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Josephus Quake

31 BCE

by Jefferson Williams









Introduction & Summary

31 BCE was a momentous year in the history of the world. In the fall, a climactic naval battle between Augustus and Mark Anthony took place near the Greek town of Actium. Augustus won and declared himself the first Roman Emperor initiating almost 1500 years of Imperial rule. In a prelude to the decisive battle in Actium there was a proxy war between King Herod 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 the Josephus Quake is commonly dated to the early Spring of 31 BCE (except for Amiran et al, 1994), 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. Josephus did not explicitly specify where the earthquake struck in either account. There is no list of cities or villages damaged. Although archaeoseismic evidence for the earthquake is limited, there appears to be abundant evidence from paleoseismology. The earthquake shows up in a number of sites in the Dead Sea where it churned up thick blankets of sediment and caused up to 3.5 meters of vertical throw in Dir Hagla.

Textual Evidence

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities by Josephus Greek, possibly translated from an earlier version in Aramaic 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 and 95 CE Rome and ? Josephus Flavius wrote about the earthquake in two different books - The Jewish War written around 75 CE and then again in Jewish Antiquities written around 95 CE. Neither account specifies a city or village damaged and both are unspecific about the location of the earthquake. However, both accounts describe a powerful earthquake. The Jewish War dates the earthquake to the spring of 31 BCE while Jewish Antiquities dates it to the fall of the same year. Jewish Antiquities appears to be better sourced than the Jewish War.
Chronographia by Johannes Malalas Greek Jurist ?, Rhetor, Scholastikos, Chronicler, Native of Antioch (Syria) who later in life moved to Constantinople, Fluent in Greek and Syriac, Chronologically inconsistent and flawed. For example, Olmstead (1942:22) states that John Malalas was undoubtedly the world's worst chronicler ... but [the historian] must use him for Malalas has preserved a great amount of the most important data... Vasiliev (1958:184) states Confused in content, mixing fables and facts, important events and minor incidents, it is clearly intended not for educated readers but for the masses. Nevertheless, for some earthquakes Malalas appears to produce accurate chronology - likely due to the source(s) he accessed for the event. Christian (Orthodox Byzantium) ~530s to 565 CE Probably Antioch and Constantinople Johannes Malalas provides an account of an earthquake with confused chronology and geography however there are indications in the text which suggest that, if this refers to the same earthquake as the one recounted by Josephus, Lod received damage.
Historical Arguments Against a larger earthquake
Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
The Jewish War and Jewish Antiquities by Josephus

The primary historic source for this earthquake is Josephus Flavius. Josephus first wrote about the earthquake in The Jewish War and then again about 20 years later in Jewish Antiquities. Later sources such as Malalas appear to base their accounts on Josephus. Josephus wrote of an earthquake which struck in 31 BCE - 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 Dion1 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 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 CE2 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 BCE3. The time of year is the early spring.

Writing perhaps 20 years later (~95 CE)2 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.

Footnotes

1 There are two possible locations of Dion. Karcz (2004:774) describes them 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.

Chronographia by Johannes Malalass

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.
wrath of God is a euphemism Malalas uses for earthquakes. For example he referred to the Trajan Quake of 115 CE as the 3rd calamity from the wrath of God.

There are two problems with this passage.
  1. The year of Augustus reign is not indicated in the text. The location of this passage in the text seems to indicate a date around ~5 BCE1 rather than 31 BCE. For reasons unknown, Guidoboni et. al. (1994) places this event in 31 BCE and equates it with the 31 BCE Josephus Quake. Ambraseys (2009) dates the alleged earthquake of Malalas to 44-32 BCE - years in which Augustus was not ruling as emperor but was ruling as part of the second triumvirate.

  2. The location of Salamine is not known with accuracy. Guidoboni et. al. (1994) identifies Salamine as present day Lod. Ambraseys (2009) disagrees. Karcz (2004) notes that Lod (previously called Lydda) was renamed Diospolis in 199 CE by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus2 which may shed some light on Malalas’ apparent confusion. Ambraseys (2009) recounts that the same passage in a Codex of a Slavonic version of Chronographia3 gives the name Palamanie instead of Salamine. Ambraseys (2009) reports that no such city in Palestine with that place name is mentioned by other writers.
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 Chronicle4 in the ninth century reports that an earthquake happened “in Salamis in Cyprus, in the district of Syria”.
Footnotes

1 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.

