#126. Did the Israelites have meat to eat in the wilderness OR not? (Ex 12:38, 17:3, Lev 8-9; Num 32:1 vs Ex 16:2-3; Num 11:4-6)


Contradictory to the claims made in the quail stories (#125)—namely, that the people did not have any meat to eat and that they would have starved to death if they did not get some meat to eat—the same tradition tells us that they did indeed have a very large and sizable livestock with them.

  • Exodus 12:38 records how the Israelites went up from Egypt with a large livestock. “And a mixed multitude had gone up with them, and sheep and oxen, a very heavy livestock.” But according to Exodus 16, exactly 1 month later they complain that they have no meat and are starving!
  • Immediately after the quail incident where they complained that they had no meat and were starving (Ex 16:2-3), their cattle miraculously appear again in the narrative. “And the people thirsted for water and complained to Moses: ‘Why is this you brought us up from Egypt: to kill me and my children, and my cattle with thirst'” (Ex 17:3).
  • In Leviticus 8-9 various goats, sheep, cows, rams, etc. are brought forward for sacrifices and sacrificial meals. This blatantly contradicts Numbers 11:4-6 where the people complain that they haven’t had meat since the days of Egypt. The Elohist tradition from which this passage in Numbers comes is unaware of the Priestly sacrifices in Leviticus even though these sacrifices now occur earlier in the composite narrative.
  • Finally, at the end of the wilderness episode, the tribes are presented as still having a large livestock (e.g., Num 32:1).

Thus the quail stories, wherein it is explicitly stated that the Israelites have no meat to eat and will starve to death, utterly contradict a number of other places in the wilderness narrative where the Israelites’ large number of sheep, goats, rams, and cattle are mentioned. How do we make sense of this?

Much of what has come to be labeled as the “wilderness narrative” was created by the later Priestly writer, and it was crafted by splicing together various independent stories, such as the quail stories. It is impossible to read the wilderness narrative as it has come down to us as a coherent unified whole narrative. Both its “narrative” and itinerary are full of gaping holes, inconsistencies, and contradictions. The wilderness narrative is a composite of many stories and many textual traditions. We will revisit this thesis when we get to the book of Numbers.

Presently we note that the inconsistencies and contradictions between the quail stories and other stories now contained in the “wilderness narrative” were the result of stitching together various different stories. We will now move forward to look at the first of three accounts of the giving of the laws.

24 thoughts on “#126. Did the Israelites have meat to eat in the wilderness OR not? (Ex 12:38, 17:3, Lev 8-9; Num 32:1 vs Ex 16:2-3; Num 11:4-6)

  1. I found this website after just reading a few pages from Numbers, and realising myself the contradiction between the Israelites having herds for offerings, to feed the priests, and tithes etc. And after reading the entire thread I think I may have an idea to what this all means, which I think may settle the contradiction in my mind and thus restore faith and add to my knowledge and wisdom. After the census and all tribes were counted, not including women and children, I would imagine the entire number of Israelites was in excess of half a million people. Don’t quote me because I haven’t actually looked it up and counted the exact number, but a vague recollection of there being between 3000 – 8000 men per tribe, 12 tribes, and I estimate a wife and a few of children per man as well. Now this is a large number of people. The population is as big as a large city today. Now everyone knows that in the times of today, in regard to a city’s population, there are all different kinds of people working in different professions. Some are doctors, lawyers, councillors, builders, bus drivers you get the point, and some are low skilled workers, or ill, disabled, and unemployed. We have different classes and incomes. Some of us live in big houses and earn £50,000 a year, all the way down to the starving homeless and beggars on the streets. Now do you think that it could be possible that the herds used for offerings were reserved for Moses, Aaron, the priests, and heads of tribes who were the one’s to present the offerings on behalf of the tribesmen, and that there was a great multitude of Israelites at the bottom of the food chain who were starving, fed up and complaining of the manna. Surely the number of the herds and livestock would not be enough to sustain the whole Israelite population. They were on the move after all, and weren’t settled with farms in a permanent location, like one’s of today in the country responsible for supplying markets and thus feeding the whole country. Yes Moses communicated the frustrations of the people to God, and I truly believe that amongst a community in excess of half a million that there were different classes and hierarchy’s and not everyone was being fed or benefited from the rams, lambs, goats etc. Some were less well off and the parts of scripture referring to the manna and quail suits.

