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Jerusalem Quake

26 - 36 ACE

by Jefferson Williams

Introduction & Summary

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.

Textual Evidence

Textual evidence sections are listed below:
Gospel Accounts
Gospel of the Hebrews
Nature of the Gospel Accounts
Acts of the Apostles
The Doors of Hekal
The Chamber of Hewn Stones
Temple Repair
Year of Jesus’ Death
Intensity of Shaking in Jerusalem
Additional texts are in the Notes section. Jump links to the texts in Notes are provided below:
Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Nicodemus also known as The Acts of Pilate

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.
Approximately ~36 hours later, a second earthquake is mentioned in the 28th Chapter of Matthew
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 John 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 [1]. 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 [2] 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 [3]. 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 [4]. 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 [5]. 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 [6] writing from the 2nd to 8th centuries AD – starting with Papias who, writing between ~95 and ~120 AD said [7]
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 [8] ). 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.

The Doors of Hekal

The Babylonian Talmud may contain indirect evidence for an earthquake shock to the second Temple sometime around 30 AD. In Yoma 39 b Paragraph 2, one can read:
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.

Josephus describes a similar portent foreshadowing destruction of the second Temple in Book 6 Chapter 5 Paragraph 3 of the Jewish War
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.

Tacitus in Histories Book 5 Paragraph 13 recounts portents (or prodigies) similar to Josephus including the following describing doors of the second Temple:
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 Roman-Jewish War.

Later in Book 6 Chapter 5 Paragraph 3 of the Jewish War, Josephus, in describing these portents or prodigies, includes what could be a seismic aftershock on the 21st of May some days after the doors of Hekal spontaneously opened.
Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities. Moreover, at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner [court of the temple,] as their custom was, to perform their sacred ministrations, they said that, in the first place, they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise, and after that they heard a sound as of a great multitude, saying, "Let us remove hence."

The Chamber of Hewn Stones

In Shabbat 15 a of the Babylonian Talmud we can read
Forty Years before the Temple was destroyed, the Sanhedrin was exiled from the Chamber of Hewn Stones and sat in the Stores on the Temple Mount.
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 [9]. Subsidence problems may have also taken place in the breakwaters of a Herodian project in Caesarea [10] .

Temple Repair

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 Pontius Pilate 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 [11]. Pilate’s reign, which is verified with archeologic evidence , is dated to 26 -~37 AD based on Josephus’ writings in his book Jewish Antiquities [12]. Using techniques of historical astronomy and textual clues [13]. Humphreys (2011) 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 [14] . 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 [13] 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.

If 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.

Archaeoseismic Evidence

Location Status Intensity Notes
Jerusalem - Introduction n/a n/a
Jerusalem - Western Wall Tunnel probable ≥ 7 thinly described Seismic Effects
Jerusalem - Jason’s Tomb possible
Heshbon possible ≥ 8 wide range of dates
Masada no evidence
Structures in the Arava n/a n/a
Petra - Introduction n/a n/a
Petra - Temple of the High Places needs investigation
Aqaba - Introduction n/a n/a
Aqaba - Tel el Haliefe impossible
Wadi Ramm - Er-Ram possible



Transliterated Name Language Name
Jerusalem English
Yerushaláyim Modern Hebrew יְרוּשָׁלַיִם‎
al-Quds Arabic القُدس‎
Ûrshalîm-Al Quds Arabic أورشليم القدس‎‎
Bayt al-Maqdis Arabic ‎بيت المقدس‎
Baitul Muqaddas Arabic ‎بايتول موقادداس
Iliya Arabic ‎يلييا
Ilya Bayt el-Maqdas Arabic ‎يليا بايت يلءماقداس
Hierousalḗm Greek Ἱερουσαλήμ‎
Hierosóluma Greek ‎Ἰεροσόλυμα
Aelia Capitolina Latin Aelia Capitolina
Erusałēm Armenian ‎Երուսաղեմ
Yerushalem Hebrew Bible
Salem Hebrew Bible
City of Judah Divided Monarchy ?
The City Lachish letters
Jebus Jebusites
Uruslimmu Sennacherib inscriptions (7th century BCE)
Urusalim el-Amarna letters (14th century BCE)
Rushalimum Egyptian Execration texts
(19th-20th centuries BCE)

Jerusalem has a long continuous history of habitation with textual sources (i.e. the Hebrew Bible) documenting an occupation by a Canaanite tribe known as the Jebusites at the beginning of the Iron Age (Iron Age I). The city, according to the Hebrew Bible, was wrested from the Jebusites by King David around 1000 BCE and thereafter became the premier city of the Jewish religion and people. Later religions such as Christianity and Islam also made it a focal point. A continuous history of construction and destruction has led to a complex archeological history that appears to add some uncertainty to the chronology derived from excavations. On the other hand, abundant textual evidence appears to have assisted in sleuthing this chronology.

Western Wall Tunnel in Jerusalem


The Herodian Temple Mount enclosure was the most prominent architectural feature in Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple period. Described in detail by Josephus, it was destroyed at the end of the first Jewish-Roman War in 70 AD. Although the Temple is gone, the large retaining walls still stand. Adjacent to the western retaining wall (Kotel (קלחת) in Hebrew), excavations have been ongoing in the tunnels north of the Western Wall Plaza - the holiest side in Judaism.


Onn et. al. (2011) report earthquake damage to a pier under Wilson's Arch adjacent to the Western Wall Plaza by Temple Mount which they presume to be due to an earthquake in 33 CE although exact chronological dating of this event isn’t certain. The date is constrained by the endpoints of the approximate completion of the Herodian Temple rebuilding project and the destruction of the Second Temple by then Roman General Titus in 70 CE. Although the 70 CE endpoint is known with certainty, the end of the Herodian rebuilding project is not. The New Testament Gospel of John places this in ~27 CE [15] however Dan Bahat (personal communication, 2018) relates than in his work on excavations on the Western Wall Tunnels, he saw evidence that the rebuilding project was never fully completed. Josephus (Book VI Ch 11 Paragraph 3) relates foundation failures during the Temple rebuilding project that were not fixed until the time of Nero [16] who ruled from 54-68 ACE. Josephus (Book XX Ch 9 Paragraph 7) further states that the Temple was not “finished” until 62-64 ACE [17] when the Roman Procurator Albinus ruled. Although these indicate that construction work on the Temple continued for many decades, it is probable that the Temple itself was likely completed around the time stated by the New Testament Gospel of John as an apparently intact and functioning Temple is described in both the Talmud and the canonical New Testament Gospels in the years surrounding ~30 CE.

The relevant section in Onn et. al. (2011) states

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.
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 ~20-30 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.

Western Wall Tunnels Plots and Charts

Image Description Source
Chronological Chart Regev et al (2020)
Chronological Chart - big Regev et al (2020)
Age model Regev et al (2020)
Age model - big Regev et al (2020)
Destruction Collapse Onn et. al. (2011)

Seismic Effects

Onn et. al. (2011) describe the collapse of building stones with drafted margins (known as Herodian stones).

Intensity Estimates

Because the Seismic Effects are so thinly described, the Intensity estimate should be considered tentative.
Effect Description Intensity
Displaced Walls collapse of building stones with drafted margins (known as Herodian stones) VII+
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VII (7) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224) .

Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem


Jason's Tomb, located west of the Old City, was discovered in 1956 in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem. Based on finds found inside the tomb, it's initial construction is dated to the beginning of the first century BCE and it's use continued until the 1st century CE until it was sealed in 30/31 CE (Rahmani, 1964:99). Based on charcoal drawings and inscriptions, it is presumed to be the the tomb of a previously unknown personage named Jason. (Stern et al, 1993)


As mentioned in the catalog entry for the 31 BC Josephus Quake, Rahmani(1964:98-99) interpreted the collapse of “structured parts” of Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem to be due to the 31 BC earthquake. He noted the presence of Herodian remains (mainly oil lamps) on a plaster floor beneath earthquake debris. Since Herod conquered Jerusalem in 37 BC and Rahmani (1964) dates sealing of the tomb to 30/31 AD, it is presumed that the responsible earthquake was the only one that Rahmani (1964) was aware of at that time – 31 BC. However, since then evidence for the Jerusalem Quake of 26-36 AD has come to light making the Jerusalem Quake another possible candidate for the collapse debris. It is our opinion that 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. [18]


Aerial view of Tall Heshbon Figure 3

Aerial photo of Tall Hisban a mediaeval village below (courtesy of Ivan LaBianca)

Walker et al (2017)


Transliterated Name Language Name
Heshbon Biblical Hebrew חשבון
Heshbon Arabic حشبون‎
Tell Hisban Arabic ‎تيلل هيسبان
Tell Ḥesbān Arabic تيلل هيسبان‎
Esebus Latin
Esbus Latin
Hesebon Ancient Greek Ἐσεβών
Esbous Ancient Greek Ἐσβούς
Exbous Ancient Greek Ἔξβους
Esbouta Ancient Greek Ἐσβούτα
Essebōn Ancient Greek Ἐσσεβών

Heshbon has been sporadically occupied since at least the Iron Age ( Lawrence T. Geraty in Meyers et al, 1997). It is located on the Madaba Plains ~19 km. SW of Amman and ~6 km. NE of Mount Nebo.

Chronology and Seismic Effects

Dating earthquakes at this site before the 7th century CE is messy. Earlier publications provide contradictory earthquake assignments, possibly due to difficulties in assessing stratigraphy and phasing, but also due to uncritical use of older error prone earthquake catalogs. A number of earlier publications refer to earthquakes too far away to have damaged the site. Dates provided below are based on my best attempt to determine chronological constraints based on the excavator's assessment of primarily numismatic and ceramic evidence. Their earthquake date assignments, at the risk of being impolite, have been ignored.
Stratigraphy from Mitchel (1980)

Mitchel (1980:9) provided a list of 19 strata encountered over 5 seasons of excavations between 1968 and 1976. Mitchel (1980) wrote about Strata 11-15.

Stratum Dates Comments
1 1870-1976 CE
2 1400-1456 CE
3 1260-1400 CE
4 1200-1260 CE
5 750-969 CE
6 661-750 CE
7 614-661 CE
8 551-614 CE
9 408-551 CE
10 365-408 CE
11 284-365 CE Stratum 11 is characterized by another building program.
On the temple grounds a new colonnade was built in front (east) of the temple, perhaps a result of Julian's efforts to revive the state cult.
12 193-384 CE Stratum 12 represents a continuation of the culture of Stratum 13.
On the summit of the tell a large public structure was built; partly following the lines of earlier walls. This structure is interpreted to be the temple shown on the reverse of the so—called "Esbus Coin", minted at Aurelia Esbus under Elagabalus (A.D. 218 — 222).
13 130-193 CE Stratum 13 began with a major building effort occasioned by extensive earthquake destruction [in Stratum 14]
The transition from Stratum 13 to Stratum 12 appears to nave been a gradual one.
14 63 BCE - 130 CE the overall size of the settlement seems to have grown somewhat. Apart from the continued use of the fort on the summit, no intact buildings have survived. A large number of underground (bedrock) installations were in use during Stratum 14
The stratum was closed out by what has been interpreted as a disastrous earthquake
15 198-63 BCE architecture interpreted to be primarily a military post or fort, around which a dependent community gathered
16 7th-6th century BCE
17 9th-8th century BCE
18 1150-10th century BCE
19 1200-1150 BCE

Stratigraphy from Walker and LaBianca (2003)

Walker and LaBianca (2003:448)'s Chronological Chart of the Strata at Tall Hisban (Table 1) is presented below:

Stratum Political periodization Cultural Period Absolute Dates
I Late Ottoman-modern ‎Late Islamic IIb-modern
Pioneer, Mandate, and Hashemite
‎1800 CE-today
II Middle Ottoman Late Islamic IIa
Pre-modern tribal‎
1600-1800 CE‎
IIIb Early Ottoman Late Islamic Ib
Post-Mamluk - Early Ottoman‎
1500-1600 CE‎
IIIa Late Mamluk (Burji) Late Islamic Ia‎ 1400-1500 CE‎
IVb Early Mamluk II (Bahri) Middle Islamic IIc‎ 1300-1400 CE‎
IVa Early Mamluk I (Bahri) Middle Islamic IIb‎ 1250-1300 CE‎
IVa Ayyubid/Crusader Middle Islamic IIa‎ 1200-1250 CE‎
V Fatimid Middle Islamic I 1000-1200 CE‎
VIb Abbasid Early Islamic II 800-1000 CE‎
VIa Umayyad Early Islamic I 600-800 CE‎
VII Byzantine Byzantine 300-600 CE‎
VIII Roman Roman 60 BCE - 300 CE‎
IX Hellenistic Hellenistic 300-60 BCE‎
X Persian Persian 500-300 BCE‎
XIb Iron II Iron II 900-500 BCE‎
XIa Iron I Iron I 1200-900 BCE‎

Stratum 15 Destruction Layer (Mitchel, 1980) - 2nd - 1st century BCE

  • Areas of excavations at Tell Heshbon from Walker and LaBianca (2003)
Mitchel (1980:21) noted chronological difficulties dating Stratum 15.
Though evidence for Stratum 15 occupation at Tell Hesban occurs in the form of ceramic remains found across the entire site, evidence of stratigraphic value is greatly limited in quantity and extent.
Mitchel (1980:47) noted that there was limited evidence for destruction and/or abandonment in Stratum 15 though most of the evidence was removed by subsequent building activities particularly in Stratum 13. Destruction layers were variously described as debris, a rubble layer, or tumble. Due to slim evidence, Mitchel (1980:70) did not form firm conclusions about the nature of the end of Stratum 15
The transition to Stratum 14 may be characterized as a smooth one, although the evidence is slim. There is currently no evidence of a destroying conflagration at the end of Stratum 15. In fact, I do not believe it is likely that we shall know whether Stratum 15 Heshbon was simply abandoned or destroyed by natural or human events.

Stratum 14 Earthquake (Mitchel, 1980) - 1st century BCE - 2nd century CE

  • Areas of excavations at Tell Heshbon from Walker and LaBianca (2003)
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 AD) 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.

Stratum 11 Earthquake (Mitchel, 1980) - 4th century CE - possibly Cyril Quake

  • Areas of excavations at Tell Heshbon from Walker and LaBianca (2003)
Mitchel (1980:181) noted that a destruction of some sort tumbled the wall on the east side of the great stairway , signaling the end of the latter's useful life. The destruction was interpreted to be a result of one of the 363 CE Cyril Quakes. Mitchel (1980:193) suggested the source of the tumble was most probably the retaining wall at the east margin of the stairs (D.3:16A). Mitchel (1980:181) also suggests that this earthquake destroyed the Temple on the acropolis; noting that it was never rebuilt as a Temple. Numismatic evidence in support of a 363 CE earthquake destruction date was obtained from Locus C.5:219 where an Early Byzantine soil layer produced a coin of Constans I, A.D. 343 providing a closing date for Stratum 11 (Mitchel, 1980:195). However, Mitchel (1980:195) noted the presence of an alternative hypothesis where Sauer (1973a:46) noted that a 365/366 coin would suggest that the rock tumble and bricky rei soil of Stratum 6 should be associated with a 365 earthquake. Mitchel (1980:195) judged this hypothesis as untenable citing other numismatic and ceramic evidence. In a later publication, Sauer (1993:255-256) changed his dating assessment of the strata which appears to align with Mitchel (1980)'s original assessment.

Storfjell (1993:109-110) noted that damage appeared to be limited at Tall Hesban during this earthquake
Although evidence for the AD 363 earthquake was found at Hesban, it could only be identified in a few rock tumbles in various areas of the tell. Following the earthquake there was no large scale construction, neither domestic nor public. The earthquake, which was severe at other sites (Russell 1980) probably did little damage at Hesban.
That said, if Mitchel (1980:193) is correct that a retaining wall collapsed on the monumental stairway, unless it was tilted and at the point of collapse beforehand, it's collapse suggests high levels of local Intensity.

