Exodus 15-16: A Murder of Quails (or, Good Manna Hard To Find) (Season 2, Episode 10)

What happens when the Israelites complain about hunger and thirst? A giant cloud with a face gets really pissed off, smallish birds "attack" from the sky, and people find a new dietary staple.

Welcome to episode 32 of the The New Old Testament!

Okay, so remember how last week, I said that that episode just kind of fell out of me. This one was a bit more of a struggle - possibly due to other time constraints and general life stuff, but I’m not here to make excuses. The episode is here. I’ve held up my end of the bargain. Now hold up yours. Read. Laugh!

On a more serious note, I’m considering doing commentaries for these episodes. They would be a deeper dive into the biblical text, comparing and contrasting it with The New Old Testament - what I changed, what I didn’t, and why. My belief is that people would be more shocked with what I didn’t change than what I did.

Anyway, I’d love your feedback on that idea. Just wanted to put some feelers out to see if it’s something you’re interested in or not (that is, something I should spend my time on). Rest assured, it wouldn’t replace the weekly episode - I envision it more as interesting, behind-the-scenes bonus material.

A big part of what I’m trying to do here is make people aware of what is actually contained in this book that’s shaped so many of us and so much of the modern world. All that to say I’d really love your input. After you’ve finished the episode, make sure to hit reply and let me know what you think. Thanks!


This is the latest episode in a serialised narrative. If jumping into things mid-way doesn’t bother you, ignore this and keep reading. If you like to start from the beginning, check out the archive here.


WARNING

If you are a creationist, evangelist, fundamentalist, or biblical literalist, this will probably offend you.

If you have any sense of propriety, this will probably offend you.

If you have the capacity to be offended, this will probably do the trick.

If you're okay with that, then read on.

If you want to read on just so you can tell me how terrible I am and that I should never write another word ever again, feel free.

Who knows? It might actually work.


So the Israelites are wandering through the desert, yeah?

They’re pretty stoked to be free of the Egyptians, but less stoked to have just witnessed the mass drowning of a couple thousand soldiers. I mean, yes, the Egyptians were slavers and, in one case, a formicophile (I’ll let you Wikipedia that one), but most (if not all) of them had just had their first-borns brutally murdered, plus their city and economy are now in ruins , plus their wives are without husbands and any remaining children are without fathers, so...

I don’t know. It’s kind of a grey area.

Anyway, shit’s miserable.

Cloud Face is strangely quiet up ahead and Moe’s starting to wonder if Yah is alright. Maybe she’s just nursing a brutal hangover. Maybe it’s something else. The clouds which make up the pillar have gone all grey and gloomy – like a sad, rainy-day cloud – as if to represent the psychological condition of its controller.

Moe doesn’t often worry about her god, being so frequently irritated with or horrified by her, but something is up.

She might have been able to enjoy the silence, but – as if to fill some evolutionary need for a drunken loudmouth in the group – Erin has taken Yahweh’s place.

With a wineskin in her hand, she doesn’t so much ‘walk’ as she does ‘flop and stumble’. Her top half lolls forward and she staggers with the momentum, then she pulls back to stop herself from falling, staggers in reverse, then catches herself from tripping over and lurches forward again, always trying to regain her balance and never quite succeeding.

On its own, this would be slightly annoying (or somewhat amusing, depending on your proximity to the aforementioned ‘flop-and-stumbler’), but in her inebriated state, Erin has decided that a song is in order.

So, channelling her inner Lin Manuel Miranda, she begins improvising a little ditty that skirts the line between freestyle rap and Sondheimian musical:

I will sing to the Lord, for she has triumphed gloriously,

horse and rider she has thrown into the sea...”

At first, Moe just rolls her eyes, but then begins to notice a few people nearby are really bothered by it. It’s not just annoying, it’s triggering in a way that a white van might be for someone who just came back from Iraq.

A kind of PTSD before PTSD was a thing.

Erin, oblivious to her impact on the Israelites (and quite possibly dealing with her own PTSD in a less-than-optimal way), continues:

The Lord is a warrior;

and Yahweh’s her name.

Pharaoh’s army she cast into the sea;

Down they went, like a stone.”

Now people are getting really uncomfortable, and after exchanging a worried glance with Merry, she begins offering apologetic looks and mouthing, “Sorry,” to those around her.

In the greatness of your majesty,

you overthrew your adversaries.

You sent out your fury,

and consumed them like stubble.”

“Like stubble?” Moe says to Merry, not sure if she’s more offended by her sister’s drunken, disrespectful display or the abysmal quality of the improvised lyrics. Merry, who’s desperately trying to corral his sister/wife and keep her upright, just shrugs, like, “Hey, man – I didn’t write it.”