    1. I don’t find any contradictions at all in these scriptures. The people were not starving, they were complaining, and that becomes clear when we know the background of what was going on.

      To me, the scripture says very clearly that it was the “mixt multitude” that fell a lusting. There were people that had come through the “waters” of the Red Sea, but they had not come through the “blood” of the passover. In other words, they were Egyptians, and not true Israelites. They came along for the journey, because they saw what the Lord had done in His great might by killing all the first born. Spiritually speaking, this is like a religious lost person. They may be religious and have been baptized with water, but they’ve not had their sins covered by the blood of the Lamb. So when they are complaining that they are starving, it’s because they can’t be satisfied by manna. They need “flesh”. Flesh is exactly the word that shows us what the mixt multitude was wanting. Lost people can only be satisfied with flesh. They can’t “eat” what the Lord provides. They will starve to death on a spiritual diet, because they cannot digest it! They’re not sheep and they don’t have the ability to ruminate. This story is not about people starting to death and not eating cows — it’s a picture of a lost person in a “saved person’s” environment who is not happy and wants to go back to Egypt (the world).

      They were not starving. The scripture is clear that the Lord allowed them to hunger to prove them, but not to be actually starving. They were supposed to learn to live on miracles and learn to trust the Lord. Instead, they brought with them a mixed group, and it started to affect them too. They began to forget how horrible the slavery was in Egypt, and wanted to go back to be able to eat the fish, the melons, and the “spice of life”. Sadly, we true Christians are given to the same things.

      You can’t have your manna and eat cows too. :) A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.

  2. Robert M.

    During my daily studies of the word, I came upon this page searching to learn more about manna.
    I am a far cry from a biblical scholar. However, I do have a great love and respect for the word of God, his Son and those who traveled with him. Being analytical by nature; when I began to read the questions and answers on this page, I surprisingly couldn’t stop reading.

    After reading these remarks I find myself left with the following questions, if you wouldn’t mind helping me understand a few things and a possible answers for contradictions and how “they were hungry and grumbling”

    1) Which version of the bible do you quote from?
    2) Why only compare verse to verse and not complete story to story?
    3) Have you never found answers by comparison of stories rather than verses? 4) If I understand your postion correctly; this is about the possible contradictions in the bible. Isnt the bible comprised of stories by their tellers that where passed though history, correct?
    5) Why not compare stories then, instead of only verses?
    6) I have LOVED your intelligent answers to each person. What happened when it came to responding to Sabba, it seemed out of character for you from what I’ve read.
    7) Isn’t it possible that the heard of animals were there all along. However, they were clearly being sent in the wilderness to be tested. Could it be possible that the animals were brought along not to eat everyday, but to honor the Lord during sacrifices? Wouldn’t that make them grumble of hunger even with food around and possibly, not even mentioned at that time?
    I think to truly analyze anything, you have to look beyond the words. Don’t you?

    PLEASE don’t get me wrong there is no doubt….over time things have been transcribed inscribed incorrectly from the scrolls. These errors are noted and are trying to be corrected. I also believe there are still scrolls missing from our beloved text.

    Kindest regards,


    1. Starr, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Let me try to respond. I like your emphasis on stories, and indeed acknowledging that ancient Israelite scribes of different time periods and different geographies told their traditional stories with variations—often minor, but sometimes with grave theological disagreements as well. So yes I do deal with the stories, but a particular story may have a number of narrative or theological differences so I break it down into verses. In my forthcoming book, Understanding Bible Contradictions—originally, Contradictory Stories and Competing Histories (maybe I should go back to this title)—I do simply abandon this verse-by-verse approach and talk more about how different scribes told Israel’s traditional stories differently. It always amazes me that we in our highly literate culture can accept the fact that we can tell stories differently, but in an ancient oral culture that defined itself through its stories, many modern readers cannot accept this basic cultural truth from the biblical scribes. This is partly due to the fact that many approach these texts with pre-defined assumptions and beliefs about them that in reality inhibit them from actually reading and engaging with these ancient stories on their own terms.

