The Exodus' "Poisonous Quail" of Kib`roth-hatta`avah
(Nu 11:31-35, 33:16, 17; Psalm 78:26-31)
Please click here for this website's most important article: Why the Bible Cannot be the Word of God. For Christians visiting this website _my most important article_ is The Reception of God's Holy Spirit: How the Hebrew Prophets _contradict_ Christianity's Teachings. Please click here.
Please click here for my latest map (21 Nov. 2009) showing the site of Israel's "crossing of the Red Sea"
in the Exodus as being at Ras el Ballah (my Baal-zephon)
01 June 2003
Revisions through 12 June 2010
13 Oct 2005 Update: Today I found a report confirming that a quail (Coturnix coturnix) was sighted by trained British Zoologists on 23 March 1914 at Ayun Musa, just east of the port of Suez. To date this is the ONLY documented sighting of Quail in the southern Sinai in the Spring that I am aware of. They migrate from Africa in the Spring, generally the months of March and April, to Europe. For this sighting cf. The Auk, A Quarterly Journal of Ornithology. vol. XXXII July 1915 no. 3. p. 280. "Some Birds from Sinai and Palestine." "...We left Suez on March 22, 1914...Coturnix at Moses Wells and the Dead Sea."
This item was found on-line via the Google Internet Search Engine. This report does _somewhat confirm the Exodus account_ of quail landing in the southern Sinai in the Spring, this being the time of year for the Exodus. Israel has left Elim and is in the wilderness of Sin when she complains of no flesh to eat and God sends quail to them from the skies (Ex 16:1-13). Some scholars have suggested Elim is the Wells of Moses (Arabic Ayun Musa) cf. the identification by the Israeli scholar Har-El (cf. his Exodus map facing p. 356. Menashe Har-El. Sinai Journeys, The Route of the Exodus. San Diego. Ridgefield Publishing Company. 1983. ISBN 0-86628-016-2). Others prefer Wadi Gharandel just sout of Ayun Musa to be Elim (cf. figure 29 Map. p. 629. Kenneth A. Kitchen. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 2003. ISBN 0-8028-4960-1). Kitchen opts for the coastal plain south of Ras Abu Zenima being the wilderness of Sin.
15 October 2005 Update:
Today I came across "another" internet article which mentioned -in passing- the seasonal presence of Spring migrating quail in the southern Sinai in the vicinity of Wadi Abu Gada, which is a headwater of Wadi Gharandal. Apparently for "years" the locals in this area have known about the seasonal arrival of quail - a fact strangely "unknown" to Western Commentators or Bible Scholars on the Exodus' quail.
Note that Ras el Sidr also appears on some maps as Ras al Sudr and Wadi Abu Gada appears on some maps as Wadi Abu G'ada. Please click here for maps of Wadi Gharandal and Wadi Abu G'ada. I note that the map suggests that quail flying from southern Africa and crossing the Gulf of Suez, enroute for sanctuary (?) at Wadi Abu G'ada, might possibly fly over the west coast of the Sinai just to the south of Wadi Gharandal, which some scholars argue is Elim. I note a high plain south of Gharandal called Hosan Abu Zenna, and northeast of Hammam Fara'un (cf. map titled Hammam Fara'un. Sheet 1. Southern Sinai. 1938. Dept. of Survey and Mines. Scale: 1:100,000). Could Hosan Zenna be the Wilderness of Sin, it lies in the general area of the Quail's flyway to Wadi Abu G'ada? The Bible states that God brought the quail on a wind from the south and when they encountered a wind from the east they dropped from the heavens all about the Wilderness of Sin. The southwind would describe quail using this wind in their northern Spring migration to southern Europe and the Balkans. Perhaps the east wind was so strong that the exhausted birds fell all over the coastal plain south of Gharandal (Elim?), preventing them reaching their usual sanctuary (?) in the higher elevations of Wadi Abu G'ada?
"The Other Side of the Sinai, Ras Sidr" by Mark White
"Beyond the springs and beaches [of Ras el Sidr/Sudr], there is considerable landscape to explore, and often an abundance of wildlife. Nearby is WADI AL-GHARANDAL, which some consider to be one of the most beautiful valleys in SOUTH SINAI. It extends for some 80 kilometers and has a wealth of plants dependent upon a number of fresh water springs that flow year round. OTHER VALLEYS INCLUDE Ras Mattarqa and al-Gharandel, which also abound with plant life, and ABU GADA WHERE ONE FINDS tamarisk trees, AS WELL AS VARIOUS QUAIL and mountain partridges DURING THEIR MIGRATION PERIODS."
16 October 2005 Update:
Today while using the Google internet search engine, I found yet again "another site" in the southern Sinai for Spring migrating quail (Coturnix coturnix), Ras Mohamed/Muhammed at the southernmost tip of the Sinai peninsula. In this area lies one of the greatest bird sanctuaries on a par with the better-known northern Sinai sanctuary of Zaranik at the Bardawil Lagoon just west of El Arish.
"Ras Mohamed (Birds of)"
"Ras Mohamed, and INDEED THE WHOLE OF THE SOUTHERN SINAI could be easily be defined as one of the most important points in the world for the well-being of all bird species. This is not an exaggeration as the majority of migrating birds pass here in the millions twice a year on their way to and from Europe and Africa. It is also a birdwatcher's dream come true as we do not know of any place where there are such large concentrations of so many species in such a small area...Quail Coturnix coturnix... common migrant."
For a map of Ras Muhammed and more information on other amenities cf:
At Sharm el Sheikh near the southernmost tip of the Sinai peninsula, a quail was flushed from nearby bushes by a visitor, sometime between the 31st March – 7th April 2005.
In the Negev in the early Spring, Feb 14, 2004 a quail was sighted near Wardon, 31.38N / 34.47E.
Around February 20th is when Spring Quail (Coturnix coturnix) frequently begin to appear in the Israeli Arabah south of the Dead Sea at Kibbutz Lotan (50 km. north of Eilat) as well as the seaport of Eilat on the Gulf of Aqaba.
For Autumn migrating Quail at the Bardawil Lagoon and its Zaranik bird sanctuary cf.
The Zaranik Experience."
Ornithological Society of the Middle East,
the Caucasus and Central Asia.
Waheed Salama & Andrew Grieve
Berg, a professional ornithologist (1930), understood that migratory quail returning to Egypt via the Sinai in the Autumn, navigate this peninsula IN DARKNESS and arriving in Egypt in the early morning, hide themselves during the day from predators. They then continue their flight southward to the Lakes District of Central Africa where they winter. Other orinthologists note that the quail in the Autumn migrating south, cross the Mediterranean Sea IN DARKNESS arriving exhausted on the north shore of the Sinai west of El Arish where natives capture them in nets.
