The Urantia Book Fellowship

Israel Seismic Activity Since The Times Of Jesus

Condensed from an extensive catalog appearing in the winter 1994 issue of Israel Exploration Journal by D.H.K. Amiran, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and E. Arieh, The Institute for Petroleum Research and Geophysics, Holon Israel

Any attempt to interpret or understand present-day archaeological ruins in Israel relative to the times of Jesus must take into consideration not only the destruction wrought by warfare, but that resulting from the significant seismic activity in the region over the intervening centuries.

Looking at a topographical map of Palestine reveals a deep cleavage running through the region from the Dead Sea, north through the Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee and on to the north. (This rift zone actually begins far south on the African continent). This is a zone of intense seismic activity. Along this zone are numerous volcanoes and hot springs. The geologic stresses of the region can easily be seen in the radically folded strata exposed in the hills around Jericho. Major earthquakes in the region have repeatedly brought to a sudden end activities in what had been thriving economic and industrial towns.

In addition, these seismic events have altered the course of waterways such as the Jordan river, relocated springs, and led to the reconstruction of villages on top of or adjacent to earthquake-produced rubble. These events force caution in locating sites today on the basis of first century descriptions of the location of springs and rivers. For example, the Urantia Book description of the location of the River Jordan relative to the city of Pella is difficult to reconcile with today's location of the river. This river may have changed its course substantially over the intervening two thousand years.

An understanding of the times at which these major events took place can help with the dating of structures found at these sites. Of particular interest is the dating of the synagogue at Capernaum -- was this synagogue rebuilt after the earthquake of 363 using some of the same materials from the one in which Jesus spoke? This earthquake of 363 and the one of 749 had a major impact on many of the sites where the drama of Jesus' life was enacted.

In addition to earthquakes, there have been severe tsunamis on the Mediterranean coast and occassions on which destructive waves (seiches) have developed in the Sea of Galilee and in the Dead Sea. Following is a list of major events which have altered some of the sites which are of interest to readers of The Urantia Book. This information is taken from an extensive catalog which appears in the winter 1994 issue of Israel Exploration Journal.

  • 64 BC Strong earthquake in Jerusalem; damage to temple and city walls
  • 31 BC Severe earthquake in Galilee and Judea. Josephus reports "30,000 people and many animals killed in Judea"—serious damage at Jericho, Qumran and Masada.
  • 30 AD, 33 AD Slight damage in Jerusalem
  • 115 AD Destructive earthquake in Syria; possible tidal wave damage at Caesarea.
  • 306 AD Destructive earthquake in Palestine; tsunami at Caesarea, destruction at Jerusalem.
  • 363 AD Severe earthquake affecting most of Palestine and Jordan; Severe damage at Caesarea Philippi, Capernaum, Tiberias, Gadara, Sepphoris, Scythopolis, Sebaste, Gophnia, Jerusalem, Caesarea, Ptolmais, and Petra of the Nabataeans.
  • 419 AD Moderate to severe earthquake in Palestine; Many towns and villages destroyed; Antipatris destroyed; severe damage in Jerusalem.
  • 447 AD Thermal baths at Gadara destroyed; many people killed.
  • 631 or 632 AD Earthquake in Palestine with aftershocks continuing for 30 days; widespread destruction.
  • 749 AD Severe earthquake in Palestine; tens of thousands of deaths. Capernaum destroyed. Susita destroyed. Great destruction in Tiberias. Gadara thermal baths completely destroyed. Severe damage at Pella, Scythopolis and Jerusalem. Many of the greatest buildings in Jerash destroyed. Great destruction at Philadelphia. Tsunami on Mediterranean coast. Seiche in the Dead Sea.
  • 1033 AD Swarm of severe earthquakes centered in the Jordan Valley which continued for some 40 days. Felt from Syria to Egypt and in the Negev. Much damage and loss of life in Ptolmais -- port reported to have gone dry for an hour before onset of destructive tsunami. Much destruction in Judea; damage to walls of Jerusalem; Much destruction at Tiberias. Jericho destroyed. Much damage at Hebron.
  • 1182 AD Galilee and Judea; moderate to severe.
  • 1202 AD Severe earthquake felt from Syria to Egypt. Severe damage in Caesarea Philippi, Scythopolis, Jerusalem, 'Sechem completely ruined', severe tsunami on Levant coast apparently causing serious damage at Ptolmais.
  • 1546 AD Severe earthquake in Palestine; hundreds killed; flow of Jordan river stopped for two days by a landslide; tsunami on Mediterranean coast from Ptolmais south to Gaza. The Mediterranean receded "a long day's walk"; seiche in the Dead Sea.
  • 1759 AD Severe earthquake affecting most of Palestine and Syria; between 10,000 and 40,000 people killed; severe damage at Nazareth; walls of Tiberias collapsed; seiche on the Sea of Galilee; tsunami at Ptolmais flooding city streets to a depth of 2 meters and throwing ships onto the shore.
  • 1837 AD Severe earthquake with epicenter near Safed. Many thousands of deaths with entire towns destroyed. Rockfalls at Caesarea Philippi; 28% of the population of Tiberias killed -- city walls destroyed; seiche swept shores of Sea of Galilee killing many people. Moderate damage at Nazareth, Bethlehem, Hebron and Jerusalem.
  • 1927 AD Destructive earthquake with 250-500 casualties; flow of Jordan river stopped for 21 1/2 hours by landslides; seiches in northern basin of Dead Sea.
  • 1943 AD Strong earthquake throughout Palestine -- 1943 and 1927 earthquakes strongest in region during 20th century.

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