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

3 Chudov’s Codex no. 51/353

4 CS. 94

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; which is true. However, Herod's active building programs after the earthquake may have removed most of the evidence. Karcz (2004) and Ambraseys (2009) produce several historiographic arguments1, 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's (1981) work at Dir Hagla which he seems to give little value despite 3.5 meters of reported vertical throw at the site. 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.

Footnotes

1 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).

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Jerusalem - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Jerusalem - Second Temple possible 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. 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.
Jerusalem - Jason's Tomb probable ≥ 8 Rahmani(1964:98-99) 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 was presumed that the responsible earthquake was the only one that Rahmani (1964) was aware of at that time – the Josephus Quake of 31 BCE. However, since then evidence for the Jerusalem Quake of 26-36 CE has come to light making the Jerusalem Quake another possible candidate for the collapse debris. If the Jerusalem Quake did cause archeoseismic damage to Jason’s Tomb, it may have added additional debris rather than being responsible for the original debris.
Qumran possible ≥ 8 The chronology of Qumran is so debated that there are at least 6 different naming systems for the various phases.
31 BCE Earthquake

Potential Seismic Effects

  • The Cracked Steps of Qumran - photo by Jefferson Williams
The original excavator (De Vaux, 1973) of Qumran interpreted a destruction layer between Periods Ib and 2 which he attributed to an earthquake (in 31 BCE) and a 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) detailed subsequent archaeological work which disputes the archeoseismic effects mentioned by de Vaux (1973). One remaining archeoseismic effect, however, is the cracked steps at Qumran.

Karcz (2004) mentions the possibility that the cracked steps were a result of underlying soil instability and Ambraseys (2009:100) states the following
Recent conservation work, however, at the site established that the shearing off of the steps along a short length was the result of differential settlement of the weathered Lisan marls of the foundations. This was caused by the leaking of the cistern, as a result of which its east side settled more than the west, this being clearly a local foundation problem that had nothing to do with surface faulting (Steckoll 1968; Hubert 2003). This is the same explanation as had been given by geologists long ago, namely a type of ground failure that does not need help from an earthquake to occur (Karcz and Kafri 1978).
A photo of the steps (see above) shows significant displacement as well as steps that were buttressed by two largely intact retaining walls. Further, the displacement fits the expected pattern of slumping due to seismicity. Salamon (2004) examined seismic ground effects after the 11 February ML 5.2 earthquake in the northeastern Dead Sea. The report contains many examples of slumping sediments in the Ze'elim formation on the western shores of the Dead Sea after this earthquake. Fault traces of the slumps on flat ground (i.e. not in erosional gullies) are generally oriented N-S with the downthrown blocks to the east towards the basin depocenter. This is the pattern of the cracked steps at Qumran.

De Vaux (1973) originally interpreted a fault on the location which aligned with the cracked steps. GPR surveys (mentioned in one of Karcz's papers and in Baigent and Eisenmann, 2000) claim to dis-affirm the presence of a fault. Although the Geophysical data was not shown (which is almost always a warning sign about poor data quality), a fault is not required for sediment slumping as was illustrated by Salamon (2004).

However, even if the cracked steps are due to seismic damage, they are undated seismic damage which could have occurred long after permanent abandonment of the site in ~68 CE. If the steps were damaged by the earthquake of 31 BCE, one is also left wondering why these steps into a ritually important miqveh were left unrepaired. 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.

Jericho and environs - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Jericho - Tel Abu Alaik possible ≥ 8 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. 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 that 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. Karcz et al (1977) reports that a strong earthquake in 31 BCE destroyed the palace.
Heshbon possible ≥ 8
Stratum 14 Earthquake (Mitchel, 1980) - 1st century BCE - 2nd century CE

Mitchel (1980) identified a destruction layer in Stratum 14 which he attributed to an earthquake. Unfortunately, the destruction layer is not precisely dated. Using some assumptions, Mitchel (1980) dated the earthquake destruction to the 130 CE Eusebius Mystery Quake, apparently unaware at the time that this earthquake account may be either misdated as suggested by Russell (1985) or mislocated as suggested by Ambraseys (2009). Although Russell (1985) attributed the destruction layer in Stratum 14 to the early 2nd century CE Incense Road Quake, a number of earthquakes are possible candidates including the 31 BCE Josephus Quake.

