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Josephus Quake

31 BCE

by Jefferson Williams


Introduction     Textual Evidence     Archeoseismic Evidence     Tsunamogenic Evidence     Paleoseismic Evidence     Notes     Paleoclimate - Droughts     Footnotes     References     Catalog Home


Introduction

31 BCE was a momentous year in the history of the world. In the fall, a climactic battle between Augustus and Mark Anthony took place in Actium, Greece. Augustus won and declared himself the first Roman Emperor initiating ~500 years of Imperial rule. In a prelude to the decisive battle in Actium there was a proxy war between King Herod the Great allied with Mark Anthony and the Nabateans allied with Augustus. In the midst of that proxy war, an earthquake struck Judea. This earthquake is described twice but by the same author – the Jewish Historian Josephus writing in his books The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities.

Although this earthquake is commonly dated to the early Spring of 31 BCE, Josephus specifies that it struck in the spring in one account (the Jewish War) and the fall in the other (Jewish Antiquities). Based on historical context and Josephus' sources for his books, the fall date seems more likely though both are possible. See the Textual evidence section for details. The location of the earthquake is not explicitly specified by Josephus in either account and there is no list of cities or villages damaged. Although there is limited archeoseismic evidence for the earthquake, there is abundant evidence from paleoseismology in the Dead Sea that indicates that it was a powerful earthquake which struck in or near to the Dead Sea.

Textual Evidence

Josephus

The primary historic sources for this earthquake is Josephus Flavius who apparently originally wrote his books in Hebrew or Aramaic. These copies, however, have not survived and what we have are Greek translations. Both books were written at the end of the 1st century CE. Josephus first wrote about the earthquake in his book The Jewish War and then again about 20 years later in Jewish Antiquities. Later sources appear to base their accounts on Josephus (see Notes). Josephus wrote of an earthquake which struck in 31 BCE; in the same year as the famous Battle of Actium. The earthquake is dated to early Spring 31 BCE in the Jewish War and to around September 31 BCE in Jewish Antiquities. In both accounts, Herod's army is described as being camped in the open when the earthquake struck but the location of the encampment is not specified. Both accounts describe the earthquake in the context of a proxy war leading up to the Battle of Actium that pitted King Herod against the Nabataeans. The proxy war began in 32 BCE when Mark Anthony and/or Cleopatra urged Herod to attack the Nabataeans. The two accounts by Josephus describe two battles prior to the earthquake; one in Dion [1] where Herod's army was victorious followed by a defeat in Kanatha (Karcz (2004:774). The final battle came soon after the earthquake in a location near Philadelphia (modern Amman) where Herod's Army was victorious and the proxy war ended. The dates of these battles are not specified.

While Herod's army initially won the second battle against the Nabataeans at Kanatha, in Jewish Antiquities (Book XV Ch 5 Paragraph 1), Josephus describes how Cleopatra, who had been grabbing territories from Herod, engaged in treachery against her then ally Herod at the second battle when part of her Ptolemaic Army, which had been stationed nearby under the command of Athenion, joined the fight along the side of the remaining Nabataeans and defeated Herod. The Ptolemaic Army did not participate in the final battle between Herod and the Nabataeans possibly because Cleopatra withdrew her army. The reason for withdrawl may have been to prepare for the defense of Egypt against Augustus after the disastrous defeat of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra's combined naval forces at the Battle of Actium. This, along with the wording regarding the date of the earthquake in Jewish Antiquities suggests that the earthquake struck in September rather than the early spring.

Writing around 75 CE [2] in his book The Jewish War (Book 1 Ch 19 Paragraph 3), Josephus states
in the seventh year of his reign, when the war about Actium was at the height, at the beginning of the spring, the earth was shaken, and destroyed an immense number of cattle, with thirty thousand men; but the army received no harm, because it lay in the open air.
The seventh year of his reign refers to King Herod. The reference to Herod’s reign and the Battle of Actium place this earthquake in 31 BCE [3]. The time of year is the early spring.