Berg (emphasis mine):
"The little quails, who flew across the Sinai desert IN THE DARK, make haste to hide their tired wings in the green fields BEFORE THE DAY DAWNS." (p. 88. Bengt Berg. To Africa With The Migratory Birds. New York & London. G. P. Putnam's Sons. The Knickerbocker Press. 1930)
Perhaps the quails' habit of FLYING IN DARKNESS explains why various European scholars who have traveled in the Sinai leave NO DESCRIPTION of them ever being seen "in flight" in their memoirs ? This is to say quail "activity" is perhaps associated with the going down of the sun (twilight) and ensuing darkness (evening and night). The quails' habit of "hiding" during the day would explain their "absence" in the memoirs of the European scholars who tended to traverse the Sinai by daylight. If quail are mentioned at all it tends to be their early morning Autumn arrival on the north Sinai shore near El Arish from southern Europe. This would also explain why the Bible's statement of quail arriving in the early evening or twilight which would be associated with the beginning of darkness:
Exodus 16:12 RSV
"And the Lord said to Moses...'At twilight you shall eat flesh..."
Exodus 16:13 RSV
"in the evening quails came up and covered the camp..."
Perhaps these quail crossed the Gulf of Suez at twilight -the beginning of darkness the sun setting below the horizon- arriving on the Sinai's western shore ?
Hobbs on quail being encountered near the Sinai's coastal flyways rather than inland mountainous areas, which seems to "mirror" the biblical statement of God sending a wind to cause quail _from the sea flyway_ to fall near the Israelite encampment of Kibroth-hatta-avah (Nu 11:31-34):
Numbers 11:31-35, RSV
"And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp..."
"The Sinai is an important flyway in the Old World. Migrants in the high mountain area are less abundant than their counterparts in spectacular mass migrations across the peninsula's coasts. The Jabaliya ['mountain' Arabs] have no knowledge of the quail (Coturnix coturnix), the migrant which in the biblical accounts miraculously alleviated the hunger of the Israelites in Sinai. Quail pass through the Sinai in Autumn and Spring but rarely stray into the high country of the southern peninsula." (p. 22. Josep J. Hobbs. Mount Sinai. Austin, Texas. University of Texas Press. 1995. ISBN 0-292-73091-8)
"The quail may provide clue about the timing of the Exodus. Orlinsky supports the conclusion that abundant quail indicate a fall migration (Orlinsky 1974:23). However, quail are more abundant on the Red Sea coast in the spring than in the fall (Goodman et al. 1989:215). Gaubert (1969:91) and Robertson (1936:57) propose that the presence of quail indicates that the Exodus took place in early spring." (p. 314. Note 15. Hobbs)
Orlinski, Harry M. 1974. Essays in Biblical Culture and Bible Translation. New York: KTAV Publishing House.
Goodman, Steven M., Peter L. Meininger, Sherif M. Baha El Din, Joseph J. Hobbs, and Wim C. Mullie. 1989. The Birds of Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gaubert, Henri. 1969. Moses and Joshua: Founders of the Nation. London. Darton, Longman and Todd.
Conclusions: Spring migrating quail begin alighting in the southern Sinai -as well as the Negev and Arabah south of the Dead Sea- apparently as early as February. The biblical account has Israel's Exodus from Egypt occuring in the Spring month of Abib (March/April). Later, Israel encounters quail at the wilderness of Sin in the SW Sinai before reaching Mount Sinai (Ras Sasafeh or Gebel Musa near St. Catherine's Monastery ?) and at Kibroth-hatta'avah in the SE Sinai after leaving the sacred mount. Spring quail (Coturnix coturnix) are ATTESTED for at least THREE LOCATIONS in the southern Sinai: 1) Ayun Musa, 2) Wadi Abu G'ada, a headwater of Wadi al-Gharandal, and 3) Ras Muhammed at the southernmost tip of the Sinai peninsula. The statement that "the whole of the southern Sinai" is an important area for observing birds may "explain" the quail Israel encountered at Kibroth-hatta'avah, an unknown location ENE of Mount Sinai (identified by some with either Gebel Musa or Ras Safsafeh near St. Catherine's monastery). The quail in the Wilderness of Sin in the SW Sinai peninsula accord with sightings at Ayun Musa and Wadi Abu Gada, a headwater of Wadi al-Gharandal. Israel's encountering quail at Kibroth-hatta'avah AFTER leaving Mt. Sinai accords with sightings from St. Catherine's monastery of overhead flights of migrating birds headed for the Negev and Arabah, ENE of the monastery.
The "importance" of the above "updates" regarding the presence of quail in the southern Sinai is that until these discoveries, I once thought, along with other scholars like Professors Peet and Kraeling, that as the ONLY attested presence of quail in the Sinai was the Bardawil Lagoon near el Arish, thus the Exodus must have been across the northern Sinai and that the biblical narrator was "wrong" in stating the Quail landed "in the evening" (north-bound Spring quail do land in the evening), as the Autumn south-bound quail crossing the Mediterraneans sea, begin their flight just before nightfall, flying all night over the Mediterranean Sea, arriving on the Sinai's northern shore near El Arish and the Bardawil Lagoon at daybreak.
Professor Peet knew only of the northern Sinai landings of quail (p. 137. Egypt and the Old Testament. University Press of Liverpool Ltd. 1923). cf. his map no. 2 showing the Exodus route bypassing the south shore of the Bardawil Lagoon. Still later, Professor Kraeling agreed that quail alight ONLY in the El Arish area and thus a "northern Exodus" must have been "envisoned" by the biblical narrator (cf. p.107. "From the Sea Crossing to Sinai." Emil G. Kraeling. Rand McNally Bible Atlas. New York. Rand McNally & Company.1966).
Now that "my research" (I know of no other scholar offering "proofs" of quail alighting in the southern Sinai to bolster a southern Sinai Exodus route) has established that Spring migrating quail do indeed _alight_ at several locations in the southern Sinai, those advocates of a southern Exodus route will have some "fodder" for their cannons in _refuting proposals for a northern Exodus route_ skirting the Bardawil Lagoon (Bardawil being called Lake Sirbonis in Classical Greco-Roman sources). That is to say, NOW, they too can cite the presence of quail along a route into the southern Sinai, on the way to the traditional Gebel Musa near Saint Catherine's monastery - a Christian tradition held for over 1500 years. In summation, the biblical account appears to me, to be correct, quail do alight in the southern Sinai in the Spring, they alight in the evening and some people can die from eating these birds.
19 October 2005 Update:
The Bible informs us that after leaving Elim Israel enters the wilderness of Sin (Ex 16:1-22) where she encounters quail falling from the sky and manna. Bodenheimer, a trained Entomologist (a specialist in the study of insects), visited the Sinai in 1927 and studied the production of manna, called man in Arabic. He noted it was a sweet honey-dew-like excretion of insects associated most frequently with Tamarisk shrubs/trees in wadies extending from wadi al-Gharandal in the north to wadi Nasib in the south near St. Catherine's monastery. To the degree that some scholars have suggested Elim might be Wadi Gharandal, and the wilderness of Sin might be a location south of this wadi, I note that the above sightings of Spring quail from Ayun Musa to Wadi Gharandal to Ras Muhammed, appear to "align" with the manna's appearance as far north as Gharandal. Please click here for my article on manna for all the details. That is to say, the two phenomena of quail in the Spring and the appearance of manna suggest for me a southern Exodus route. The Bible has God bringing the quail FROM THE SEA (Nu 11:31-35) and the above locations: Ayun Musa, Wadi Gada and Ras Muhammed are near the Sea.