Stratum 9 Earthquake - ~6th century CE - debated

  • Areas of excavations at Tell Heshbon from Walker and LaBianca (2003)
Following the stratigraphy listed by Mitchel (1980:9), Storfjell (1993:113) noted archaeoseismic evidence which he dated to 500-525 CE.
There is scattered evidence for a destruction, probably caused by an earthquake. This evidence comes from Area C, and Probes G.11 and G.16. If there was evidence of destruction in Area A, it would have been removed in the subsequent reconstruction and enlargement of the church. The ceramic evidence suggests that the destruction occurred in the Late Byzantine period. Placement in the overall stratigraphic sequence would suggest a destruction date in the first quarter of the sixth century for Stratum 9.
Storfjell (1993:110) discussed dating of Stratum 9 as follows:
The evidence is not precise enough to specify with certainty the exact dates for Stratum 9, although the ceramic horizon is predominantly Early Byzantine (ca. AD 408-527). It is this period that first reveals the Christian presence at Tell Hesban.
The Christian presence was apparently the construction of a Christian church on the remains of the Roman Temple possibly damaged by an earthquake in the 4th century CE. This church was apparently rebuilt in Stratum 8 which has a terminus ante quem of 614 CE according to Storfjell (1993:113). Sauer (1993:259), in the same publication, disputes the early 6th century earthquake evidence at Tall Hisban stating that thus far, there is no earthquake evidence at Hesban in this period.

7th century CE Earthquake

  • Areas of excavations at Tell Heshbon from Walker and LaBianca (2003)
Walker and LaBianca (2003:453-454) uncovered 7th century CE archeoseismic evidence which they attributed to the Jordan Valley Quake of 659/660 CE from an excavation of an Umayyad-period building in Field N of Tall Hesban . They report a badly broken hard packed yellowish clay floor which was pocketed in places by wall collapse and accompanied by crushed storage jars, basins, and cookware. An excerpt from their article follows:
Two roughly square rooms, each approximately 4 x 4 meters wide and built against the inner face of the Hellenistic wall, occupied most of N.l and N.2. Masonry walls, four courses high, delineated the space. The original rooms were separated by what appears to have been an open air corridor; a door in the east wall of N. l and one in the west wall of N.2 allowed passage between the two rooms. The floors of these rooms (N.1: 18, N.2: 16) were made of a hard packed, yellowish clay, which was badly broken and pocketed in many places by wall collapse. Upper courses of the walls of the rooms had fallen onto the floor and crushed several large storage jars and basins and cookware (Fig. 16 ), dated in the field to the transitional Byzantine-Umayyad period. The only foundation trench identified (N.2: 25) yielded no pottery. The fill above these floors contained pottery that was late Umayyad and Abbasid in date. While it is not possible at this early stage of excavation to determine when this structure was first built, it was clearly occupied in the middle of the seventh century, suffered a catastrophic event, and was reoccupied (at some point) and used into the ninth century. Fallen architecture, crushed pottery, badly damaged floors that appeared to have "melted" around the fallen blocks, and wide and deep ash pits and lenses bare witness to a major conflagration. The most likely candidate for this is the recorded earthquake of 658/9, which was one of the most destructive in Jordan's history since the Roman period, rather than the Islamic conquests of the 630's ( El-Isa 1985: 233).

Mamluk Earthquake - late 14th - early 15th centuries CE

  • Areas of excavations at Tell Heshbon from Walker and LaBianca (2003)
Walker and LaBianca (2003:447-453) uncovered late 14th - early 15th century CE archaeoseismic evidence from excavations undertaken in 1998 and 2001 of Mamluk-period constructions in Field L. They identified a complex of rooms previously called the bathhouse complex as the residence of the Mamluk governor of the al-Balqa'. . Walker and LaBianca (2003:447) described and dated the storeroom complex (L.1 and L.2) as follows:
The storeroom complex of L.1 and L.2 was built in three phases, all dated to the fourteenth century (and assigned to Stratum IVb) on the basis of associated pottery. Architectural Phases I and II correspond, respectively, to the original construction (the narrow storeroom in L.1 and the rooms east of it in L.2) and an extension of the L.1 storeroom to the east that followed a short time later (Fig. 7). Phase III, on the other hand, represents a relatively brief reoccupation of the rooms associated with the storeroom's doorway (square L.2).
In L.1 and L.2, earthquake damage was discovered at the end of Phase II.
Phase II Excavations at tall Hisban, the 1998 and 2001 Seasons: The Islamic Periods (Strata I-VI)


Earthquake damage was everywhere evident in the L.2 part of the storeroom, with walls knocked out of alignment; collapsed vaults (Fig. 8 ); and extensive ash cover, the result of a large conflagration likely brought on by oil lamps that had fallen from the upper stories. Thousands of fragments of glazed pottery, crushed by the vault stones that fell on them; nearly complete sugar storage jars (Fig. 9); dozens of channel-nozzle and pinched lamps (Fig. 10), many interspersed among fallen vault stones; fragments of bronze weaponry; painted jars and jugs (Fig. 11); and occasional fragments of metal bowls were recovered from L.1:17 - L.2:12, the beaten earth floor of the Mamluk-period (Stratum IVb) storeroom. There is evidence that the earth floor was originally plastered, as traces of white plaster were noticeable in the corners of the room, along the base of the walls at some places, and at the doorway. Earthquake and fire damage was so severe, however, that most of the plaster was destroyed.
Overlying strata was described as follows:
A meter-thick fill of loess (L.1:3, L.2:7) covered the floor (L.1:17, L.2:12), bearing witness to centuries of abandonment after the partial collapse of the covering vaults. The uppermost levels of the storeroom (L.2:3) above this fill were largely disturbed by a Stratum I, Ottoman-period cemetery
Walker et al (2017) also noted archeoseismic evidence which appears to be from the same earthquake in field M (aka Area M) which is described below:
Middle Islamic 3/Post-Middle Islamic 3

earthquake (misaligned stones in architecture throughout field; collapse of vaulting and walls) destroys parallel chambers in M4, M5, M8 and M9; area abandoned.

Intensity Estimates

Stratum 14 Earthquake (Mitchel, 1980) - 1st century BCE - 2nd century CE

Effect Description Intensity
Collapsed Walls entrances are fully or largely collapsed and no longer usable
passages ... into formerly communicating caves which no longer exist
clogged with debris
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224)

Stratum 11 Earthquake (Mitchel, 1980) - 4th century CE - possibly Cyril Quake - debated

Effect Description Intensity
Collapsed Walls a destruction of some sort tumbled the wall on the east side of the great stairway VIII +
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224)

7th century CE Earthquake

Effect Description Intensity
Broken pottery found in fallen position Upper courses of the walls of the rooms had fallen onto the floor and crushed several large storage jars and basins and cookware (Fig. 16 ) VII +
Collapsed Walls Upper courses of the walls of the rooms had fallen onto the floor
Fallen architecture
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224)

Mamluk Earthquake - late 14th - early 15th centuries CE

Effect Description Intensity
Broken pottery found in fallen position L.2 & L.1 (?) - Thousands of fragments of glazed pottery, crushed by the vault stones that fell on them VII +
Displaced Walls L.2 - walls knocked out of alignment
Field M - misaligned stones in architecture throughout field
Collapsed Vaults L.2 - collapsed vaults (Fig. 8 )
Field M - collapse of vaulting and walls
Collapsed Walls Field M - collapse of vaulting and walls
Field M - destroys parallel chambers in M4, M5, M8 and M9
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224)

Notes and Further Reading


Walker, B. J. and Øystein, S.L. (2003). "The Islamic Qusur of Tall Ḥisbān : preliminary report on the 1998 and 2001 seasons." Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 47: 443.

Mitchel, L. A. (1980). The Hellenistic and Roman Periods at Tell Hesban, Jordan, Andrews University. PhD.

Heshbon Expedition Symposium, Hesban after 25 years, Berrien Springs, Mich., Institute of Archaeology, Siegfried H. Horn Archaeological Museum, Andrews University.

Boraas, Roger S., and S. H. Horn. Heshbon 1968: The First Campaign at Tell Hesban, a Preliminary Report. Andrews University Monographs, vol. 2. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1969.