      The question why scribes then stitched these different versions together—sometimes just placing them next to each other like the two creation accounts, or other times cutting-and-pasting them together (see how this was done for the Flood and Red Sea stories)—is a good question. Its answer however will always remain speculative. Preservation seems to be on the right track and perhaps their stitching together also served as some kind of scribal learning activity. Who knows. But we do know from the Bible itself and other corpus of ancient literature that scribes across the ancient Near East and the Greco-Roman world regularly told and wrote their stories in various ways.

      In the above case, I would speculate that there were a number of exodus traditions and stories that were created and which were popular. These stories had strong theological messages—not historical—and served that purpose. So one story was how Yahweh cared for the Israelites while they were in the desert. This story most likely spoke of how the Israelites had no shelter, food, clothes, yet Yahweh provided for them—a story emphasized considerably in the author of Deuteronomy’s retelling! Another storyteller who most likely wrote his text later, was the priestly guild of the post-exilic era. If you read through Ezekiel, written by an Aaronid priest of the Zadokite line, this author reasons, given his elite priestly view, that Yahweh destroyed Jerusalem with the hand of the Babylonians because the Levitical priesthood corrupted Yahweh’s sacrifices (Ez 44-48). Therefore this author and the Aaronid priestly guild itself which was responsible for writing Leviticus, placed a huge emphasis on sacrifices and done properly by an Aaronid priest only! Thus when this priestly clan retold the stories of the wilderness it was only natural that he also told the story by placing an emphasis on proper sacrifices. Basically he’s saying, “Look! even our forefathers in the wilderness performed the proper sacrifices to Yahweh. How can we of our own time period be so slack?” This was his message. So when later editors stitched together or preserved together his version of the wilderness story with Yahweh receiving hundreds of sacrifices during the wilderness AND the stories about how the Israelites had no meat and relied on Yahweh’s graces through the manna… that’s when such contradictions were created as it were. And this is really just an over-simplified version of the whole story-telling and editorial processes involved here. For example, later prophetic traditions that disagreed with this priestly guild’s emphasis on sacrifices rebutted by writing texts where they presented Yahweh claiming that he never received nor commanded sacrifices during the wilderness period! See Contradiction #155.

      So, yes, I like dealing with stories better because as you can see this really makes it more clear what ancient Israelite scribes were doing and why they told variant versions in the first place. This is basically this site’s goal—that contrary to the beliefs many modern readers have about the Bible which were mostly formed by the beliefs and assumptions inherent in the title “the Holy Bible,” the biblical texts and traditions when read on their own terms tell us that this collection of ancient texts preserve variant tellings of Israel’s stories, variant portraits of Israel’s god, competing views on the importance of sacrifice, kingship, prophecy, marriage, etc…

      Finally, I never speak of “errors” in the way you suggest. The only errors here are those subjective errors that readers bring to this collection of texts—their erroneous assumptions and beliefs about these texts, which, when the texts themselves are read on their terms are refuted. Hope this clarifies some things for you. Cheers.

  3. well being slaves I don’t think they had steaks and such it was probably the parts of animals some think of as the unfit to eat parts. That being said a study with the amount of people at that time it would take 1500 tons of food a day to feed them, 2 freight trains 1 mile long (if there had been trains in that day) that’s 3 million pounds, their herds would be gone in a flash, water not for showers, but the other was about 11 million gallons, several tank car approx. 1 mile in length. God provided for them for approx. 41 1/2 years. and for nightly camping 750 sq. miles , that’s a mighty big camp ground. their clothing must of grown with them and their shoes didn’t wear out. The best way to see the scriptures is to read them as they were written by the Holy Spirit,and settle it in your heart that God watches over His Word to perform it, If He ever Broke His Word this world as we know it would be GONE. It’s here by the Power of His Word. not to mention we wouldn’t be here either.

  4. Seems to me you are missing the point entirely. The issue isn’t really whether or not they had other forms of food or drink, but that these people could not be satisfied. My children often complain that they are starving. My response is that the house is full of food.
    These people were watching the Red Sea part one day and making a golden calf the next. I think the writers were smart enough to see that.