Writing perhaps 20 years later (~95 CE) [4] in the book Antiquities of the Jews (Book XV Ch 5 Paragraph 2), Josephus recounts the same earthquake -
At this time it was that the fight happened at Actium, between Octavius Caesar and Antony, in the seventh year of the reign of Herod and then it was also that there was an earthquake in Judea, such a one as had not happened at any other time, and which earthquake brought a great destruction upon the cattle in that country. About ten thousand men also perished by the fall of houses; but the army, which lodged in the field, received no damage by this sad accident.
In this passage, Josephus states that the earthquake struck during the Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BCE) and mentions unlocated structural damage (fall of houses) and the death of humans and livestock. Josephus' source for the part of Jewish Antiquities which covered Herod's reign (Books XV - XVII) was likely Universal Histories by Nicolaus of Damascus (see e.g. Antiquities Book XVI Chapter 7 Paragraph 1), a close friend and advisor of Herod and possibly a one time tutor to the children of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra (see Jewish Encyclopedia). This solid sourcing gives more weight to the account in Jewish Antiquities which then suggests that the earthquake more likely struck in the Fall.

The seismic difference between these accounts lies in the number of dead – 30,000 in the first account and 10,000 in the second. Since the second account was written ~20 years later, it is likely that the second downgraded numerical estimate of the number of dead is more accurate – drawing on more source material. Nonetheless, these numbers are gross estimates which are probably over stated so it may be best to summarize them as stating that this was a powerful earthquake which killed a number of people. As is often the case, population estimates in antiquity and Josephus in particular are frequently imprecise, inaccurate, and/or exaggerated. There is no mention of locations which were damaged by the earthquake.

Archeoseismic Evidence

Introduction

There isn't an abundance of definitive archeoseismic evidence for this earthquake. This may be because Herod's many subsequent building programs removed it. Archeoseismic evidence is summarized below

Location Status
Second Temple in Jerusalem possible
Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem probable
Qumran possible and debated
Masada possible - needs further investigation
Jericho possible - needs further investigation
Agappias needs further investigation
Askalpon needs further investigation
Antipatris needs further investigation
Stratton’s Tower (aka Caesarea) needs further investigation
Tell Hesban indeterminate
Tel Ateret aka Vadun Jacob indeterminate and unlikely
Tiberius (Chammath) / Rakkath no evidence
Khirbet Tannur possible


Each site will now be discussed separately.

Second Temple in Jerusalem

Ben-Menahem (1991), without specifically citing a source, lists damage to the Second Temple in Jerusalem. He likely made this assertion due to the Second Temple rebuilding project initiated by King Herod in ~19 BCE [5]. Damage to the second Temple from the 31 BCE earthquake and other indignities (e.g. prior earthquakes and wars) may have formed the justification for the rebuilding project. This archeoseismic evidence is labeled as possible.

Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem

Jason's Tomb in Jerusalem
Jason's Tomb in Jerusalem - from Wikipedia (Neta)


Rahmani(1964 - pp. 98-99) interpreted the collapse of “structured parts” of Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem to be due to the 31 BCE earthquake. He noted the presence of Herodian remains (mainly oil lamps) on a plaster floor beneath earthquake debris. Since Herod conquered Jerusalem in 37 BCE and Rahmani (1964) dates sealing of the tomb to 30/31 CE, it is presumed that the responsible earthquake was the only one that Rahmani (1964) was aware of at that time – 31 BCE. However, since then evidence for the Jerusalem Quake of 26-36 CE has come to light making the Jerusalem Quake another possible but less likely candidate for the collapse debris [6]. Ambraseys (2009) characterizes Rahmani’s (1964) date for the earthquake collapse as tentative however this appears to be a mischaracterization. Rahmani (1964) clearly states that the two possible candidates for the earthquake collapse are the well established 31 BCE earthquake and the 64 BCE Pig on the Wall Quake ; noting further that Herodian Oil lamps beneath the collapse debris favors 31 BCE. However, as noted above, it is possible that the Jerusalem Quake (26-36 CE) could have been responsible for the collapse debris or could have added additional collapse debris. In Rahmani’s historical reconstruction, he suggests that the tomb was abandoned in ~37 BCE, possibly robbed thereafter, damaged by an earthquake in 31 BCE and finally sealed up in 30/31 CE. This archeoseismic evidence is labeled as probable.

