The Passion Narrative chronicling the death and supposed resurrection of Jesus is likely the
most influential story in the History of Western Civilization. In a few renderings of this story, an earthquake is reported to have occurred in the moments after
Jesus’ death on the cross and right before the discovery of his empty tomb. Although the veracity and chronological
accuracy of this account is in question, paleoseismic and archeoseismic evidence indicates that an earthquake struck Judea around this time and led to some damage
to the second Temple in Jerusalem.
This earthquake is referred to as the 33 AD earthquake in most earthquake catalogs. In some catalogs, it may be referred to as a 30 AD earthquake. Both dates refer to the
same textual account – The Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The reason for the differing dates has to do with uncertainty regarding the year of Jesus’ death.
This uncertainty is discussed towards the end of the section on Textual evidence. In the interest of clarity, I will refer to the earthquake seen in paleoseismic and
archeoseismic evidence as the Jerusalem Quake and the earthquake referred to in the New Testament account as the Crucifixion Quake. It is not know what relation,
if any, exists between the Jerusalem Quake and the alleged Crucifixion Quake.
Gospel Accounts - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
In the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, two earthquakes are mentioned in the midst of the Passion narrative. Both describe seismic shaking in Jerusalem.
The first description comes from the 27th Chapter of Matthew.
50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
28 In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.
2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
3 His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:
4 And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.
6 He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.
7 And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.
8 And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.
From a seismic perspective, this could describe a foreshock and main shock or a main shock and an aftershock. However the supernatural imagery, symbolism,
and apparent theological agenda of the author brings into question whether the earthquakes are used as a literary device meant to impart a spiritual meaning rather
than describing a real event.
Two other gospel accounts (Mark and
Luke) mention the tearing of the Temple Curtain in the moments surrounding
Jesus death but do not mention an earthquake. The fourth canonical Gospel account
mentions neither. The second Temple had two veils or curtains – a large one visible from the outside and an inner one,
not visible from the outside.
The inner curtain was placed in front of the Inner Sanctum of the Temple
– a place known as the Holy of the Holies. None of the canonical
Gospel accounts are specific about which curtain was torn. Further, since the Temple faced the east, the outer veil would not have been visible from
the traditional site of Golgotha
where Jesus is thought to have been crucified. This indicates that the frightened Centurion at the
end of the first account would not likely have been able to see a curtain tear. However, at an alternate crucixion site
proposed by Dr. James Tabor and others (the Mount of Olives),
the outer curtain would have been visible. For a discussion of evidence supporting the traditional crucifixion site at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,
see footnote . For an exegesis of Matthew's
storytelling regarding the two earthquakes, see the Notes section under the Gospel of Nicodemus.
Gospel of the Hebrews
Two quotes taken from the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews mention Temple damage and,
implicitly, the earthquake. This gospel, supposedly originally written in Hebrew or possibly Aramaic is not extant and only exists in fragments mentioned by other writers.
Church Scholar Jerome  obtained a copy of this gospel from the
library in Caesarea.
Writing around 398 AD, he stated the following in two different passages about the Gospel of the Hebrews.
In the gospel we often mention we read that the immense Temple lintel fell and broke into pieces
In like manner, the Gospel of the Nazarenes says that at the death of Christ the Temple lintel of great size was broken
Edwards (2009, pp. 88-90) indicates that in Jerome’s writings, the “gospel we often mention” and
the Gospel of the Nazarenes both refer the Gospel of the Hebrews .
What is interesting about this description is it’s compatibility with the accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark which state that the curtain tore from top to
bottom. Although this top to bottom description has traditionally been understood to indicate that the curtain tore due to God and not man, the top to bottom tearing
is consistent with a lintel breaking and tearing the curtain from the top where it would have been affixed to the
Temple structure . A lintel break is a common seismic effect on stone structures as can be observed in the
~90 cases of doorway, lintel, and archway damage
observed at at Qalat Nimrod due to the
Baalbek Quake(s) of 1759 CE.
The Gospel of the Hebrews is mentioned by a number of early writers (Edwards, 2009). Legend has it that it was composed in Hebrew
by the Disciple Matthew in Jerusalem
before ~40 AD after which he left; possibly to evangelize in Parthia . Whether this legend is true is a matter of dispute.
Some scholars believe that the Gospel of the Hebrews was written in the second century AD and was derived from earlier canonical Gospels. Edwards (2009) argues that
the Gospel of the Hebrews was written early – earlier than the four canonical gospels. He notes that it was referred to by a minimum of 17 authors 
writing from the
2nd to 8th centuries AD – starting with Papias who, writing between ~95 and ~120 AD said 
Therefore Matthew put the logia in an ordered arrangement in the Hebrew language, but each person interpreted them as best he could
Nature of the Gospel Accounts
The alleged early authorship of the Gospel of the Hebrews is important due to the later dates when the canonical gospels are thought to have been written. The New Testament
letters of Paul
can be reliably dated to the 50’s AD and it appears that no Gospel quotes are contained within them; making an argument that the canonical Gospel accounts did not exist in a written
form at that time (a competing argument is shown in footnote  ). Despite their titles, the four canonical gospels are thought to be written by anonymous authors something so
common in Greek literature at the time that there is word for this type of literature – pseudepigrapha.
Acts of the Apostles
In the New Testament book the Acts of the Apostles
(written by the author of Luke),
a third seismic shock is recorded in Jerusalem. The accuracy of this part of the Acts of the Apostles
is a matter of debate as is the timing of the seismic shock but, taken at face value, it records a seismic aftershock
perhaps 8 weeks after the two shocks described in Matthew.
In Chapter 4 verse 31 we can read:
31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured
strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekal would open by themselves, until
Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekal, Hekal,
why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself?
Since the second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, 40 years before its destruction refers to ~30 AD. The signs above were interpreted as omens of the Temple’s ensuing destruction.
