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17th of Adar Quake

[Feb 28, 92 BC]

by Jefferson Williams

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


An ancient Jewish festival on the 17th of Adar (March) commemorates a joyous day in Jewish history when enemies of the Jews in Lebanon and Syria may have been overcome by a violent earthquake. The veracity and year of this account are in question as is discussed in Textual Evidence.

Textual Evidence

Karcz (2004) investigated the source of this earthquake and tsunami description which is present in several Earthquake catalogs (e.g. Ben-Menahem (1979) and Amiran et. al, 1994). The clearest description comes from the Common Scholion (ie. Commentary) on the Megillat Taanit ("the Scroll of Fasting") describing a possible earthquake and tsunami while the notoriously cruel and oppressive Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus (who ruled from 103 BC – 76 BC) [1] was pursuing Jewish Pharisaic rebels into Syria at the end of the Judean Civil war.
... and when Janaeus came down to kill the scribes they escaped from him and went to Syria and stayed in country of Koselikos and the gentiles there rose to kill them and they heziu them a great zia [shocked them a great shock, scared them great scare] and they struck them a great blow and left some survivors and they went to Bet Zabadi Rabbi Hidka says the day the natives wanted to kill the scribes of Israel the sea upwelled and destroyed a third in the settled land.
The Megillat Taanit, written before the destruction of the second Temple in 70 AD, summarizes oral traditions listing 35 days to celebrate joyous events in early Jewish history; primarily during the Hasmonean period (167 BC – 37 BC) (Karcz (2004)). One such day on the 17th of Adar (February-March) is described as such
... on the 17th the natives attacked the remnant of scribes in the country of Belikos and Beit Zabdai and a salvation came to the House of Israel.
The original Megillat Taanit text neither mentions King Alexander Janneus nor describes an earthquake and a possible tsunami. Karcz (2004) reports that the quote in the Megillat Taanit may, according to some Judaic scholars, refer to something that occurred during the rule of the more favorably viewed Hasmonean King Jonathan Maccabeus (who ruled from 160 BC – 142 BC) while he was fighting King Demetrius Nicator and the Arabs in Lebanon and Syria rather than fellow Jews (the Pharisaic rebels) thus potentially resolving the mystery of why this occasion might be viewed as joyous. For this reason, Karcz (2004) suggests the possibility that this description may refer to the alleged Dead Fish and Soldiers Earthquake of ~142 BC – the date of which he notes is elastic when one examines sources. See the Notes Section of the Dead Fish and Soldiers Quake for further discussion.

Archeoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence

Paleoseismic Evidence for an earthquake(s) associated with the Seventeenth of Adar Quake or an unreported quake from around 92 BCE is summarized below:

Location Status
Tekieh Trenches Syria possible - ~2 m displacement
Bet Zayda possible
En Feshka unlikely to be Seventeenth of Adar Quake - Type B (microbreccia) 1 cm. thick
En Gedi unlikely to be Seventeenth of Adar Quake - 1 cm. thick
Nahal Ze 'elim possible from around this time - 8 cm. thick intraclast breccia
Taybeh Trench Jordan possible from around this time
Qatar Trench Jordan no events seen around this date

Each site will now be discussed separately.

Tekieh Trenches Syria

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

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

Bet Zayda

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

Dead Sea

92 BC date assignments in the Dead Sea at En Feshka (Kagan et. al., 2011) and En Gedi (Migowski et. al., 2004) are not plausible as they are too far away from the supposed epicenter to produce a seismite. Thus, they likely point to an unknown earthquake from around this time.
En Feshka
(Kagan et. al., 2011) in Table 3 identified a 1 cm. thick Type B (microbreccia) seismite at a depth of 387.0 cm. which they associated with a 92 BCE earthquake.

En Gedi
Migowski et. al. (2004) identified a 1 cm. thick seismite in the En Gedi Core (DSEn) at a depth of 294.93 cm. which they assigned to a 92 BCE earthquake (Table 2).

Nahal Ze 'elim (ZA2)
Kagan et al (2011) in Table 3 report an 8 cm. thick seismite at a depth of 516 cm. due to an earthquake which struck around this time.


Taybeh, Jordan
In paleoseismic trenches near Taybeh, Jordan, LeFevre et al. (2018) dated an earthquake Event (E6) on the Arava Fault to have occurred between 160 BC and 117 BC.

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

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


Wikipedia entry

Paleoclimate - Droughts


[1] See Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews Book XIII Ch 13 Paragraph 5 and Ch 14 Paragraph 2.


Translation of Megillat Taanit