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Amos and the Earthquake

Remains of tools discovered in Jerusalem’s City of David within a layer of destruction from the 8th century BCE, which coincided with a massive earthquake mentioned in the Bible. The tools were likely shattered during the quake. (Eliyahu Yanai/ City of David)

by Trent Dee Stephens, PhD, for the Come Follow Me lesson November 14-20: Amos; Obadiah

We read in Amos 1:1, “The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.” The earthquake? Aren’t there lots of earthquakes in the Middle East?

The Lloyd’s [of London] ‘Middle East earthquake’ project team, led by Trevor Maynard, stated in 2017,

“The Middle East has a history of earthquake activity. Between 1900 and 2014, the region has been affected by 200 moderate to large earthquakes [roughly one every six months]. These have killed almost 250,000 people and affected 10 million others. Today, almost a fifth of the population (about 30 million people) in the countries covered by the model in this report is at risk from earthquakes. TheLloyd’s City Risk Index estimates that US$85 billion of potential economic output ofthe region’s 22 leading cities could be at risk from earthquakes over the next decade.” (lloyds.com/assets/pdf-risk-reports-seismic-shock-a-new-earthquake-model-for-the-middle-east-2017)

Yet, with earthquakes occurring approximately once every six months, how/why did Amos prophesy the earthquake two years before the “big one” occurred? We are told on the Michigan Tech website (mtu.edu/geo/community/seismology/learn/earthquake-measure),

“Magnitudes are based on a logarithmic scale (base 10) [based on the Richter scale, developed by Charles F. Richter in 1934]. What this means is that for each whole number you go up on the magnitude scale, the amplitude of the ground motion recorded by a seismograph goes up ten times. Using this scale, a magnitude 5 earthquake would result in ten times the level of ground shaking as a magnitude 4 earthquake (and about 32 times as much energy would be released). To give you an idea how these numbers can add up, think of it in terms of the energy released by explosives: a magnitude 1 seismic wave releases as much energy as blowing up 6 ounces of TNT. A magnitude 8 earthquake releases as much energy as detonating 6 million tons of TNT…The largest recorded earthquake occurred along the subduction zone in Chile in 1960. It was a magnitude 9.5 but larger earthquakes may be possible.”

In 2000, Steven Austin and colleagues published a paper entitled, “Amos's Earthquake: An Extraordinary Middle East Seismic Event of 750 B.C.” in the International Geology Review. (Steven A. Austin, Gordon W. Franz & Eric G. Frost, Amos's Earthquake: An Extraordinary Middle East Seismic Event of 750 B.C., International Geology Review, 42:7, 657-671, 2000) They stated in their abstract,

“Widely separated archaeological excavations in Israel and Jordan contain late Iron Age (Iron IIb) architecture bearing evidence of a great earthquake. Masonry walls best display the earthquake, especially walls with broken ashlars, walls with displaced rows of stones, walls still standing but leaning or bowed, and walls collapsed with large sections still lying course-on-course. Debris at six sites (Hazor, Deir ‘Alia, Gezer, Lachish, Tell Judeideh, and ‘En Haseva) is tightly confined stratigraphically to the middle of the eighth century B.C., with dating errors of ∼30 years. Biblical and post-biblical sources indicate a single, regionally extensive earthquake in the year 750 B.C. The epicenter was north of present-day Israel, probably in Lebanon, as indicated by the southward decrease in degree of damage at sites in Israel and Jordan. A large area of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah was shaken at Modified Mercalli Intensity 9 or higher. The distance from the epicenter (north of Israel) to isoseismal VIII (south of Israel) was at least 175 km, but could have been as much as 300 km. The earthquake was at least magnitude 7.8, but likely was 8.2, the magnitude being estimated by scaling of isoseismal radii relative to smaller historic earthquakes in Israel and Lebanon. The M1 ≍ 8.2 event of 750 B.C. appears to be the largest yet documented on the Dead Sea transform fault during the last four millennia. This severe geologic disaster has been linked historically to a speech delivered at the city of Bethel by a shepherd-farmer named Amos of Tekoa. Amos's earthquake was synchronous with the introduction of ‘seismic theophany’ imagery into Hebrew literature, with the appearance of the ‘Day of the Lord’ eschatological motif, and with the explosive emergence of ‘writing prophets’ in Israel.”

It appears, from this and other scientific reports, that archaeology has confirmed the massive earthquake about which Amos and other prophets warned the people of Israel and adjoining countries. The Wikipedia list of earthquakes includes only six earthquakes worldwide over magnitude 8.0 since 1948. None of them occurred in the Middle East. The earthquake predicted by Amos, and later referred to by the prophet Zechariah and Jewish historian Josephus, was certainly one of Biblical proportion.

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