Mitchel (1980:73) reports that a majority of caves used for dwelling collapsed at the top of Stratum 14 which could be noticed by:

bedrock surface channels, presumably for directing run-off water into storage facilities, which now are totally disrupted, and in many cases rest ten to twenty degrees from the horizontal; by caves with carefully cut steps leading down into them whose entrances are fully or largely collapsed and no longer usable; by passages from caves which can still be entered into formerly communicating caves which no longer exist, or are so low-ceilinged or clogged with debris as to make their use highly unlikely — at least as they stand now.
Mitchel (1980:73) also noticed that new buildings constructed in Stratum 13 were leveled over a jumble of broken-up bedrock. Mitchel (1980:95) reports that Areas B and D had the best evidence for the massive bedrock collapse - something he attributed to the "softer" strata in this area, more prone to karst features and thus easier to burrow into and develop underground dwelling structures. Mitchel (1980:96) reports discovery of a coin of Aretas IV (9 BC – 40 CE) in the fill of silo D.3:57 which he suggests was placed as part of reconstruction after the earthquake. Although Mitchel (1980:96) acknowledges that this suggests that the causitive earthquake was the 31 BCE Josephus Quake, Mitchel (1980:96) argued for a later earthquake based on the mistaken belief that the 31 BCE Josephus Quake had an epicenter in the Galilee. Paleoseismic evidence from the Dead Sea, however, indicates that the 31 BCE Josephus Quake had an epicenter in the vicinity of the Dead Sea relatively close to Tell Hesban. Mitchel (1980:96-98)'s argument follows:
The filling of the silos, caves, and other broken—up bedrock installations at the end of the Early Roman period was apparently carried out nearly immediately after the earthquake occurred. This conclusion is based on the absence of evidence for extended exposure before filling (silt, water—laid deposits, etc.), which in fact suggests that maybe not even one winter's rain can be accounted for between the earthquake and the Stratum 13 filling operation. If this conclusion is correct, then the Aretas IV coin had to have been introduced into silo D.3:57 fill soon after the earthquake. which consequently could not have been earlier than 9 B.C.

The nature of the pottery preserved on the soft, deep fills overlying collapsed bedrock is also of significant importance to my argument in favor of the A.D. 130 earthquake as responsible for the final demise of underground (bedrock) installations in Areas B and D. Table 7 provides a systematic presentation of what I consider to be the critical ceramic evidence from loci in three adjacent squares, D.3, D.4, and B.7. The dates of the latest pottery uniformly carry us well beyond the date of the earthquake which damaged Qumran, down, in fact, closer to the end of the 1st century A.D. or the beginning of the 2nd.

In addition to these three fill loci, soil layer D.4:118A (inside collapsed cave D.4:116 + D.4:118) yielded Early Roman I-III sherds, as well as two Late Roman I sherds (Square D.4 pottery pails 265, 266). Contamination of these latter samples is possible, but not likely. I dug the locus myself.

Obviously, this post-31 B.C. pottery could have been deposited much later than 31 B.C.. closer, say, to the early 2nd century A.D., but the evidence seems to be against such a view. I personally excavated much of locus D.4:101 (Stratum 13). It was a relatively homogeneous, unstratified fill of loose soil that gave all the appearances of rapid deposition in one operation. From field descriptions of the apparently parallel loci in Squares D.3 and B.7. I would judge them to be roughly equivalent and subject to the same interpretation and date. And I repeat, the evidence for extended exposure to the elements (and a concomitant slow, stratified deposition) was either missed in excavation, not properly recorded, or did not exist.

This case is surely not incontrovertible but seems to me to carry the weight of the evidence which was excavated at Tell Hesban.
Mitchel (1980:100)'s 130 CE date for the causitive earthquake rests on the assumption that the "fills" were deposited soon after bedrock collapse. If one discards this assumption, numismatic evidence and ceramic evidence suggests that the "fill" was deposited over a longer period of time - perhaps even 200+ years - and the causitive earthquake was earlier. Unfortunately, it appears that the terminus ante quem for the bedrock collapse event is not well constrained. The terminus post quem appears to depend on the date for lower levels of Stratum 14 which seems to have been difficult to date precisely and underlying Stratum 15 which Mitchel (1980:21) characterized as chronologically difficult.