Boraas, Roger S., and S. H. Horn. Heshbon 1971: The Second Campaign at Tell Hesban, a Preliminary Report. Andrews University Monographs, vol. 6. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1973.

Boraas, Roger S., and S. H. Horn. Heshbon 1973: The Third Campaign at Tell Hesban, a Preliminary Report. Andrews University Monographs, vol. 8. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1975.

Boraas, Roger S., and Lawrence T . Geraty. Heshbon 1974: The Fourth Campaign at Tell Hesban, a Preliminary Report. Andrews University Monographs, vol. 9. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1976.

Boraas, Roger S., and Lawrence T. Geraty. Heshbon 1976: The Fifth Campaign at Tell Hesban, a Preliminary Report. Andrews University Monographs, vol. 10. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1978.

Boraas, Roger S., and Lawrence T. Geraty. "The Long Life of Tell Hesban, Jordan." Archaeology 32 (1979): 10-20.

Bullard, Reuben G. "Geological Study of the Heshbon Area." Andrews University Seminary Studies 10 (1972): 129-141.

Cross, Frank Moore. "An Unpublished Ammonite Ostracon from Hesban." In The Archaeology of Jordan and Other Studies Presented to Siegfried H. Horn, edited by Lawrence T. Geraty and Larry G. Herr, pp. 475-489. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1986.

Geraty, Lawrence T., and Leona Glidden Running, eds. Hesban, vol. 3, Historical Foundations: Studies of Literary References to Heshbon and Vicinity. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1989.

Geraty, Lawrence T., and David Merling. Hesban after Twenty-Five Years. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1994. - Reviews the results of the excavations of the Heshbon expedition a quarter-century after its first field season; full bibliography.

Horn, S. H. "The 1968 Heshbon Expedition." Biblical Archaeologist 32 (1969): 26-41.

Ibach, Robert D., Jr. Hesban, vol. 5, Archaeological Survey of the Hesban Region. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1987.

LaBianca, Oystein S., and Larry Lacelle, eds. Hesban, vol. 2, Environmental Foundations: Studies of Climatical, Geological, Hydrological, and Phytological Conditions in Hesban and Vicinity. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1986.

LaBianca, 0ystein S. Hesban, vol. 1, Sedentarization and Nomadization: Food System Cycles at Hesban and Vicinity in Transjordan. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1990.

Lugenbeal, Edward N., and James A. Sauer. "Seventh-Sixth Century B.C. Pottery from Area B at Heshbon." Andrews University Seminary Studies 10 (1972); 21-69.

Mitchel, Larry A. Hesban, vol. 7, Hellenistic and Roman Strata. Berrien Springs, Mich., 1992.

Sauer, James A. Heshbon Pottery 1971: A Preliminary Report on the Pottery from the 1971 Excavations at Tell Hesban. Andrews University Monographs, vol. 7. Berrien Springs, Mich,, 1973.

Sauer, James A. "Area B. " Andrews University Seminary Studies 12 (1974): 35-71

Terian, Abraham, "Coins from the 1968 Excavations at Heshbon." Andrews University Seminary Studies 9 (1971): 147-160.

Vyhmeister, Werner. "The History of Heshbon from Literary Sources. "Andrews University Seminary Studies 6 (1968): 158-177


Aerial View of Masada Aerial View of Masada looking south. In the foreground is the northern section discussed by Netzer (1991)

Wikipedia - Andrew Shivta - SA 4.0


Transliterated Name Language Name
Masada Hebrew מצדה
Hebrew מִדְבַּר יְהוּדָה
Arabic صحراء يهودا
Hamesad Aramaic
Marda Byzantine Greek
Masada Latin

According to Josephus (in his book The Jewish War), the fortress at Masada was first built in Hasmonean times. Afterwards, King Herod built or rebuilt both a fortress and a refuge on the site. Masada's location, a veritable island atop steep walled cliffs, made it almost impregnable - until the Romans arrived. Again, according to Josephus, during the first Jewish war against Rome, the "Zealots" commandeered the fortress and were the last holdouts in that war when they collectively committed mass suicide rather than be taken captive in the spring of 74 CE. Afterwards, the Romans stationed a garrison on the site. The Romans eventually moved on and later a Byzantine Church and monastery were built there (Stern et al, 1993).
After that, it was left abandoned and desolate until modern times. . Masada may be subject to seismic amplification due to a topographic or ridge effect as well as a slope effect for those structures built adjacent to the site's steep cliffs.


Netzer (1991:xv) supplied a list of the main periods of activity.
Period Start Date End Date Comments
Hasmonean The phase of Masada's existence about which very little is known as yet
Early Herodian building phase ca. 37 BCE ca. 30 BCE the proposed datessubdividing the Herodian period are tentative
Main Herodian building phase ca. 30 BCE ca. 20 BCE
Late Herodian building phase ca. 20 BCE ca. 4 BCE The reign of Archelaus (4 BCE -6 CE), Herod's son, should, for all practical purposes, be included in the Herodian period.
Procurators 6 CE 66 CE from the year 6 CE (the end of Archelaus' reign) to 66 CE, the year of Masada's occupation by the Zealots. This period includes the brief reign of Agrippa I in Judea from 41-44 CE.
Zealots 66 CE 73 CE from the arrival of the Zealots in 66 CE to the site's destruction ca. 73 CE
Post-Zealot 73 CE the occupation of Masada by the Roman garrison after it's destruction in ca. 73 CE
Byzantine during which Masada was occupied by a monastic community
Yadin (1965:30) indicates that the Byzantine occupation occurred after the earthquakes.
1st century BCE Earthquake

Although Karcz, Kafri, and Meshel (1977), listed Tilted walls, aligned fallen masonry, cracks, and collapse at Masada due to shocks in the 1st century BC and later, the 1st century BC part of this was rescinded in Karcz (2004) stating that the archeological evidence for the 31 BCE Josephus Quake is tenuous at best and Netzer (1991, 1997) in his detailed analysis of architectural complexes of Masada states that the signs of a possible seismic damage there are much later than 31 B.C.. Netzer (1991) only mentioned one earthquake between the 2nd and 4th centuries CE.

2nd - 4th century CE Earthquake

Netzer (1991:655) reports that a great earthquake [] destroyed most of the walls on Masada sometime during the 2nd to 4th centuries CE.

In an earlier publication, Yadin (1965:30) noted that the Caldarium was filled as a result of earthquakes by massive debris of stones. Yadin concluded that the finds on the floors of the bath-house represent the last stage in the stay of the Roman garrison at Masada. The stationing of a Roman Garrison after the conquest of Masada in 73 or 74 CE was reported by Josephus in his Book The Jewish War where he says in Book VII Chapter 10 Paragraph 1

WHEN Masada was thus taken, the general left a garrison in the fortress to keep it, and he himself went away to Caesarea; for there were now no enemies left in the country, but it was all overthrown by so long a war.
Yadin (1965:36)'s evidence for proof of the stationing of the Roman garrison follows:
We have clear proof that the bath-house was in use in the period of the Roman garrison - in particular, a number of "vouchers" written in Latin and coins which were found mainly in the ash waste of the furnace (locus 126, see p. 42). Of particular importance is a coin from the time of Trajan, found in the caldarium, which was struck at Tiberias towards the end of the first century C.E.*
The latest coin discovered from this occupation phase was found in one of the northern rooms of Building VII and dates to 110/111 CE (Yadin, 1965:119)**. Yadin (1965:119) interpreted this to mean that, this meant that the Roman garrison stayed at Masada at least till the year 111 and most probably several years later. Russell (1985) used this 110/111 coin as a terminus post quem for the Incense Road Earthquake while using a dedicatory inscription at Petra for a terminus ante quem of 114 CE.

