Monday, January 10, 2011

The Karaites and Naturally Occurring Manna

An anonymous commenter here pointed to the following question at mi.yodeya and suggested I could help out.
The Malbim Makes reference from other Meforshim to a Karite, who says that Maan is a Natural phenomenon. Does this phenomenon still exist? Does anyone know what it is called in English? any articles would be appreciated?
Here is what I wrote there, with some addition edits and points:

I don't know about Karaites, but see this post at RationalistJudaism that this was the position of Rambam, as well as that of some Yemenite midrashim:
"Rambam seems to have shared the view found in certain Yemenite Midrashic texts (and see too Ibn Ezra to Shemos 16:13), that manna is essentially a naturally-occurring substance. It was miraculous in it occurring with unnatural properties (according to the Epistle Against Galen) and with constantly fortuitous timing (according to the Guide). (See the extract from Rabbi Nataniel ben Yeshayah, Nûr al-Zalâm, written in 1329, published in Y. Tzvi Langermann, Yemenite Midrash: Philosophical Commentaries on the Torah, pp. 216-217.)"
He also links there to a NY Times article about a similar naturally occurring phenomenon:

Also, to Ibn Ezra who rejects someone who suggests that it is natural:
 ירקב שם חוי שאמר: כי המן הוא הנקרא בלשון פרסי תרנגבי"ן ובלשון ערבי מ"ן ובלשון לע"ז מנ"א. כי קושיות רבות עמדו עליו. האחת כי איננו יורד היום במדבר סיני כי ההר ידוע ואני ראיתי זה הדומה למן במלכות אלצכי"ר. והוא יורד בניסן ובאייר ולא בחדשים אחרים. ועוד: אם תשימהו לשמש לא ימס. ועוד: כי בלילה לא יבאש. ועוד: כי איננו חזק ואין צורך שידוכנו אדם במדוכה, שיעשה ממנו עוגות. ועוד: כאשר יושם בלשון יומס. ועוד: כי איננו משביע שיוליד דם טוב, רק הוא נכנס ברפואות. ועוד: כי ביום השישי היה יורד משנה. ועוד: כי לא היה יורד בשבת. ועוד: כי ירד לכל מקום שיחנו. ועוד: כי עבר עימהם את הירדן, ולא שבת עד חצי ניסן על דרך הפשט.

Note that Ibn Ezra says ירקב שם חוי, may the name of Chivi rot. This would appear to be a reference to Chivi al Balchi. According to Wikipedia, scholars think he was either a Jew or a Gnostic Christian. Further, even Karaites opposed Chivi as a heretic. To cite Wikipedia:
Hiwi was the author of a work in which he offered two hundred objections to the divine origin of the Bible.[1] Ḥiwi's critical views were widely read, and it is said that his contemporarySaadia Gaon found in Babylonia, in the district of Sura, some school-masters who, in teaching children, used elementary text-books which were based upon Ḥiwi's criticisms.[2] Saadia not only prohibited the use of these books, but combated Ḥiwi's arguments in a work entitled Kitab al-Rudd ala Ḥiwi al-Balkhi.[3] Both Saadia's and Ḥiwi's books are lost.
Ḥiwi's book seems to have been one of the most important contributions to skeptical Jewish literature. Only a few of his objections are preserved, in quotations by other authors. In this way it became known that Ḥiwi raised the question why God preferred to live among unclean mankind instead of living among the clean angels (Judah ben Barzillai), and why He required sacrifices and showbread if He did not eat them, and candles when He did not need light.[4] Another objection of his was based on the claim that God broke a promise which He had made under oath.[5] All these objections are preserved in Saadia's Kitab al-Amanat[6], among twelve other objections of a similar kind, most of which are supposed to have originated with Ḥiwi. They point out several discrepancies in the Scriptures, and infer therefrom a non-divine authorship. Ḥiwi even objected to the teaching of the unity of God, and referred toDeuteronomy xxxii. 9. In this case, as in several others, Saadia combats Ḥiwi without mentioning his name.
Some others of Ḥiwi's views are preserved in Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch. The passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea Ḥiwi explained by the natural phenomenon of the ebb-tide; and the words "the skin of his [Moses'] face shone" ("ḳaran," literally, "cast horns" or "rays"; Exodus xxxiv. 29) he explained as referring to the dryness of his skin in consequence of long fasting (see Ibn Ezra on the passage in Exodus). Ḥiwi further inquired why manna from heaven no longer descends in the desert of Sinai as it is said to have done in olden times (Ibn Ezra to Ex. xvi. 13).
These few instances of Ḥiwi's criticisms are sufficient to show his skeptical and irreverent spirit, the cause of which D. Kaufmann traced back to anti-Jewish polemical Pahlavi literature.[7]Rosenthal (1948) also indicates that all of these Biblical difficulties can be traced to Manichaean dualist views. Karaites and Rabbinites agreed in denouncing Ḥiwi as a heretic. His real surname, "Al-Balkhi," is correctly preserved in one instance only; in all others it is changed into "Al-Kalbi" (אל-כלבי = "the dog-like").
If some Karaite said it, I assume Ibn Ezra would have known who said it and been able to name him. Rather he gives this Chivi character as saying it, as well as those who follow after him. (See here, in this longer version of Ibn Ezra, where he refers to "Chivi haPoshea vechol hazonin acharav").

