The most important item of the ceremonial of Passover is unleavened bread called matza; the feast itself is called the feast of the unleavened bread. Matza is not just one of several equally important other regulations of the festival of Passover: it is the main ceremonial (together with the reading of the Haggada), almost the symbol of the chief holiday of the Israelites. The observing of the command to eat only the unleavened cakes during the feast of Passover is ordained in the following terms: “For whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that same shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12: 15). The Book of Exodus explains this bread by the command given on the eve of the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt:

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the Lord throughout your generations... Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread. (Exodus 12:14)

After they left Rameses and came to Succoth,

And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victuals. (Exodus 12:39)

The fact that the Israelites left Egypt in such a hurry that that night the dough did not leaven, could hardly be the only motif for a command to which the religion of Israel affords such importance. The speed of the Exodus from Egypt was not complemented with the speed of an entry into the Promised Land, but was followed by forty years of aimless wandering in the desert; the haste which saved a few hours needed for the dough to leaven was lost completely in the events of the slow-moving years that followed; the rashness of the Exodus did not even help the Israelites to run away from the pursuing Egyptian army and they would have been destroyed were it not for the sea that parted and let the Israelites pass, only to return then to its strength and engulf the Egyptian hosts. For its part, the haste of the Exodus could have been much more aptly remembered by some act symbolizing the haste of leaving one’s domicile or swiftness of retreat, or celebration of reaching a water barrier and the like; weary loins and the staff of a wanderer would express better the leaving of Egypt; and if the swift going away should be symbolized in food, uncooked victuals or eating while standing could better symbolize the speed than unleavened cakes eaten in a reclining position, as prescribed by the ritual. And the seven-day-long observance of eating unleavened bread hardly harmonizes with the explanation that makes a one-time hurried preparation of bread the motive of it.

The other explanation of the origin of the custom of eating of matza during Passover is found in the Haggada read during the Seder, the evening meal of the first (in diaspora the first two) evenings of the feast. There it is said: “This is the bread of misery that our forefathers ate in Egypt.” This explanation makes matza the replica of the poor bread eaten in the misery of serfdom. Though less popular, it sounds better rationalized. A nation that preserves the memory of the long years of affliction may institute the observance of eating—one week each year—the bread of affliction, lakhmo anio. It must, however, be noted that the replica of the bread of affliction is not made to taste unpleasantly and is enjoyed by adults and by children alike. There is another symbolic piece of edibles on the Seder plate, the bitter root, which is supposed to commemorate the bitterness of the days of bondage; it is eaten, however, dipped in honey.

The two explanations contradict each other: according to one of them the unleavened bread was eaten during the many decades of the sojourn in Egypt where the children of Israel were subjugated and carried the yoke of bondage; according to the other explanation this bread was eaten only on the very last night of the sojourn and possibly not even then, but was, for lack of time, made in preparation of the suddenly-undertaken migration.

Being contradictory, the two traditional explanations invite a re-examination of the motives underlying this ancient usage.

The major festivals of the Jewish calendar are connected with the memories of the Exodus, Lawgiving and living in huts during their migration in the desert.Was not some unusual phenomenon connected with the time of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt that could be regarded as more compelling for the origin of the custom than the above-stated motives? A usage of such persistence, predominance and antiquity, must have been instituted, so it seems, to honor some unusual and impressive occurrence. Such an occurrence was the fall of manna.

During the years when the Israelites wandered in the desert after having left Egypt manna fell from the sky. It served as their nourishment in the years when they roamed in the wasteland, in the shadow of death, when nothing budded. The customary explanation of manna as the seed of the tamarisk bush growing in the desert was refuted in Worlds in Collision, section “Ambrosia.” Manna is called “the bread of heaven,” the bread that fell from the clouds, (Exodus 16: 4) or even from the starry sky.1 It was found by the Israelites daily in enormous quantities, and the Midrashic sources state that “the quantity that fell every day would have sufficed to nourish the people for two thousand years.”2 It was ground between stones and baked in pans (Exodus 16:14-34), Numbers 11:7-8). It had the shape of coriander seed, a yellowish color and oily taste.