Although I have encountered innumerable statements in various Bible commentaries of the Exodus' quail being associated with the Autumn arrival of quail from southern Europe alighting exhausted on the N Sinai shore from El Arish to Egypt, STRANGELY ABSENT is any mention of these same "millions" alighting along the the N Sinai shoreline enroute north to S Europe in the Spring ! That is to say, how did the quail get from the Lakes region of Lower Africa to Europe ? If they land in large numbers in the N Sinai in the Spring why no mention of this ? Wouldn't the natives be egaer to catch them twice a year -Spring and Autumn- rather than just the Autumn? My studies, culled from bits and pieces of quail sightings on the internet suggest to me the N bound Spring quail alight in the S Sinai then head ENE across the Sinai for the Arabah south of the Dead Sea as well as the Negev and wadi Rum in Jordan then go due N to Turkey and south Russia.
22 October 2005 Update:
Just recently I received an e-mail from an individual who has pursued Orinthological studies for some 49 years. They noted that while serving in the southern Sinai as a United Nations peacekeeping soldier of a Finnish detachment, they sighted 3 quail (Coturnix coturnix) between Ras Abu Zenimeh and Serabit el Khadim towards the end of March and beginning of April in 1978. As noted earlier, some scholars have proposed that the wilderness of Sin where quail fell from the sky is the coastal plain south of Abu Zenimeh and west of Serabit el Khadim. So this sighting was in the very area associated by some with the wilderness of Sin. One of the problems in sighting north-bound Spring quail is that it is the habit of these birds to immediately seek sanctuary by hiding under local scrub, bushes and trees.
01 June 2003 (The "earlier" article of 2003):
Most commentaries on the Plague which afflicted Israel at Kib`roth-hatta`avah, understand that the "ingrates" or "GREEDY GLUTTONS" overate, or gorged themselves to death. If Yahweh sent his people "poisonous quail," this puts a "new dimension" on future biblical exegeis of this event
Mihelic on Israel's "overindugence" (Emphasis mine):
"Kibroth-Hattaavah, 'Graves of Craving or Appetite', Nu. 11:34; 33:16; Deut 9:22...The first stopping place of the Israelites after they left Sinai and before they came to Hazeroth. In their craving for flesh, the Israelites
OVERINDULGED IN EATING QUAILS, which a wind from the Lord had brought from the sea (Nu 11:31). As a result an epidemic broke out in which very many people died. The dead were buried on the spot, and these many graves gave the place its name. The place may perhaps be identified with Rueis el-Eberirij, which is about a ten hour journey by foot from Jebel Musa, the mountain generally identified with Sinai." (Vol.3. p. 9. J. L. Mihelic. "Kib`roth-Hattaavah." George A. Buttrick, Editor.The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Nashville. Abingdon Press. 1962)
The biblical narratives have God raining down flesh from the skies to feed his hungry people at two locations in the southern Sinai, the wilderness of Sin, before reaching Mount Sinai, and Kib`roth-hatta`avah, after leaving the mount -but, at Kib`roth-hatta`avah, while the flesh is still in their teeth, they die of plague for having angered God.
Psalm 78:26-31 RSV,
"He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he lead out the south wind; he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas; he let them fall in the midst of the camp, all around their habitations. and they ate and were filled, for he gave them what they craved. But before they had sated their craving, while the food was still in their mouths, the anger of God arose against them and he slew the strongest of them, and laid low the picked men of Israel."
Exodus 16:1-36 RSV
"They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came into the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and said to them, "Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger...And the Lord said to Moses, "I have heard the murmurings of the people of Israel, say to them at twilight you shall eat flesh...In the evening quails came up and covered the camp..."
Numbers 11:31-35, RSV
"And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and it brought quails from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and about two cubits above the face of the earth. And the people arose all that day, and all that night and all the next day, and gathered the quails; he who gathered least gathered ten homers; and they spread them out before themselves all around the camp. While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people with a very great plague. Therefore the name of that place was called Kib`roth-hatta`avah, because there they buried the people who had the craving."
Kib`roth-hatta`avah, means "Graves of Craving" (note f. p. 179. Nu:11:33. Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, editors. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Revised Standard Version. New York. Oxford University Press. 1977)
Note: Palmer suggested the site of Erweis el Ebeirig between Gebel Musa (Mt. Sinai) and Ain el Huderah (Hazeroth?) was Kibroth-hatta'avah. Please click here for his account of 1872 and accompanying map. However, Egeria, a Christian pilgrimess who visited Gebel Musa (Mt. Sinai) in the 5th century AD understood Kibroth-hatta'avah was to be associated with the stone-circle huts at the north end of Wadi er-Raha, today's Sheikh Awad, because her guides identified Paran with the Feiran Oasis and convent. Please click here for a map showing Sheikh Awad.
Are there any historical kernels here? Yes, there are.
European quail migrate south in the Autumn heading for sub-Sharan Africa. They fall from the skies, exhausted from their flight over the Mediterranean Sea, alighting on the shores of North Sinai near El Arish where natives trap them with nets. The Problem? Israel's Exodus from Egypt is in the Spring, NOT Autumn, and Israel is portrayed as being in the southern Sinai NOT the north.
The issue has been "partially" resolved.
The quail in the Spring fly north from Sub-Saharan Africa returning to southern Europe. Three major migratory flight ways have been established for these birds. One group in West Africa, flies over the Sahara desert headed for the Iberian peninsula, the second group flies over the Sahara headed for Italy. The third group leaves the Lake Country of East Africa and following the Nile, separates into two sub-groups in the vicinity of Egypt. One group goes due north across the Mediterranean Sea headed for Greece and the Balkans, the other flies over the Sinai, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and on to South Russia.
A strange phenomena has been observed about the European quail (C. Coturnix Coturnix), the northward bound quail, of the western group, when eaten, cause some people to die, or be afflicted with sharp pains in the bowels and extremities. The western group (West Africa) of north bound Spring quail ARE POISONOUS. Modern Nutritionists, studying this fact observed by man for some 2000 years, have concluded that some kind of seed eaten in Africa, evidently not harmful to the birds, is poisonous for Man. What is most remarkable is that the situation is REVERSED for the eastern group of quail. It is the south-bound birds, heading from Eastern Europe, for Africa, that ARE POISONOUS. So, the notion that some Israelites at Kibroth-Hatta`avah died of plague after having eaten the North-bound Spring quail (the Exodus being portrayed as occuring in the Spring) is NOT attested in the medical literature, where it is called COTURNISM, cf. the following url article by a Nutritionist, Professor Louis Grivetti of the University of California, Davis, titled "TOXIC QUAIL" for further details http://listproc.ucdavis.edu/class/200210/nut120b-f02/0018.html
Evidently, the Pentateuchal narrator is recalling real events. The north-bound Spring Quail which fly over the Sahara desert and land in Spain, Scotland and Italy can be "poisonous" for some people.