  5. Congratulations on presenting this material in such a logical and easy-to-follow manner. I have been an amateur student of biblical scholarship for many years. Your blog is now my favorite resource.

    By the way, my personal point of view leans toward a mass manipulative cooperation between the Yahwist priest class and the royal hierarchy for power, profit and prestige.

  6. Well Steve, I just came on this after talking to KW a while ago…

    You tell Felicia to go to #227. So I did, read it and saw you “objectivity on steroids” once again. If only you could keep your mouth shut! Here is your objective analysis when mocking Christians: ” Rather they are stories with powerful theological punchlines—don’t test Yahweh, or else!”

    Since you bring up Deuteronomy 8 and Exodus 16 and make comments like, ” Israel’s storytellers told the stories of their past (as they variously perceived it), with variation and varying emphases…” let us let them tell their story about manna.

    In Deuteronomy 8 we read:

    Deuteronomy chapter 8 King James Version
    1 All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers.
    2 And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
    3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.

    **** a footnote here Steve. Jesus thought this was a pretty important verse. He quoted it to Satan just before He began His ministry. He said that it was important to remember that it was God’s word that the manna symbolized. The word that came from God’s mouth (Dt. 8) . This text in Deuteronomy clearly teaches that Israel’s hunger, and the manna were to teach the nation to trust in Him. And even though He had to test them, through it would be evidenced His Gracious dealings with them like a Father His children. ****

    4 Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.
    5 Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the LORD thy God chasteneth thee.
    6 Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him.
    7 For the LORD thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills;
    8 A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey;
    9 A land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness, thou shalt not lack any thing in it; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass.
    10 When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee.
    11 Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day:
    12 Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein;
    13 And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied;
    14 Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the LORD thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
    15 Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint;
    16 Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end;

    *****to do thee good at thy latter end. Their obedience would result not only in entering the land of promise but the latter end of them as a people. Certainly that end has not come, despite trials that would have ended anyone other nation. Two exiles were still to come…****

    17 And thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth.
    18 But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day.
    19 And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the LORD thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.
    20 As the nations which the LORD destroyeth before your face, so shall ye perish; because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God.

    Here is a contradiction I bet you missed Steve! God said He would cause them to perish “…because ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God.” There is obviously something a little more important than the trivial issues you bring up, especially since God is telling them ahead of time “ye would not be obedient unto the voice of the LORD your God”, and lo and behold, they have survived two separate exiles and have returned and they have not perished! What a contradiction, maaan!

    Now let us look at Exodus16:

    Exodus chapter 16 King James Version
    1 And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.
    2 And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:
    3 And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.
    4 Then said the LORD unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.
    5 And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.
    6 And Moses and Aaron said unto all the children of Israel, At even, then ye shall know that the LORD hath brought you out from the land of Egypt:
    7 And in the morning, then ye shall see the glory of the LORD; for that he heareth your murmurings against the LORD: and what are we, that ye murmur against us?
    8 And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD.
    9 And Moses spake unto Aaron, Say unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, Come near before the LORD: for he hath heard your murmurings.
    10 And it came to pass, as Aaron spake unto the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and, behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.
    11 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
    12 I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God.
    13 And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp: and in the morning the dew lay round about the host.
    14 And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.
    15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.
    16 This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents.
    17 And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less.
    18 And when they did mete it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.
    19 And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning.
    20 Notwithstanding they hearkened not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and stank: and Moses was wroth with them.
    21 And they gathered it every morning, every man according to his eating: and when the sun waxed hot, it melted.
    22 And it came to pass, that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for one man: and all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses.
    23 And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.
    24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein.
    25 And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field.
    26 Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.
    27 And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.
    28 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?
    29 See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.
    30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
    31 And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.
    32 And Moses said, This is the thing which the LORD commandeth, Fill an omer of it to be kept for your generations; that they may see the bread wherewith I have fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt.
    33 And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omer full of manna therein, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.
    34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.
    35 And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.
    36 Now an omer is the tenth part of an ephah.

