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Jewish War Quake

[68 CE]

by Jefferson Williams









Introduction & Summary

In the midst of the first Jewish War against Rome in 68 CE, Jewish Historian Josephus described a storm in Jerusalem that thundered through the night creating percussions which he wrote was being in an earthquake. The text seems to suggest that the bellowings of the earth were due to a storm. However, because paleoseismic evidence at En Feshka matches well with this date (68 CE), it is included in this catalog even though it is likely a false event. This earthquake is not listed in any prior catalog

Textual Evidence

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
The Jewish War by Josephus Greek, possibly translated from an earlier version in Aramaic
Biography

Josephus was born in Jerusalem to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed Royal Hasmonean Ancestry. He was the head of the Jewish forces in Galilee fighting the Romans in the first Jewish War when under an elaborate set of circumstances, he switched sides and ended up helping the Romans with intelligence. As such, he was an eyewitness to the War and the final siege of Jerusalem along with the destruction of the Second Temple. He was granted Roman citizenship during the war and had close ties to the Flavian Dynasty.

Jewish about 75 CE Rome
Account

Josephus discusses a storm in Jerusalem that thundered through the night creating percussions which he describes as being in an earthquake. The text seems to suggest that the bellowings of the earth were due to a storm. His use of the word σειομένης (seismos) is translated as shaking, earthquake, or storm here and here. Thus, there is doubt whether Josephus intended to relate shaking from a storm as if an earthquake or shaking due to an earthquake. As Josephus was an eyewitness to many of the events of this time, the date for this event is well fixed at 68 CE. However, the text seems to suggest that Josephus was describing rumblings from a violent storm and/or describing a portent of future disaster.

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
The Jewish War by Josephus

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

Josephus was born in Jerusalem to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed Royal Hasmonean Ancestry. He was the head of the Jewish forces in Galilee fighting the Romans in the first Jewish War when under an elaborate set of circumstances, he switched sides and ended up helping the Romans with intelligence. As such, he was an eyewitness to the War and the final siege of Jerusalem along with the destruction of the Second Temple. He was granted Roman citizenship during the war and had close ties to the Flavian Dynasty.

Excerpts
English translation of The Jewish War Book IV Ch 4 Paragraph 5 from Whiston et al (1895)

  • The Jewish War Book IV Ch 4 Paragraph 5
  • from Whiston et al (1895)
And now did the Idumeans make an acclamation to what Simon had said; but Jesus went away sorrowful, as seeing that the Idumeans were against all moderate counsels, and that the city was besieged on both sides. Nor indeed were the minds of the Idumeans at rest; for they were in a rage at the injury that had been offered them by their exclusion out of the city; and when they thought the zealots had been strong, but saw nothing of theirs to support them, they were in doubt about the matter, and many of them repented that they had come thither. But the shame that would attend them in case they returned without doing any thing at all, so far overcame that their repentance, that they lay all night before the wall, though in a very bad encampment; for there broke out a prodigious storm in the night, with the utmost violence, and very strong winds, with the largest showers of rain, with continued lightnings, terrible thunderings, and amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.

Greek

Τούτοις τὸ μὲν τῶν Ἰδουμαίων ἐπεβόα πλῆθος, ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἀθυμῶν ἀνεχώρει τοὺς μὲν Ἰδουμαίους μηδὲν φρονοῦντας ὁρῶν μέτριον, διχόθεν δὲ τὴν πόλιν πολεμουμένην. [284] ἦν δὲ οὐδὲ τοῖς Ἰδουμαίοις ἐν ἠρεμίᾳ τὰ φρονήματα: καὶ γὰρ τεθύμωντο πρὸς τὴν ὕβριν εἰρχθέντες τῆς πόλεως καὶ τὰ τῶν ζηλωτῶν ἰσχυρὰ δοκοῦντες ὡς οὐδὲν ἐπαμύνοντας ἑώρων, ἠποροῦντο καὶ μετενόουν πολλοὶ τὴν ἄφιξιν. [285] ἡ δὲ αἰδὼς τοῦ τέλεον ἀπράκτους ὑποστρέφειν ἐνίκα τὴν μεταμέλειαν, ὥστε μένειν αὐτόθι πρὸ τοῦ τείχους κακῶς αὐλιζομένους: [286] διὰ γὰρ τῆς νυκτὸς ἀμήχανος ἐκρήγνυται χειμὼν ἄνεμοί τε βίαιοι σὺν ὄμβροις λαβροτάτοις καὶ συνεχεῖς ἀστραπαὶ βρονταί τε φρικώδεις καὶ μυκήματα σειομένης τῆς γῆς ἐξαίσια. [287] πρόδηλον δὲ ἦν ἐπ᾽ ἀνθρώπων ὀλέθρῳ τὸ κατάστημα τῶν ὅλων συγκεχυμένον, καὶ οὐχὶ μικροῦ τις ἂν εἰκάσαι συμπτώματος τὰ τέρατα.