Professor Grivetti of the University of California, Davis (Emphasis mine):
"The term Coturnism was coined in 1977 by Samuel Bessman (Department of Pharmacology, University of Southern California) to signify human poisoning after eating European migratory quail. This term has gained recent acceptance in the cultural-medical literature...[the] study of this dietary-toxicological syndrome has attracted a wide range of ancient and modern writers...why is only the European quail toxic ?..The European sub-species (C. coturnix coturnix) common to Europe,North Africa and Western Asia, is potentially poisonous to Humans...Quail migrate twice yearly. The northward migration begins in Equatorial Africa and lasts from late Winter through Spring. Quail breed in European grain fields from late Spring through Summer, whereupon, they return to sub-Saharan Africa between August-October. While ornithologists describe the migration pattern as complicated, quail generally follow one of three major north-south flyways. Only the western and eastern passages, however, have been described in detail. The western flyway extends across West Africa, the western Sahara, northwest Africa and western Europe. This route is characterized by a difficult trans-Saharan crossing, but relatively easy passage over the narrow western Mediterranean. The central flyway is is not well described in the ornithological literature, but it includes a difficult trans-Sharan and Mediterranean crossing that begins in equatorial Africa and extends northward through western Libya and Tunisia and ultimately west-coastal Italy and west-central Europe.
The eastern flyway begins in the Great Lake region of East Africa and is characterized by a relatively easy northward flight along the Nile basin to Egypt, where the flyway splits into eastern and western components. The eastern sub-branch extends across Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey and terminates in the south-western Soviet Union. The western sub-branch crosses the Mediterranean at its broadest point and extends across mainland and insular Greece, where the quail ultimately breed in eastern Europe.
European quail are toxic only during migration. A basic enigma, however, remains to puzzle researchers: toxicity is seasonal and varies with different directions of flight. The birds are poisonous on the northward flight through portions of the western flyway, yet safe to consume on the southern, return migration. The pattern of Spring toxicity in the western flyway is reversed in the eastern flyway. There, quail are toxic during the southern, Autumn migration, but not during the northern, return flight in Spring." (Louis Grivetti. "Toxic Quail." University of California Davis. 2002)
"From August through October quail migrate to wintering grounds either north or south of the Sahara Desert; males usually precede females and fledglings (Moreau, 1951). The return migration northward to Eurasian breeding grounds commences in February and lasts through Spring (Lynes, 1909).
Migration demands an increased energy expenditure (Hartman, 1961; Moreau and Dolp 1970). Thus, in the manner of other migrating birds, quail undergo physiological preparation that begins with sharply augmented feed intake several months before departure.During such preparation quail body weight may increase as much as 50 percent. Fat stores accmulated during this pre-migratory phase result in large, plump quail that are sharply differentiated from species represenatatives at other times. It may also be noted that the quail's anatomical composition is not aerodynamically conducive to long migratory flights so coturnix use prevailing winds as a migratory aid. This use of wind, first noted by Aristotle (History of Animals, 597B:14-15), has been confirmed by modern orinithologists (Moreau, 1927B).
Should prevailing winds shift during migration, exhausted quail may be blown off course, or into the Mediterranean (Morris, 1870; Meinertzhangen, 1930). The ancient Romans believed that migrating quail descend on ships in such numbers that their weight could cause vessels to sink:
These birds [fly in a manner] not without considerable danger to mariners, when they come near the surface of the earth: for it happens that they settle on the sails of a ship, and that too always in the night: the consequence of which is, that the vessel often sinks (Pliny, Natural History, 10:33).
During southern migration in Summer quail characteristically approach the North African coast at dawn, attaining speeds between 50-90 km/hr (Lynes & Witherby, 1912). The birds descend from altiudes betwn 150-2000 meters until they fly barely one meter aove water; when land is underneath, the exhausted quail alight in a dazed condition (Lynes, 1909; Whymper, 1909). After a brief rest many quail resume migration. Others fall prey to hunters." (p.17 Bruce W. Kennedy an Louis Evan Grivetti. "Toxic Quail: A Cultural-Ecological Investigation of Coturnism." [pp.15-41] in Ecology of Food and Nutrition. 1980. Vol. 9. Gordon & Breach Science Publishers, Inc. 1980, printed in the United Kingdom)
Professor Grivetti describes the symptoms of poisoning, which vary from region to region, but are probably applicable to the symptoms Israel would have experienced at Kib`roth-hatta`avah. He also noted that probably not all the birds were poisonous, and that cases were reported where groups of individuals eating a stew made of these creatures, that some became sick and others had no ill-effect. Apparently an individual's physical constitution can determine if one will come down with physical ailments or not.
Grivetti on the symptoms of poisoning:
"Medical accounts reveal a basic commonality of symptoms seen in cases of coturnism, although there is variation by geographical region... Coturnism symptoms have been described in greatest detail in Greece, especially from cases encountered on the island of Lesbos where most intoxications have been reported. There, the symptoms reported by Ouzounellis (1968a; 1968b; 1970) and our interviews have noted: anuresis, myoglobinuria, vomiting, sharp muscular pains along the trunk and extremities graduating to paralysis in muscles recently used, reduced urinary output, elevated uric acid levels, respiratory distress, and death from kidney failure (uremia). Those poisoned describe the sensation as a "rolling" excruciating pain leading to paralysis, that begins in the lower legs and gradually progresses upward into the torso. Respondents claim that symptoms are more severe in adults than in children.
In the southwest former Soviet Union between the Black and Caspian Seas, symptoms described by Khovanskii (1954; 1957; 1964) include: general weakness in the legs, vomiting, sharp pains extending from the legs upward through the torso into the neck that last from 2-12 hours, followed by generalized pain and weakness that continues for 3-10 days. Fatalities from cardiac failure have been reported among the elderly of both sexes...Onset of of symptoms may be rapid or slow (1-20 hours) after ingestation of quail meat or foods fried in quail fat. Speed of onset is associated with severity of excercise/physical activity immediately preceeding consumption. Generalized weakness shifts to severe muscle pain, ultimately, paralysis. In the vast majority of cases paralysis receeds within 2-72 hours, followed by weakness, generalized pain, and recovery within 3-10 days. Deaths have been reported only among the elderly and attributed to heart or renal failure...Human poisoning by eating Europen migratory quail has been documented for at least 2500, probably 3500 years. The early hypothetical date stems from a biblical account in the book of Numbers where Israelite consumption of quail in the Sinai during the Exodus reportedly resulted in numerous deaths...coturnism certainly was known by the 4th century BC to ancient Greek and subsequently Roman Naturalists, physicians and theologians. Among the early writers describing quail poisoning or discusing the toxic attributes of quail are Aristotle (On Plants 820:6-7), Philo (Geoponics: 14: 24), Lucretius (On the Nature of Things: 4: 639-640), Philo (The Special Laws: 4: 120-131), Galen (De Temperamentis: 3:4) and Sextus Empiricus (Outlines of Pyrrhonism: 1: 57). Central to these ancient accounts is the thesis that quail became toxic to humans after consuming seeds from either hemlock (Conium maculatum) or henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)."
Grivetti noted that research has revealed that Hemlock or Henbane seeds ARE NOT the source of the toxicity in the birds. Cf. his article for the suspected toxic food source.