Many of the signs appear superstitious but the spontaneous opening of the doors of Hekal (the main sanctuary building) could be a reflection of seismic
damage to the doorway as doors that do not open or close properly are a frequent result of light structural damage from an earthquake.
Subsidence is also a possible cause of distortion of a door frame.
Moreover, the eastern gate of the inner [court of the] temple, which was of brass, and vastly heavy, and had been with difficulty shut by twenty men,
and rested upon a basis armed with iron, and had bolts fastened very deep into the firm floor, which was there made of one entire stone,
was seen to be opened of its own accord about the sixth hour of the night.
Josephus does not provide a firm date for this spontaneous door opening; only stating that it happened "before the Jews' rebellion, and before those commotions which preceded the war".
Like the Talmud, Josephus described other portents some of which seem possible (e.g. a celestial object described as looking like a sword and a comet) and others which seem
fantastical (e.g. a heifer birthing a lamb in the Temple). While this suggests oral transmission, embellishment, and invention, a second source describing spontaneous opening of the doors
gives more credence to the door opening observation in the Talmud.
The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure.
The similarity of other prodigies (or portents) mentioned by Tacitus in paragraph 13 suggests that Josephus was one of Tacitus' sources so this cannot be necessarily be viewed as independent corroboration.
Like Josephus, Tacitus did not provide a firm date for the spontaneous door opening only stating that it "had occurred" before the first
The Talmud deduces that the Chamber of Hewn Stones was built into the north wall of the Temple,
half inside the sanctuary and half outside, with doors providing access both to the temple and to the outside. The name presumably arises to distinguish
it from the buildings in the temple complex used for ritual purposes, which had to be constructed of unhewn stones. The Commentary on the Talmud gives a reason for
moving the Sanhedrin. Depending on the Rabbi, they no longer had the authority to judge cases of fines and/or cases of capital punishment.
However it is also possible that the structure was unsafe; possibly due to seismic damage or differential settlement on Temple Mount. By ~30 AD,
the Herodian Temple Mount rebuilding project should have been mostly completed. Herodian building projects, marked by their use of large heavy stones,
may have been occasionally beset by subsidence problems when built on weak soils such as was apparently underlain on Temple Mount. Josephus, for example,
mentions foundation failures on Temple Mount . Subsidence problems may have also taken
place in the breakwaters of a Herodian project in Caesarea  .
In Book 5 of the Jewish War, Josephus related that construction materials (timbers) had been brought to the Temple during the reign of
Herod Agrippa (41-44 CE) to be used in Temple construction or possibly
reconstruction. In Chapter 1 Paragraph 5, we can read:
for the people and the priests had formerly determined to support the temple, and raise the holy house twenty cubits higher;
for king Agrippa had at a very great expense, and with very great pains, brought thither such materials as were proper for that
purpose, being pieces of timber very well worth seeing, both for their straightness and their largeness;
This quote from Josephus is placed in the context of using those timbers at a later date to construct war machines during the
first Jewish War (66-73 CE) against Rome.
Year of Jesus’ Death
The year that Jesus died is not explicitly stated in any of the four canonical gospels. The only solid information we have is that Jesus died during the reign of
something which is agreed on by all 4 gospels as well as the Roman Historian Tacitus in
Annals, book 15, chapter 44
and the Jewish Historian Josephus in
Antiquities of the Jews Book 18 Chapter 3 Paragraph 3 . Pilate’s reign, which is verified with
archeologic evidence , is dated to 26 -~37 AD based on Josephus’ writings in his book Jewish Antiquities .
Using techniques of historical astronomy and textual clues .
identified 4 possible years for the crucifixion during Pilates reign – 27 AD, 30 AD, 33 AD, and 34 AD. 27 AD and 34 AD were rejected on historical grounds leaving two
possible dates – 7 April 30 AD and 3 April 33 AD  . This is how the years 30 and 33 AD are variously reported as the date of the alleged Earthquake(s) of the Crucifixion.
See footnote  for a more extensive discussion.
Intensity of Shaking in Jerusalem
If one concentrates solely on seismic descriptions in the Gospel of Matthew, there is mention of grave damage and limited damage to the Second Temple.
The grave damage could be estimated to reflect a Modified Mercalli Intensity (MMI) level of VI and damage to the lintel of the Second Temple merits
an MMI rating of VII. However, the Temple Mount Platform on which the Second Temple was located appears to have suffered from a seismic amplification
effect once the Herodian Temple rebuilding project was completed perhaps around ~27 - ~28 AD.
Salamon et. al. (2010)
noted that structures on the
Temple Mount appear to undergo frequent damage during earthquakes. A more detailed discussion about seismic amplification on the Temple Mount is
contained in the Notes section of this catalog entry. Considering the amplification effect, one can revise down the Temple damage to reflect an area wide MMI intensity of VI.
This is compatible with estimates by
Williams (2004)) that the Jerusalem Earthquake of 26-36 AD was caused by an earthquake with a magnitude between 6.0 and 6.5 with
an epicenter in the south part of the Dead Sea perhaps close to the modern Jordanian village of Al Masraa. Such an earthquake would result in an approximate
MMI Intensity of VI in Jerusalem. At this intensity, it is unlikely that lives were lost but damage to weak structures (e.g. graves) or structures subject to
seismic amplification (e.g. Temple damage) is possible.
Williams (2004) magnitude and epicenter estimates are accurate and seismic amplification was in effect on Temple Mount, the question remains whether the earthquake
description in the Gospel of Matthew is accurate in terms of chronology or whether it reflects an earthquake from around that time which was somehow incorporated into
the New Testament account perhaps seeding the imagination of the author or getting conflated with the Passion narrative in the various oral traditions that would have
been circulating in the years following Jesus’ death.
Sites with reported damage from the Jerusalem Quake are summarized below and then discussed in more detail.
