mutual love be our manna--the "bread of heaven," the Exodus food--that sustains us on our journey to the Promised Land?

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2 thoughts on “Exodus Food”

  1. "That said, I don't think Protestants are excluded from this
    understanding. Though we don't believe that the bread and wine become
    the actual body and blood of Jesus..."

    Reminder from your Lutheran regular reader that not all Protestants reject the idea that the bread and wine are the actual body and blood of Jesus. It's not exactly the same as the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, but we don't consider it just symbolic either.

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