*Yadin (1965:118) dated this coin to 99/100 CE - This would be coin #3808 - Plate 77 - Locus 104 - Caldrium 104 - Square 228/F/3

**perhaps this is coin #3786 which dates to 109/110 CE - Plate 77 - Locus 157 - Building 7 Room 157 - Square 208/A/10

Seismic Effects
2nd - 4th century CE Earthquake

Potential Seismic Effects

Location Source Date Effect(s)
Room 162 in the SW corner of Building No. 7 Netzer (1991:24)
  • The rock ceiling of a cisternpresumably collapsed in an earthquake pulling down much of the floor of the room above. The surviving features of the room probably date to the Zealot period
Storeroom Complex Netzer (1991:39)
  • The Storeroom Complex, more than any other part of Masada, [] provided the most graphic evidence - even before excavation had begun - of the earthquake that destroyed most of the walls of Masada.
  • In Storerooms 131 and 132, for example, one can actually count six or seven fallen courses
  • In Storeroom 131 on top of the debris one can discern some seven fallen courses, most probably collapsed from the western wall. The other unexcavated storerooms reveal a similar picture
Tepidarium 9 Netzer (1991:166)
  • The tepidarium was full of debris from the upper story, including fragments of a Corinthian capital painted in white and gilt. Owing to the pressure of the debris (perhaps also because of an earthquake), the eastern wall of the room was found leaning on its side
Caldarium Netzer (1991:88-89)
  • The caldarium was roofed over by a stone barrel-vaulted ceiling boasting the largest span of any vault or arch on Masada — 6.7 m. The remains of this vault were found mostly in the rubble cleared from the room; in a few cases whole courses of the vault fell en bloc, without disintegrating (see Ill. 145 ). The vault apparently collapsed during the violent earthquake that wreaked havoc with the buildings on Masada.
Columbarium Tower 725 Netzer (1991:372)
  • The tower was ruined either gradually or as a result of some catastrophe, such as an earthquake, with the beams of the ceilings falling to the floor.
Cistern 1063 - Northwestern section of casemate wall Netzer (1991:391)
  • After the ceiling had collapsed (presumably in an earthquake), debris and earth filled the entire cistern. In the debris the excavators found stones from the vault, as well as various architectural elements such as column drums and cornices. The debris also contained a large quantity of material finds. Altogether 15 coins were found in this cistern.
  • JW: Possible Slope effect as this is adjacent to a very steep slope
Room (Tower) 1260 - Southwestern section of casemate wall Netzer (1991:453-454)
  • The room contained an enormous amount of debris, consisting of large stones, up to a height of some 3.0 m above floor level. At a level of ca. 1.0 m above the floor parts of a human skeleton were uncovered, consisting mainly of the skull and legs. Theoretically speaking, these could be the remains of a person who happened to be on Masada during the earthquake that caused the most extensive destruction on the mount.
Walls of Masada Netzer (1991:655)
  • The great earthquake which destroyed most of the walls of Masada sometime during the second to fourth centuries.

Intensity Estimates
2nd - 4th century CE Earthquake

Effect Description Intensity
Collapsed Walls
  • The Storeroom Complex, more than any other part of Masada, [] provided the most graphic evidence - even before excavation had begun - of the earthquake that destroyed most of the walls of Masada.
  • In Storerooms 131 and 132, for example, one can actually count six or seven fallen courses
  • In Storeroom 131 on top of the debris one can discern some seven fallen courses, most probably collapsed from the western wall. The other unexcavated storerooms reveal a similar picture
Collapsed Walls The tepidarium was full of debris from the upper story, including fragments of a Corinthian capital painted in white and gilt. VIII +
Fallen columns The tepidarium was full of debris from the upper story, including fragments of a Corinthian capital painted in white and gilt. V +
Penetrative fractures in masonry blocks the eastern wall of the room [Tepidarium 9] was found leaning on its side VI +
Collapsed Vaults The caldarium was roofed over by a stone barrel-vaulted ceiling boasting the largest span of any vault or arch on Masada — 6.7 m. The remains of this vault were found mostly in the rubble cleared from the room; in a few cases whole courses of the vault fell en bloc, without disintegrating (see Ill. 145 ). The vault apparently collapsed during the violent earthquake that wreaked havoc with the buildings on Masada. VIII +
Collapsed Walls The room contained an enormous amount of debris, consisting of large stones, up to a height of some 3.0 m above floor level. At a level of ca. 1.0 m above the floor parts of a human skeleton were uncovered, consisting mainly of the skull and legs. Theoretically speaking, these could be the remains of a person who happened to be on Masada during the earthquake that caused the most extensive destruction on the mount. VIII +
Collapsed Walls The great earthquake which destroyed most of the walls of Masada sometime during the second to fourth centuries. VIII +
The archeoseismic evidence requires a minimum Intensity of VIII (8) when using the Earthquake Archeological Effects chart of Rodríguez-Pascua et al (2013: 221-224) . Masada may be subject to seismic amplification due to a topographic or ridge effect as well as a slope effect for those structures built adjacent to the site's steep cliffs.

Notes and Further Reading

Masada I - The Aramaic and Hebrew Ostraca and Jar Inscriptions, The Coins of Masada, The Yigal Yadin Excavations 1963-1965 Final Reports, Israel Exploration Society. Yadin and Naveh (1989), Meshorer (1989)

Masada II - The Latin and Greek Documents, The Yigal Yadin Excavations 1963-1965 Final Reports, Israel Exploration Society. Cotton and Geiger (1989)

Masada III: The Buildings, Stratigraphy and Architecture, The Yigal Yadin Excavations 1963-1965 Final Reports, Israel Exploration Society. Netzer, E. (1991).

Masada IV Textiles, Lamps, Basketry and Cordage, Wood Remains, Ballista Balls, Appendum - Human Skeletal Remains The Yigal Yadin Excavations 1963-1965 Final Reports, Israel Exploration Society.

Masada V - Art and Architecture, The Yigal Yadin Excavations 1963-1965 Final Reports - Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem, Foerster, G. (1995)

Yadin, Y. (1965). "The excavation of Masada 1963-64,preliminary report." Israel Exploration J. 15(1-120).

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

Magness, J. (2019). Masada From Jewish Revolt to Modern Myth, Princeton University Press.

Y. Yadin, Masada Herod's Fortress and the Zealouts Last Stand , London 1966

Masada and the world of the New Testament

Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in Eretz Israel, English edn (updated), vol 3 (Massada, Jerusalem, 1975).

Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in Eretz Israel, Hebrew edn, 2 vol (Massada, Jerusalem, 1970).

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 [19]. 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 . He locates these structures in Petra, Tel el Haliefe, and Wadi Ramm. His references are Avi-Yonah (1975) Vol III and IV and Gleuck (1946). These sites are discussed below.



Transliterated Name Language Name
Petra English
Al-Batrā Arabic ٱلْبَتْرَاء‎
Petra Ancient Greek Πέτρα‎
Rekeme Thamudic ?
Raqmu Arabic
Raqēmō Arabic

Petra is the location of an ancient city in Southern Jordan which is traditionally accessed through a slot canyon known as the Siq. The site was initially inhabited at least as early as the Neolithic and has been settled sporadically ever since - for example in the Biblical Edomite, Hellenistic, Nabatean, Byzantine, and Crusader periods. After the Islamic conquest in the 7th century CE, Petra lost its strategic and commercial value and began to decline until it was "re-discovered" by the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt in 1812 (Meyers et al, 1997). It is currently a UNESCO World Heritage site and has been and continues to be extensively studied by archeologists.

Petra - Temple of the High Places
Temple of the High Places in Petra Temple of the High Places in Petra

Note vertical Fractures causing a slight displacement of the steps. This may have been caused by an undated seismic event.

Subsequent precipitation in the joints and erosion indicates that the displacement is not recent and dateable via OSL or chemical means.

photo by Jefferson Williams

Link to magnifiable Image of the Temple of the High Places


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. Although there is potentially archeoseismic evidence at the site (i.e. fractures in the steps and platform), this potential evidence is undated.