Strata 15–13. The Second Temple Period: The Late Construction Phase
The beginning of this phase (Stratum 15) is related to the expansion of the Temple Mount during Herod’s reign and it continues until the destruction of the city in 70 CE
(Figs. 13, 14).
Extensive building activity occurred at the foot of the Temple Mount’s western wall at this time and Wilson’s Arch
(Building C; see Fig. 3) is the principal structure belonging to
this phase. The arch is part of an ‘interchange’ that is similar in its general shape to the ‘interchange’ at
Robinson’s Arch. At some point in time, which cannot be dated with
certainty (Stratum 14), destruction that resulted in the collapse of building stones with drafted margins (known as Herodian stones) had occurred. So far, this collapse has been
documented near the Wilson’s Arch pier. The destruction can be ascribed to an earthquake that struck Jerusalem in the year 31 BCE, or more likely, in the years 30 or 33 CE;
it may have been caused by some other, unknown reason. Subsequent to this earthquake event, construction was resumed and the damaged buildings were repaired (Stratum 13).
The tops of the walls in Halls 21 and 23 of Building B were completed and new vaulted roofs were placed above them. Toward the end of this phase (Stratum 13), plastered installations
were added, several of which have been identified as ritual baths in the vaulted spaces (C) of Wilson’s Arch ‘interchange’ and at the top of Foundation Wall A.
Another seismic possibility for the damage reported by Onn et. al. (2011) is the
Jewish War Quake of 68 AD however since the
Jewish War against Rome was in effect at that time,
it seems unlikely that the subsequent building repairs (Stratum 13) would have been completed under such conditions.
Regev et al (2020) performed radiocarbon dating and microarcheology
on northern and southern piers under Wilson's Arch and reported radiocarbon dates of 20 BCE - 20 CE for the northern pier and drainage channel and
30 - 60 CE 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
initiated sometime after ~30 CE of the Bridge associated with Wilson's Arch. 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 (of the sediments) caused this seismic bridge damage.
Karcz, Kafri, and Meshel (1977)
list “Tilted walls, aligned fallen masonry, cracks, and collapse” at Masada due to shocks in the 1st century BC and later.
They cite the following references :
Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in Eretz Israel, Hebrew edn, 2 vol (Massada, Jerusalem, 1970).
Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in Eretz Israel, English edn (updated), vol 1 and 2 (from 4) (Massada, Jerusalem, 1975).
Structures in the Arava
Ben-Menahem (1979, page 259) and
Ben-Menahem (1991, page 20198)
report that three structures in the Arava were fortified to withstand earthquakes between the years 9 BC and 50 AD .
This could reflect indirect evidence of a recent earthquake; primarily due to a Nabatean pattern of quickly repairing structures after earthquakes during this prosperous period
(citation needed – e.g. Khirbet Tannur Petra ). He locates these structures in Petra, Tel el Haliefe, and Wadi Ramm. His references are
Avi-Yonah (1975) Vol III and IV and
These sites are discussed below.
Unfortunately, Ben-Menahem (1979, page 259) and Ben-Menahem (1991, page 20198)
did not specify which structure at Petra was fortified. He may have been referring to the
“Temple of the High Places” but absent specific information, it is not possible to assess this claim.
Tel el Haliefe
This site does not appear to contain any evidence for fortification of structures between 9 BC and 50 AD.
Practico and DeVito (1993), Avi-Yonah (1975), and Glueck (1945)
all state that the site appears to have been abandoned by 4th or 3rd century BC at the latest. Glueck (1945) interpreted the site as a seaport on the
Gulf of Aqaba which was active from the 10th to 5th century BC but which is now inland because
the shoreline migrated. The Nabateans whose Kings ruled from 169 BC - 106 AD had their seaport at a
town on the coast named Alia (aka Ayla) which became Roman-ruled after Trajan
conquered the Nabateans in 106 AD.
Temple to Allat in Wadi Ramm (aka Er-Ram aka Gebel Ramm)
They key seismic discovery at the Temple to Allat is a Thamudic  inscription discovered
at the ruins on the site. The inscription may have been placed after the site was rebuilt due to earthquake damage. This may reflect be a pattern during this time
when the Nabateans rebuilt their temples  soon after earthquakes damaged them  .
The inscription contains a fragment of a date: and this is written on the day/ . . . of Ab in the year 40 and . . . ,. '
Two alternatives were proposed for dating this inscription (Avi-Yonah, 1975)
1. The inscription refers to the 41st or 45th year  in the reign of Aretas IV;
the only Nabatean King who ruled for more than 40 years. This would place the date of the inscription in ~32 or ~37 AD. 
2. The date specifies the era of the Provincia Arabia which would
date the inscription to 147 or 151 AD .
Because the excavators found no mention of Aretas IV’s surname (Philopatris) in the inscription, they favored the second date  (Avi-Yonah, 1975).
If the Temple of Allat was damaged by the Jerusalem Quake, this would indicate that this was a much larger earthquake (perhaps ~7.0) generating seismic effects in the
southern and northern Arava as well as the Dead Sea and Jerusalem.
Paleoseismic Evidence for the Jerusalem Quake is summarized below:
one of two candidates - 1 cm. thick
good evidence - 3-4 cm. thick in the En Gedi Trench
In En Feshka, Kagan et. al. (2011) identified a 1 cm. thick microbreccia seismite
at a depth of 338 cm. which they
dated to between 25 and 100 AD (1 σ). They listed the 33 AD earthquake (ie the Jerusalem Quake) as the most likely
candidate although they also suggested the 76 AD Sybil Quake
as a second possibility. However, the Sybil Quake
was too far away to have created a Dead Sea seismite. The potentially dubious 68 CE
Jewish War Quake might be a better second possibility.
Migowski et. al. (2004) identified a thin seismite (0.2 cm.)
at a depth of 274 cm. (2.74 m) in the DSEn core taken at En Gedi and assigned it a date of 33 AD based on varve counting in the core.