Tel Ateret aka Vadun Jacob indeterminate Ellenblum et. al. (2015) estimate ~1.5 meters of fault slip occurred on the site between its abandonment probably in the middle of the first century BC and when a Crusader fortress was built at the end of the 12th century CE. Due to the sites abandonment and lack of identified new constructions 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.
Khirbet Tannur possible There is no evidence using McKenzie et al (2013)'s chronology instead of Glueck (1965)'s chronology however a dedicatory inscription dated to 8/7 BCE suggests that there may have been seismic damage prior to 8/7 BCE.
Iraq el-Amir indeterminate El-Isa (1985) noted seismic effects at Iraq el-Emir however no archeological dating was provided. El-Isa (1985) speculated that the causitive earthquake may have been the Josephus Quake of 31 BCE.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Jerusalem - Introduction



Jerusalem - Jason’s Tomb



Qumran



Jericho and environs - Introduction



Jericho - Tel Abu Alaik



Heshbon



Tel Ateret aka Vadun Jacob



Khirbet Tannur



Iraq el Amir



Tsunamogenic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

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Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Tekieh Trenches possible to unlikely ≥ 7 Gomez et. al. (2003:15) may have seen evidence for an earthquake in the 1st or 2nd century BCE in Event B. Event B is estimated to have created ~ 2 meters of left lateral strike slip displacement which translates to an estimated Magnitude between 7.0 and 7.3 (7.0 and 7.2 according to Gomez et al, 2003:16-17). In terms of dating, an upper bound for Event B is 170 BCE - 20 CE while a lower bound for Events B and and the older Event C is from 1690 - 1400 BCE.
Bet Zayda possible ≥ 7 Event CH4-E6 (modeled age 392 BCE – 91 CE) from Wechsler at al. (2014) could have been caused by the Josephus Quake.
Jordan Valley - Dir Hagla Trenches probable ≥ 7 Reches and Hoexter (1981) report that Event A was dated from 200 BCE - 200 CE and exhibited 3.5 m of vertical displacement. Although the total vertical displacement could have been created by more than one seismic event, there were no broken layers between Event A the next Event (B) which was dated to between 700 and 900 CE. Further, they interpreted Event A created a fault scarp on the site. Kagan, E., et al. (2011) noted that the dip slip could have been magnified by local variations in the strike of the fault.
Dead Sea - Seismite Types n/a n/a n/a
Dead Sea - Nahal Darga probable ≥ 7 Enzel et. al. (2000) identified a 40-75 cm. thick seismite in coarse grained lithology in Deformed Unit 9 in Stratigraphic Unit 11 which dated to ~50 BCE (~ 2000 yrs BP).
Dead Sea - En Feshkaprobable 7.9 - 8.8 Kagan et al (2011) report a 1 cm. thick Type 4 microbreccia seismite at a depth of 364.0 cm. with modeled ages of 25 BCE ± 32 (1σ) and 25 BCE ± 71 (2σ). They assigned this seismite to the 31 BCE Josephus Quake.
Dead Sea - En Gedi probable 8.2 - 9.0 Migowski et. al. (2004) dated a 9 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 283.86 cm. (2.8386 m) to 31 BCE.
Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim probable 8.1-9.5 (All sites)
  • Photo of what is presumed to be the 31 BC seismite (Event B at site ZA-1) from Agnon et al (2006)
  • Annotated Photo of Events B (31 BCE) and C (26-36 CE) near site ZA-1 from Williams et al (2011)
  • Annotated Photo of Events B (31 BCE) and C (26-36 CE) near site ZA-1 from photo by Jefferson Williams
At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 6 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 486 cm. with modeled ages of 3 BCE ± 38 (1σ) and 2 BCE ± 38 (2σ) which they assigned to the 31 BCE Josephus Quake. At site ZA-1, Kagan et. al. (2011) observed the same seismite but at ZA-1, it was a 20.5 cm. thick Type 4 seismite. Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) also observed what appears to be the same seismite at site ZA-1. This seismite was labeled as Event B, was dated to 65 CE ± 165 (± 2σ) with most probable age listed as 50 BCE-230 CE, and had an average thickness of 15 cm and was Type 4 (brecciated). Observations in the field by Jefferson Williams indicates that this seismite is consistently brecciated at sites ZA-1, ZA-4, and ZA-5.
Araba - Introduction n/a n/a n/a
Araba - Taybeh Trench possible ≥ 7 LeFevre et al. (2018) tentatively identified a poorly expressed seismic event (E5) in the Taybeh trench in the Araba which they modeled between 14 BCE and 205 CE. Although they identified the 31 BCE Josephus Quake as the most likely candidate, the ~31 CE Jerusalem Quake may be an even 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 second century CE Incense Road Earthquake.
Araba - Qatar Trench no evidence ≥ 7 Klinger et. al. (2015) did not observe any seismic events whose time window encompassed 31 BCE.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Tekieh Trenches