Qumran

Cracked Steps at Qumran
Cracked Steps at Qumran - photo by Jefferson Williams


The original excavator (De Vaux, 1973) of Qumran observed a destruction layer between Periods Ib and 2. He interpreted the destruction layer to be a result of an earthquake (31 BCE) and fire which caused the settlement to be abandoned for several decades. De Vaux (1973) also attributed the cracked steps at Qumran to the effects of the Josephus Quake. Karcz (2004) details subsequent archaeological work which disputes the date of the destruction layer and the archeoseismic effects mentioned by de Vaux (1973). One remaining archeoseismic effect, however, is the cracked steps at Qumran. Although Karcz (2004) mentions the possibility that the cracked steps were a result of underlying soil instability, the photo above shows significant displacement as well as steps that were buttressed by two largely intact retaining walls. It looks like seismic damage. Hirschfield (2004b) noted that in excavations at nearby En Feshka that there was no evidence for a 31 BCE destruction layer between building phases. He interpreted destruction evidence at En Feshka to be due to a fire during the Bar Kokhba Revolt of ~132 - ~136 CE. Archeoseismic evidence is labeled as possible and debated.

Masada

Karcz (2004) disputes 31 BCE archeoseismic evidence presented by Ben-Menahem (1991) stating that the archaeological evidence is tenuous at best. Netzer (1991, 1997) in his detailed analysis of architectural complexes of Masada states that the signs of a possible seismic damage there are much later than 31 B.C.

Etan Campbell (former director of Masada – personal communication 2018) related that there is archeoseismic evidence for the 31 BCE earthquake at Masada. Archeoseismic evidence at Masada is labeled as possible and needs investigation.

Yadin, Y., et al. (1991). Masada: The Yigal Yadin Excavations 1963-1965 : Final Reports, Israel Exploration Society.

Netzer, E. (1997). "„Masada from Foundation to Destruction: an Architectural History,”." Hurvitz, G.(szerk.): The Story of Masada. Discoveries from the Excavations. Provo, UT: BYU Studies: 33-50.

Netzer, E. (1991). Masada III: The buildings-stratigraphy and architecture, Israel Exploration Society.

Jericho - Tel Abu Alaik aka Herod's Winter Palace

King Herod received a Hasmonean Winter Palace at Jericho which may have been destroyed by the 31 BCE earthquake. Herod subsequently rebuilt a palace at a different but nearby location on top of a damaged synagogue. Karcz et al. (1977) provide a brief description for 1st century BCE damage at Tel Abu Alaik as follows - Tilted and distorted walls, collapse, subsidence, and breakage. Roller (1998) notes that the original Hasmonean palace remained in use until the 30's BCE "as the drowning of Aristobulus in 36 BCE demonstrates" (see Antiquities of the Jews Book XV Chapter 3 Paragraph 3). This would indicate that Ambraseys (2009) was mistaken in his assertion it is more probable that the structure was destroyed by war when Herod conquered Jericho in 39 BCE taking it from Antigonus II Mattathias the last Hasmonean King of Judea. Absent more specific chronological information, this archeoseismic evidence is labeled as possible and needs investigation.

The Winter Palace of Jericho

Nezer, E. Israel Expl J. 25, 89-100 (1975).

Agappias (probably Anthedon between Gaza and Askalon)

Karcz (2004) without citing references states that 31 BCE archeoseismic evidence was claimed at this location. This archeoseismic evidence is labeled as needs investigation.

Askalpon

Karcz (2004) without citing references states that 31 BCE archeoseismic evidence was claimed at this location. This archeoseismic evidence is labeled as needs investigation.

Antipatris (Arethousa)

Karcz (2004) without citing references states that 31 BCE archeoseismic evidence was claimed at this location. This archeoseismic evidence is labeled as needs investigation.

Stratton’s Tower (aka Caesarea)

Karcz (2004) without citing references states that 31 BCE archeoseismic evidence was claimed at this location. This archeoseismic evidence is labeled as needs investigation.