"The old world quail . . . a small, mottled brown game bird about 18 cm. (7 in.) long, is the only member of the [pheasant] subfamily . . . that is migratory. The routes of migration run from southern Europe, along the eastern Mediterranean coast, through the Sinai Peninsula, to Arabia or West Africa. The quails travel southward in the late summer and northward in early spring (the time of the Israelite Exodus from Egypt) . . . As recently as the early decades of the 20th century, migrating quails were killed by Egyptians at the rate of two million annually; in 1920 a kill of three million was recorded" (Vol. 4, pp. 4-5.The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Grand Rapids. Eerdmans.1988).
"Definitely at home, however, in the region along this shore is the story that a divinely sent wind brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp (Nu 11:31). We have in these words an accurate description of what happens when the seasonal migration of quail occurs- unfortunately for verisimilitude, however, in Autumn, not in Spring. The sea meant can only be the Mediterranean. The neighborhood of El Masa`id is the best spot on the coast for quail. They usually arrive at dawn, flying low and dropping exhausted on the shore. They rest there and then fly southwards, not alighting again anywhere in the Sinai Peninsula. They are caught by the thousands in nets nowadays by natives of el Arish and sold to European markets." (p.107. "From the Sea Crossing to Sinai." Emil G. Kraeling. Rand McNally Bible Atlas. New York. Rand McNally & Company.1966)
Professor Peet, a prominent Egyptologist who traveled the Southern Sinai wastes in 1917, to study the Egyptian inscriptions at the Hathor temple at Serabit el Khadim, had earlier come to the same conclusion, only the northern Sinai, near the sea, witnessed quail falling from the skies.
"Sir William Willcocks, in his From the Garden of Eden to the Crossing of the Jordan, p. 69, has rightly pointed out that the story of the quails shows that a northerly route was in the mind of the compiler of the narrative. These birds drop in thousands on the Mediterranean shore between Egypt and Palestine, exhausted with their long flight across the sea. Similar conditions are not found anywhere on the Gulf of Suez or the Red Sea
proper." (p.137. Note 1. "The Exodus." T. Eric Peet. Egypt and the Old Testament. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company. 1924; Earlier published in England: The University Press of Liverpool, Ltd. 1923)
It is worth noting here that the Autumn quail falling from the sky near the northern shores of the Sinai are not being brought down by a wind, but by exhaustion from the overnight crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. The Bible suggests that God caused a south and then an east wind to bring down quail from the sea (cf. above, Psalm 78:26-31). Spring quail ride a wind from the south as they migrate north. It would be the east wind which would bring them from the Gulf of Aqaba (perhaps they are migrating north from Ras Muhammed at the southernmost tip of the Sinai to the ports of Eilat and Aqaba following the Gulf of Aqaba?), dropping them into the camp at Kibroth-hatta'avah, a site apparently to the ENE of Mount Sinai (Gebel Musa or Ras Safsafeh?).
Professor Grivetti (communication of 02 June 2003):
"Let us consider your points in regard to direction of flight. Coturnix quail have never been documented poisonous on the northward flight in spring. The quail take off from equatorial Africa, fly/hopscotch up the great lake region of eastern Africa, the Sud, and Nile valley, with only very few traversing Sinai on the northern flight. The toxic direction is southward, after leaving central Europe and crossing the expanse of the Mediterranean, hitting some of the Greek islands, and then reaching landfall in an exhausted state, where the birds can be gathered by hand (or shot; or netted)....this is the only time that the quail land in Sinai, and they come sweeping down from southern Israel-Sinai-northern Egypt-northern Libya beginning in very late August, September. This is when they are toxic to some individuals. If a naturalistic explanation is considered, this migration pattern of the quail places the "Graves of Lust" site on the northern coast of Sinai - within several hundred meters of the sea: during the autumn migration, not the spring northward migration."
So, where are the "Miracles" in the Exodus story?
I understand that the story possesses "miracles." These "miracles," for me, are in the form of INVERSIONS or REVERSALS of Nature by God.
Inversion One: North-bound SPRING quail which are Non-poisonous are made
poisonous by Yahweh.
Inversion Two: Exhausted quail falling from sky occurs ONLY along the Mediterranean Sea's littoral or shoreline, from Egypt to El Arish and Gaza, according to Professors Peet, Kraeling, and Grivetti, whilst God is portrayed causing them to alight in TWO locations in the SOUTHERN SINAI _contra_ a northern Sinai touchdown.
Inversion Three: Instead of usually arriving at dawn, the narrator has the quail arriving in the evening, but note Pliny's statement that north bound Spring quail alight at night or evening, which "_aligns_" with the biblical account!
Inversion Four: Instead of the medically attested aged and infirm dying of eating poisonous quail, it is by Yahweh's power that the mighty men of warrior age, in the bloom of health, who drop like flies of plague with the flesh between their teeth.
Inversion Five: Death is immediate, before they have even finished eating the birds, whereas medical science allows several days to pass before onset of death.
These, then, are the INVERSION "Miracles" in the Exodus story! Please note, I am being "tongue-in-cheek" facetious here! I am a "secular humanist," a non-believer in the Bible being God's word. My interests are in determing what realities lie beneath the so-called "miracles." Apparently traditions existed of some people dying from eating quail, this was embellished _in my opinion_ into thousands of Israelites dying while the flesh was still between their teeth. That quail do alight in the southern Sinai, I have now proved (as of 15 Oct 2005), they were sighted on 23 March 1914 at Ayun Musa , "the wells of Moses" east of the port of Suez and to this very day they appear regularly at Wadi Abu G'ada, a headwater of Wadi Gharandal south of Ras al Sidr/Sudr. Scholars earlier quoted (and cf. below) in this article are simply WRONG that quail "never alight" in the southern Sinai, claiming they alight only in the Autumn in the northern Sinai (El Arish to Egypt along the shore of the Mediterranean sea).
A number of critical scholars have argued in the scholarly literature that Israel may have had originally the "beginning of the year" not in the Spring but in the Autumn. Professor David J. A. Clines, enumerates in considerable detail the clues scattered throughout a careful reading of the bible for an Autumnal new year being observed as late as Nehemiah's times. Cf. his article titled "Evidence for an Autumnal New Year in Pre-Exilic Israel Reconsidered" (published in On the Way to the Postmodern: Old Testament Essays 1967-1998. Vol. 1. pp. 3365-68. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, supplement 292. Sheffield, England. Sheffield Academic Press. 1998) at the following url-
Professor Clines in his conclusions favors a Spring New Year, presenting counter arguments for an Autumnal new year.
Professor Grivetti, noting a northern Exodus is favored by some biblical scholars, observed:
"Present knowledge of coturnism, its distribution and its history, permits an additional conclusion to be drawn. based on contemporary data of quail migration, direction, flyway patterns, and seasonality of flight, the Biblical account of quail poisoning in Sinai my reflect an actual event. If so, Israelites of the Exodus would have ben poisoned by quail during the months of August-October and the Israelite encampment mentioned in Numbers (11:31-34) would have been adjacent to the Meditrranean coast. The disease now called coturnism thus provides support for Biblical scholars who have argued for a northern Exodus route in contrast with the more widely held southern, tortuous passage." (p.57. Louis E. Grivetti. "Coturnism, Poisoning by European Migratory Quail." [pp.51-58]. E.F. Patrice Jelliffe & Derrick B. Jelliffe, editors. Adverse Effects of Foods.)