Transliterated Name Source Name
Aqaba Arabic العقبة
al-ʿAqaba Arabic variant
al-ʿAgaba Arabic variant
ʿaqabat Aylah 12th century Arabic عقبة آيلة
Ayla Arabic آيلا
Aela Latin
Aila Latin
Ailana Latin
Haila Latin
Aila Byzantine Greek Άιλα
Berenice Ancient Greek Βερενίκη
Elath Ancient Semitic
Ailath Ancient Semitic
Ezion-Geber Hebrew עֶצְיֹן גֶּבֶר

Aqaba, located at the northern terminus of the Gulf of Aqaba has a long history of habitation punctuated by episodes of abandonment and decline. It's strategic location as the nearest port town to the copper mines of the Araba Valley made it a regional hub for copper production (smelting) and trade as evidenced at the Chalcolithic sites of Tall Hujayrat Al-Ghuzlan and Tall Al-Magass Klimscha (2011). The Hebrew Bible (e.g. Kings 9:26-28 and 2 Chronicles 8:17-18) mentions nearby Elath and Ezion Geber as ports of departure for Solomon's merchant fleet to Ophir ( S. Thomas Parker and Donald S. Whitcomb in Meyers et al, 1997). According to the same Hebrew Bible, Eilat was later conquered by the Edomites in the late eighth century BCE (2 Kings 16:6). Nelson Glueck excavated the site of Tell el-Kheleifeh thinking it was Solomon's port city but subsequent work on the site suggests that this is not the case. Before the Roman conquest of 106 CE, Aqaba was a Nabatean port. In Roman and Byzantine times, the port was known as Aila. The town surrendered to the Muslims during the Muslim conquest of the Levant, and eventually a new Muslim town (Ayla) was built just outside the city walls of Byzantine Aila (aka Ailana) (Whitcomb, 1994).

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.

Temple to Allat Temple to Allat at Wadi Ramm

photo by Jefferson Williams


Transliterated Name Language Name
Er-Ram Nabatean
Iram Nabatean
Jebel er-Ram Arabic جيبيل يرءرام

Er-Ram in Wadi Ramm is not described in any extant texts and what little we know about it comes from inscriptions found on the site. These incriptions indicate that the Temple was dedicated to the pre-Islamic Arabian Goddess Allat. (Avraham Negev in Stern et al, 1993)


They key seismic discovery at the Temple to Allat is a Thamudic [20] 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 [21] soon after earthquakes damaged them [22] . 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 [23] 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. [24]

  2. The date specifies the era of the Provincia Arabia which would date the inscription to 147 or 151 AD [25].
Because the excavators found no mention of Aretas IV’s surname (Philopatris) in the inscription, they favored the second date [26] (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

Location Status Intensity Notes
Bet Zayda unlikely
Dead Sea - Seismite Types n/a n/a
En Feshka possible 8 - 9 1 cm. thick Type 4 microbreccia
En Gedi good evidence 8 - 9 3 - 4 cm. thick Type 2 seismite in the En Gedi Trench
Nahal Ze 'elim good evidence 8 - 9 4 - 5 cm. thick Type 4 intraclast breccia
Taybeh Trench possible Event E5
Qatar Trench possible but unlikely Event E6

Bet Zayda

Although Wechsler at al. (2014) list the Jerusalem Quake as a candidate for causing surface rupture seen in event CH4-E6 in Bet Zayda, the estimated size and epicenter worked out by Williams (2004) suggests that it is an unlikely candidate and that their more favored candidate (the 31 BC Josephus Quake) or the Northern Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake (listed as mid 2nd century in their figure below) are more likely.

Bet Zeyda Earthquakes
Figure 9

Probability density functions for all paleoseismic events, based on the OxCal modeling. Historically known earthquakes are marked by gray lines. The age extent of each channel is marked by rectangles. There is an age uncertainty as to the age of the oldest units in channel 4 (units 490-499) marked by a dashed rectangle. Channel 1 refers to the channel complex studied by Marco et al. (2005).

Wechsler at al. (2014)

2D and 3D Paleoseismic Study at Bet Zayda

Results are based on a 2D and 3D paleoseismic study conducted over multiple years utilizing multiple trenches. Trenches were dug to examine paleo-channels which intersect the active Jordan Gorge Fault. A few paleo-channels were active long enough to record paleo-earthquakes. Initial work done by Marco et al (2005)) identified fault ruptures with two historical earthquakes which were dated as follows:

Date Displacement (m)
1202 CE ~2.2
1759 CE 0.5
Another channel dating between 3 and 5 ka was displaced up to 15 meters.

Subsequent work at the same location by Wechsler at al. (2014) revealed 8 more surface-rupturing earthquakes in two paleo-channels which were labeled as Channels 3 and 4. Radiocarbon sampling appears to have been sufficiently dense except for Event CH4-E6..

Bet Zayda Plots and Charts

Description Image Source
Age Model Wechsler at al. (2014)
Age Model
Wechsler at al. (2014)
Age Model
really big
Wechsler at al. (2014)
Map of
Wechsler at al. (2014)

Dead Sea

Seismite Types

Seismite Types of Wetzler et al (2010) are used in Intensity Estimates. Seismite Types from Kagan et al (2011) were converted to those of Wetzler et al (2010) to estimate Intensity.

Seismite Types (Wetzler et al, 2010)
Type Description
1 Linear waves
2 Asymmetric Billows
3 Coherent vortices
4 Breccia
Seismite Types (Kagan et al, 2011)
A 4 Intraclast breccia layer
B 4 Microbreccia
C 4 Liquefied sand layer within brecciated clay and aragonite
D 1, 2, or 3 Folded laminae
E 1 Small Fault millimeter -scale throw

En Feshka
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.

En Feshka Plots and Charts

Image Description Source
Age Model Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model - big Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model Kagan et al (2010)
Age Model - big Kagan et al (2010)

En Feshka Core (DSF) Photos

This core was taken in 1997 by GFZ/GSI

Image Description Image Description Image Description Image Description Image Description
Composite Core DSF
Sections B1-B5

0-499 cm.
Section B1

0-93 cm.
Section B2

100-197 cm.
Section B3

200-298 cm.
Section B4

300-396 cm.
Section B5

400-499 cm.

En Gedi
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 but added an uncertainty estimate for the difficult to count Dead Sea varves.

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, locate the causitive earthquake on known earthquake producing faults (in this case the Arava Fault), and use an attenuation relationship to estimate Magnitude.

The seismite at a depth of 274 cm.(2.74 m) can be observed in the table below: (source: Table 2) :

En Gedi Core (DSEn) Charts and Plots

Image Description Source
Floating Varve Chronology
and Radiocarbon dates
Migowski et al (2004)
Floating Varve Chronology
and Radiocarbon dates -large
Migowski et al (2004)
Migowski's Date shift Migowski (2001)
Recounted Age-depth plot Neugebauer at al (2015)
Recounted Age-depth plot - large Neugebauer at al (2015)
Correlated Age-depth plots
of DSEn and ICDP 5017-1
Neugebauer at al (2015)
Comparison of paleoclimate proxies
from DSEn to other sites
Neugebauer at al (2015)
Core correlation
DSEn to ICDP 5017-1
Neugebauer at al (2015)
Core correlation
DSEn to ICDP 5017-1 -big
Neugebauer at al (2015)
Thin Section of Jerusalem Quake
showing varve counts
shallow section
Williams et. al. (2012)
Thin Section of Jerusalem Quake
showing varve counts
deep section
Williams et. al. (2012)
Thin Section of Jerusalem Quake
showing varve counts
shallow section - big
Williams et. al. (2012)
Thin Section of Jerusalem Quake
showing varve counts
deep section - big
Williams et. al. (2012)

En Gedi Core dating ambiguities

The En Gedi Core (DsEn) suffered from a limited amount of dateable material and the radiocarbon dates for the core are insufficiently sampled in depth to produce an age-depth model that is sufficiently reliable for detailed historical earthquake work in the Dead Sea. Migowski (2001) counted laminae in the core to create a floating varve chronology for depths between 0.78 and 3.02 m which was eventually translated into a year by year chronology from 140 BCE to 1458 CE . The seismites in the "counted interval" were compared to dates in Earthquake Catalogs [Ambraseys et al (1994), Amiran et al (1994), Guidoboni et al (1994), Ben-Menahem (1991), and Russell (1985)]. Relatively minor additional input was also derived from other studies in the region which likely relied on similar catalogs. Some of these catalogs contain errors and a critical examination of where the dates and locations of historical earthquakes reported in these catalogs came from was not undertaken. Migowski (2001) shifted the dates from the under-sampled radiocarbon derived age-depth model to make the floating varve chronology in the "counted interval" match dates from the earthquake catalogs. Without the shift, the dates did not match. This shift was shown in Migowski (2001)'s dissertation and mostly varies from ~200-~300 years. The "counted interval" dates are ~200-~300 years younger than the radiocarbon dates. Some of Migowski's shift was justified. Ken-Tor et al (2001) estimated ~40 years for plant remains to die (and start the radiocarbon clock) and reach final deposition in Nahal Ze'elim. This could be a bit longer in the deep water En Gedi site but 5 to 7.5 times longer (200-300 years) seems excessive. Although uncritical use of Earthquake catalogs by Migowski (2001) and Migowski et al (2004) led to a number of incorrectly dated seismites , the major "anchor" earthquakes (e.g. 31 BC, 1212 CE) seem to be correct.