And the people went round about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it. (Numbers II: 8 )

The fall of manna was also not confined to the desert of wandering. It is said that all the peoples of the East and the West could see it.3 And actually we could trace the same memory to many nations of the world. The Scandinavian peoples were destroyed almost to the last in a catastrophe, and in the Fimbul winter that followed, the survivors subsisted on the morning dew.4 The Scriptures also have it that “When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.” (Numbers 11:9) The Greeks preserved the memory of manna as that of ambrosia—and it is described in the very same terms as manna. Ambrosia had the taste of oil and barley, or honeycomb; and so did manna.

It is significant in this connection that according to old rabbinical sources, matza is described as having the taste of manna.5 From this alone one could deduce that the custom of eating matza was first established in memory of the phenomenon of manna—yet, strangely, this has not yet been done. The fall of manna was a phenomenon of no mean significance. After the catastrophe of the days of the Exodus and in the years of its aftermath, the Israelites roaming in the desert had no leaven and they lacked salt; and until this day the unleavened bread is produced without salt being added. In the Seder night, when the great miracles are told that accompanied the Exodus and the upheaval in the physical nature, the greatest—the fall of bread from the sky—must be especially honored, it being the food of the multitude that left Egypt, and it would be strange if it would have remained without a memorial in the main feast commemorating the deliverance from Egypt and the preservation of the people, almost brought to complete annihilation by man and by elements alike.

A similar feast was celebrated in Athens during the spring month of Anthesteria—honey and flower were poured into a fissure in the earth. And since the phenomenon of manna was ubiquitous all over the earth, it is of interest and significance to note that also in India, in the Rig-Veda, it is said that honey (madhu) comes from the clouds.6

In that book is described how edible substances precipitated for a long period of time after the passage of the Earth through the trailing part of the planet Venus, then a comet.7

The planet Venus was deified by all races of antiquity and in Worlds in Collision I brought together reports of its being described as a comet from ancient Mexico, where it was called la estrella que humeava, “the star that smoked,”8 from Babylon, from China and from many other lands and peoples. Manna was a derivative of Venus. To eat it was like eating a portion of the god. Many ancient religions had this mystery of swallowing the god. The Christian religion, too, in the mystery of communion, had the participants eating of their god. Here it is shown how this strange idea originated; it was an element of ancient mysteries that were inherited and then incorporated in the Christian faith. The eating of the body of the god, the miracle of food falling from the sky, the food that sustained life in the wanderers in the desert—these are the wonders that impressed the ancient world and that survived in the ancient cult of matza, and also in the bread of communion, and in the custom of offering cakes to the Queen of Heaven in ancient pre-exilic Israel.

There must have been a special reason why the cakes of unleavened bread should not be implicitly connected with manna. It appears that these cakes became a part of an astral worship. It transpired to the instructed priests of the northern kindgorn of Israel that it was the planet Venus that was an instrument, or as they may also have thought, the cause of the disturbances and upheaval that enabled the Israelite slaves to leave Egypt. In the northern kingdom Jeroboam, by erecting an image of a calf in the temple of Dan and another in Beth-el, said “here are the gods that brought you out of Egypt” and he initiated the Passover service in Dan which in his plan should have served as the gathering place for the Passover week, not only for the population of the northern kingdom, but also for the people of Judah. Thus we see that Passover was a feast also in the worship of Baal; and in Worlds in Collision we have shown that the calf was the image of the planet Venus and that Baal was also her name.