But as her husband/brother tries to restrain her, Erin swipes viciously at him, flop-and-stumbling away as she resumes her awful song, uninterrupted:

The enemy said, “My hand shall destroy them.”

You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.”

People are crying now, holding their loved ones, appalled by Erin’s graphic recollection of the trauma everyone’s just witnessed.

“For Chrissakes, Merry,” Moe hisses. “Shut her up!”

Merry, who has been chasing around the increasingly-floppy-yet-somehow-still-standing Erin, takes off the kid gloves and spear-tackles her to the ground.

“Finally...” says Moe.

But Erin, writhing around crazily while Merry tries to muffle her, doesn’t skip a beat:

Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendour, doing wonders?”

“Goddamn it, hold still!”

Finally, Merry tears off a piece of his own tunic and jams it into her mouth, turning the horrible song into a slightly-less horrible moaning.

To be clear, she’s still singing her improvised, weirdly-formal, terribly-insensitive lyrics – only now, they’re muffled by the improvised, weirdly-filthy, terribly-unhygienic cloth gag.

The congregation breathes a collective sigh of relief, and within minutes, she’s been lashed to the back of a donkey and had a Hannibal Lecter-style facemask strapped around her head to keep the gag in.

Still, she continues singing, the muffled moans making sense only to her.

They press on, into the wilderness of Shur, and don’t find any water for three effing days.

When they finally do find water (in the form of an oasis), it’s so effing bitter that no one can drink the shit.

They complain to Moe, and...

Alright, sidebar...

I need to pause here for a second to draw your attention to something, since it’s going to become something of a recurring motif (if you’ll pardon the literary smelling of my own farts).

We’ve already seen the Israelites complain en masse several times, beginning in Egypt when the Universe of Cinematic Marvels (aka the Ten Plagues) began. Alright, I get it – they were slaves and Moe was indirectly making their lives that much harder.

Next, it was the food situation. Again, I see where they’re coming from – they’d just been through some shit and all they had to show for it was some unleavened bread.

Now, it’s the water thing. They’re thirsty. Totally understandable.

All I want to point out is that this is becoming a pattern. Something bad happens, the Israelites lose faith, Yahweh delivers, the Israelites rejoice, then pretty soon, something bad happens and we’re back to square one. The cycle repeats. Forget about it only being a thematic concern for the Book of Exodus, this shit will continue ad infinitum.

That’s right.

Ad infi-motherfucking-itum.

It’s basically the structure (that is, the literary skeleton) of the Old Testament – something that will become so didactic and on-the-nose in Judges, you’ll want to throw your hands up and go, “I get it!”

But we’ll get to that.

Just wanted to prepare you. This shit will not resolve itself.

Ever.

And we’re back in...

Moe’s like, “Surely, it can’t be that bad.”

She makes her way through the chap-lipped (chapped-lipped?) crowd and takes a sip from a waterskin that someone’s filled up, ready to chug it on down and then lambast the guy for being such a pussy.

Sure enough, she projectile vomits on him instead.

Right in the eyes.

As the guy wipes his face without complaint (revelling in the glory of sweet vindication) and Moe spits the remaining bile from her mouth, she goes, “Alright, fair enough. Leave it with me. I’ll see what I can do.”

She goes to see Yahweh’s avatar, who’s lurking kind of sullenly at the edge of camp, faced away from everyone, all broody and such.

“Hey big gal,” Moe says, a little tentatively. “Everything alright?”

The giant pillar of cloud turns (swirls?) around to face her, looking gloomy as hell. “Hmm? Yeah, no, everything’s fine. I mean, I think I’ve lost my two best friends, but other than that, yeah, no, everything’s fine.”

Moe has absolutely no idea how to respond to that.

In the end, she neatly sidesteps the comment and proceeds to ask what she came over to ask.

“Anyway...”

Nice sidestep, Moe.

“...a few of the people were complaining that...”

“What a surprise.”

Moe bites her tongue. “It’s just... the water’s really bitter here, for some reason. We were wondering if...”

“Did you ever stop to think that maybe it’s because this is a desert? Huh? Did that ever occur to you, or to any of those fucking morons? Those sheeple.” Cloud Face says the word with such venom, such disgust, that it makes you wonder why Yahweh bothered saving them in the first place.

Real love-hate relationship she’s got going on with the Israelites.

Another thing that isn’t going away any time soon.

Under her breath, Moe’s like, “Jeez, the water’s not the only thing that’s bitter around here...”