Neugebauer (2015) and Neugebauer at al (2015) recounted laminae from 2.1 - 4.35 meters in the En Gedi Core (DsEn) while also making a stratigraphic correlation to ICDP Core 5017-1. Nine 14C dates were used from 1.58 - 6.12 m but samples KIA9123 (inside the Late Bronze Beach Ridge) and KIA1160 (the 1st sample below the Late Bronze Beach Ridge) were discarded as outliers. These two samples gave dates approximately 400 years older than what was expected for the Late Bronze Age Beach Ridge - a date which is fairly well constrained from other studies in the Dead Sea. This left 7 samples distributed over ~4.5 m - an average of 1 sample every 0.65 meters - not a lot. Their DSEn varve count, anchored to an age-depth model derived from these 7 samples, produced an average shift of ~300 years compared to Migowski et al (2004)'s chronology (i.e. it is ~300 years older). Although two well dated earthquakes were available to use as time markers (the Josephus Quake of 31 BCE and the Amos Quake(s) of ~750 BCE), they chose not to use earthquakes as chronological anchors (Ina Neugebauer personal communication, 2015). Instead, they used the Late Bronze Age Beach Ridge as evidenced by discarding the two radiocarbon samples. Using the Beach Ridge as a chronological anchor was likely a good decision as the Late Bronze Age Beach ridge is fairly well dated. Their newly counted chronology produced a paleoclimate reconstruction that aligned fairly well with data from other locations . Although paleoclimate proxies are not necessarily synchronous and suffer from greater chronological uncertainty than, for example, well dated earthquakes, the problem with their recount for our purposes does not lie with their relatively good fit to other site's paleoclimate proxies. That is probably approximately correct. The problem is they calibrated their count to the bottom of their counted interval (Late Bronze Age Beach Ridge) but did not have a calibration marker for the top.

In the En Gedi core (DSEn), the Late Bronze Age Beach Ridge (Unit II of Neugebauer et al, 2015) is found from depths 4.35 to 4.55 m. It's top coincides with the bottom of the recounted interval - far away from the overlap (2.1 - 3.02 m) with Migowski's counted interval. Thus, if there were any problems with the recounted dates (e.g. hiatuses or accumulating systemic errors) as one moved to the top of the recounted interval, they would go unnoticed. Varve counts in the overlapped interval were fairly similar - 583 according to Migowski (2001) vs. 518 according to Neugebauer et al (2015). There wasn't a major discrepancy in terms of varve count interpretation. But, the lack of a calibration point near the top of the recounted interval leaves one wondering if the recounted dates in the overlap are accurate and why Migowski's pre-shifted chronology doesn't correlate well with the reliable parts of the earthquake record.

Neugebauer at al (2015:5) counted 1351 varves with an uncertainty of 7.5% (Neugebauer at al, 2015:8). That leads to an uncertainty of ~100 varves by the time one gets to the top of the recounted interval away from the Late Bronze Age Beach Ridge calibration point. The Beach Ridge itself likely has an uncertainty of +/- 75 years. Add the two together and the uncertainty approaches Migowski's shift. In addition, roughly 15% of the recounted interval went through intraclast breccias (seismites) where the varves were uncountable and the varve count was interpolated with a questionable multiplication factor of 1.61 applied to the interpolated varve count (Neugebauer at al, 2015:5). Migowski et al (2004) also interpolated through the intraclast breccias however in her case she used the interpolation to line up with events out of the Earthquake catalogs.

Unfortunately, Neugebauer at al (2015)'s study did not resolve the uncertainties associated with Migowski's varve counts. Both studies lack a sufficiently robust calibration over the entire depth interval. Dead Sea laminae are difficult to count. They are not nearly as "well-behaved" as they are in the older Lisan formation or in Glacial varves. This was illustrated by Lopez-Merino et al (2016). Their study, which used seasonal palynology to ground truth varve counts, showed that between 1 and 5 laminae couplets (ie varves) could be deposited in a year . This study, undertaken in Nahal Ze'elim, represents a worst case scenario. It is essentially impossible to count varves in Nahal Ze 'elim because the site receives too much fluvial deposition which muddies up the varve count (pun intended) compared to the deeper water site of En Gedi. While the conclusions from Lopez-Merino et al (2016) cannot be generalized to the entire Dead Sea, it does point out that Holocene Dead Sea varve counts need to be calibrated to be used in Historical Earthquake studies. The calibration can come through anchor events such as strong earthquakes and/or clearly defined and dated paleoclimate events, seasonal palynology work (determining the season each laminae was deposited in), and/or dense radiocarbon dating - much denser than what is available from the En Gedi core (DESn). There may also be geochemical ways to calibrate varve counts.

In 2018, Jefferson Williams collected ~55 samples of dateable material from an erosional gully in En Gedi (aka the En Gedi Trench) located ~40 m from where the En Gedi Core (DsEn) was taken in 1997 . This erosional gully was not present when the En Gedi core was taken. It developed afterwards due to the steady drop in the level of the Dead Sea which has lowered base levels and creates continually deeper erosional features on the lake margins. Due to cost, these samples have not yet been dated but lab analysis of this material should resolve dating ambiguities in En Gedi. The samples are well distributed in depth (68 - 303 cm. deep) and can be viewed here in the Outcrop Library. Radiocarbon from the En Gedi Core can be viewed here. In the Google sheets presented on the radiocarbon page for the En Gedi Core, Neugebauer's radiocarbon samples and a reconciliation table can be viewed by clicking on the tab labeled Nueg15.

En Gedi Core (DSEn) Photos

Core Depths were measured from surface. The core was taken about a meter above the Dead Sea level which was ~ -411 m in 1997. In 2011, Jefferson Williams measured the elevation of the surface where the En Gedi Core (DSEn) was taken using his GPS. The recorded elevation was -411 m however GPS is less accurate measuring elevation than it is for Lat. and Long. so this depth measurement should be considered approximate.

Image Description Image Description Image Description Image Description
Composite Core
Sections C1, A2, A3, A4

19-397 cm.
Litholog and
Composite Core

47-325 cm.
Entire Core

-30 cm.-1022 cm.
Section C1

19-114 cm.
Section A2

114-196 cm.
Section A3

200-296 cm.
Section A4

300-397 cm.
1458 CE Quake

65-80 cm.
1202, 1212, and 1293 CE Quakes

90-115 cm.
1033 CE Quake

131-143 cm.
Thin Section

259.7-269.9 cm.
Thin Section

271.5-273.7 cm.
Thin Section

273.5-283.5 cm.
Thin Section

283.3-293.4 cm.
SEM Image
250x Magnification
Sample EG13

Nahal Ze 'elim
Ken-Tor et al. (2001a) was the first to discover and publish about this seismite. She 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). She 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 - 5 cm.). 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).