Tell Hesban (Roman Esbus) aka Heshbon aka Hesban

Mitchel (1980, Ch. 4 - Stratum 13 and 14) noticed a massive collapse of bedrock in underground structures at a location known as Tell Hesban. He attributed the collapse to an earthquake. In fill atop the bedrock collapse, he found a coin from Aretas IV (9 BCE – 40 CE) along with a number of pottery shards dated to a wide spread of ages over hundreds of years but with the bulk of shards from Early Roman I-IV (63 BCE – 135 CE). He surmised that the fill was deposited soon after the bedrock collapse because he saw no evidence for extended exposure before filling (silt, water-laid deposits, etc.) and the fill was relatively homogeneous, unstratified, and loose soil that “gave the appearance of rapid deposition in one operation”. Mitchel (1980) assigned a date of 130 CE to the destruction layer caused by an earthquake citing Chronicon by Eusebius as a historical reference ( see Jerome's Latin translation of Eusebius Chronicon Book Two, page 228, 227th Olympiad). Russell (1985) favored a date of 110-114 CE for this destruction layer.

In our opinion, this destruction layer is not well dated. It rests on an untested assumption that the fill above the bedrock collapse layer was deposited soon after the collapsed bedrock. None of Mitchel’s (1980) date information comes from beneath the collapsed layer. If one dispenses with the argument that the fill was deposited immediately after an earthquake and examines the variety of dated objects found in the fill, the objects suggest that the fill was deposited over some period of time and the most probable earthquake candidate for the bedrock collapse layer might be the 31 BCE Josephus Quake. In our opinion, this archeoseismic evidence is indeterminate.

Tel Ateret aka Vadun Jacob

Ellenblum et. al. (2015) noted possible archeoseismic damage in the mid first century BCE at Vadun Jacob aka Tel Ateret – a location which straddles an active fault. They estimate ~1.5 meters of fault slip occurred on the site between its abandonment probably in the middle of the first century BCE and when a Crusader fortress was built at the end of the 12th century CE. Due to the sites abandonment and lack of new construction during this time, it is difficult to resolve the ~1.5 meters of slip into individual earthquake events. However, abandonment of the site may have been precipitated by an earthquake. The latest Hellenistic coin excavated from the site dates to 65/64 BCE indicating desertion of the site occurred afterwards. This potential archeoseismic evidence is labeled as indeterminate and unlikely.

Chammath (Tiberius)

Karcz (2004) apparently mischaracterized a paper by Marco and Agnon (2004) [7] claiming that it stated that severe damage from the 31 BCE earthquake affected Tiberius; according to historical sources. However, Marco and Agnon (personal communication, 2020) relate that they are unaware of any archeoseismic or historical references to seismic damage in the vicinity of Tiberius due to the Josephus Quake of 31 BCE. Although Tiberius was not founded until 18 CE, a nearby village now named Hamat Tiberius pre-existed Tiberius along with another village named Rakkath. There is currently no evidence for archeoseismic destruction due to the 31 BCE Josephus Quake at Tiberius or its vicinity.

Khirbet Tannur

Glueck (1965) excavated a Nabatean Temple at Khirbet Tannur in Jordan. He identified three separate building phases which he subdivided into Periods I, II, and III. According to Glueck (1965, 92), the altar from Period I was rebuilt at the start of Period II sometime in the last quarter of the 1st century BCE. Glueck (1965, 92) was unable to conclusively determine the reason for the rebuilding at the start of Period II, but he suspected it was due to earthquake damage or, less likely, aging of the structure. The start of the Period II rebuild is constrained by a dedicatory inscription which is dated to 8/7 BCE [8]. The rebuild had to have been initiated some time prior to 8/7 BCE. It is possible that the 31 BCE Josephus Earthquake damaged Khirbet Tannur.

Paleoseismic Evidence

Introduction

Fortunately, we have better data about the size of this earthquake and its epicentral region from paleoseismic studies than we do from our textual and archeoseismic evidence, so we can confidently state that this was a large earthquake with an epicenter somewhere in or close to the Dead Sea. Paleoseismic Evidence for the Josephus Quake is summarized below:

Location Status
Tekieh Trenches Syria possible but unlikely
Bet Zayda possible - wide spread in dates
Dir Hagla Trenches good evidence - 3.5 m of vertical displacement
Nahal Darga good evidence - 40 - 75 cm. thick
En Feshka good evidence - 1 cm. thick
En Gedi good evidence - 9 cm. thick
Nahal Ze 'elim good evidence - 6 - 21.5 cm. thick
Taybe Trench Jordan possible - one of two candidates
Qatar Trench Jordan no events seen around this date


Tekieh Trenches Syria

Gomez et. al. (2003, p. 15) may have seen evidence for an earthquake in the 1st or 2nd century BCE in paleoseismic trenches in Syria (Event B). Event B is estimated to have created ~ 2 meters of displacement Gomez et. al. (2003, pp. 16-17).