Kraeling's El Masa`id (1966) is eleven kilometers west of El Arish (cf. map titled El Arish. 1:250,000 Sheet NH 36-3, 1972). The "way of the Philistines" from Egypt's eastern delta passes near El Masa`id.. The 4th/5th century AD Pilgrimess Egeria apparently located Kib`roth-hatta`avah at the mouth of a great valley from which, in the distance could be seen Mount Sinai. Her description suggests the site is to be identified with the Early Bronze II settlement near Sheik Awad, north of Nagb/Naqb Hawa, "the pass of the wind," (God causes two winds, an east wind and a south wind to cause the quail to alight, cf. Ps 78:26-31, above) at the north end of Wadi er-Raha whose south end is the great plain of er-Raha, below the slopes of Ras Safsafa and Gebel Musa (Arabic Musa is Hebrew Moshe, English Moses). Sheikh Awad and Nagb Hawa lie below the eastern slopes of Gebel Haweiti, might Haweiti preserve Hatta whilst avah is preserved in Awad or Hawa ? That is, two nearby locations were transformed into Hebrew words ? Israel broke camp at Mount Sinai and was headed for the wilderness of Paran when the miracle of the quail occured at Kib`roth-hatta`avah (Nu 10:12). Might the Wilderness of Paran be Wadi Feiran and its drainage basin ? Sheikh Awad and its Early Bronze II settlement lie in this drainage basin (cf. map titled Feiran. Survey of Egypt. Southern Sinai. 1:100,000 1934).
In her account she mentions stopping again at Kib`roth-hatta`avah enroute from Mount Sinai to Paran (the modern Feiran Oasis), which also possesses Early Bronze II settlements. Her guides apparently thought the Early Bronze II settlements in the Southern Sinai were Israel's encampments. Israeli archaeologists in their surveys of the Southern Sinai have remarked about the heavy concentration of Early Bronze II settlements, traced to a penetration from Arad in the Negev, by copper miners. To date NO Late Bronze Age settlements have been found at Feiran or Gebel Musa (the traditional Mount Sinai), the period that most scholars associate the Exodus with, preferring Exodus dates of 1540, 1446, 1260 and 1175 BCE.
Update 17 June 2003
The following article found on the Internet, gives a physician's report regarding "quail poisoning" in Greece of an elderly man-
Acute Rhabdomyolysis Following Quail Consumption
Ioannis S. Papanikolaou, MD; Spyros P. Dourakis, MD;
Vassilios S. Papadimitropoulos, MD; Stefanos J. Hadziyannis, PhD
The syndrome of acute rhabdomyolysis develops when damage to striated muscles occurs. Muscle damage is usually attributed to toxic, ischemic, infectious, inflammatory or metabolic insults, as well as to direct muscle injury.1 A rarely reported cause of this syndrome is food poisoning due to the consumption of the European migratory quail (coturnism).2,3 We report the case of a 60-year-old male who was admitted to hospital due to acute rhabdomyolysis occurring a few hours after quail consumption.
A 60-year-old man, having experienced muscular pain in the lumbar region and extremities for 6 hours, was admitted to hospital. The patient reported no exercise or trauma and was afebrile both on and before admission. He reported that 6 hours prior to the onset of symptoms, he had consumed quail, which had been shot in a rural area near Athens the previous autumn (5 months earlier) and stored in a deep freezer. The patient, a resident of the Athens district, had had an 80-pack per year history of tobacco smoking, but had abstained from smoking during the previous 8 months, and he denied any alcohol abuse. His family history was unremarkable. Except for tenderness of the proximal muscles of the extremities, physical examination was unrevealing. Laboratory values included an elevated white blood cell count at 19,230/mm3 (with a differential count of 91% neutrophils, 6% lymphocytes and 6% monocytes). Serum lactate dehydrogenase was 741 IU/L (normal 120-230), creatine kinase 35,650 IU/L (normal 25-190), creatine kinase-MB isoenzyme 514 IU/L (normal <12% of total creatine kinase), aspartate aminotransferase 770 IU/L (normal 10-40), alanine aminotransferase 209 IU/L (normal 10-40), fibrinogen 510 mg/dL (normal 200-400), serum aldolase 56 IU/L (normal 0-8) and serum and urine myoglobin 4500 µg/L (normal 0-70) and 35,100 µg/L (normal 0-70), respectively. Serum protein electrophoresis demonstrated a slight elevation of a2-globulin. All other results, including complete blood count, blood chemistry,
From the Academic Department of Medicine, Hippokration General Hospital, University of Athens, Greece.
Address reprint requests and correspondence to Dr. Dourakis: 28 Achaias St., GR 115 23, Athens, Greece.
Accepted for publication 21 May 2001. Received 10 February 2001.
Coagulation studies, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, serum haptoglobin, serum immunoglobulin levels, serologic tests for HIV, Toxoplasma gondii, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus type 1 and 2, Epstein-Barr virus and trichinosis, were negative or normal. Arterial blood gas values were normal. The urine was a reddish-brown color and urinalysis revealed proteinuria (>300 mg/dL). The benzidine test for hemoglobin was positive (++++) and the sediment was otherwise normal. Chest x-ray and electrocardiograph were normal and abdominal ultrasonography was unremarkable. Based on a review of the patient's history, clinical findings and laboratory abnormalities, a diagnosis of acute rhabdomyolysis, caused by the consumption of quail, was made. The patient was treated symptomatically with normal saline intravenous administration (3 liters daily) and urine alkalization. The latter was achieved with intravenous administration of sodium bicarbonate, as well as orally administered acetazolamide tablets and was documented with daily measurements of urine pH. These measures resulted in the disappearance of muscular pain and the normalization of urine color on the 2nd day of hospitalization; muscle enzymes gradually decreased to normal levels over a period of 21 days.