Williams et. al. (2012)
later worked on the same core that Migowski et. al. (2004) worked on and dated the same seismite to
26-36 AD using an identical varve counting technique. However, Williams et al. (2012) estimated a varve count error which led to the spread of dates.
Later work by Lopez-Merino et. al. (2016)
showed that Dead Sea varves can best be described as semi-annual rather than annual.
This indicates that Dead Sea varve counts are error-prone and need to be calibrated by known seismite producing earthquakes to produce an accurate estimate of date of formation.
An uncertainty estimate is also required.
Williams et al (2012)'s varve counts in the En Gedi Core between the 31 BC
Josephus Quake and Jerusalem Quake are shown below.
It should be noted that although Migowski et. al. (2004) and Williams et. al. (2012) observed a very thin seismite (0.2 cm.) associated with the Jerusalem Quake in the
En Gedi Core, subsequent field work by Williams in a gully (aka the En Gedi Trench) located ~40 meters from the core site has shown the Jerusalem Quake seismite to be substantially thicker
(3 – 9 cm. with an average of 3-4 cm.). Thickening and thinning of seismites are frequently observed in outcrop and the thickness may be controlled by site effects,
lithological changes, and subtle changes in topography (terracing) that cause the seismite layers to flow during earthquakes of longer duration.
Migowski et. al. (2004) assigned a magnitude of 5.5 to the Jerusalem Quake seismite apparently based on the work of
Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) which estimated a magnitude of 5.5 for the
the seismite they assigned to the Jerusalem Quake (33 AD in their paper). This was based on an assumption by Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) that the Jerusalem Quake only produced a
seismite locally at Nahal Ze 'elim (ZA1) and that an earthquake must be at least magnitude 5.5 to produce a seismite in the epicentral region. However, since seismites were
observed at two locations (En Gedi and Nahal Ze 'elim), the magnitude had to be larger.
Williams (2004) estimated the magnitude of the Jerusalem Quake to between 6.0 and 6.5 (~6.3)
with an epicenter close the Jordanian town of Al Masraa. The methodology of Williams (2004) was to estimate local intensity based on seismite thickness and then locate the
causitive earthquake on known earthquake producing faults - in this case the Arava Fault.
Migowski et al (2004)'s seismite at a depth of 274 cm.(2.74 m) can be observed in the table below:
(source: Table 2) :
Nahal Ze ‘elim (ZA-1)
Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) was the first to discover and publish about this seismite.
They dated Event C in Nahal Ze ‘elim to between 5 and 50 AD and associated it with a
33 AD earthquake listed in the catalogs (i.e. the Jerusalem Quake). They assigned a magnitude of 5.5 which is thought to be the minimum magnitude possible to create a
seismite in the epicentral region.
Williams (2004) examined the same seismite (Event C) as Ken-Tor et. al. (2001a) but revised the magnitude estimate up to ~6.3 by placing
the earthquake on known faults and estimating the strength of shaking required to create a seismite of the observed thickness in Nahal Ze ‘elim (~ 4 - 5cm.).
The most likely fault break according to
Williams (2004) was the northern part of the
Arava Fault with an epicenter close to the Jordanian town of Al Masraa.
Ken-Tor (nee Bookman) related that Event C was observed to thicken and thin throughout the outcrop occasionally pinching out and disappearing (personal communication, 2000).
Nahal Ze ‘elim (ZA-2)
Kagan et. al. (2011) worked a site in Nahal Ze ‘elim (ZA-2) that was more seaward than the site of Ken-Tor et. al. (2001a) and Williams (2004).
There, they dated a 4 cm. thick seismite at a depth 0f 470 cm. to 12-91 AD (1 σ) and associated it with the 33 AD earthquake. They again listed the 76 AD Sybil Earthquake in
Cyprus as possible candidate but again, this earthquake was too far away to have created a seismite in this part of the Dead Sea.
The potentially dubious 68 CE
Jewish War Quake
may be a more likely second candidate for this seismite. (source: Table 3)
LeFevre et al. (2018) tentatively identified a poorly expressed seismic event (E5) in the
Taybeh trench in the Araba which they modeled between 80 BC and 141 AD. Although they identified the 31 BC
Josephus Quake as the most likely candidate,
the ~31 AD Jerusalem Quake may be a more likely candidate. The potentially dubious 68 AD
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
Incense Road Earthquake which struck between 110 AD and 114 AD.
In some catalogs, earthquake damage in Nicea, Pontus or Bithynia (all in modern day northern Turkey) is listed as occurring in 30 or 33 AD. This is a mistake that has propagated
from earlier catalogs. For details see the catalog entry for the Solar Eclipse Quake.
Seismic Amplification on Temple Mount
Structures on the Temple Mount appear to undergo frequent damage during earthquakes
(Salamon et al, 2010).
Although Salamon (personal communication 2013) cautions that It is not known if this frequent damage is due to an over reporting of damage or a local site effect,
a site effect due to fill is highly probable for those parts of Temple Mount where the fill is thick. Other site effects (e.g. topographic, wave guide, and slope) may also be present
on some parts of the Temple Mount. Since the location of the Second Temple on Temple Mount is a mystery, all possible site effects are discussed below.
Site Effect due to Fill
Uncompacted fill was laid down in the Tyropean Valley during Herodian times in order to create the
Temple Mount Platform. The fill was thick in many sections; perhaps as thick as 19 meters
Uncompacted fill has a low shear wave velocity and seismic amplification is known to occur when a low shear wave velocity layer lies on
top of a higher velocity shear wave velocity layer(e.g. Dobry et al. 2000
Kawase, 2003); in this case Judea Group limestone. Below is a hypothetical cross-section of Temple
Mount showing the thickness of the fill.
While Salamon et. al. (2010) exercise caution in declaring that there is a definitive site effect at Temple Mount, the thick low velocity fill,
the seismic history of structures on Temple Mount, the higher than expected intensities experienced during the 1927
Jericho Quake (Salamon et. al., 2010),
and the Roof Collapse of
Al Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount
during the 1927 Jericho Quake all suggest that a site effect is likely present on at least some parts of Temple Mount.