“What’s that?” Cloud Face snaps.

Playing it off, Moe says, “Nothing. Look, is there anything you can do about the water? We haven’t found anything to drink for three effing days.”

Cloud Face sighs with irritation. “Fine. Just... look, see that bit of wood over there.”

With a cloudy finger attached to a cloudy hand attached to a cloudy arm attached to the giant pillar of cloud that is Cloud Face – or rather, Cloud Face’s body – Cloud Face points to a dried-up tree branch on the ground.

“Yeah.”

“Take that and throw it in the water.”

Confused, Moe goes to ask why. She actually opens her mouth to form the words, then realises it doesn’t matter – there’s no rhyme or reason to any of this shit. If a staff can turn into a snake and change water into blood, why can’t this dried-up tree branch make bitter water more palatable?

Why anything?

Moe picks up the branch and returns to the crowd.

She tosses the branch into the water and they all just look at her, like, “Da fuck...?”

“Go on,” she says, feeling foolish and instantly going on the defensive. “Take a sip.”

The guy she gave a facial to fills up his waterskin and does as instructed.

The second he realises it doesn’t taste like shit, he begins guzzling from the waterskin, sucking greedily on the nozzle like a malnourished piglet on its mama’s teat.

The second the others realise that the water mustn’t taste like shit if this guy’s going to town on it, someone snatches it away from him and pretty soon, the fists start flying.

A rabble breaks out.

Chaos ensues.

The fight is quickly forgotten as the Israelites surge forward like... well, like sheeple, migrating into the water as one. They dive and wade and splash around, some scooping up the water in their hands, others filling their waterskins and drinking from those.

One guy just daintily laps at the water like a cat, bending over at the waist and kind of flicking the water with his tongue.

Along with everyone else, he might be absolutely dying of thirst, and yet remains a picture of monk-like calm in the carnage taking place all around him.

Good on you, man. Way to have some... dignity, I guess?

After everyone’s had their fill and filled their waterskins (and had their annual 50-Metre Freestyle Fiesta, which they always used to do in the Nile as slaves – Ahishahar won, of course... fucker always wins), the Israelites move on.

They name the place Marah, which means bitterness in Hebrew, and Moe does that under-the-breath thing where she wonders out loud if maybe she should start calling Cloud Face the same thing, seeing as the Israelite god is being real fucking moody lately.

She wants to scream, “Oh, poor wittle baby wost her wittle fwiends? Get over it! We need you to guide us to the fucking Promised Land, alright. Can you do that, Yah? Can you? You reckon you can scrape yourself off whatever new rock bottom you just woke up on and get your shit together long enough that we don’t die of thirst out here in the middle of the fucking desert?!

But she doesn’t say that.

She plays it cool.

She does the healthy thing and represses all that hostility, all that resentment and rage, packing it right the fuck down into a tight little carcinogenic ball, somewhere between the temporal lobe and the cerebellum.

I mean, I’m no phrenologist, but that’s where unresolved issues live, right?

“I mean, if they’d just fucking listen to me...” Cloud Face says, smoking a giant cloud cigarette later on. “Everything would be alright. I’ve delivered them out of every fucking problem they’ve had, every fucking situation they’ve been in...”

“I mean, admittedly, you did put them in a lot of those situations to begin with...” Moe says, with no small amount of caution.

Cloud Face’s giant, cloudy eyes narrow to slits.

Moe shuts her trap.

They’ve passed through Elim now and, roughly a month after their departure from Egypt, find themselves wandering through the wilderness of Sin.

No, not that sin.

Although...maybe there’s a correlation.

Hmm...

I mean, I could look into it.

Okay, hang on...

Alright, so turns out that Sin and sin aren’t related after all. One’s not a derivative of the other – they aren’t even cognates for cryin’ out loud! Here, Sin apparently refers to a moon god that was worshipped all around the Ancient Near East.

Talk about a fun fact.

Now, where were we?

Oh, yeah...

So the Israelites are wandering through the wilderness of... I guess, some Ancient Near Eastern moon god... and (shocker) they start to complain.

“We’re hungry!” a dude named Jehoshaphat says.

“We’re starving!”

“I just had to cook and eat my baby because of how hungry we were!”

You know, the usual shit.

They’re going on about how they were always well-fed in Egypt, and that they’d be better off dying in slavery with full stomachs than freely starving out here.

With the rosiest of rose-coloured glasses, they fondly remember their time in the land of the pyramids, when they had their fill of bread and meat – the actual word they use in reference to meat is ‘fleshpot,’ which... gross.

It sounds like it could be sexual...?