Acute rhabdomyolysis is a syndrome resulting from damage to striated muscle, usually due to toxic, ischemic, infectious, inflammatory or metabolic insults, as well as to direct muscle injury.1 A rarely reported cause of this syndrome is food poisoning due to the consumption of the European migratory quail (coturnism).2 Coturnism has been known since ancient times and was first described in the Bible.1-3 It has been observed in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East, especially Algeria, North Africa, southern France, the Sinai peninsula and Greece.2-4 The true extent of the syndrome is unknown, however, as many cases probably remain undiagnosed. Clinical manifestations include pain in muscles previously exerted during physical activity, muscular cramps and autonomic dysfunction occurring shortly (1.5-10 hours) after the consumption of quail and usually lasting 1-2 days.2 Laboratory tests reveal increased levels in serum muscle enzymes, which usually return to normal values within 1-2 weeks, and myoglobinuria, which is responsible for the reddish-browndiscoloration of urine.2 Due to myoglobinuria, coturnism may be complicated by shock and acute renal failure; the latter may be extremely severe, necessitating dialysis.3
Our patient presented clinical and laboratory manifestations of acute rhabdomyolysis 6 hours following the ingestion of quail. The usual causes of rhabdomyolysis were excluded. It has been suggested that a toxic effect (perhaps the previous consumption of hemlock seeds by the quail) or a genetic sensitivity (a hereditary enzyme deficiency) may be the pathogenic basis of coturnism.2 However, Kennedy and Grivetti4 have convincingly ruled out the previously widely held view concerning the toxic alkaloid conine, contained in hemlock seeds consumed by the quail, as the responsible pathogenic factor. On the other hand, our patient's own and his family's history were unremarkable with regard to this syndrome; also, his origin was completely unrelated to the island of Lesvos (the only place in Greece where coturnism has been known to occur).2,3 The genetic, epidemiological and biochemicalcharacteristics of coturnism have not yet been elucidated and firm experimental data remain to be documented.2,5
Our case exemplifies that coturnism is a rare cause of acute rhabdomyolysis, but with a good prognosis, provided there is timely recognition and treatment, thus obviating severe complications.
1. Gabow P, Kaehny W, Kelleher S. The spectrum of rhabdomyolysis. Medicine 1982;61:141-52.
2. Papadimitriou A, Hadjigeorgiou GM, Tsairis P, Papadimitriou E, Ouzounelli C, Ouzounellis T. Myoglobinuria due to quail poisoning. Eur Neurol 1996;36:142-5.
3. Billis AG, Kastanakis S, Giamarellou H, Daikos GK. Acute renal failure after a meal of quail (letter). Lancet 1971;ii:702.
4. Kennedy WB, Grivetti EL. Toxic quail: a cultural-etiological investigation of coturnism. Ecol Food Nutr 1980;9:15-42.
5. Papapetropoulos T, Hadziyannis SJ, Ouzounellis T. On the pathogenic mechanism of quail myopathy. JAMA 1980;244:2263-4.
The "plague" that struck down Israel after eating quail at Kibroth-hatta'avah was apparently different from the plague which struck down the Egyptians on Passover night. Please click here for my article identifying "the nature" of the Passover plague; it was a common reoccurring phenomenon called "Egyptian Spring Plague" (Bubonic Plague) and some Egyptians fled to the Sinai in the Spring to avoid contracting it, returning to Egypt in the Summer when it was over.
Below, Egyptian quail being raised in captivity in Egypt for commercial poultry sales to local restaurants:
Below an account of the Sinai Quail from Wood's Bible Animals, 1875:
"In one or two parts of the Old Testament is found a word which has been translated in the Authorized Version of the Bible as Quail.
The word is selâv, and in every case where it is mentioned it is used with reference to the same occurrence; namely, the providing of flesh-meat in the wilderness, where the people could find no food. As the passages remarkably bear upon each other it will be advisable to quote them in the order in which they come.
The first mention of the Selâv occurs in Exod. xvi. Only a few days after the Israelites had passed the Red Sea, they began to complain of the desert land into which Moses had led them, and openly said that they wished they had never left the land of their slavery, where they had plenty to eat. According to His custom, pitying their narrow-minded and short-sighted folly, the natural result of the long servitude to which they had been subject, the Lord promised to send both bread and flesh-meat.
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
"I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel speak unto them, saying, At even ye shall eat flesh, and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread; and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God.
"And it came to pass, that at even the quails came up, and covered the camp" (ver. 11-13).
The next passage records a similar circumstance, which occurred about a year afterwards, when the Israelites were tired of eating nothing but the manna, and again wished themselves back in Egypt. "And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.
"And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers; and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp" (Numb. xi. 31, 32).
The last passage in which Quails are mentioned occurs in the Psalms. In Ps. cv. are enumerated the various wonders done on behalf of the Israelites, and among them is specially mentioned this gift of the Quails and manna. "The people asked, and He brought quails, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven" (ver. 40).
We now have to ask ourselves what the word selâv really means. Some commentators have thought that it signified a species of locust, insects which travel in vast multitudes, and are always carried with the wind, thus agreeing with the statement that the Selavim were brought by the wind. Others have imagined that the Selavim were flying-fish, blown on shore as they rose from the sea after their fashion. Putting aside other reasons against these interpretations, the Psalms contain a passage which effectually contradicts them, and proves that the Selâv was a bird of some kind.
"He had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
"And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
"Man did eat angels' food: He sent them meat to the full.
"He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven; and by His power He brought in the south wind.
"He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea" (Ps. lxxviii. 23-27).
From this passage it is evident that the Selavim which were sent together with the manna were birds of some kind— "fowls of wing," according to the literal sense of the Hebrew; so that the theory that they were insects or fish must he dismissed as untenable. The question now remains, with what species of bird are we to identify the Selâv?
Respecting this question, there has been great discussion, chiefly arising from the fact that the various commentators endeavoured to show that the Selâv was not the Quail, but some other bird. Some, for example, take it to be the white stork, which is very plentiful in Palestine, and sometimes flies in such numbers that the sky is darkened as the winged host passes by. They base this supposition on the stature of the bird, which is so tall that it stands about "two cubits high upon the face of the earth." So it does, but this is a very insufficient reason for translating the word selâv as "stork."
In the first place, the words "as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth" certainly do not refer to the stature of the individual birds. They are popularly taken to signify that the earth was covered with the bodies of the Selavim to the depth of three feet.
This, however, can hardly have been the fact, as in that case they would have utterly overwhelmed the whole camp, and crushed the tents by their weight. Moreover, there would have been no need of gathering them up, as they would have lain so thickly on the ground that the only trouble would have been to make a passage through them. It is not very easy to force a passage through snow a yard in depth, while to do so through the same depth of birds would have been almost impossible.
Neither could the Israelites have "spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp." If the Selavim lay to the depth of a yard "as it were a day's journey on this side, and a day's journey on the other side of the camp," i.e. some eight or ten miles all round it, there would have been no space whereon the birds could have been spread. The sentence in question has a totally different signification, and refers to the height from the ground at which the birds fly. Taken in this sense, the whole passage falls into harmony, whereas in any other it involves a difficulty.
If the ordinary interpretation of selâv by "Quail" be accepted, the description is exactly correct. The Quails fly in vast flocks, and, being weak-winged birds, never fly against the direction of the wind. They will wait for days until the wind blows in the required direction, and will then take wing in countless multitudes; so that in an hour or two a spot on which not a Quail could be seen is covered with them.
On account of their short wings, they never rise to any great height, even when crossing the sea, while on land they fly at a very low elevation, merely skimming over the ground, barely a yard or "two cubits high upon the face of the earth." We may now see how needless it is to attribute the two cubits to the stature of the bird, or to the depth at which they lay on the ground.
There are other reasons why the Selâv could not be any species of stork. In the first place, all the stork tribe are included among the list of unclean birds, and it is not likely that the Almighty would have neutralized His own edicts by providing food which the Israelites were forbidden to eat. In the next place, even had the flesh of the stork been lawful, it is of so unpleasant a nature that the people could not have eaten it. For similar reasons we may dismiss the theories which consider the Selâv to be a goose or water-fowl of any kind.
