Problem: God sends too many quail to the Israelites
Verses: Numbers 11:31-32; Status: Minor

This is Numbers 11:31-32:

Then a wind from the Lord sprang up, and it brought quail 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, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground. And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers. And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. (ESV)

This isn't the happy event it appears to be; everyone who eats the quail gets plague. Anyway, there's a problem with the sheer number of quail this story involves. It seems the quail are spread over a circle around the camp, with so many that they are piled up about 0.9 meters high. If we conservatively estimate a day's journey to be 8 hours' walk at 5 kilometers per hour, the volume of quail is about 4,500,000,000 cubic meters. Even loosely packed, the number of quail is getting into the trillions. There does seem to be an implausibly large population of quail in the area.

Still. This is one of those miraculous events that occur in the Bible from time to time. One can't really say it's impossible, since if an omnipotent God is actively participating in events, anything is possible. Thus, any number of quail could be created out of thin air, although the story seems to imply that the quail were naturally present on or above the sea.

It's also a completely excessive number given what God is actually trying to do. I can't help but feel that this story is either fictional or greatly exaggerated, and the author simply didn't think it through properly.

I am grateful to Cillian Murphy for suggesting this issue.

Updated: 2012-05-11

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