Or cannibalistic?

Or both?

Sex cannibals, anyone?

Apparently, a fleshpot was something you’d sit around and just... scoop flesh out of, I guess.

I don’t really want to think about it, or do any further research into the subject, so I’ll just let that image sit there in your brain box.

Scoop...

… and flesh.

That is all.

Make of it what you will.

Moe just rubs an exasperated hand over her even more exasperated face. “Why would Yahweh bring us out here to starve? That makes zero sense, Jehoshaphat.” Really gets some mileage out of that name. “Besides, you guys didn’t starve last time...”

“We had flatbread last time!” Jehoshaphat says.

“Oooh, flatbread...”

With that, the Israelites devolve into a moaning, salivating mess.

“Oh, please!” Moe shoots back. “You guys were ready to wipe your ass with flatbread when it first came up. Doesn’t that tell you something?”

The crowd stares back at her, blankly.

Dead-eyed.

Almost bovine.

“Tell us what?” someone says, clueless.

“That maybe you should have a little fucking faith? Huh? That Yahweh’s delivered on every occasion so far and there’s no reason to suspect she won’t do so again?”

They continue to stare blankly.

She’s lost them.

Once again, she goes over to see Cloud Face at the edge of camp, and once again, Cloud Face is lurking there, sulking.

Sulking and lurking.

Lurking and sulking.

Slurking?

“Hey, big gal,” she says, in the same cautious tone as before. “Listen...”

“Let me guess,” Cloud Face says with a sigh. “They’re complaining about something?”

Moe’s caught between a rock and a hard place. “Well...”

“Jesus Christ!” Cloud Face swirls around like a literal tornado, turning from a sad, rainy-day cloud into a purply-black thunderhead with little white flashes of lightning from within. It looms menacingly over Moe, voice booming, and the elderly prophet cowers. “What do they want this time? A fucking foot massage?”

“No, just...” Moe stammers. “They just want bread.”

“Bread?” Cloud Face bellows. “Bread?!

The whole sky seems to darken, like Yahweh is somehow infecting the world with her attitude.

“Yes, they’re... they’re starving.”

Cloud Face sees the fear in Moe’s eyes and relents, slowly shrinking back to its gloomy, grey-cloud self. The sky goes back to normal. Cloud Face reaches into itself and produces a pack of cloudy cigarettes. She bites one out with her cloudy mouth, then takes out a storm-cloudy lighter that produces a spark of lightning with which she lights her cigarette.

It’s all very elaborate.

“They want bread?” Yahweh’s avatar says. “I’ll give them bread. I’ll give them more bread than they know what to do with. I’ll rain bread down upon them like... fucking... well, like rain, I guess. I’ll give them so much bread they’ll fucking choke on it, and there won’t even be any milk to wash it down. You know like when you get a clump of bread stuck in your throat and you can’t swallow because your throat is so dry because the bread soaked all the moisture up. Like that. But... y’know, more. Worse. Times six hundred thousand. That’ll show ‘em.”

Cloud Face takes a satisfied drag, blows out a stream of clouds... which then drift up to form actual clouds in the actual sky.

Weird.

Surely, that can’t be how the world works?

Moe watches the clouds float away, mesmerised by them, then clears her throat and redirects her attention to the pillar. “I mean, yes, that would certainly show them. Why don’t we put that in the ‘maybe’ pile? Now... how about we consider just giving them enough to eat so they don’t starve to death or start killing each other?”

Cloud Face deflates a little, but sees the logic. “Fine. If it’ll shut them the fuck up, I’ll let the baby have its bottle.”

Moe exhales, thinking, “Jesus, I didn’t sign up for this shit.” Instead, and as obsequiously as possible, she says, “Thank you,” and heads off to tell her people the good news.

“Hold up,” Cloud Face says.

Moe shudders to a halt. So close... “What?”

“If I’m gonna do this, I wanna try something.”

Moe braces herself.

Cloud Face takes a drag. “Think of it like an experiment. A test of faith. Tonight, I’ll rain down bread. Hell, make it meat. I’ll rain down some form of meat...”

“You don’t actually have to rain...”

“Do you want the shit or not?”

Moe sighs.

Cloud Face continues. “Tonight, I’ll rain down some form of meat. In the morning, I’ll do bread. Good enough? You tell them every day to go out and gather enough for just that day. See if they have enough faith that I’ll deliver the next day. Ignore the countless fucking times I’ve delivered for them over the past few weeks – let’s just take baby steps, shall we? Really walk them through it. Really fucking spell it out for them. Ingrates.” Another drag. Cloud Face considers something. “On Saturday, tell them to get enough for two days. I don’t want them having to get up early on a Sunday.”