Image Description Source
Lithosection with dates Ken-Tor et al. (2001a)
Lithosection with dates - big Ken-Tor et al. (2001a)
Lithosection with dates - really big Ken-Tor et al. (2001a)
Correlated Trench Logs for ZA-1.
Lithosections above are composite lithologs
derived from multiple sites as far as, I think,
300 meters apart. ZA-1 refers to the location
where a large part of the composite
lithosection was derived. More landward gullies
were used to capture the most recent
earthquakes (Events G (1834) and H (1927))
Bookman referred to site ZA-1 as site 2.
Revital Bookman (nee Ken-Tor)
Map of Gullies where Revital Bookman
(nee Ken-Tor) did her work
Revital Bookman (nee Ken-Tor)
Events B (Josephus Quake - 31 BCE)
and C (Jerusalem Quake - 26-36 CE)
at site ZA-1
Jefferson Williams
Thin Section Slide from ZA-1
showing Event C (Jerusalem Quake)
Jefferson Williams

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, she 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. (source: Table 3)


Image Description Source
Age Model Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model - big Kagan et al (2011)
Age Model with annotated dates Kagan (2011)
Age Model with annotated dates - big Kagan (2011)
Annotated Photo of ZA-3
ZA-3 = N wall of gully
ZA-2 = S wall of same gully
Kagan et al (2015)

GFZ/GSI Core from Nahal Ze'elim
Nahal Ze'elim Core (DSEn) Photos

The GFZ/GSI core at Nahal Ze'elim was taken in 1997. Thin Section Slides do not currently have depths logged relative to surface but were created to examine the Jerusalem Quake and the Josephus Quake so that should provide an approximate depth. Depths for thin sections is what was written on photo blocks and does not correspond to core depths but likely depth in an individual core section. Depths are measured from bottom to top (i.e. downhole to uphole) so slide 1 is at the bottom and slide 4 is at the top. Top direction of all slides and images has been confirmed. Slides and images are oriented so the uphole direction is pointing up. Core Inventory for 1997 GFZ/GSI cores can be found here

Image Description Image Description Image Description Image Description
Thin Section
Slide 1

Thin Section
Slide 2

Thin Section
Slide 3

Thin Section
Slide 4

Resin Block
Slides 1-4
Thin Section
Slides 1-4


On-site fault rupture suggests a minimum moment magnitude MW of 6.5 (Mcalpin, 2009:312).
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 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. LeFevre et al. (2018) noted that the poor expression of Event E5 (vertical cracks in the trench) meant that the cracks could have been caused by a later Event (E4) which they associated with the Incense Road Earthquake which struck in the early second century AD.

Taybeh Trench Earthquakes Figure S5

Computed age model from OxCal v4.26 for the seismic events recorded in the trench

LeFevre et al. (2018)

Taybeh Trench

Image Description Source
Age Model Lefevre et al (2018)
Age Model - big Lefevre et al (2018)
Trench Log Lefevre et al (2018)
Annotated Trench photomosaic Lefevre et al (2018)
Stratigraphic Column Lefevre et al (2018)
Stratigraphic Column - big Lefevre et al (2018)

Qatar Trench
The Jerusalem Quake, at edge Event E6's time window, is a less likely candidate than other earthquake events.

Qatar Trench

Image Description Source
Age Model Klinger et al (2015)
Age Model - big Klinger et al (2015)
Trench Log Klinger et al (2015)
Simplified Trench Log Klinger et al (2015)

Seismic Amplification

Seismic Amplification on Temple Mount
Site Effect due to Fill
Topographic Effect
Wave guide Effect
Slope Effect near the walls of Temple Mount
Seismic threat to structures
Description of the Temple

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 Frydman (1997). 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 and Kawase, 2003); in this case Judea Group limestone. Below is a hypothetical cross-section of Temple Mount showing the thickness of the fill.

Conjectural elevations of the Temple Platform (a) Herodian (b) Solomonic - Frydman (1997) after Kenyon, 1974

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 (many photos here)
Topographic Effect
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 [27] 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

f = frequency (Hz.)
VS = Shear Wave Velocity (m/s)
λ = Wavelength (m)
Sample calculations for a wavelength (λ) of ~480 m follow :

VS λ f
(m/s) (m) (Hz)
1100 480 2.3
1450 480 3.0
2300 480 4.8

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 :

VS H f
(m/s) (m) (Hz)
1100 100 2.2
1500 100 3.0
2300 100 4.6

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.
Description of the Temple
Josephus, a contemporary eyewitness to the second Temple, describes it in The Jewish War Book 5 Chapter 5.
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

Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone from Second Temple Period
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.
Force Balance for Rolling Stone
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 (μ) 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 long shot, medium shot, 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 [28], there is no indication that a site effect would have been present at this site when the Passion Account is alleged to have occurred.


Conflation with an earthquake in Northern Turkey
The Cracks of Calvary
Other Gospel Accounts
Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Nicodemus also known as The Acts of Pilate

Conflation with an earthquake in Northern Turkey

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.

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 apocryphal 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 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 :
[15] 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. [16] And someone of them said: 'Give him to drink gall with vinegary wine.' And having made a mixture, they gave to drink. [17] And they fulfilled all things and completed the sins on their own head. [18] But many went around with lamps, thinking that it was night, and they fell. [19] And the Lord screamed out, saying: 'My power, O power, you have forsaken me.' And having said this, he was taken up. [20] And at the same hour the veil of the Jerusalem sanctuary was torn into two. [21] 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. [22] Then the sun shone, and it was found to be the ninth hour. [23] 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. [24] 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 Jesus’ death


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 (actually Sheol) 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 of the Dry Bones" in the 37th Chapter of The Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. This prophecy, although seemingly 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


40/41 AD
44-48 AD

40/41 AD

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.

44-48 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 procurators that 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.
Historical sources for this famine are discussed in detail in Graham (2021)


[1] Most scholars believe the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built on top of Golgotha. Archaeologist Dr. Dan Bahat is 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.

[2] 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 1979.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

[5] 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.

[6] e.g. Papias, Irenaeus, Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandra, Hegesippus, Hippolytus, Origen, Eusebius, Ephrem the Syrian,Didymus of Alexandria, Epiphanius,John Chrysostom, Jerome, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Marius Mercator, and Venerable Bede.

[7] From Eusebius Church History Book 3 Chapter XXXIX – The Writings of Papias p. 127

[8] Paul may quote Luke (10:7)
And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.
in 1 Timothy 5:18
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.

[9] Antiquities of the Jews – Book XV – Chapter 11 – Paragraph 3

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] See Finegan (1998) Section 620 - Pilate’s reign is based on Josephus Jewish Antiquities Book XVIII Chapter 2 Paragraph 2 for the start of Pilates reign and Jewish Antiquities Book XVIII Chapter 4 Paragraph 2 for the length of Pilate’s reign (10 years) and the end of Pilates reign (~37 AD).

[13] 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 Numbers 28:16-17
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.
[14] dates are based on the Julian calendar.

[15] 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.

[16] "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

[17] "And now it was that the temple was finished." Antiquities of the Jews Book XX Chapter 9 Paragraph 7

[18] 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.

[19] 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.

[20] 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.

[21] The High Places at Petra, Khirbet Tannur, and the Temple to Allat in Wadi Ramm

[22] e.g. 31 BC, Possibly 26-36 AD, and the Incense Road Earthquake of 112-114 AD

[23] No reason is given why the 42nd – 49th year was not possible. Aretas IV ruled for 49 years.

[24] Aretas IV ruled from 9 BC – 40 AD. If the 41st – 49th regnal years are possible, the inscription would date from 32 – 40 AD.

[25] Roman rule began in ~106 AD. This would make the 41st – 49th year of Provincia Arabia ~147 – ~155 AD.

[26] Savignac, R. (1932). "Le Sanctuaire d'Allat à Iram (Part 1)."> Revue biblique 41: 585-594.
Savignac, R. (1933). "Le Sanctuaire d'Allat à Iram (Part 2)." Revue biblique 42: 405-422.
Savignac, R. (1934). "Le Sanctuaire d'Allat à Iram (Part 3)." Revue biblique 43: 572-589.
Savignac, R. and Horsfield, G. (1935). "Le Temple de Ramm." Revue biblique 44: 245-278.
Kirkbride, D. (1960). "Le Temple Nabatéen de Ramm: Son Évolution Architecturale." Revue biblique 67: 65-92.

[27] 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.

[28] 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.