on Exodus 16 :13
At even the quails came - שלו selav, from שלה salah, to be quiet, easy, or secure; and hence the quail, from their remarkably living at ease and plenty among the corn. "An amazing number of these birds," says Hasselquist, Travels, p. 209, "come to Egypt at this time, (March), for in this month the wheat ripens. They conceal themselves among the corn, but the Egyptians know that they are thieves, and when they imagine the field to be full of them they spread a net over the corn and make a noise, by which the birds, being frightened, and endeavoring to rise, are caught in the net in great numbers, and make a most delicate and agreeable dish." The Abb Pluche tells us, in his Histoire du Ciel, that the quail was among the ancient Egyptians the emblem of safety and security. "Several learned men, particularly the famous Ludolf, Bishop Patrick, and Scheuchzer, have supposed that the שלוים selavim eaten by the Israelites were locusts. But not to insist on other arguments against this interpretation, they are expressly called שאר sheer, flesh, Psalm 78:27, which surely locusts are not; and the Hebrew word is constantly rendered by the Septuagint ορτυγομητρα, a large kind of quail, and by the Vulgate coturnices, quails. Compare The Wisdom of Solomon 16:2, 19:12; Numbers 11:31, Numbers 11:32; Psalm 105:40; and on Numbers 11 observe that כאמתים keamathayim should be rendered, not two cubits high, but as Mr. Bate translates it, 'two cubits distant, (i.e., one from the other), for quails do not settle like the locusts one upon another, but at small distances.' And had the quails lain for a day's journey round the camp, to the great height of two cubits, upwards of three feet, the people could not have been employed two days and a night in gathering them. The spreading them round the camp was in order to dry them in the burning sands for use, which is still practiced in Egypt." See Parkhurst, sub voce שלה salah.
The difficulties which encumber the text, supposing these to be quails, led Bishop Patrick to imagine them to be locusts. The difficulties are three: "1. Their coming by a wind. 2. Their immense quantities, covering a circle of thirty or forty miles, two cubits thick. 3. Their being spread in the sun for drying, which would have been preposterous had they been quails, for it would have made them corrupt the sooner; but this is the principal way of preparing locusts to keep for a month or more, when they are boiled or otherwise dressed." This difficulty he thinks interpreters pass over, who suppose quails to be intended in the text. Mr. Harmer takes up the subject, removes the bishop's difficulties, and vindicates the common version.
"These difficulties appear pressing, or at least the two last; nevertheless, I have met with several passages in books of travels, which I shall here give an account of, that they may soften them; perhaps my reader may think they do more.
"No interpreters, the bishop complains, supposing they were quails, account for the spreading them out in the sun. Perhaps they have not. Let me then translate a passage of Maillet, which relates to a little island which covers one of the ports of Alexandria: 'It is on this island, which lies farther into the sea than the main land of Egypt, that the birds annually alight which come hither for refuge in autumn, in order to avoid the severity of the cold of our winters in Europe. There is so large a quantity of all sorts taken there, that after these little birds have been stripped of their feathers, and buried in the burning sands for about half a quarter of an hour, they are worth but two sols the pound. The crews of those vessels which in that season lie in the harbour of Alexandria, have no other meat allowed them.' Among other refugees of that time, Maillet elsewhere expressly mentions quails, which are, therefore, I suppose, treated after this manner. This passage then does what, according to the bishop, no commentator has done; it explains the design of spreading these creatures, supposing they were quails, round about the camp; it was to dry them in the burning sands in order to preserve them for use. So Maillet tells us of their drying fish in the sun of Egypt, as well as of their preserving others by means of pickle. Other authors speak of the Arabs drying camel's flesh in the sun and wind, which, though it be not at all salted, will if kept dry remain good a long while, and which oftentimes, to save themselves the trouble of dressing, they will eat raw. This is what St. Jerome may be supposed to refer to, when he calls the food of the Arabs carnes semicrudae. This drying then of flesh in the sun is not so preposterous as the bishop imagined. On the other hand, none of the authors that speak of their way of preserving locusts in the east, so far as I at present recollect, give any account of drying them in the sun. They are, according to Pellow, first purged with water and salt, boiled in new pickle, and then laid up in dry salt. So, Dr. Russel says, the Arabs eat these insects when fresh, and also salt them up as a delicacy. Their immense quantities also forbid the bishop's believing they were quails; and in truth he represents this difficulty in all its force, perhaps too forcibly. A circle of forty miles in diameter, all covered with quails to the depth of more than forty-three inches, without doubt is a startling representation of this matter: and I would beg leave to add that the like quantity of locusts would have been very extraordinary: but then this is not the representation of Scripture; it does not even agree with it; for such a quantity of either quails or locusts would have made the clearing of places for spreading them out, and the passing of Israel up and down in the neighborhood of the camp, very fatiguing, which is not supposed.
"Josephus supposed they were quails, which he says are in greater numbers thereabouts than any other kinds of birds; and that, having crossed the sea to the camp of Israel, they who in common fly nearer the ground than most other birds, flew so low through the fatigue of their passage as to be within reach of the Israelites. This explains what he thought was meant by the two cubits from the face of the earth - their flying within three or four feet of the ground.