English Translation of The Jewish War Book IV by Whiston (1737) - embedded

  • see Chapter 4 Paragraph 5
  • The Jewish War Book IV
  • from Whiston (1737)


Does this describe an Earthquake ? Chronology Seismic Effects Locations Online Versions and Further Reading Notes
Another potential Earthquake

Graham (2020) states the following

Josephus, states that during one night of the Pentecost festival immediately preceding the start of the Jewish War (AD 66-70), one particular earthquake took place at night, accompanied by sound of a voice from heaven saying the words, ‘let us remove from here.’ According to Josephus, this event heralded the critical point at which the escalation into eschatological war became inevitable, as God switched sides from Jews to the Romans, because of the decline of morals among Jerusalem’s leaders and their lack of repentance to God. Similarly, Tacitus states that this same voice was declared by the Roman gods: it was they who were departing the temple.

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Jerusalem - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Jerusalem - Western Wall Tunnel unlikely ≥ 7 Stratum 14 Earthquake - ~30 AD - Onn et. al. (2011) report earthquake damage to a pier under Wilson's Arch adjacent to the Western Wall Plaza by Temple Mount which they presumed to be due to an earthquake in 33 AD. The date was constrained by the endpoints of the approximate completion of the Herodian Temple rebuilding project and the destruction of the Second Temple by then Roman General Titus in 70 AD. Although the 70 AD endpoint is known with certainty, the end of the Herodian rebuilding project is not as certain but the bulk of the building was probably completed by ~27 AD.

Regev et al (2020) performed radiocarbon dating and microarcheology on northern and southern piers under Wilson's Arch and reported radiocarbon dates of 20 BC - 20 AD for the northern pier and drainage channel and 30 - 60 AD for the southern pier (Regev et al, 2020: 9, 13). This would associate the northern pier with the original Herodian rebuilding project and the southern pier with a southerly expansion of the Bridge associated with Wilson's Arch initiated sometime after ~20-30 AD. Given the earthquake damage present under this bridge, this bridge expansion suggests it was also a repair. Repairs can be indicators of a reaction to seismic damage. Thus it seems probable but not certain that the Jerusalem Quake (31 AD ± 5) caused this seismic bridge damage.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Jerusalem - Introduction



Jerusalem - Western Wall Tunnel



Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Dead Sea - Seismite Types n/a n/a n/a
Dead Sea - En Feshka unlikely to possible 7.9 - 8.8 Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 1 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 338 cm. with modeled ages of 63 CE ± 38 (1σ) and 61 CE ± 81 (2σ) which they assigned to the Jerusalem Quake - a more likely candidate.
Dead Sea - En Gedi possible 7.9 - 8.8 Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 0.4 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 268.2 cm. (2.682 m) to a date of 76 CE. If Williams et. al. (2012) analysis of the uncertainty in Migowski's date assignments can be extended to this 76 CE date assignment, Migowski et al (2004) identified a seismite formed in 76 CE ± 9 - i.e. between 67 CE and 85 CE.
Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim unlikely to possible 8.0 - 8.9 At site ZA-2, Kagan et al (2011) assigned a 4 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 470 cm. (Modeled Ages 1σ - 52 CE ± 40 and 2σ - 56 CE ± 76) to a date of 33 CE which in this case is shorthand for the Jerusalem Quake - a more likely candidate. At site ZA-1, Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) and Williams (2004) dated a ~4 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 470 cm to 12-91 AD (1σ) and associated it with the Jerusalem Quake (31 AD ± 5). This seismite was labeled as Event C at site ZA-1.
Araba - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Araba - Taybeh Trench unlikely ≥ 7 LeFevre et al. (2018) tentatively identified a poorly expressed seismic event (E5) in the Taybeh trench which they modeled between 80 BCE and 141 CE. Although they identified the 31 BCE Josephus Quake as the most likely candidate, the ~31 CE Jerusalem Quake may be a more likely candidate. LeFevre et al. (2018) noted that the poor expression of Event E5 (vertical cracks in the trench) meant that the cracks could have been caused by a later Event (E4) which they associated with the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Earthquake.
Araba - Qatar Trench unlikely ≥ 7 Klinger et. al. (2015) identified a seismic event (E6) in a trench near Qatar, Jordan in the Araba which they modeled between 9 BCE and 492 CE. The large spread in age caused them to consider two possible earthquakes as the cause; the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Quake and the southern Cyril Quake of 363 CE. They preferred the Cyril Quake of 363 CE based on weighing other evidence not related to their paleoseismic study and noted that further investigation was required.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Dead Sea - Seismite Types



Dead Sea - En Feshka

Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 1 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 338 cm. with modeled ages of 63 CE ± 38 (1σ) and 61 CE ± 81 (2σ) which they assigned to the Jerusalem Quake - a more likely candidate.



