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Paul and Silas Quake

48 - 51 CE

by Jefferson Williams









Introduction & Summary

This earthquake report is based on a passage from the New Testament Book of Acts that describes an earthquake that allegedly ocurred in Philippi, Macedonia far from the Dead Sea Transform. The passage describes a jail break opportunity created by a providential earthquake. Paul, who is considered to be the first or second most important founder of Christianity, and his companion Silas were languishing in prison - in Philippi. After singing holy hymns at midnight, an earthquake broke open the doors of the prison and Paul and Silas escaped to the home of their Jailer. Although this story does not describe an earthquake along the Dead Sea Transform, it is included in this Catalog because multiple catalogs have misreported an earthquake in 48 CE in Judea - based on this story. See the Notes section for a discussion of how the erroneous claim that this was a Judean earthquake propagated through the catalogs. Ambraseys (2009) dates this earthquake to 51 CE.

Textual Evidence

Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
New Testament - Acts of the Apostles Greek
Biography

The Acts of the Apostles is the 5th book of the New Testament and tells the story of the early Christian community from just after Jesus' death in ~33 CE until just before the Apostle Paul's Martyrdom in Rome in the first half of the 60s CE. It's author, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, is anonymous. Church tradition says it was authored by a companion of Paul the Apostle known as Luke the Evangelist. It's date of composition is debated. Estimates range from ~62 CE when the text ends to 110 CE.

Christian ~62 - ~110 CE Rome ? Describes an earthquake in Philippi, Macedonia around 50 CE.
Text (with hotlink) Original Language Biographical Info Religion Date of Composition Location Composed Notes
New Testament - Acts of the Apostles

Background and Biography

Background and Biography

The Acts of the Apostles is the 5th book of the New Testament and tells the story of the early Christian community from just after Jesus' death in ~33 CE until just before the Apostle Paul's Martyrdom in Rome in the first half of the 60s CE. It's author, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, is anonymous. Church tradition says it was authored by a companion of Paul the Apostle known as Luke the Evangelist. It's date of composition is debated. Estimates range from ~62 CE when the text ends to 110 CE.

Excerpts
Acts of the Apostles Chapter 16 Verses 25-26 - NIV English Translation

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.

Acts of the Apostles Chapter 16 - NIV English Translation - Embedded



Chronology Seismic Effects Locations Online Versions and Further Reading

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Herodium unlikely to possible Earthquake in the 40s or 50s CE - speculative - Ahipaz et al (2017:126) interpreted numismatic evidence at Herodium to infer abandonment of the site in the 40s or 50s CE which they speculated might have been due to an earthquake.
Location (with hotlink) Status Intensity Notes
Herodium



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 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 unlikely 7.9 - 8.8 Migowski et. al. (2004) did not assign any seismites to a date of 48 CE or thereabouts.
Dead Sea - Nahal Ze 'elim unlikely 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) did not assign any seismites to a date of 48 CE or thereabouts.



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

Case study in propagating catalog errors

The good news is that the last erroneous catalog entry occurred in 1994 so hopefully this erroneous catalog entry has died a natural death.

Willis (1927), whose earthquake catalog forms a reference for many of the more recent earthquake catalogs, noted that an earthquake in 48 AD was felt in Palestine and Jerusalem and that damage was light. Willis (1928)’s sole reference was Arvanitakis (1903) who reports on a 48 AD earthquake felt in Jerusalem and Palestine where damage was light. Arvanitakis (1903) also mentions that there was the collapse of houses. The source for Arvanitakis (1903) is the Acts of the Apostles (8:24) in the New Testament. Although there is mention of an earthquake in the Acts of the Apostles around 47-48 AD in Philippi, Macedonia while Paul and Silas were imprisoned, this account is not in 8:24. It is in 16:26.

The catalog of Amiran et. al. (1994) lists an earthquake in 48 AD with the description “Palestine, Jerusalem; slight”. Amiran et. al. (1994)’s references were Willis (1928) and Arvanitakis (1903). Ben-Menahem (1979) has a catalogue entry that reads as follows :

9 BC to 50 AD (Perhaps 48 AD), Along the Arava Fault (EAE,NG). Structures at the Nabatian Temple at Aram (Gebel-E-Ram, 40 km. east of Akaba, built ca 31-36 A.D), fortified to withstand earthquakes. Same at Tel-El Haleife, near Eilat, and at Petra. ML = 6.2.
The sources Ben-Menahem (1979) cites (EAE,NG) do not discuss textual evidence for a 48 AD earthquake. Rather, they refer to indirect archeoseismic evidence for earthquakes along the Arava Fault during this time period. This archeoseismic evidence is the Archaeoseismic Evidence section of the Jerusalem Quake starting with the row titled "Structures in the Araba". It is likely that Ben-Menahem (1979)’s speculation about a 48 AD earthquake is also based on the catalog error of Willis (1928) and by extension Arvanitakis (1903). Ben-Menahem (1991, page 20198) again mentions the same three structures along the Arava Fault where in a somewhat garbled passage he opines that one or perhaps all three structures experienced an earthquake in 48 AD.

Paleoclimate - Droughts

References