The Israelites in the Desert: The Manna and the Quails

5th century, with medieval and modern restorations
Nave, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

In the upper register Moses is the man in the white toga, pictured twice. On the left, he tells Aaron (in the orange chasuble) to have the people look "towards the wilderness," where they see "the glory of the Lord" (Exodus 16:9-10). Then on the right Moses listens as God tells him he will send the people meat every evening and bread every morning (Exodus 16:11-12).

The lower register pictures the fulfillment of this promise. The birds in the sky are the quails God sends in the evening, and the two men in the lower foreground are collecting the bread or manna that comes in the morning (Exodus 16:13). In the center of the image Aaron and the people express amazement and Moses tells them, "This is the bread, which the Lord hath given you to eat" (Exodus 16:14-15).

Usually paleo-Christian art avoided anthropomorphic representations of God the Father, and indeed this text says only that his "glory" was seen, so one wonders if the figure in the upper right corner was added in the course of the medieval restorations.

This panel is part of the extensive series of Old Testament mosaics along the two walls of the nave at Santa Maria Maggiore. To view the others, follow this link.

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Photographed at the basilica by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.