Tekieh Trench Seismic Events
Figure 13. Summary of events observed in the trenches and the interpreted palaeoseismic history of the Serghaya fault. Colluvial wedge deposits post-date palaeoseismic events. Stratigraphic ties provide additional constraint on the relative timing of events. Ages represent calendar corrected radiocarbon ages for given features (2 sigma uncertainties provided). Gomez et al (2003)


Bet Zayda

Wechsler at al. (2014) records event CH4-E6 (modeled age 392 BCE – 91 CE) in paleoseismic trenches at Bet Zayda just north of the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret).
Bet Zeyda Earthquakes
Figure 9. Probability density functions for all paleoseismic events, based on the OxCal modeling. Historically known earthquakes are marked by gray lines. The age extent of each channel is marked by rectangles. There is an age uncertainty as to the age of the oldest units in channel 4 (units 490-499) marked by a dashed rectangle. Channel 1 refers to the channel complex studied by Marco et al. (2005).


Dead Sea and Environs

Seismites from this earthquake, some thick and heavily brecciated, have been identified at several sites in the Dead Sea.
Dir Hagla Trenches
Reches and Hoexter (1981) saw evidence for this earthquake in form of 3.5 m of vertical displacement in trenches dug close to and east of the Dir Hagla Monastery near Jericho. Although the total vertical displacement could have been created by more than one seismic event, there were no broken layers between Event A associated with the Josephus Quake and the next event B associated with an earthquake around the time of the Sabbatical Year Quake (747/748/749 CE). Further, they interpreted that a fault scarp was created at the site due to Event A which led to some reworking of the sediment. They did note however that the dip slip could have been magnified by local variations in the strike of the fault (Kagan, 2011).

Dir Hagla Composite Trench
Fig. 9 Generalized sections of the main fault zone in Trench 3, with the structures that formed during past earthquakes. Two major events can be distinguished. For more details compare with Figs. 7 and 8. Reches and Hoexter (1981)


Nahal Darga
Possible 31 BCE Seismite at Nahal Darga
Deformed Unit 9 in Stratigraphic Unit 11 which correlates to the Josephus Quake of 31 BCE
photo by Jefferson Williams


In the coarser grained lithology present at Nahal Darga, Enzel et. al. (2000) report a seismite thickness of 40-75 cm in Deformed Unit 9 in Stratigraphic Unit 11 which correlates to the Josephus Quake of 31 BCE (see Table 2 - date of seismite = ~50 BCE (~ 2000 yrs BP).

En Feshka
Kagan, E., et al. (2011) report a 1 cm. microbreccia at 364.0 cm. depth which fits an earthquake in 31 BCE. Modeled ages from Table 3 are presented below.

En Gedi
Migowski et. al. (2004) reports a 31 BCE seismite with a thickness of 9 cm. at a depth of 283.86 cm. in the En Gedi Core (DSEn) in Table 2.

Nahal Ze ‘elim (multiple sites)
At ZA1, Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) reported a seismite thickness of 15 cm (Event B). At two locations in Nahal Ze ‘elim, Kagan et. al. (2011) assigned a 31 BCE date to seismites of thicknesses 20.5 cm (ZA1) and 6 cm (ZA2) - see Table 4. Table 3 of Kagan et al (2011) indicates that the 6 cm. thick seismite at a depth of 486 cm. in ZA-2 is an intraclast breccia. Observations in the field by Jefferson Williams indicates that this seismite is consistently brecciated at sites ZA-1, ZA-4, and ZA-5.