Some persons have thought that the sand-grouse is the Selâv. In the first place, the flesh of this bird is hard, tasteless, and disliked by those who have tried it; so that the Israelites would not have been tempted to eat it. In the next, it is a strong-winged and swift-footed bird, and would not have satisfied the required conditions. It flies high in the air, instead of merely skimming over the ground, and when it alights is fresh and active, and cannot easily be caught. The Quail, on the contrary, after it has flown for any distance, is so completely tired out that when it alights it crouches to the earth, and will allow itself to be picked up by hand. It has even been trodden to death under a horse's feet.
Moreover, the flesh of the Quail is peculiarly excellent, and would be a great temptation to men who had passed so long a time without eating animal food. Another corroboration of the identity of the Quail and the Selâv is to be found in the mode in which the flesh is prepared at the present day. As soon as the birds have arrived, they are captured in vast multitudes, on account of their weariness. Many are consumed at once, but great numbers are preserved for future use by being split and laid out to dry in the sun, precisely as the Israelites are said to have spread out the Selavim "all abroad for themselves round about the camp."
It is rather remarkable that the Arabs of the present day use a word almost exactly resembling selâv to represent the Quail. The word is salwa, given by one of the older writers on the subject as selaw.
Accepting, therefore, the Selâv and Quail to be identical, we may proceed to the description of the bird.
It is small, plump, and round-bodied, with the head set closely on the shoulders. Owing to this peculiarity of form, it has its Arab name, which signifies plumpness or fatness. The wings are pressed closely to the body, and the tail is pointed, very short, and directed downwards, so that it almost appears to be absent, and the bird seems to be even more plump than really is the case.
Several modes of capturing these birds are still practised in the East, and were probably employed, not only on the two occasions mentioned in Exodus and Numbers, but on many others of which the Scriptural narrative takes no notice. One very simple plan is, for the hunters to select a spot on which the birds are assembled, and to ride or walk round them in a large circle, or rather in a constantly diminishing spiral. The birds are by this process driven closer and closer together, until at the last they are packed in such masses that a net can be thrown over them, and a great number captured in it.
Sometimes a party of hunters unite to take the Quails, and employ a similar manoeuvre, except that, instead of merely walking round the Quails, they approach simultaneously from opposite points, and then circle round them until the birds are supposed to be sufficiently packed. At a given signal they all converge upon the terrified birds, and take them by thousands at a time.
In Northern Africa these birds are captured in a very similar fashion. As soon as notice is given that a flight of Quails has settled, all the men of the village turn out with their great burnouses or cloaks. Making choice of some spot as a centre, where a quantity of brushwood grows or is laid down, the men surround it on all sides, and move slowly towards it, spreading their cloaks in their outstretched hands, and flapping them like the wings of huge birds. Indeed, when a man is seen from a little distance performing this act, he looks more like a huge bat than a human being.
As the men gradually converge upon the brushwood, the Quails naturally run towards it for shelter, and at last they all creep under the treacherous shade. Still holding their outspread cloaks in their extended hands, the hunters suddenly run to the brushwood, fling their cloaks over it, and so enclose the birds in a trap from which they cannot escape. Much care is required in this method of hunting, lest the birds should take to flight, and so escape. The circle is therefore made of very great size, and the men who compose it advance so slowly that the Quails prefer to use their legs rather than their wings, and do not think of flight until their enemies are so close upon them that their safest course appears to be to take refuge in the brush wood.
Boys catch the Quails in various traps and springes, the most ingenious of which is a kind of trap, the door of which overbalances itself by the weight of the bird.
By reason of the colour of the Quail, and its inveterate habit of keeping close to the ground, it easily escapes observation, and even the most practised eye can scarcely distinguish a single bird, though there may be hundreds within a very small compass. Fortunately for the hunters, and unfortunately for itself, it betrays itself by its shrill whistling note, which it frequently emits, and which is so peculiar that it will at once direct the hunter to his prey.
This note is at the same time the call of the male to the female and a challenge to its own sex. Like all the birds of its group, the Quail is very combative, and generally fights a battle for the possession of each of its many mates. It is not gifted with such weapons of offence as some of its kinsfolk, but it is none the less quarrelsome, and fights in its own way as desperately as the game-cock of our own country.
Indeed, in the East, it is used for exactly the same purpose as the game-cock. Battles between birds and beasts, not to say men, are the common amusement with Oriental potentates, and, when they are tired of watching the combats of the larger animals, they have Quail-fights in their own chambers. The birds are selected for this purpose, and are intentionally furnished with stimulating food, so as to render them even more quarrelsome than they would be by nature. Partridges are employed for the same cruel purpose; and as both these birds are easily obtained, and are very pugnacious, they are especially suited for the sport.
Two passages occur in the Scriptures which exactly explain the mode in which the Quails were sent to the Israelites. The first is in Ps. lxxviii. 26. The Psalmist mentions that the Lord "caused an east wind to blow in the heaven, and by His power He brought in the south wind." Here, on examining the geographical position of the Israelites, we see exactly how the south-east wind would bring the Quails.
The Israelites had just passed the Red Sea, and had begun to experience a foretaste of the privations which they were to expect in the desert through which they had to pass. Passing northwards in their usual migrations, the birds would come to the coast of the Red Sea, and there would wait until a favourable wind enabled then to cross the water. The south-east wind afforded them just the very assistance which they needed, and they would naturally take advantage of it.
It is remarkable how closely the Scriptural narrative agrees with the habits of the Quail, the various passages, when coinpared together, precisely coinciding with the character of the bird. In Exod. xvi. 13 it is mentioned that "at even the quails came up and covered the camp." Nocturnal flight is one of the characteristics of the Quail. When possible, they invariably fly by night, and in this manner escape many of the foes which would make great havoc among their helpless columns if they were to fly by day.
The identity of the Selâv with the common Quail is now seen to be established. In the first place, we have the name still surviving in the Arabic language. Next, the various details of the Scriptural narrative point so conclusively to the bird, that even if we were to put aside the etymological corroboration, we could have but little doubt on the subject. There is not a detail which is not correct. The gregarious instinct of the bird, which induces it to congregate in vast numbers; its habit of migration its inability to fly against the wind, and the necessity for it to await a favourable breeze; its practice of flying by night, and its custom of merely skimming over the surface of the ground; the ease with which it is captured; the mode of preserving by drying in the sun, and the proverbial delicacy of its flesh, are characteristics which all unite in the Quail."
Coastal El Masa`id west of El Arish is one of the "best" locations in the Sinai for Quail migrating from southern Europe to alight, but it is not the "only" location. Quail alight along the Medterranean Sea's littoral or shoreline from Egypt to Gaza. The Hyksos who were expelled from Egypt ca. 1540 BCE, may have returned to Canaan via "The Way of Horus," the biblical "Way of the Philistines," the track following the Mediterranean Sea's shoreline, and would have encountered quail if the Hyksos expulsion occured in the Autumn.
Below, a map (1976) showing coastal Masa'id west of El Arish where quail alight in large numbers.