    ****** Steve, here you can see how God began to deal with the people and as a testimony for them and for future generations. As you say, let the author tell his own story. This one is for all generations. God used manna to teach them how to keep the Sabbath. This is where it began. Not with Abraham or with Joseph. Not in Egypt. In the desert over the course of 40 years of judgement and testing but miraculous provision. Even their shoes/sandals did not wear out. Why? They were challenged to obey God’s commands. They did not just eat manna like an animal. They were being prepared for Kingdom living. And Steve, natural explanations for this supernatural provision are totally inadequate to explain it’s presence in sufficient quantity every day except the Sabbath yet sufficient for the day of rest too—for 40 years.

    As verses 32-35 attest, these people were talking to future generations, to our generation today. Or as Peter put it in 2Peter 1:

    19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
    20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
    21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

    And the author of the book of Hebrews in chapter 9 also acknowledged the significance of the fact that the manna being stored in Aaron’s jar was not just for that time and place. It was for all time. And it was put in the Ark of the Covenant in the most holy place of all, below the mercy seat. I won’t quote the whole 9th chapter. But it is clear that the manna, and the significance had eternal implications that no critical analysis you might try to come up with can even grasp, not matter how hard you try to cover it in your “historiographic” darkness.

  7. The bible does not say that they did not have meat – it says that the people COMPLAINED they had no meat. “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Obviously, they did have both meat and grain, since the Bible also describes the grain offerings they made to the Lord while in the desert. This is akin to me looking at my American pantry, filled with various items – enough to feed a starving family in Africa for a month – and saying (whining), “but there’s nothing to eat!” If you are such a gifted scholar you should be able to understand the clear distinction between what people say is happening, and what the story actually tells you IS happening.

    1. Felicia — really? You sure you want to go there? Are you paying attention to what this tradition is saying?

      First, the people complain, the text tells us, because they have no meat to eat. Indeed, what is strongly implied is that they have nothing at all to eat: “For you have brought us out to the wilderness to kill this whole community with starvation!” In you’re assessment, however, Yahweh responds to their unsubstantiated complaints (16:7, 8, 9, 12), since you claim they have meat, by sending them meat to eat: “between the two evenings you shall eat meat. . . and it was in the evening that quail went up and covered the camp.” So not only have the Israelites pulled a fast one on me and my reading—complaining when they had meat (them dirty dogs)—but apparently they fooled Yahweh as well! Obviously this is baseless theological gibberish, but it logically follows from your reading.

      Second, your reading misses the theological (from our author’s perspective) point of the story—namely, that no cow, goat, sheep sustained the people for 40 years in the wilderness; Yahweh did. Clearly articulated in Ex 16:35 “the children of Israel ate the manna 40 years until they came to the settled land. They ate the manna until they came to the edge of the land of Canaan.” Furthermore, what is implied here is that this is all they ate.

      Third, this story has a duplicate version—in other words it was told by more than 1 storyteller/scribe in antiquity (imagine that!), both of whose versions were recorded, preserved, and centuries later stitched into a larger narrative which we call the wilderness narrative. The duplicate version now preserved in Numbers 11 explicitly makes the point of saying: 1) the Israelites did not have any meat to eat; and 2) they only ate manna for 40 years! “There isn’t anything to eat, except the manna before our eyes” (Num 11:6). See #227 for the fuller post. See similar statements in Deut 8:3, Josh 5:12;

      As a biblical scholar I am paying attention to the text, and despite this website’s alarming and sensualist title, what I am most paying attention to is the compositional nature of this text. Yes, as you point out, there are many other passages in the wilderness story where the Israelites are 1) presented eating meat; and/or 2) possessing cattle. These differences are best explained by noting the text’s compositional history. Not just these thematic differences, or contradictions, but also hundreds of other stylistic, linguistic, ideological, and thematic differences that have been revealed by the text itself has enabled scholars to understand these duplicate and competing stories as part of originally existing independent traditions. Israel’s storytellers told the stories of their past (as they variously perceived it), with variation and varying emphases. The Bible as a collection of these texts bears witness to this. This is all we’re doing here. Indeed, I understand, the title of this website doesn’t really help this agenda—that is, shedding light on the nature of the biblical text and each of its author’s unique theological and/or ideological claims and beliefs.