Conclusion
One doesn't churn up thick blankets of sediment over a wide geographic area (the Dead Sea) and create significant vertical displacement in surface ruptures without a lot of seismic energy coming from a large earthquake. The magnitude was probably at the high end of what the faults around the Dead Sea are capable of producing so a good estimate is a local magnitude of 7.0 - 7.5 . Assuming that it is likely that the entire ~110 km. Jordan Valley segment ruptured during this earthquake, Kagan (2011) estimated a magnitude of 7.2.

Often the 31 BCE seismite is the largest seismite in a Dead Sea outcrop between the ~759 BCE Amos earthquake(s) and the ~749 CE Sabbatical Year Earthquake(s). As such, it serves as a good chronological anchor since it is relatively easy to identify and the date of formation (early Spring 31 BCE) is defined with a fair amount of precision.

Arava

Taybeh, Jordan
LeFevre et al. (2018) tentatively identified a poorly expressed seismic event (E5) in the Taybeh trench in the Araba 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. The potentially dubious 68 CE Jewish War Quake is also a possibility. 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 Incense Road Earthquake which struck between 110 CE and 114 CE.

Taybeh Trench Earthquakes
Figure S5: Computed age model from OxCal v4.26 for the seismic events recorded in the trench


Qatar, Jordan
Klinger et. al. (2015) did not observe any seismic events in this time window in a trench near Qatar, Jordan.
Qatar Trench
Figure 6. Age model computed for the trench stratigraphy using OxCal v4.2 (Bronk-Ramsey et al. 2010) and IntCal13 calibration curve (Reimer et al. 2013). Light grey indicates raw calibration and dark grey indicates modelled ages including stratigraphic information. Phases indicate subsets of samples where no stratigraphic order is imposed. Klinger et al (2015)

Notes

Historical Arguments Against a larger earthquake

Karcz (2004) and Ambraseys (2009) opine that the magnitude of this earthquake is overstated and that the archeoseismic evidence for this earthquake was over interpreted at numerous locations. They produce several historiographic arguments [9] , most of which are arguments from silence, which favor a smaller and more localized earthquake. Karcz (2004) estimates a magnitude between 6.0 and 6.5. Ambraseys (2009) does not provide a magnitude estimate. However, Karcz (2004) does not cite any paleoseismic studies and Ambraseys (2009) only mentions Reches and Hoexter (1981) which he seems to give little value. Ambraseys (2009) also mischaracterizes archeoseismic evidence for the 31 BCE Josephus Quake at Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem as tentative when it is, in fact, fairly conclusive. Because of this, it is our opinion that, despite their excellent work unearthing historical and archeoseismic evidence, they are incorrect in their conclusions due to their rejection of supporting evidence; particularly the very strong paleoseismic evidence.

Other Historical Reports

Johannes Malalas writing in the 6th century CE in his book Chronographia (Book 10 Number 3 – page 122 in English - or in Greek and Latin) wrote the following passage which may refer to an earthquake in Palestine
During the reign of Augustus Caesar a city in Palestine named Salamine suffered the wrath of God. Augustus restored the city and called it Diospolis.
There are several problems in interpreting this passage.

Ambraseys (2009) speculates that Salamine may refer to Salamis in Cyprus rather than Salamie in Palestine and may therefore refer to an earthquake that is believed to have struck Cyprus between 17 and 15 BCE. He also suggests that the earthquake account of Malalas may be spurious. Ambraseys (2009) further reports that Georgius Monachos writing a book known as The Chronicle [13] in the ninth century reports that an earthquake happened “in Salamis in Cyprus, in the district of Syria”.

Paleoclimate - Droughts

In his book Antiquities of the Jews (Book XV Ch 9 Paragraph 1), Josephus recounts a drought in the 13th year of the reign of Herod the Great
NOW on this very year, which was the thirteenth year of the reign of Herod, very great calamities came upon the country; whether they were derived from the anger of God, or whether this misery returns again naturally in certain periods of time for, in the first place, there were perpetual droughts, and for that reason the ground was barren, and did not bring forth the same quantity of fruits that it used to produce; and after this barrenness of the soil, that change of food which the want of corn occasioned produced distempers in the bodies of men
A usual reading of the 13th year of Herod the Great in Josephus’ works translates to ~25 BCE based on starting Herod’s reign in ~38 BCE when he conquered Jerusalem. Another reckoning could place this drought in 27/28 BCE based on starting Herod’s reign in late 40 BCE or 41 BCE when he was appointed King of the Jews by Rome [14]. Finegan (1998,Section 227) notes that Josephus could be inconsistent in the way he reckoned time in his books. It is also possible that Josephus writing 120 years after these events occurred could be off by several years on his dates.