Moe furrows her brow, a little confused by the considerate note on which Cloud Face chose to end its tirade.

*

So, that evening (around dusk), the Israelites wait for their divinely-delivered mystery meat. Stomachs growling, mouths watering. They stand there in silence, watching the sky, some holding torches to ward off the coming dark.

Moe, Erin and Merry are standing there alongside them, just as hungry as everyone else.

For a long time, nothing happens.

Then...

Thud!

Something heavy hits an Israelite on the head and bounces off onto the ground.

“Ow!” the guy says, rubbing his head. “Fuck!”

“What is that...?”

“Jesus, it’s moving!”

A nearby woman holds her flaming torch down toward whatever hit the dude on the head and sees...

A... quail?

Everyone, in unison, kind of tilts their head sideways like 600,000 confused dogs.

“Is that a... quail?” someone says.

I mean, it is technically meat, but they were expecting something a little more substantial, perhaps. A little more conventional. They were also expecting the thing to be dead – ideally skinned, dressed and ready for the fire.

This thing is alive.

And it is freaking the fuck out.

It stands there, bug-eyed, its little chest heaving but otherwise frozen stiff with fear. It’s feathers are all ruffled. The thing looks insane.

Then, it bolts...

Running off under the legs of someone and into the crowd, people begin turning around, swinging their torches around to try and see where it went. Their shock is quickly replaced by the ravenous hunger that preceded it.

“Find it!”

“Kill it!”

As the quail hunt begins, Moe’s like, “Surely that can’t be it...”

And sure enough, it isn’t.

Something soft and feathery hits her in the head and bounces off onto the ground.

“Ow!” she says, rubbing her head, but before she realises it’s another quail, the thing is running off through the crowd.

“Shit! There’s another one!”

Elsewhere in the crowd, someone dives on the first quail and breaks its neck. He then instantly starts tearing into the thing raw, getting blood and feathers all over his face.

He only manages to take a bite or two before the people around him realise and jump on him, try to wrest the pitifully-small bird from his grip.

“Give it here!”

“No, it’s mine!”

“Sharing’s caring, you fuck!”

Moe’s eyes drift from this savage encounter to the sky, sensing something.

Like a brewing rainstorm where you feel a few drops and then suddenly there’s deluge and you’re soaked through, so happens here with the quail and the Israelites.

Within seconds, live quails are falling from the sky in the tens of thousands, pelting the congregation with the meal they said they wanted.

People are hit in the head, in the chest, in the back, in the shoulder, in the leg. They go down. They run. They panic. Screaming, shouting, cursing.

The birds fucking screech like no one’s business.

It’s like any battle scene involving archery (minus the bird calls, of course) – without any shields to protect themselves, the Israelites are helpless before the onslaught of fluffy projectiles.

Plus, it’s night-time, so no one can see what the fuck they’re doing.

Scarcely conscious of the lit torches in their hands, they spin around wildly and run in all directions, accidentally burning people, setting them ablaze. Fights break out, insults are hurled. People on fire from head to foot run around shrieking horribly.

If the quail were arrows, it’d be a massacre.

The army turning in on itself.

The Scottish highlanders fighting each other instead of the English.

But since the birds are small and soft and relatively light, they don’t cause a lot of damage. True, they are falling from an incredible height that does jack up the danger factor a little, but the reality is that in a collision between bird and person, the bird will often come off second best.

A lot of them are killed on impact. Others break legs or wings or whatever, leaving them unable to escape the hungry human versions of those giant inflatable bags that stunt people use.

Yes, it’s sad.

It gets even sadder when the Israelites – a resourceful if somewhat whiny bunch – begin adapting to the situation and getting a little more proactive in their hunting efforts.

Like an elderly, biblical-era Braveheart, Moe emerges from the chaos to lead her people. She’s even got quail-blood covering exactly one half of her face, and a huge, two-handed Scottish claymore sword for good measure.

Okay, so it’s not blue face paint. Sue me.

And no, I don’t know how she got hold of an iron weapon in the Bronze Age, let alone one that wouldn’t be developed until the 1400s AD when it’s closer to the 1400s BC.

What she does have are quail feathers all through her hair, a burning rage in her eyes, and a war-cry on her lips:

“Come on, Israel! FREEDOM!”

She charges against... well, against nothing, really. There’s no army there. There’s just a non-stop hailstorm of fluffy, brown quails.

She swings her giant sword recklessly in a congested space that includes many children, cutting the smallish birds in two (some in mid-air, which is pretty cool) and leaving the pre-divided remains to be devoured by said children.

