Numbers 11:7 says:

וְהַמָּ֕ן כִּזְרַע־גַּ֖ד ה֑וּא וְעֵינ֖וֹ כְּעֵ֥ין הַבְּדֹֽלַח׃

Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium.

Rada"k commentary on Breishit (Gen.) 2:12 in describing what בדולח is, states:

Rabbi Saadyah gaon, as well as Ibn Ezra say that it is a small spherical white gemstone. This is supported by the reference to כעין הבדולח in Numbers 11,7 where the Torah describes the appearance of the manna

The English translation is "bdellium" which, according to Wikipedia

Bdellium /ˈdɛliəm/ (Hebrew bedolach), also bdellion, is a semi-transparent oleo-gum resin extracted from Commiphora wightii and from Commiphora africana trees growing in Ethiopia, Erythrea and sub-saharan Africa.[

In the picture, it looks brown / black. This would contradict a verse in Exodus 16:31 that says that the color of the mahn was white. Furthermore, the description says that bdellium is from trees, not stones.

Granted, I am inclined to trust Rada"k more than Wikipedia, here. But, it still has me confused as to what type of stone Rada"k means and what the correct definition of בדולח is. Could Rada"k have been referring to pearls or saphires?

  • Maybe they never saw bdellium and only knew (through Mesorah) that it was semi-transparent, and assumed that meant it had to be white? Or Nishtaneh HaTeva'? Or it's something else?
    – Seth J
    Commented Jun 11, 2015 at 20:47

5 Answers 5


The Medrash in Bereishis parsha 16 rejects the bdellium translation and says it is a precious stone:

שָׁם הַבְּדֹלַח וְאֶבֶן הַשֹּׁהַם (בראשית ב, יב), אָמַר רַבִּי אַיְבוּ אַתְּ סָבוּר כַּבְּדֹלַח הַזֶּה שֶׁל פַּטָּמִים, יַגִּיד עָלָיו רֵעוֹ (במדבר יא, ז): וְעֵינוֹ כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח, מַה זֶּה אֶבֶן טוֹבָה, אַף זֶה אֶבֶן טוֹבָה.

Although I found some saying that the bdellium translation is based on falsely associating it with close sounding words in Arabic, it seems from the above Medrash that both are true.

  • @DanF Incensors. Like תרנגולים מפוטמים or פיטום הקטרת. But in a construct of one who does X, like גונב into גנב.
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 16:55

In this book (p.28) it mentions the Septuagint translated it as Crystal. Shiltei Hagiborim gives a description that can fit a white-transparent OR bronwnish gemstone (it exists in 4 possible colors). However, he translates it from "תרשיש" so it might not be the same. ( Check ch 48,49 regarding more gemstones )

  • +1 just for mentioning Shiltei Hagiborim. I haven't seen it in ages. I recall him having a section on the Leviim and their music.
    – HaLeiVi
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 19:56

Rashi Bamidbar 11:7 clearly defines it as crystal.

crystal: Heb. בְּדֹלַח, the name of a precious stone, [in French,] cristal.

Google translates בדולח as crystal. Here are images of בדולח. Although Wiktionary also mentions bdellium, it also mentions crystal. Thus the fact that we know that the Mahn was white - והמן כזרע גד לבן - ספר שמות, פרק ט"ז, פסוק ל"א - matches more the crystal description.


The way i read it (and i am not a scholar by any stretch - just a native Hebrew speaking person) it seems like an accolade / compliment for the manah on both the 'functional' and the visual virtues. Whether בְּדֹלַח translates precisely to a specific precious stone or just meant as a 'generic' Crystal is secondary (IMHO). The manah itself, naturally, is light-colored and with due it is also shiny. (No, i was not in the desert on the way to the promised land :-)

  • Are you a native biblical hebrew speaker or a native modern hebrew speaker?
    – Double AA
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 17:14

EntryBDELLIUM in JE 1906 states

The meaning of the word is not quite certain. The Septuagint translates it in Genesis with ἄνθραζ (anthrax), in Numbers with κρύσταλλος (crystal), thus interpreting it as a precious stone. Similarly, Reland and others regard it as crystal. Bochart ("Hierozoicon, sive de Animalibus Scripturæ Sacræ," ii. 674-683), who places Havilah on the Arabian coast, interprets "bedolaḥ" as equivalent to "pearl," following Saadia, Ḳimḥi, and others (compare Lagarde, "Orientalia, iii. 44). Most plausible seems the statement of Josephus ("Ant." iii. 1, § 6), who identifies manna with Bdellium (βδέλλιον). Dioscorides ("De Materia Medica," i. 80) describes this Bdellium as "the tear of an Arabian tree." It is therefore a resinous substance; according to Pliny ("Historia Naturalis," xii. 35), transparent, fragrant, resembling wax, greasy to the touch, and of a bitter taste. Pliny furthermore says that the tree on which it is found is about as large as an olive-tree, with leaves like the holm-oak and fruit like the wild fig; that it grows in Bactria—where the best Bdellium is found—Arabia, India, Media, and Babylonia. This description is not sufficiently clear to enable one to classify the tree; but most probably it belongs to the Balsamodendron.

Bibliography: See the various commentaries (Delitzsch, Dillmann, Gunkel, Strack, etc.) to Gen. ii. 12; Dawson, Medical Science in Bible Lands, p. 115; Tristram, in Expository Times, iv. 259.

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