Williams et. al. (2012) examined the En Gedi core for evidence of this drought noting its possible expression in the geochemistry of the layers (increased Gypsum precipitation, reduced thickness of Aragonite layers) deposited for about 4-5 years after the 31 BCE earthquake. Independently, Leroy et. al. (2010) examined outcrops at Nahal Ze e'lim and found evidence of reduction in pollen from cultivated plants in the 4-5 years after the 31 BCE earthquake which she attributed to damage of agricultural infrastructure due the earthquake. The layers examined by Leroy et. al. (2011) showed an absence of aragonite precipitation. Both Williams et. al. (2012) and Leroy et. al. (2011) observation of reduced or nonexistent aragonite precipitation is consistent with the thesis of Stein et al. (1997) and Barkan et al. (2001) that enhanced aragonite (CaCO3) production requires a continuous supply of freshwater loaded with Bicarbonate (HCO3) indicating that Aragonite layer thickness may broadly correlate with precipitation in the drainage area of the Dead Sea Basin. Conversely, a lack of precipitation should reduce the observed thickness of the aragonite layers.

Footnotes

[1] There are two possible locations of Dion. Karcz (2004:774) describes this as follows :
Consensus is that Kanatha and Dion lie east of the Dead Sea Rift: Kanatha is about 100 km east of Tiberias, but for Dion two alternate locations were offered: one less than halfway from Tiberias to Kanatha (e.g., [Schurer (1891:115-116)]; TAVO, 1980) and the other in Jordan, about 25 km northeast of Pella (Ptolomey, in Schurer, 1979)
[2] Harris, Stephen L. (1985). Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield.

[3] Herod’s reign is usually viewed by Josephus as starting in ~38 BCE when he conquered Jerusalem although occasionally it may be viewed as starting in late 40 BCE or 41 BCE when he was appointed King of the Jews by Rome (see Finegan (1998, Section 227 – additional discussion in Sections 501 - 503). In this case however, the coincidence with the Battle of Actium shows that Josephus is counting years of Herod’s reign starting in 38 BCE.

[4] Harris, Stephen L. (1985). Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield.

[5] see discussion on the Western Wall Tunnels for a discussion of the chronology of the Second Temple rebuilding project by Herod. Josephus describes the rebuilding project in detail in Antiquities of the Jews (Book XV Chapter 11 Paragraphs 1-7.

[6] Less likely because the paleoseismic evidence (thickness and nature of the seismites) indicates that the 31 BCE earthquake was both significantly larger than the Jerusalem Quake and had an epicenter closer to Jerusalem.

[7] Marco and Agnon (2004), Earthquakes of the past two millennia in the northern Dead Sea Fault, Conference Paper

[8] The inscription references Chuldu (aka Hulta) – the first wife and at times a co-ruler with Aretas IV ( 9 BCE – 40 CE). The inscription refers to Year 2 which is presumabed to be the second year of Aretas IV’s reign.

[9] e.g. no mention of damage to the Nabateans, no mention of this earthquake in Roman or Greek sources, no mention of relief efforts by Augustus after the earthquake, no significant effect on Herod’s army, and the frequent overstating of number of people deceased (the latter of which is common in historical sources from Antiquity and particularly by Josephus so I would discount this last observation).

[10] The account is preceded by an account of the birth of Jesus and is followed by the New Testament story of Herod killing all male children in Bethlehem under the age of 2. This would place the Wrath of God in Salamine event between 6 and 4 BCE. This assumes that New Testament Chronology of the birth and early childhood of Jesus is accurate. This may not be a good assumption.

[11] Karcz (2004) states that the city was renamed by Septimus Sevems which is presumed to be a typographic error.

[12] Chudov’s Codex no. 51/353

[13] CS. 94

[14] Finegan, J. (1998), Section 227 – additional discussion in Sections 501 - 503

References