  8. I have misunderstood the nature of the site. I thought it was to discuss Biblical issues not stroke ones inflated egos. And put down others because they differ from the views held by yourself. I always thought that one studied something to draw closer to the understanding of the person who wrote or authored the writings not study it to attack the author and those who in this case have faith. Is your hatred toward God that strong?/what happened in your life to bring you to this point? Did you not get the acceptance you desired from your parents. I’m not trying to attack but understand what brought to this place in time to be so angry. To quote a author “Daddy wasn’t there to take you to the fair. To change your underwear, daddy wasn’t there. ” m myers.

    1. No Matthew, you’ve grossly missed the point, and it is you who are guilty of what you’re charging me of. This site is not about theology, God, your beliefs nor mine, your views nor mine. And I don’t write about any of that—contra your claims. It is about objectively studying the 70+ authored ancient texts written over roughly 1,000 years in drastically different historical circumstances, geopolitical worlds, and under divergent and often competing religious and ideological views (views of these 70+ authors). How do we know this? Because the texts themselves tell us. My job as a biblical scholar is to faithfully reproduce and understand their beliefs, worldviews, ideologies, historical crisis that they responded to in writing, literary influences, what priestly guild was writing against what other priestly guild, etc., etc. Theses and many others are all revealed when studying the texts on their own terms—not yours, nor mine (which I do not do). Certainly there’s room for debate and conversation, but you’re not talking about the texts, their authors and theirs beliefs and the historical circumstances that shaped them. You’re continuously talking about your beliefs. In the end, your response is not only immature and distasteful, but once again fails to address anything TEXT related and actually does disservice to the texts because once again you’re imposing your theological views all over the place! I would wager much money that you actually know little to nothing about the views, beliefs, geopolitical worlds, literary influences, theological beliefs, disputes between, and the individual authors, scribes, priestly guilds, of these 70+ authored ancient texts. It is them and their texts, beliefs, and historical worlds that I write about, period.

      Take some time to explore the site and you’ll see, or perhaps your beliefs are much more important than the competing and yes often contradictory beliefs of these 70+ authors—and that phenomenon I understand well, but it’s not being honest to the texts. If we want to proceed both intellectually and spiritually as a culture we need to be honest to these 2,000-3,000 year old documents, and after objective study in their own literary and historical contexts they don’t confirm our beliefs about them or the beliefs of later writers… then there’s the conversation!

      1. Oh, and let me follow up with the textual data, since you seemed not to have read it. Taken from #227. Was there only manna to eat OR not?

        Although Exodus 16:13 is a one-verse Priestly version of the quail story, the real focus of Exodus 16 is the manna tradition. Here we learn that “the children of Israel ate the manna 40 years until they came to the settled land. They ate the manna until they came to the edge of the land of Canaan” (Ex 16:35). The tradition implies that all they eat for the duration of the 40-year wilderness period is manna! Thus Numbers 11:6:

        “There isn’t anything to eat, except the manna before our eyes.”

        This is not in fact the case! And as I’ve mentioned in other entries, the present wilderness narrative is rather a collection of once separate traditions, random legislation, and stories. The biblical texts themselves bear this out. For we are informed of many instances where the Israelites eat meat, that is where they eat more than just manna. In fact, manna is curiously absent from these variant traditions:

