The Israelites were twice relieved in their privation by a miraculous supply of quails, (1) in the wilderness of Sin (Ex. 16:13), and (2) again at Kibroth-hattaavah (q.v.), Num. 11:31. God "rained flesh upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea" (Ps. 78:27). The words in Num. 11:31, according to the Authorized Version, appear to denote that the quails lay one above another to the thickness of two cubits above the ground. The Revised Version, however, reads, "about two cubits above the face of the earth", i.e., the quails flew at this height, and were easily killed or caught by the hand. Being thus secured in vast numbers by the people, they "spread them all abroad" (11:32) in order to salt and dry them.
These birds (the Coturnix vulgaris of naturalists) are found in countless numbers on the shores of the Mediterranean, and their annual migration is an event causing great excitement.
There can be no doubt that the Hebrew word in the Pentateuch (Exodus 16:13
; Numbers 11:31,32
) and in the 105th Psalm, denotes the common quail, Coturnix dactylisonans
. (The enormous quantity of quails taken by the Israelites has its parallel in modern times. Pliny states that they sometimes alight on vessels in the Mediterranean and sink them. Colenel Sykes states that 160,000 quails have been netted in one season on the island of Capri. --ED.) The expression "as it were two cubits (high) upon the face of the earth," (Numbers 11:31
) refers probably to the height at which the quails flew above the ground, in their exhausted condition from their long flight. As to the enormous quantities which the least-successful Israelite is said to have taken viz. "ten homers" (i.e. eighty bushels) in the space of a night and two days, there is every reason for believing that the "homers here spoken of do not denote strictly the measure of that name but simply "a heap." The Israelites would have had little difficulty in capturing large quantities of these birds as they are known to arrive at places sometimes so completely exhausted by their flight as to be readily taken, not in nets only, but by the hand. They "spread the quails round about the camp;" this was for the purpose of drying them. The Egyptians similarly prepared these birds. The expression "quails from the sea," (Numbers 11:31
) must not be restricted to denote that the birds came from the sea, as their starting-point, but it must be taken to show the direction from which they were coming. The quails were at the time of the event narrated in the sacred writings, on their spring journey of migration northward, It is interesting to note the time specified: "it was at even" that they began to arrive; and they no doubt continued to come all night. Many observers have recorded that the quail migrates by night.