As the Hamish of this story, Erin “fights” alongside Moe with a giant, two-handed battleaxe (again, where did she get that?), and Merry rounds out the cast as either Stephen or Hamish’s dad.

Both of them with quail-blood streaked across their faces in equally-iconic designs.

Red Braveheart instead of Blue Braveheart.

In fact, that’s a good way to distinguish this comedy fiction newsletter from the 1995 historical epic, because I know a lot of you are going to be mixing them up. They are so very similar, after all.

Just think of it as Red Braveheart.

Easy.

Inspired by Moe’s example, the Israelites cheer and follow her into... battle, I guess?

They duck and weave to avoid the falling birds, some even fashioning shields out of basket lids and the like. Now a little more protected from the feathery squall, they begin trapping the birds with nets, jars, their bare hands.

Not to mention the now-lidless baskets they have at their disposal.

Like the first successful hunter, a lot of the Israelites are too hungry to bother cooking a fire, so they just rip into these poor things without even de-feathering them.

Just picture any scene from The Revenant , but on a mass scale, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what I’m talking about. They’re biting into wings, crunching beaks, chewing feathers.

It ain’t pretty.

Before long, the quail stops raining and the Israelites spend the next 30-60 minutes finishing up their hunt. The shouts and screeches gradually decrease and are replaced by loud, open-mouthed chewing and the contented noises of people with full bellies.

Still, no one bothers making a fire.

Why?

Why aren’t they making a fire?

They have lit torches right there, just kind of propped up, illuminating the camp, yet no one thinks to use that flame to cook the meat.

It’s like they prefer eating it raw.

Weird.

Anyway, Moe’s sitting there with Erin and Merry, tearing out a quail breast with her teeth and chewing on it like Leo DiCaprio with that bison liver.

“I mean...” Moe says, swallowing a mouthful of sweet, sweet quail. “Talk about a murder of quails, am I right?”

Erin, still working on her mouthful, says, “Actually...it’s called a bevy.”

“What?”

Erin swallows, then repeats herself, more clearly this time. “A group of quails is called a bevy.”

Moe slants her eyes, a little pissed.

“Actually...” Merry interjects, mouth full. They wait for him to swallow – man, these guys can not get enough of this raw quail meat – and he goes, “They can also be referred to as a covey or a drift.”

“Oh, really?” Moe says, employing the sarcastic tone of the increasingly irritated. “Is that so?”

Someone in the next group over goes, “I’ve heard flock used also.”

“Alright, pipe down, guy!” Moe says, finally exploding. “What gave you the idea this was an open forum?”

The guy holds a hand up like, “Sorry,” and gets back to his delicious quail.

“Jesus,” Moe says. “Can’t even make a joke without...”

She grumbles and takes another bite of her quail, giving a contented sigh.

Ahhh, that’s better.

She overhears the eavesdropper whispering to his friend, “Also, pretty sure quail is its own plural. It isn’t quails.

The eavesdropper and his nerdy friend chuckle. Moe is not impressed.

“Eat up, everyone!” she says, addressing the congregation. “You’ll have bread in the morning.”

Then, lowering her voice so only Erin and Merry can hear: “Surely she can’t fuck that up.”

*

And sure enough, she does.

The Israelites emerge from their tents the next morning, rubbing the sleep from their eyes and the dried quail blood from the corners of their mouths (what, you think they got showers out here?) to behold the bountiful breakfast that Yahweh has delivered.

But if they were expecting loaves of bread, they’re sorely disappointed.

If they were expecting anything resembling food at all, they’re sorely disappointed.

Instead, what they see is a layer of this fine, flaky substance covering the ground, a little like hoarfrost.

They’re like, “The fuck is this?”

And Moe relays their concerns to the giant pillar of cloud at the edge of camp, like, “The fuck is this?”

Very simply, Yah goes, “It’s bread.”

“It’s bread?”

“Yeah, that’s what you wanted, right?”

After sleeping and sweating all night, Moe’s quail-blood Braveheart-style face-paint has started to smear and run, so she looks more like the Joker than Mel Gibson in his prime. Heath or Joaquin – take your pick.

She rubs an exasperated hand over her face, smearing it even more.

“That isn’t bread,” Moe says. “I don’t know what the fuck that is. It looks more like dried cum than bread.”

Cloud Face scoffs. “Pfft. Cum dries clear. Which you’d know if the only person you’d ever been with wasn’t a woman. Which... where is Zippy by the way?”

Moe looks around. “Yeah, I don’t know. She’s been weirdly absent since we left Egypt. Before that even.”