        1. First, contrary to this manna/quail tradition or story the Exodus tradition itself claims that the Israelites left with a large number of livestock: “sheep and oxen, a very heavy livestock” (Ex 12:38). The Israelites’ possession of cattle and livestock is reiterated in Ex 17:3 (just after they had complained of no meat to eat in Exodus 16!?), Ex 34:3; Lev 17:3, 22:19, 23, 27:9; and Num 7, 32:1.
        2. The Jethro tradition now preserved in Exodus 18 claims that Moses, Aaron and Israel’s elders ate bread (not unleavened manna!) with Jethro, and presumably meat too since sacrifices were performed (18:12).
        3. Exodus 24:5 records a covenant tradition where (some of) the people eat meat—peace-offerings (the peace-offering was the sacrifice performed on consumable meat; see Lev 3, 7:11-21, 19:5-8). This “occurs” less than a month after the quail story, according to the chronology imposed on the narrative by the later Priestly redactor (see Ex 19:1).
        4. The Golden Calf story now at Exodus 32 states that all the people “sat down to eat and drink” (32:6)—that is meat; peace-offerings were made, as well as whole burnt-offerings to Yahweh.
        5. The eternal law of presenting daily Yahweh’s show bread in the Tent of Meeting assumes that there is grain to make, and eat, bread (Ex 25:30; Num 4:7)—reinforced throughout the book of Leviticus.
        6. Lev 1-7 is a priestly manual instructing the Aaronid priesthood about how to perform the various sacrifices, especially when an impure contamination happens or a sin is committed. The sacrifices, each of which requires livestock and assumes the Israelites have numerous livestock (see especially #9 below), are to be performed during the wilderness period in order to maintain the camp’s and the people’s holiness—a reoccurring theme throughout all of Leviticus! So the eating of meat is a constant and regular happening in the Priestly source!
        7. In Aaron’s consecration ceremony, both Moses and Aaron and sons eat meat (Lev 8-9)
        8. Leviticus 23 records the mandatory annual and monthly observance of “Yahweh’s appointed times” all of which entailed the sacrifice of animals, and some of which entailed the eating of those animals (see: Festive Calendars).
        9. The dedication ceremony recorded in Numbers 7 records the festive slaughtering of, excluding Yahweh’s burnt-offerings, 36 bulls, 72 rams, 60 goats, and 72 lambs for consumption as meat! This happens on 1/1/2 according to Priestly reckoning (see also #221).
        10. In Numbers 9 we are informed that in the second year of the Exodus, on 1/14/2, the Israelites kept the Passover—that is ate a lamb per household! And ditto for the remaining 38 years!

        And now, #11 in Numbers 11, just 1 month after the Passover celebration in Numbers 9 (see Num 10:11), are we to assume that the Israelites had no meat to eat, and only manna!? Obviously there are conflating traditions here.

  9. Steven
    You assume much with no knowledge of me. If seems as if you believe that your view is the correct view and all others are limited or wrong. I have studied the text. I based my opinion on that study. No i do not have a piece of paper from man and his limited knowledge of God to tell me I am qualified to speak of these matters. But to sum up what Saul said the wisdom that he learned from the greatest teacher of the ancient scripts and the paper earned wasnt worth whipping ones backside with the PHD piece of paper.
    So thank you for being so polite in your put down. By the way I know and have spoken with the author face to face. Have a pleasant day.

  10. There is no contradiction. Its like saying I rode in my neighbors red car. Yet they say they no longer have a car. They have a red suv. While another says they almost hit him with their red truck.

    People say they could have drank milk they weren’t in need of water.
    Have you ever drank milk in the heat of the dessert? youll get sick and become dehydrated. You need lots of water there. Plus the flocks need water.

    Stop knit picking and start to see the total picture and then you’ll see how amazing God is.
    Go and watch your favorite movie and this time only focus on the word and.
    You will not enjoy the film and will miss out on everything it has to offer.

    1. Sorry Matthew but this is not about God, nor is it about theological speculation or the justifications of ones’ beliefs whatever they may be. This is a site devoted to the texts themselves, their authors, and their beliefs—not ours! We are interested in an objective evaluation of these ancient texts and traditions that—all of them, even competing ones—were collected together and codified as scripture centuries after they were written. Or: in ancient Israel, stories were told throughout many generations, and often these stories exhibited differences in narrative details, competing theologies and even agendas. Eventually these variant traditions were written down and at an even later date were collected together and preserved on a single scroll, combining these once variant traditions or tellings of the same and similar stories.

      How do we know this? By studying the texts objectively and by our expanded knowledge of ancient Near Eastern literature since the late 19th century. So yes, sorry to inform you, but this collection of texts that only centuries latter became the Bible, and only centuries after they were written became identified as the word of god, do indeed exhibit competing and contradictory elements, theologies, and certainly ideologies. In fact, as many of my colleagues have suggested, the scribes responsible for collecting Israel’s ancient traditions may have set as their goal collecting and redacting together the variant traditions that existed!