If the Second Temple was located in approximately the same location as the modern Dome of the Rock,
there would be less of an amplification effect due to uncompacted fill but there might be a ridge  or topographic effect as the
Dome of the Rock exposes the underlying bedrock and therefore lies on more rock and less fill. Because Temple Mount is
centered on a ridge , certain frequencies of seismic energy can be trapped and amplified if they engage in constructive interference as they propagate upwards towards the ridge.
This is a frequency dependent phenomenon where maximum resonance occurs when the seismic wavelength matches the length of a ridge. Polarization or orientation of the shear waves
is also a factor.
Wave guide Effect
The Temple Mount structure might itself act as a wave guide. If the wavelength of a seismic wave is approximately equal to the width or length of a structure such as the Temple Mount,
constructive interference during propagation can lead to a resonance condition where the wave is effectively amplified. Given that the Temple Mount Platform measures 480 m x 280 m
(Salamon et. al., 2010), the question to be asked is under what conditions will one encounter a seismic wave with a wavelength of 480 m.
Salamon et. al. (2010) report that the Judea Mountain Group (limestone) at the base of most hills in Jerusalem and has a shear wave velocity (Vs ) ranging from 1100-2300 m/s.
Some simple calculations follow :
f = VS/λ
f = frequency (Hz.)
VS = Shear Wave Velocity (m/s)
λ = Wavelength (m)
Sample calculations for a wavelength (λ) of ~480 m follow :
If most decayed seismic energy in Israel is below 3 Hz. (Avi Shapira, personal communication 2004), the shear wave velocity would need to be less than 1450 m/s to resonate
with seismic energy of 3 Hz.. This is on the low end of the shear wave velocity range for the Judea Mountain Group.
So the conclusion is that a wave guide effect is possible through the Temple Mount Platform for seismic frequencies in a range of 2.3 – 3.0 Hz. provided that the underlying
limestone has a shear wave velocity below 1450 m/s.
Slope Effect near the walls of Temple Mount
Salamon et. al. (2010) noted that seismic amplification could occur on slopes greater than 60 degrees where the slope height is roughly equal to one fifth of a seismic wavelength.
Turning this relationship around, the frequency at which this effect will occur is defined as follows :
f = VS/(5*H)
f = frequency (Hz.)
VS = Shear Wave Velocity (m/s)
H = slope height in meters
Sample calculations for a 100 m slope height follow :
Practically speaking, under the conditions of the Judean Group formations (Vs = 1100 - 2300 m/s -
Salamon et al, 2010, Table 2)
and decayed seismic energy below 3 Hz., the slope height must be greater than 100 meters. Frequencies go even higher for smaller slope heights.
100 meter high slope heights are only found on the east and southeast side of Temple Mount so this is the only part of the structure where we might find an
added frequency dependent slope amplification effect provided the limestone shear wave velocity is less than 1500 m/s.
Seismic threat to structures
Salamon et. al. (2010) report that the frequency range of seismic threat to structures lies in the 0.5 – 10 Hz. range. For the relatively short structures thought to have been
placed on the Temple Mount, the greater seismic threat is at the lower end of that frequency range.
To get a firm understanding of the site effects on the Temple Mount Platform, one would need to create a seismic model with measured shear wave velocities of the various components
of the Temple Mount/Fill/Bedrock structure. What is discussed above is an elaborate version of a back of an envelope calculation.
Rolling Stone Calculation
When the author of Matthew reports a second earthquake in Chapter 28, he mentions that a Blocking or Rolling Stone was jarred open; revealing an empty tomb .
The relevant passage is repeated below.
1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
A force balance calculation can be made to determine the minimum peak horizontal ground acceleration
required to move the stone. At equilibrium conditions the disturbing force FH is balanced by the resisting force FR. When FH
exceeds FR, the Rolling Stone will begin to move. A diagram and the calculation is shown below.
Therefore, the force required to roll the Rolling Stone can be expressed in units of gravitation force (g)
and is equal to the coefficient of friction operating at the area
of contact between the rolling stone and the floor. One can approximate this coefficient by taking the value of the
coefficient of rolling friction of limestone on
limestone which is approximately equal to 0.25. Thus, a minimum of ~0.25 g of force was required to initiate rolling of the Rolling Stone. This calculation does not
consider a site effect and possible seismic amplification at Golgotha (Church of the Holy Sepulchre).
Peak horizontal ground acceleration of 0.25 g is somewhat
higher than what would be predicted for intensity of shaking in Jerusalem based on
Williams (2004) estimate of the magnitude and epicenter of the Jerusalem Quake.
Fiaschi, A., et al. (2012)
did not observe a site effect inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when they did a microtremor analysis there in 2007 and 2008.
Amos Salamon (personal correspondence with N. Ambraseys, 2005) relates that one should "not expect to have a site effect in this place due to lithology or topography, or any other
type of seismogenic effect (e.g. slope failure, liquefaction etc.)" and that the "the continuous seismic damage [observed in the] history in this place [Church of the Holy Sepulchre]
is due to poor construction and lack of anti-seismic engineering consideration, and not because of natural seismic hazards (except the ‘regular’ seismic waves)."
In 2004, Salamon observed that a crack in one of the outer walls of the Church which was enlarged by the NE Dead Sea Quake of 2004 (ML = 5.2).
Photos of this crack can be observed in a
and a closeup
(Courtesy A. Salamon).
According to a Geological Map of Jerusalem and Vicinity (GSI 1976), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located on the Bina formation - a Turonian Limestone and sometimes Dolomite.