“Huh. Weird.” Cloud Face moves on, like the absence of a central character is just a passing oddity. “Anyway, it doesn’t look like dry cum.”

“Fine! Wet cum, then. Wet cum that’s somehow been frozen to retain its original colour after ejaculation. Frozen wet cum. You happy?”

“You mean like a jizz slushie?” Cloud Face says, snickering. Finding the humour in it.

“What?” Moe says, not getting the reference.

“Oh... never mind.”

Cloud Face lights a cigarette with its lightning Zippo, which has since started being affectionately referred to as Sparky.

“Why couldn’t you just give us bread?” Moe says, exhausted. “Normal bread. Just like why couldn’t you give us normal meat? Why not pigs? We love pigs. Bacon, ham, pork. All that shit. Instead, you give us quail? Fucking quail?! What is that?”

Very calmly, Cloud Face exhales a stream of clouds (which Moe, again, watches drift up to form actual clouds in the actual sky) and says, “If I gave you normal bread and normal meat, how would that be in any way memorable?”

Moe groans. “Uggghhhh! Again with this ‘memorable’ shit. Everything has to be ‘memorable’. You’re like that friend who thinks every night has to be the greatest night ever. You know what happens when every night is the greatest night ever? None of them are. Just like when every-fucking-thing is fucking memorable, nothing is!”

Then she storms off.

Cloud Face resumes smoking, but does that half-frowny thing where you realise someone has a valid point and legitimately take it on board. Very open-minded, that Cloud Face.

*

Moe relays what she’s learned to the Israelites, then watches as one of them reluctantly scoops up a handful of the shaved, frozen, wet cum-like substance and scrapes it onto their tongue.

She, along with 600,000 other Israelites, wait with bated breath as the guy tastes it. He swishes it around in his mouth, like a food critic really examining the flavour profile. Finally, he gargles the stuff like it’s mouthwash, then swallows.

They wait...

He lets the aftertaste subside, then slowly, begins to nod, a smile breaking across his face. “It’s like... wafers made with honey. Jesus Christ, that’s good...”

He immediately crouches down to begin shovelling more of the jizz slushie into his gullet. He does so with the frantic desperation of a drug addict going into withdrawals – grunting, groaning, choking and retching as he tries to eat it too quickly. Watching him, it’d be hard not to feel a little sick.

“It’s good!” Moe shouts, turning to face the crowd. “It’s good!”

The people of Israel cheer.

They begin scooping the jizz slushie into jars with their bare hands. Moe reminds everyone to only gather enough for today, and to eat it all today – don’t save any for tomorrow. The good lord Yahweh will provide again.

Now, the Israelites didn’t have our modern measurements. Each person was allowed an omer of this jizzy substance that was ostensibly some kind of bread. Before you ask, an omer is a tenth of an ephah.

Hope that clears things up.

It doesn’t?

Okay, fine. You wanna get all modern about it, you’re looking at about 2.3 litres.

For those of you in Burma, Liberia or the USA, wondering how many gallons or ounces or whatever, you might have to Google it.

2.3 litres of frozen jizz slushie per person per day.

Seems fair enough to me.

However, more than a few people are like, “Screw that. This god of ours is about as unpredictable as a camel in a snowstorm.”

Bit of biblical-era jargon for ya.

And before you ask – no, I’m not talking about Bactrian camels, which are actually quite well-suited to the cold.

I’m talking about dromedaries, motherfucker.

Anyway, these less-than-faithful Israelites gather more than their ‘one omer per day,’ thinking they’ll get one over on ol’ Yahweh. Save some for tomorrow, and when Yahweh doesn’t show, they’ll be the ones laughing while everyone else starves to death.

So, yeah... pretty fair to say these guys are assholes.

Prudent, but... dickish.

Definitely dickish.

However, as it turns out, Yahweh ain’t no fool.

When they wake up the next morning ready for a little pre-breakfast snack (guess they’re, like, Hobbits or something), the jizz slushie has gone rotten and is crawling with maggots.

Yep, you heard me.

Rotten, melted jizz slushie crawling with maggots.

Put that in your brain pipe and... think it?

Naturally, the unfaithful Israelites react with horror, and burst out of their tents, going, “What the fuck?”

But Moe just slings a “What the fuck?” right back at them. She even tacks an, “indeed,” onto the end.

“What the fuck, indeed?

They broke the rules, after all. Them’s the consequences.

I wish I could say that was the end of it. That everyone learned their lesson and the rotten, melted jizz slushie faded into the Israelites’ collective memory as a cautionary tale like the The Boy Who Cried Wolf or Mean Girls.