At the end of the sixth century before the present era, shortly before the Babylonian Exile, Jeremiah accused the population of Jerusalem: “The women knead dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven, that they may provoke me to anger.” (7:18) The Queen of Heaven, we are informed by many authorities, was the planet Venus. Apparently the knowledge that Venus had something to do with the Exodus made the people of the Northern Kingdom, that of Israel, and then also of Judah, to bake cakes in honor of Venus, the planet, the role of which in the catastrophe of the days of the Exodus is described in detail in Worlds in Collision. And when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, the Jews who escaped to Egypt spoke of the incense and offerings that were given to the queen of heaven by themselves, and also by their fathers, their kings, and their princes “in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem.” “And when we burned incense to the queen of heaven, and poured out drink offerings unto her, did we make her cakes to worship her, and pour out drink offerings unto her without our men?(44:19)”

The heavenly bread coming from the clouds that were deposited by the comet Venus, the cakes made by the women of Jerusalem to her honor, were in memory and in thankfulness for the miracle she performed for their ancestors: Therefore the women of Jerusalem regarded the prohibition of this usage by the king Josiah and probably also by his son Zedekiah, under the influence of Jeremiah, as an offense for which their temple was destroyed; they went into refuge in Egypt, when the other remnants of the people were carried into Exile in Babylonia.

The custom of bringing bread (flour) and honey to the queen of heaven was practiced also by the Syrians in the second century before the present era, as Lucian tells in his book De Dea Syria. And in Greece, on the spring feast of libations of flour and honey were poured into a crevice in the ground, in memory of the flood of Deukalion, in which the population of Greece was destroyed almost to the last; this flood of Deukalion, according to tradition conserved by the fathers of the Church, occurred in the days of the Exodus (Eusebius)

Also in the Western Hemisphere the spring feast in honor of Quetzalcoatl or the planet Venus was observed once in eight years—every eight yers the planet Venus presently returns to the same position in relation to the sun and the earth—the synodic cycle of Venus consists of eight terrestrial years. Venus years were rigorously observed by the Mayas in Yucatan, Aztecs in Mexico, and Incas in Peru.

During the feast of in honor of Venus, bread was baked without salt, with water alone—and Sahagun, the Spanish author who studied the life of the Mayas in the sixteenth century, wrote:

Every eighth year these natives celebrated a feast which they called Atamalqualiztli, which means “feast of bread and water.” For eight days preceding the festival they ate nothing but tamales prepared without salt, nor did they drink anything else but clear water. ... They did not mix anything else with the dough of which they make them (tamali) not even salt...9

Here we see the feast of unleavened bread in America dedicated to Venus and was observed on its every return on its synodical cycle. Among the Mayas the feast of the bread was dedicated to the planet Venus, as it was among the women of Jerusalem in the days of Jeremiah and before him.

The word “matza” may mean “to find”; the corn of heaven was actually found on the ground.

The people of Israel in gratitude for their salvation in the desert, amidst the outraged elements, in a desert clouded by twilight, burning and waterless, observe the feast of salvation and eat the unleavened bread.

The connection by the people of Judea in the days of Jeremiah of manna and matza with Venus contributed to the separation between the custom and its cause, when religion became a monotheistic form of Judaism. Thus the root of the custom was lost and other explanations were devised and survived for many centuries, despite their obvious inadequacy.


  1. Psalms 78:23-24; Tractate Yorna 75a.

  2. Midrash Tehillim to Psalm 23; Tosefta Sota 4.3.

  3. Tractate Yorna 76a.

  4. J. A. MacCulloch, Eddic Mythology (1930), p. 168.

  5. Kiddushin 38a.

  6. W.H. Roscher, Nektar und Ambrosia, (Leipzig, 1883), p. 19.

  7. [The synthesis of various edible carbohydrates and sugars from hydrocarbons by bacterial action, or from other, simpler compounds by chemical reaction aided by strong irradiation has been demonstrated experimentally. For instance, see A. J. Swallow, Radiation Chemistry of Organic Compounds (Oxford, 1960). V. A. Firsoff (Our Neighboring Worlds [1954], p. 208) described how formaldehyde could be produced from water vapor and carbon dioxide in the presence of strong ultraviolet radiation. From formaldehyde sugars, like fructose or glucose, and starches can be produced. See Wong Kee Kuong, “The Synthesis of Manna,” Pensée III (1973), pp. 45-46. Carbon dioxide is a major constituent of Venus’ atmosphere.]

  8. Bernardino de Sahagun, Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva Espana, Bk. VII, Chap. 4.

  9. Ibid., Appendix to Bk. II.