Although an anthropogenic alluvium composed of accumulated archaeologic rubble is present under the foundations of a number of structures in the Old City, the history of the construction of the church
(Helena having workers excavate down to bedrock to find the tombs) and the bedrock that can be observed
in various parts of the interior of the church suggests significant amounts of artificial alluvium are not present underneath the structure itself and, more importantly for this discussion, would not
have been present underneath any rock cut tomb. Thus, although there are signs that the Church itself is seismically weak
as are buildings in the vicinity , there is no indication that
a site effect would have been present at this site when the Passion Account is alleged to have occurred.
The Cracks of Calvary
In his catalog entry for the 33 AD Earthquake, Ambraseys (2009) presents a discussion of the so-called
cracks of Calvary at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Although there are legends stating that these cracks were formed during the earthquake(s) of the Crucifixion, no-one to date has been able to either date the
formation of the cracks or confirm or dis affirm a seismic origin. So, while the discussion is interesting, it is not illuminating.
Other Gospel Accounts
Gospel of Peter
In the Gospel of Peter
an earthquake is mentioned in the moments after Jesus death but
not immediately before the discovery of the empty tomb. The earthquake description does not differ significantly from the account in Matthew and may be derived
from Matthew or similar oral accounts. Although many and perhaps most of New Testament Scholars believe this Gospel was written after the canonical Gospels,
one notable scholar thinks parts of it were written earlier. Since these arguments tend to bog
down into arcane details of textual variations of ancient Greek and making assessments on the relative veracity of competing ancient accounts, this debate will
not be explored here. A section (15-24) from the Gospel of Peter
which includes the earthquake description is reproduced below :
 But is was midday, and darkness held fast all Judea; and they were distressed and anxious lest the sun had set, since he was still living.
[For] it is written for them: Let not the sun set on one put to death.  And someone of them said: 'Give him to drink gall with vinegary wine.'
And having made a mixture, they gave to drink.  And they fulfilled all things and completed the sins on their own head.  But many went around with lamps,
thinking that it was night, and they fell.  And the Lord screamed out, saying: 'My power, O power, you have forsaken me.' And having said this, he was taken up.
 And at the same hour the veil of the Jerusalem sanctuary was torn into two.  And they drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord and placed him on the earth;
and all the earth was shaken, and a great fear came about.  Then the sun shone, and it was found to be the ninth hour.  And the Jews rejoiced and gave his body
to Joseph that he might bury it, since he was one who had seen the many good things he did.  And having taken the Lord, he washed and tied him with a linen cloth and
brought him into his own sepulcher, called the Garden of Joseph.
Gospel of Nicodemus also known as The Acts of Pilate
In the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, an earthquake is described as occurring before rather than after
AND it was about the sixth hour, 3 and darkness was upon the face of the whole earth until the ninth hour.
2 And while the sun was eclipsed, behold the vail of the temple was rent from the top to the bottom; and the rocks also were rent, and the graves opened,
and many bodies of saints, which slept, arose.
3 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, Hely, Hely, lama zabacthani? which being interpreted, is, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?
4 And after these things, Jesus said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit; and having said this, he gave up the ghost.
Later in the same Gospel, there is a description of a second earthquake associated with the discovery of the empty tomb
WHEN all the assembly heard this, they admired and were astonished, because they found the same seal upon the lock of the chamber, and could not find Joseph.
2 Then Annas and Caiaphas went forth, and while
they were all admiring at Joseph's being gone, behold one of the soldiers, who kept the sepulchre of Jesus, spake in the assembly.
3 That 2 while they were guarding the sepulchre of Jesus, there was an earthquake; and we saw an angel of God roll away the stone of the sepulchre and 3 sit upon it;
4 And his countenance was like lightning and his garment like snow; and we became through fear like persons dead.
5 And we heard an angel saying to the women at the sepulchre of Jesus, Do not fear; I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified; he is risen as he foretold.
Some variants of this Gospel (Ch XV-XIX) include an account of the descent of Jesus’ spirit into Hell
in the time between his death on the Cross and supposed resurrection ~36 hours later. This addition is interesting in that it provides a
potential back story
to the earthquakes in Matthew’s Passion narrative. If the earthquakes in Matthew are entirely fictional, the back story in the Gospel of Nicodemus could partially explain
why the author of Matthew or his source inserted two earthquakes into the narrative. The descent of Jesus’ spirit into and later out of Sheol would
necessarily be accompanied by a splitting of the earth which would manifest in the form of earthquakes; one on the way down and
another on the way up. The Gospel of Matthew also describes graves being opened from the first earthquake
with the occupants of those graves coming out after Jesus' Resurrection which would presumably coincide more or less with the second earthquake.
This back story would thus indicate that these were souls released from Sheol by Jesus during his time there. The language used by Matthew suggests he was alluding to a
passage titled "The Valley fo the Dry Bones"
in the 37th Chapter of The Old Testament Book of
Ezekiel. This prophecy, although seemigly a prophecy about the coming return of the Jewish People
to Zion after the Babylonian Captivity,
also contains the first mention of resurrection in the Old Testament.
The author of Matthew and others may have seen the vision of "The Valley of the Dry Bones" as having a second prophetic meaning
foretelling the resurrection of the dead. Credit to New Testament Scholar Dr. David Sloan for this exegesis.
As the Gospel Of Nicodemus shows evidence of having been cobbled together by more than one author and possesses a number of variants,
assigning a single definitive date is a difficult and messy exercise. A common estimate is that one version of the Gospel in its final form was completed sometime
in the 4th century AD.
Paleoclimate - Droughts
A one year drought is recorded by Josephus in 40 and/or 41 AD
When Petronius had said this, and had dismissed rite assembly of the Jews, he desired the principal of them
to take care of their husbandry, and to speak kindly to the people,
and encourage them to have good hope of their affairs. Thus did he readily bring the multitude to be cheerful again. And now did God show his presence to Petronius, and
signify to him that he would afford him his assistance in his whole design; for he had no sooner finished the speech that he made to the Jews, but God sent down great
showers of rain, contrary to human expectation; (33) for that day was a clear day, and gave no sign, by the appearance of the sky, of any rain; nay, the whole year had been
subject to a great drought, and made men despair of any water from above, even when at any time they saw the heavens overcast with clouds; insomuch that when such a great
quantity of rain came, and that in an unusual manner, and without any other expectation of it, the Jews hoped that Petronius would by no means fail in his petition for them.