Gomez et. al. (2003:15) may have seen evidence for an earthquake in the 1st or 2nd century BCE in Event B. Event B is estimated to have created ~ 2 meters of left lateral strike slip displacement which translates to an estimated Magnitude between 7.0 and 7.3 (7.0 and 7.2 according to Gomez et al, 2003:16-17). In terms of dating, an upper bound for Event B is 170 BCE - 20 CE while a lower bound for Events B and and the older Event C is from 1690 - 1400 BCE.



Bet Zayda (aka Beteiha)

Event CH4-E6 (modeled age 392 BCE – 91 CE) from Wechsler at al. (2014) could have been caused by the Josephus Quake.



Jordan Valley - Dir Hagla Trenches

Reches and Hoexter (1981) report that Event A was dated from 200 BCE - 200 CE and exhibited 3.5 m of vertical displacement. Although the total vertical displacement could have been created by more than one seismic event, there were no broken layers between Event A the next Event (B) which was dated to between 700 and 900 CE. Further, they interpreted Event A created a fault scarp on the site. Kagan, E., et al. (2011) noted that the dip slip could have been magnified by local variations in the strike of the fault.



Dead Sea - Seismite Types



Dead Sea - Nahal Darga

Enzel et. al. (2000) identified a 40-75 cm. thick seismite in coarse grained lithology in Deformed Unit 9 in Stratigraphic Unit 11 which dated to ~50 BCE (~ 2000 yrs BP).



Dead Sea - En Feshka

Kagan et al (2011) report a 1 cm. thick Type 4 microbreccia seismite at a depth of 364.0 cm. with modeled ages of 25 BCE ± 32 (1σ) and 25 BCE ± 71 (2σ). They assigned this seismite to the 31 BCE Josephus Quake.



Dead Sea - En Gedi

Migowski et. al. (2004) dated a 9 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 283.86 cm. (2.8386 m) to 31 BCE.



Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim

At site ZA-2, Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 6 cm. thick Type 4 seismite at a depth of 486 cm. with modeled ages of 3 BCE ± 38 (1σ) and 2 BCE ± 38 (2σ) which they assigned to the 31 BCE Josephus Quake. At site ZA-1, Kagan et. al. (2011) observed the same seismite but at ZA-1, it was a 20.5 cm. thick Type 4 seismite. Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) also observed what appears to be the same seismite at site ZA-1. This seismite was labeled as Event B, was dated to 65 CE ± 165 (± 2σ) with most probable age listed as 50 BCE-230 CE, and had an average thickness of 15 cm and was Type 4 (brecciated). Observations in the field by Jefferson Williams indicates that this seismite is consistently brecciated at sites ZA-1, ZA-4, and ZA-5.



Araba - Introduction



Araba - Taybeh Trench

LeFevre et al. (2018) tentatively identified a poorly expressed seismic event (E5) in the Taybeh trench in the Araba which they modeled between 14 BCE and 205 CE. Although they identified the 31 BCE Josephus Quake as the most likely candidate, the ~31 CE Jerusalem Quake may be an even 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 second century CE Incense Road Earthquake.



Araba - Qatar Trench

Klinger et. al. (2015) did not observe any seismic events whose time window encompassed 31 BCE.



Notes

Magnitude Estimate of Kagan et al (2011)

Assuming that it is likely that the entire ~110 km. Jordan Valley segment ruptured during this earthquake, Kagan et al (2011) estimated a magnitude of 7.2 for the 31 BCE Josephus Quake. The spatial distribution of paleoseismic evidence, however, suggests fault ruptures further south.

Paleoclimate - Droughts

Date (with hotlink) Notes
13th year of Herod's Rule
Date (with hotlink) Notes
13th year of Herod's Rule

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 Rome1. 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 Finegan, J. (1998), Section 227 – additional discussion in Sections 501 - 503.

References