But, alas...

People continue to lack faith, to ignore the instructions, to gather up more than they needed.

On Saturdays, these fuckers would gather twice as much (like they were told) but then proceed to eat it all – two days worth of food in one – perhaps under the assumption that Yah would, in fact, make a surprise delivery the following day, even when she had clearly specified that she wouldn’t be.

Ultimately, it’s a failure to follow even the most basic instructions.

For the most part, however, people do what they’re told.

Morning by morning, they gather it up – an omer of jizz each. They eat it, have faith that Yah will deliver the next day. On Saturdays, they gather enough for two days and – guess what? - the shit isn’t rotten and melted and maggoty in the morning.

Huh.

It’s like, maybe if you just follow the fucking instructions, everything will work out fine. You have a luxury that no one in the modern world has – that is, you know for a fact that your god exists – you can literally see her every day, leading you as a giant fucking pillar of cloud and/or fire tornado toward the Promised Land.

The unfaithful fuckers, feeling sick from over-eating the previous day (what I’m going to call a ‘jizz hangover’), go out to find that, in fact, Yah has not delivered the daily dose of jizz slushie – exactly like she said she wouldn’t.

They then go around to the faithful with their tails between their legs and hold their hands out, like homeless people asking for change. But the ones who obeyed orders, in between mouthfuls of frozen jizz, tell them to fuck off – “Should’ve had faith, man.”

Sidebar: this is the origin of the Sabbath, a holy day of rest. Just FYI.

Of course – God being God – on more than one occasion, their faith is undermined by Yah drinking too much the night before, waking up late and hungover, going, “Shit!”, running out to the Experiment and dumping a layer of jizz slushie down on the camp, only to realise that the Israelites are already up and wondering where the food is and, now, covered in frozen wet cum from head to foot.

But, hey, at least she delivered.

And at least the shit is delicious.

Not a lot of complaints from the Israelites, even when they are covered head to foot in flaky, frosty jizz.

Could be worse.

Could be rotten and melted and crawling with maggots.

So, as you can see, in a very general sense, the system works. When the sun grows hot, the slushie melts, leaving a jizzy paste over the land, and the Israelites move on, leaving splotches of melted frozen cum like breadcrumbs across the desert.

As you might expect, after their fellow countrymen refuse to share, the jizz-hungover Israelites come to Moe to complain.

Every Sunday, it’s the same story. New faces. Same shit.

She goes to Cloud Face with the complains and, as you might also expect, Cloud Face is not happy.

“Hey – I told them what to do, alright?” Cloud Face takes a drag, inhales sharply. “I spelled it out to the letter. To the fucking letter. What more do they want from me, huh? Those greedy fucking cunts ate two days worth of food in the space of twelve hours and I’m somehow supposed to feel bad about that? How about this? Fuck them. Let ‘em starve. They can’t follow even the most basic instructions, they fucking deserve to die. I mean, Jesus Christ, I’m seeing three-year-olds out there do what I’m asking. Literal three-year-olds. I’m supposed to feel sorry for some fat fuck who doesn’t know if he’s gonna get fed tomorrow cramming his gullet, or some sneaky fucking hoarder waking up to find maggots in his food and being a little grossed out. Seriously? How long are they going to keep this shit up?”

Moe has barely been listening. She’s been scooping handfuls of jizz slushie out of a jar and into her mouth, savouring the wafery, honey-ey goodness. “Goddamn, that’s good...”

“Are you even listening?”

“What’s this called, anyway?”

Cloud Face takes a drag, exhales a stream of clouds. “Manna.”

“What?”

“It’s called manna.”

“Why?”

Cloud Face shrugs. “Do you need a reason?”

“I’d like one, yes.”

A sigh. “It’s just a...” Cloud Face scratches what amounts to its forehead with the thumb of its smoking hand. “It’s a shitty, stupid fucking joke. I got the idea when everyone came out and saw the shit, and they were all like, ‘Ah, man, what the fuck is that?’ So...” Cloud Face exhales, chuckles a little. “Man hu is Hebrew for, ‘What is it?’”

Man hu,” Moe repeats, sounding it out. “Manna.

“I don’t know if you’d quite call it a portmanteau, but...” Cloud Face takes a drag, a cheeky smile on its face, awaiting Moe’s response. “What do you think?”

Moe just looks down at the jar of manna in her hands.

Finally, she looks up at Yahweh’s avatar. “I think you’re right.”

“Yeah?” Cloud Face says, hopeful.

“I think it’s a shitty, stupid fucking joke.”


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