The backdrop for this drought is that it occurred when Roman emperor Caligula (aka Gaius)
attempted to have a statue of himself installed inside the second Temple of Jerusalem in 40 AD prompting a
crisis in Judea. Caligula ordered Petronius, the Governor of Syria to install the statue but Petronius
delayed implementation rightfully fearing it would lead to an insurrection. The crisis ended when Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD. This dates this drought to 40/41 AD.
In his book Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus relates that a famine occurred Judea in the mid 40’s AD – perhaps 44 AD – 48 AD. In two separate passages in
Book XX ,he describes this famine. In Chapter 2 Paragraph 5, he states :
5. But as to Helena, the king's mother, when she saw that the affairs of
Izates's kingdom were in peace, and that her son was a happy man, and admired among all men, and
even among foreigners, by the means of God's providence over him, she had a mind to go to the city of Jerusalem, in order to worship at that temple of God which was so
very famous among all men, and to offer her thank-offerings there. So she desired her son to give her leave to go thither; upon which he gave his consent to what she
desired very willingly, and made great preparations for her dismission, and gave her a great deal of money, and she went down to the city Jerusalem, her son conducting her on
her journey a great way. Now her coming was of very great advantage to the people of Jerusalem; for whereas a famine did oppress them at that time, and many people died
for want of what was necessary to procure food withal, queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of corn, and others of them to
Cyprus, to bring a cargo of dried figs.
In Chapter 5 Paragraph 2 he reiterates :
2. Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to
Fadus; he was the son of Alexander the alabarch
of Alexandria, which Alexander was a principal person among all his contemporaries,
both for his family and wealth: he was also more eminent for his piety than this his son Alexander, for he did not continue in the religion of his country. Under these
procuratorsthat great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense, and distributed it to those that were in want, as I have related already.
The date of the famine can determined by the rule of Cuspius Fadus and his successor Tiberius Alexander as Procurators of Judea. Cuspius Fadus was sent to Judea upon the death of
King Herod Agrippa in 44 AD. He was succeeded by Tiberius Alexander who was in turn replaced by
Cumanus in 48 AD. This indicates a famine of up to 4 years between 44 and 48 AD.
This is likely the same famine referred to in Chapter 11 of the Acts of the Apostles
which is referred to below as a dearth and includes the possible hyperbole that it affected the whole world.
28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth
throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
 Most scholars believe the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built on top of Golgotha. Archaeologist Dr. Dan Bahatis quoted as follows:
The early Christian community of Jerusalem
appears to have held liturgical celebrations at Christ's tomb from the time of the resurrection until the city was taken by the Romans in 66 AD. Less than a century later, in 135 AD,
Emperor Hadrian filled in the quarry to provide a level foundation for a temple to Aphrodite. The site remained buried beneath the pagan temple
until Emperor Constantine the Great
converted to Christianity in 312 AD. He soon showed an interest in the holy places associated with his new faith, and commissioned numerous churches to be built throughout the Holy Land.
The most important of these, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was begun in 326 AD. Constantine's builders dug away the hillside to leave the rock-hewn tomb of Christ isolated and
with enough room to built a church around it. They also cleared away Hadrian's temple and the material with which an old quarry had been filled to provide the temple's foundations.
In the process, according to contemporary Christian historians, the Rock of Golgotha was found. The Church was formally dedicated in 335 with an oration by Constantine's biographer,
Eusebius of Caesarea.
After defeating Jewish forces in the Bar Kokhba revolt of ~130 CE, Roman Emperor Hadrian took drastic measures to prevent
future rebellions (the Bar Kokhba revolt was the third Jewish revolt against Rome in the previous 60 years). He banned Jews from the city of Jerusalem, rebuilt the city, and renamed it
Aelia Capitolina. He also apparently sought to wipe out places of Jewish and Christian religious
practices in the city by building Rome sanctioned Temples dedicated to pagan Gods on top of the holiest site for Jews (Temple Mount) and the holiest site for Christians (Golgotha) thus marking the location of
these sites approximately 100 years after Jesus' death. Although Golgotha was "identified" by Constantine's builders and his mother
Helen approximately 300 years after Jesus' death, the site had apparently
been marked by Hadrian's efforts 200 years prior. Subsequent building work on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre uncovered corroborating evidence of rock cut tombs under the Roman Temple at the site.
More recent archaeological work has confirmed the presence of tombs cut in the first century BCE and the first century CE surrounding the site and that the site
was just outside the city walls at the time of Jesus' death. Numerous writers have interpreted
Gospel accounts (e.g. John 19:17) and Jewish customs of cleanliness and uncleanliness to indicate that
Golgotha would have been outside the city walls.
 Jerome was fluent in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek and translated both the Old and New Testaments into Latin more or less creating the
Vulgate – a Latin Bible widely (and later officially) used by the Catholic Church until
 Since Jerome was reading a copy of this gospel centuries after it was first produced, it is not known how faithful Jerome’s copy was to the original text.
 Modern New Testament Scholarship makes a strong case that the author of the Gospel of Matthew had access to a
copy of the Gospel of Mark so the top to bottom curtain tearing in Matthew could be redacted
(i.e. copied) from Mark. 90% of Mark is present in Matthew.