Perhaps Malbim was aware that this was actually a Karaite, or else falsely inferred that the fellow was a Karaite because Ibn Ezra opposed him, and Ibn Ezra often opposed Karaites.

I've looked at a Karaite peirush myself (namely, Aharon ben Yosef) and don't see any mention or endorsement of this idea.

By the way, here is the Malbim on the Torah, but I am not sure where, precisely, he refers to this rejected position.


Maverick said...

The problem with Manna being natural is the sheer scale required.

about 2 000 000 people * 1500 calories/person / 7 calories/gram of carbohydrate (manna appears to be carbohydrate based from the NYT article) / 2 meals a day (one manna one quail) = about 214 285 715 grams of manna or about 234 tons per day.

From the NYT article, a sustained production of manna for 40 years (3.4 million tons required) or even a one time event of 234 tons do not seem possible.

joshwaxman said...

true, but that is a problem on many, many other counts. for those who want to assert, e.g., that eleph means troop -- while this has its own problems -- this *could* be a neat solution.

i also generally object to the popular 2 million person estimate, as it is extrapolation based on normal demographics, which the pasuk explicitly states was not the case in Egypt.

kol tuv,

Maverick said...

2 million is actually on the low side for the projected demographics. To go from about 50 males to 600 000 between 20 and 60, you need a doubling time of around 15 years. This is roughly comparable with the growth rate of the Gaza Strip. In the Gaza Strip, there are actually more people younger than 20 than there are above 20 (I'm not an expert but this is probably because of the fast growth rate). Extrapolating to the Exodus, there are 600 000 between 20 and 60 plus at least 600 000 under 20 times 2 to include females gives 2 400 000 + population. This is not a calculation based so much on modern demographics as the demographic pattern in a very rapidly growing population.

Making eleph refer to a "troop" might not help. If eleph refers to a specific number, then you run into a big problem as the population should have increased significantly while they were in the desert just from the people under 20 aging, but you don't (about 600 eleph at the beginning and about 600 eleph at the end IIRC). If eleph does not refer to a specific number then this problem is significantly alleviated.

joshwaxman said...

except that the people over 20 were *entirely* dying out.

who says that there were an equal number of females to males, or that the population growth was such in the days leading up to the exodus? after all, you have a replacement population in the wilderness, from 600,000 to 600,000. this is all based on demographic *assumptions*, which might not hold true. ask yourself, e.g., whether these demographics of X 2 for females would hold true in China, with its one child policy, and whether some demographer unaware of the particulars 1000 years from now would make such an assumption.

kol tuv,

Maverick said...

However (if the demographic pattern is accurate) then there would have been more than 600 000 males under 20, so the last count should have far exceeded 600 000 as it would have comprised everyone born in the first 20 years in the desert plus the more than 600 000 people under 20 that entered the desert. although you could answer there was significant mortality in the <20 demographic in the desert, there doesn't seem to be any other indication for this. (PS For counting purposes, it doesn't matter that the people between 20 and 60 at the beginning of the 40 years died because even if the hadn't they would have been over 60 (20+40 at least) and wouldn't have been counted.)

There doesn't seem to be much indication that there was significant change in the growth pattern leading up to the Redemption. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but there is nothing that appears to have changed in the last 80 years in Egypt (except near the very end when Pharoah dies and Moshe returns to redeem the Jews). Although, since there are three variable growth rates, that of the first years of slavery, that of the last 80 years in Egypt and that of the 40 years in the desert, you may be able to fine-tune the growth rates in each period to get the numbers given.

There would actually have been MORE women than men because females have slightly lower infant mortality than males. I don't know of any indication that the births would have been predominantly male or that there would have been very significant mortality rates in the female population (ie. very high maternal mortality).

joshwaxman said...

"There would actually have been MORE women than men because females have slightly lower infant mortality than males."

again, this is an assumption, and then retrojecting this demographic assumption backwards. i could challenge this assumption on a number of grounds, if i wanted to. even as an assumption with good reasoning behind it, at the end of the day, it is an assumption, rather than a known fact. but see the comment thread here, in the discussion with Hillel.

kol tuv,

joshwaxman said...

at any rate, Chivi's intent wasn't to solve problems and make the Biblical narrative more plausible. rather, it was to undermine the miraculous and claim it was natural occurrence, wherever possible. he would likely be willing to dismiss the 600,000 in some way.

so at the end of the day, you are right, and are giving a good response to Chivi, along the lines of the many rebuttals that Ibn Ezra gives, above.

kol tuv,


Blog Widget by LinkWithin