Dead Sea - En Gedi

Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a 0.4 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 268.2 cm. (2.682 m) to a date of 76 CE. If Williams et. al. (2012) analysis of the uncertainty in Migowski's date assignments can be extended to this 76 CE date assignment, Migowski et al (2004) identified a seismite formed in 76 CE ± 9 - i.e. between 67 CE and 85 CE.



Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim

At site ZA-2, Kagan et al (2011) assigned a 4 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 470 cm. (Modeled Ages 1σ - 52 CE ± 40 and 2σ - 56 CE ± 76) to a date of 33 CE which in this case is shorthand for the Jerusalem Quake - a more likely candidate. At site ZA-1, Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) and Williams (2004) dated a ~4 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 470 cm to 12-91 AD (1σ) and associated it with the Jerusalem Quake (31 AD ± 5). This seismite was labeled as Event C at site ZA-1.



Araba - Introduction



Araba - Taybeh Trench

LeFevre et al. (2018) tentatively identified a poorly expressed seismic event (E5) in the Taybeh trench which they modeled between 80 BCE and 141 CE. Although they identified the 31 BCE Josephus Quake as the most likely candidate, the ~31 CE Jerusalem Quake may be a more likely candidate. LeFevre et al. (2018) noted that the poor expression of Event E5 (vertical cracks in the trench) meant that the cracks could have been caused by a later Event (E4) which they associated with the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Earthquake.



Araba - Qatar Trench

Klinger et. al. (2015) identified a seismic event (E6) in a trench near Qatar, Jordan in the Araba which they modeled between 9 BCE and 492 CE. The large spread in age caused them to consider two possible earthquakes as the cause; the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Quake and the southern Cyril Quake of 363 CE. They preferred the Cyril Quake of 363 CE based on weighing other evidence not related to their paleoseismic study and noted that further investigation was required.



Notes

Paleoclimate - Droughts

Famine in Judea and Samaria around 68 CE

It is possible that in the (2?) years prior to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem, a famine struck Judea and Samaria. In his book the Jewish War, Josephus frequently mentions famines during this perilous time however further research is required to ascertain whether these famines were due to climatic conditions, destruction of agriculture during the War, a deliberate starvation strategy of the Romans as they sieged the cities, or some combination of the above. Two excerpts which may allude to a natural famine are listed below.

Jewish War Book 4 Chapter 1 Paragraph 9

But of the people of Gamala, those that were of the bolder sort fled away and hid themselves, while the more infirm perished by famine; but the men of war sustained the siege till the two and twentieth day of the month Hyperberetmus, [Tisri] when three soldiers of the fifteenth legion, about the morning watch, got under a high tower that was near them, and undermined it, without making any noise; nor when they either came to it, which was in the night time, nor when they were under it, did those that guarded it perceive them. These soldiers then upon their coming avoided making a noise, and when they had rolled away five of its strongest stones, they went away hastily; whereupon the tower fell down on a sudden, with a very great noise, and its guard fell headlong with it; so that those that kept guard at other places were under such disturbance, that they ran away; the Romans also slew many of those that ventured to oppose them, among whom was Joseph, who was slain by a dart, as he was running away over that part of the wall that was broken down: but as those that were in the city were greatly aftrighted at the noise, they ran hither and thither, and a great consternation fell upon them, as though all the enemy had fallen in at once upon them. Then it was that Chares, who was ill, and under the physician's hands, gave up the ghost, the fear he was in greatly contributing to make his distemper fatal to him. But the Romans so well remembered their former ill success, that they did not enter the city till the three and twentieth day of the forementioned month.
Jewish War Book 4 Chapter 3 Paragraph 3
Now the Roman garrisons, which guarded the cities, partly out of their uneasiness to take such trouble upon them, and partly out of the hatred they bare to the Jewish nation, did little or nothing towards relieving the miserable, till the captains of these troops of robbers, being satiated with rapines in the country, got all together from all parts, and became a band of wickedness, and all together crept into Jerusalem, which was now become a city without a governor, and, as the ancient custom was, received without distinction all that belonged to their nation; and these they then received, because all men supposed that those who came so fast into the city came out of kindness, and for their assistance, although these very men, besides the seditions they raised, were otherwise the direct cause of the city's destruction also; for as they were an unprofitable and a useless multitude, they spent those provisions beforehand which might otherwise have been sufficient for the fighting men. Moreover, besides the bringing on of the war, they were the occasions of sedition and famine therein.
Later on, Josephus frequently mentions famine during the Roman siege of Jerusalem however much and probably most of this appears to be due to a Roman starvation strategy. Josephus may also mention that 70 CE was a wet year. I did not find any reference to this in Josephus while conducting a cursory examination.

References