      On another note, this contradiction has been updated with better textual data—that’s what we’re interested in here—and a better representation of the variant traditions here: #227. Was there only manna to eat OR not? (Ex 16:35; Num 11:6 vs Ex 12:38, 17:3, 24:5, 34:3; Lev 1-27; Num 7, 9:1-14, 28-29)

      Again, we are dedicated here to the texts, their authors and their beliefs—not ours! If you do not know anything about ancient literature, who wrote it, to whom, why, and how were scrolls copied, transmitted, and amended, then you’re already at a huge disadvantage.

      And lastly, my plea would be for you to see the bigger picture, beyond your own limited beliefs about these texts. The texts, and the composite nature of the Bible, with its competing theologies, ideologies, narratives, etc., should draw us into its world, not the other way around, where we manipulate these ancient documents so that they justify our beliefs! That’s just being disingenuous to the texts. Lastly, your definition or conception of God is delimited to these ancient texts. That’s pretty narrow. What if what you have been taught to belief about these texts are wrong—which seems to be the case? That is why I started of my response to you: I make no claims about God, god Yahweh, etc. here. It is about the texts.

  11. The number listed is just men of fighting age from the tribes minus Levi. It did not include women who outnumbered the men due to the killing of male children. So their number was most likely 3 million. Not all had flocks. If they ate from the flocks it wouldn’t have lasted very long. Also the flocks were intended for offerings.
    And if you ate lamb everyday you would hate it soon.
    I hear the groaning during Yom Kippur when my tribe fasts. They are starving and are dying with out food. The same during Matzot when they can’t eat bread. Their dying.

  12. Thus the quail stories, wherein it is explicitly stated that the Israelites have no meat to eat and will starve to death, utterly contradict a number of other places in the wilderness narrative where the Israelites’ large number of sheep, goats, rams, and cattle are mentioned. How do we make sense of this?

    Isn’t the apologetic for why the quail had to be miraculously provided given Numbers 11:21-22–that there wouldn’t be enough to feed such a multitude of people?

    ’ 21But Moses said, ‘The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, “I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month”! 22Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them? Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?’

  13. What blows my mind is how we NEVER noticed these things in our Bible reading plans as Christians. I grew up in a strictly Calvinist Evangelical environment, being taught – and believing – that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired word of God, and the Pentateuch came neatly to us as a whole penned by Moses. And getting these contradictions every day in my inbox (now a Muslim), I’m confounded that we read through Genesis/Exodus so many times, and not once noticed any of these. Sure, I knew the story of the quail by heart, but never gave the cattle a second thought. Finally got my parents to admit, after showing them a blatant contradiction, that “well… maybe it’s not 100% inerrant… maybe there were a few minor scribal errors in the transmission process – but nothing that affects doctrine!!”, which is still a world of difference from the stance they had held only minutes earlier.

    Anyways, sorry for the long anecdote, but I’m just so thankful for your work and your commitment to keep doing these every day – it’s been really enjoyable and eye-opening, and it’s convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that we no longer have the Torah in its original form – some pieces may remain intact, but the Torah clearly testifies to its own corruption.

    Keep up the good work! Been sharing your site with people as much as possible!

    1. Nice to hear from you Elizabeth, and anecdotes always welcomed. You really nailed it. There is a huge difference between how a Christian, especially of the evangelical or fundamentalist persuasion, “reads” the Bible and how academically trained scholars read and study the Bible. The former is done by using the Bible as a vehicle to read into it that particular community’s beliefs and ideas—the texts are read, if at all, through an imposed interpretive framework—the latter is an attempt to read the Bible’s texts before they were co-opted as part of what later generations of readers labeled “the Book” and in each text’s own historical and literary contexts. Or said differently, the label “the Bible,” through which interpretive lens its content is “read,” imposes the idea of a homogeneous story onto these once individual traditions, and as such drowns out the competing voices of these textual traditions. The work that many scholars do, myself included, is to uncover these independent voices and understand how they interacted with one another and why and how they were compiled together by later scribes.


    2. I’ve long wished to update this contradiction; since its posting my reading of the Torah has revealed many other passages and variant traditions were the Israelites are eating meat, regularly even. However I decided to do this in another, albeit similar, contradiction—#227. Was there only manna to eat OR not? Have a look… and as always, enjoy!

Leave a Reply