"And when I read Dr. Shaw's account of the way in which the Arabs frequently catch birds that they have tired, that is, by running in upon them and knocking them down with their zerwattys, or bludgeons, as we should call them, I think I almost see the Israelites before me pursuing the poor, fatigued, and languid quails.
"This is indeed a laborious method of catching these birds, and not that which is now used in Egypt; for Egmont and Heyman tell us, that in a walk on the shore of Egypt they saw a sandy plain several leagues in extent, and covered with reeds without the least verdure; between which reeds they saw many nets laid for catching quails, which come over in large flights from Europe during the month of September. If the ancient Egyptians made use of the same method of catching quails that they now practice on those shores, yet Israel in the wilderness, without these conveniences, must of course make use of that more inartificial and laborious way of catching them. The Arabs of Barbary, who have not many conveniences, do the same thing still.
"Bishop Patrick supposes a day's journey to be sixteen or twenty miles, and thence draws his circle with a radius of that length; but Dr. Shaw, on another occasion, makes a day's journey but ten miles, which would make a circle but of twenty miles in diameter: and as the text evidently designs to express it very indeterminately, as it were a day's journey, it might be much less.
"But it does not appear to me at all necessary to suppose the text intended their covering a circular or nearly a circular spot of ground, but only that these creatures appeared on both sides of the camp of Israel, about a day's journey. The same word is used Exodus 7:24, where round about can mean only on each side of the Nile. And so it may be a little illustrated by what Dr. Shaw tells us of the three flights of storks which he saw, when at anchor under the Mount Carmel, some of which were more scattered, others more compact and close, each of which took up more than three hours in passing, and extended itself more than half a mile in breadth. Had this flight of quails been no greater than these, it might have been thought, like them, to have been accidental; but so unusual a flock as to extend fifteen or twenty miles in breadth, and to be two days and one night in passing, and this, in consequence of the declaration of Moses, plainly determined that the finger of God was there.
"A third thing which was a difficulty with the bishop was their being brought with the wind. A hot southerly wind, it is supposed, brings the locusts; and why quails might not be brought by the instrumentality of a like wind, or what difficulty there is in that supposition, I cannot imagine. As soon as the cold is felt in Europe, Maillet tells us, turtles, quails, and other birds come to Egypt in great numbers; but he observed that their numbers were not so large in those years in which the winters were favorable in Europe; from whence he conjectured that it is rather necessity than habit which causes them to change their climate: if so, it appears that it is the increasing heat that causes their return, and consequently that the hot sultry winds from the south must have a great effect upon them, to direct their flight northwards.
"It is certain that it is about the time that the south wind begins to blow in Egypt, which is in April, that many of these migratory birds return. Maillet, who joins quails and turtles together, and says that they appear in Egypt when the cold begins to be felt in Europe, does not indeed tell us when they return: but Thevenot may be said to do it; for after he had told his reader that they catch snipes in Egypt from January to March, he adds that in May they catch turtles, and that the turtlers return again in September; now as they go together southward in September, we may believe they return again northward much about the same time. Agreeably to which, Russel tells us that quails appear in abundance about Aleppo in spring and autumn.
"If natural history were more perfect we might speak to this point with great distinctness; at present, however, it is so far from being an objection to their being quails that their coming was caused by a wind, that nothing is more natural. The same wind would in course occasion sickness and mortality among the Israelites, at least it does so in Egypt. The miraculousness then in this story does not lie in their dying, but the prophet's foretelling with exactness the coming of that wind, and in the prodigious numbers of the quails that came with it, together with the unusualness of the place, perhaps, where they alighted.
"Nothing more remains to be considered but the gathering so large a quantity as ten omers by those that gathered fewest. But till that quantity is more precisely ascertained, it is sufficient to remark that this is only affirmed of those expert sportsmen among the people, who pursued the game two whole days and a whole night without intermission; and of them, and of them only, I presume it is to be understood that he that gathered fewest gathered ten omers. Hasselquist, who frequently expresses himself in the most dubious manner in relation to these animals, at other times is very positive that, if they were birds at all, they were a species of the quail different from ours, which he describes as very much resembling the 'red partridge, but as not being larger than the turtledove.' To this he adds, that 'the Arabians carry thousands of them to Jerusalem about Whitsuntide, to sell there,' p. 442. In another place he tells us 'It is found in Judea as well as in Arabia Petraea, and that he found it between Jordan and Jericho,' p. 203. One would imagine that Hasselquist means the scata, which is described by Dr. Russel, vol. ii., p. 194, and which he represents as brought to market at Aleppo in great numbers in May and June, though they are to be met with in all seasons.
"A whole ass-load of them, he informs us, has often been taken at once shutting a clasping net, in the above-mentioned months, they are in such plenty." - Harmer vol. iv., p. 367.
on Exodus 16 :13
Quails - This bird migrates in immense numbers in spring from the south: it is nowhere more common than in the neighborhood of the Red Sea. In this passage we read of a single flight so dense that it covered the encampment. The miracle consisted in the precise time of the arrival and its coincidence with the announcement.
on Exodus 16 :13
16:13 The quails came up, and covered the camp - So tame that they might take up as many of them as they pleased. Next morning he rained manna upon them, which was to be continued to them for their daily bread.