 The source of the legends and church traditions for the dispersal of the Apostles
appears to be shrouded in mystery. The oldest textual sources mentioning these traditions were written centuries or millenia after the fact leaving one only able
to speculate about their origins and wonder about their veracity. Nevertheless, by the time Eusebius finished writing
Church History in ~324 AD, there was an account by Papias (and Iraneus,Pantaenus,
Clement of Alexandria, possibly Hegesippus, Hippolytus, Origen, and likely others)
that Matthew, also known as Levi, had written a Hebrew Gospel before his departure to parts possibly unknown. In
Book III, Ch XXXIX, Verse 16 of History of the Church, it is written
Matthew had begun by preaching to Hebrews; and when he made up his mind to go to others too, he committed his own gospel to writing in his native tongue, so that for those with whom
he was no longer present the gap left by his departure was filled by what he wrote.
For the scripture saith, "thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn." And, "The labourer is worthy of his reward."
"The labourer is worthy of his reward." is not found in the Old Testament. 1 Timothy is one of the disputed letters by Paul. Some letters by Paul are thought to be authentically written or dictated by Paul
while others are thought to be Pseudepigrapha - i.e they are disputed. Some believe that Paul preferred to confront his Jewish educated critics by quoting from the Septuagint, indicating
that Paul would have less of a tendency to quote Gospel accounts.
 Mart, Y. and I. Perecman (1996)
attribute at least some of the subsidence of the breakwaters to neotectonic activity but mention the possibility of Engineering failures.
 Although many scholars believe this passage was likely rewritten by a later Christian scribe, the core of the original passage is thought to have contained an account that
Jesus died under the reign of Pontius Pilate.
 Humphreys (2011) sought to establish when 14 or 15 Nisan fell on a Friday during Pilates reign.
The Gospel accounts state that the crucifixion occurred on the day before
Sabbath which Humphreys(2011) assumed to be on a Friday and on either the 14th or 15th of Nisan. John states that the date was 14 Nisan and the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) state that the
date was 15 Nisan. Humphreys (2011) proposes that the reason for the 14 vs. 15 Nisan discrepancy is because the Gospel writers used two different calendar systems with John
using the official Jewish calendar of the Priests of the Temple in Jerusalem and Matthew, Mark, and Luke using the pre-exilic calendar of ancient Israel where exile refers
to the Babylonian conquest and captivity.
The presumption that the day before the Sabbath is a Friday is complicated by the fact that some Jewish Holidays are considered to be a Sabbath even when they don't fall on the day after Friday.
In Chapter 28 of the Gospel of Matthew, Mary and the other Mary are described in an interlinear translation as arriving at the empty tomb
after then Sabbaths (Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων) where Sabbaths is plural in the original Greek (σαββάτων). Despite this, the majority of English translations translate Sabbaths as the
singular word Sabbath (after the sabbath) indicating that the day was Sunday - the first day of the week. The following from New Testament Scholar
Dirk Jongkind explains this language
Sabbath is the name of the day but also designates a week. Both the plural and singular are used for both meanings yet normally the intention is clear.
‘The first of the [sabbaths]’ is normally understood to be a standard Hebraism for first of the week (and not ‘weeks’).
It is clear that a ‘sabbath day’ was not intended. Compare for example Luke 18:12 (fasting twice a week [‘sabbath’ singular - σαββάτου].
The expression ‘first (day) of the week’ is used throughout all the gospels and in Acts, always with the plural ‘sabbaths’
The specification for the first day of the Feast of the Unleavened Bread which follows the Passover meal is in
16 “‘On the fourteenth day of the first month the Lord’s Passover is to be held. 17 On the fifteenth day of this month there is to be a festival; for seven days eat bread made without yeast.
 dates are based on the Julian calendar.
 Gospel of John Chapter 2 Verse 20
states “They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?””.
The Herodian rebuilding project is thought to have begun in ~19 BC (18th year of Herod’s reign according to Josephus –
Antiquities of the Jews – Book XV – Chapter 11 – Paragraph 1) which would date this reference in John to ~27 AD.
The ~27 AD date is somewhat elastic if one attempts to reconcile the chronology of Jesus' life reported in John against
chronologies of the other three canonical gospels and chronologies derived from other authors – primarily Josephus.
 "So Herod took away the old foundations, and laid others, and erected the temple upon them, being in length a hundred cubits, and in height twenty additional cubits,
which [twenty], upon the sinking of their foundations fell down; and this part it was that we resolved to raise again in the days of Nero."
Antiquities of The Jews Book XV Chapter 11 Paragraph 3
 Paleoseismic evidence (thickness and nature of the seismites) indicates that the 31 BC
Josephus Quake was both significantly larger than the
Jerusalem Quake and had an epicenter closer to Jerusalem.
 His references were Avi-Yonah, M. (1975). The Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, Israel Exploration Society and Massada Press and
Glueck, N. (1943). "Some ancient towers in the plains of Moab." Bull. Am. Sch. Orient. Res. 26: 71-83.
 Thamudic refers to Ancient North Arabian Alphabets.
Inscriptions written using a Thamudic alphabet have been uncovered at a number of sites in North Arabia.
Thamudic can be thought of as Old Arabic or Proto Arabic and predates the classical Arabic of the Quran.
 The High Places at Petra, Khirbet Tannur, and the Temple to Allat in Wadi Ramm
 e.g. 31 BC, Possibly 26-36 AD, and the Incense Road Earthquake of 112-114 AD
 No reason is given why the 42nd – 49th year was not possible. Aretas IV ruled for 49 years.
 Aretas IV ruled from 9 BC – 40 AD. If the 41st – 49th regnal years are possible, the inscription would date from 32 – 40 AD.
 Roman rule began in ~106 AD. This would make the 41st – 49th year of Provincia Arabia ~147 – ~155 AD.
 The Hill or Ridge Temple Mount straddles is alternatively referred to as Mount Moriah or
Mount Zion based on traditional beliefs about the Ridge’s
association with early biblical stories.
 Zohar et al (2014)
used historical photographs to identify a number of metal anchors which they suggest had been used to shore up buildings near the Jaffa Gate
that were weakened after the 1927 Jericho Quake. These buildings are in close proximity to the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre.