An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea

Abstract and Figures

This article examines a report in the 27th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament that an earthquake was felt in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We have tabulated a varved chronology from a core from Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea between deformed sediments due to a widespread earthquake in 31 BC and deformed sediments due to an early first-century earthquake. The early first-century seismic event has been tentatively assigned a date of 31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years. Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel ofMatthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. If the last possibility is true, this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory.
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An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea
Jefferson B. Williams a , Markus J. Schwab b & A. Brauer b
a Supersonic Geophysical, LLC, Los Angeles, CA, 90042, USA
b GFZ – German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section 5.2 Climate Dynamics and
Landscape Evolution, 14473, Potsdam, Germany
Available online: 23 Dec 2011
To cite this article: Jefferson B. Williams, Markus J. Schwab & A. Brauer (2011): An early first-century earthquake in the
Dead Sea, International Geology Review, DOI:10.1080/00206814.2011.639996
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International Geology Review
2011, iFirst article, 1–10
An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea
Jefferson B. Williamsa*, Markus J. Schwabband A. Brauerb
aSupersonic Geophysical, LLC, Los Angeles, CA 90042, USA; bGFZ – German Research Centre for Geosciences, Section 5.2 Climate
Dynamics and Landscape Evolution, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
(Accepted 31 October 2011)
This article examines a report in the 27th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament that an earthquake was
felt in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. We have tabulated a varved chronology from a core
from Ein Gedi on the western shore of the Dead Sea between deformed sediments due to a widespread earthquake in 31 BC
and deformed sediments due to an early first-century earthquake. The early first-century seismic event has been tentatively
assigned a date of 31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years. Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of
Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of
the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments
at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record. If the last possibility is true,
this would mean that the report of an earthquake in the Gospel of Matthew is a type of allegory.
Keywords: Dead Sea; Holocene; varves; Earthquake; Crucifixion; New Testament
The Ein Gedi core
The Dead Sea (3130N, 3530E) lies along the tectoni-
cally active Dead Sea Transform (DST), which separates
the Arabian and Sinai plates (Garfunkel 1981). The DST
is a mainly N–S-striking, left-lateral transform fault with
normal faulting along its margins and at northwest bends
and thrusting at northeast bends. A terminal lake, the Dead
Sea, is situated in a pull-apart basin at the deepest location
on land along the transform. Frequent seismic activity
along the DST has been detected in the past century and
recorded historically and archaeologically over the past
4000 years (Ben-Menahem 1991; Ambraseys et al. 1994;
Salamon et al. 2003). Within the layered deposits of recent
Dead Sea sediments lie subintervals which have been
deformed, presumably due to earthquakes generated by
fault movement along the DST (Marco and Agnon 1995;
Enzel et al. 2000; Ken-Tor et al. 2001a; Migowski et al.
2004; Kagan et al. 2011).
In the fall of 1997, the GFZ German Research Centre
for Geosciences in cooperation with the Geological Survey
of Israel took three cores from the beach of the Ein
Gedi Spa adjacent to the Dead Sea at a surface eleva-
tion of 415 m below sea level1(Figure 1). The cores
sampled sediments that were originally deposited in a
deep lacustrine environment (Migowski et al. 2004, 2006).
A floating varve chronology was established (Migowski
*Corresponding author. Email:
fault Jordan
10 10 20 km
Dead Sea
Dead Sea
Nahal Ze'elim
Ein Gedi
Jerusalem Jericho
En Feshka
Figure 1. Map of the Dead Sea and surrounding area showing
the core location in Ein Gedi and the outcrop location in Nahal
et al. 2004) after identifying and counting varves under
the microscope and performing accelerator mass spectrom-
etry (AMS) radiocarbon dating of wood fragments from the
ISSN 0020-6814 print/ISSN 1938-2839 online
© 2011 Taylor & Francis
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2J.B. Williams et al.
cores. Twenty-eight historically documented earthquakes
were identified in a 1598-year interval between 140 BC
and 1458 AD in Core Section A3 of the Ein Gedi core
(Migowski et al. 2004).
While a previous study (Migowski et al. 2004)
attempted to reconcile a varve-counted seismite date
observed in the section to an earthquake date (33 AD) listed
in the earthquake catalogues (e.g. Willis 1928; Amiran
et al. 1994), this study makes no assumptions about the
likely date of this early first-century seismite. A date was
assigned to the seismite based on varve counting alone.
Then, an attempt was made to determine the accuracy of
that varve count and to compare this with an analysis of
the historical sources which reveals a less well defined date
assignment than the dominant 33 AD date that is present
in most of the catalogues. By comparing the date from the
varve count with the date range and date probabilities from
the historical sources and conducting some geomechanical
examination, we have come to some conclusions.
Varved sediments and seismites
The two fundamental assumptions that allow one to
identify historically documented earthquakes in the Dead
Sea sedimentary record of the Ein Gedi core are the
(1) The sediments are varved (Heim et al. 1997;
Migowski et al. 2004). Seasonal lamination pat-
terns of white summertime precipitates (primarily
aragonite, but also in a few cases gypsum and
halite) and grey detritus from winter and spring
time floods in the wadis (aka Nahal) can be counted
as a varve, that is, 1 year of deposition.
(2) Brecciated layers, also known as intraclast breccias
(Agnon et al. 2006), mixed layers, or seismites,
were created by deformation of the varved layers
due to seismic shaking (Marco and Agnon, 1995,
Marco et. al., 1996). An example containing annual
varves and brecciated layers of Holocene Dead Sea
sediments is shown in Figure 2.
Field observations of brecciated layers in cores and out-
crops show that the upper contact is sharp whereas the basal
contact can be sharp or gradual. Where the basal contact is
gradual, folded and torn packets of laminae are abundant
(Agnon et al. 2006).
There are several reasons that the brecciated layers are
believed to have a seismic origin.
(1) Field evidence. In Nahal Ze’elim, where lateral
relations of the brecciated layers were readily
observed, it was noted that the topography was flat
at the time of deposition. Thus, there is no field
evidence for gravitational slides. In addition, none
of the aragonite fragments in the brecciated layers
Figure 2. Photo of Events B and C in Nahal Ze’elim outcrop
with a thin-section image from the same outcrop superimposed in
the upper right. Events B and C are brecciated layers; believed to
be deformed during earthquakes. Event B was correlated to the
31 BC earthquake (Ken-Tor et al. 2001a, 2001b; Williams 2004).
Event C appears to be due to the same earthquake observed in
the Ein Gedi core dated to 31 AD ±5 years in this article. Annual
varves are present between Events B and C (note alternating white
and grey or brown layers). Photo taken by Jefferson B. Williams
in May 2000.
showed lateral grading, imbrications, or other
transport indicators such as would be expected
from lateral flows or turbidity currents (Ken-Tor
et al. 2001a).
(2) Similar layers are found elsewhere in the world.
As noted by Ken-Tor et al. (2001a), similar soft
sediment deformation structures have been doc-
umented in several other localities worldwide
and interpreted as seismites (Sims 1973, 1975;
Hempton and Dewey 1983; Allen 1986; Davenport
and Ringrose 1987; Doig 1991).
(3) Association with syndepositional faulting.
In nearby Nahal Perazim, brecciated layers
with similar lithology occur in association with
syndepositional faults presumed to be caused by
earthquakes (Marco and Agnon 1995; Marco et al.
(4) Correlation to documented earthquakes.Inthe
1522-year varve-counting interval in the Ein Gedi
core, brecciated layers were correlated to 28 his-
torically documented earthquakes (Migowski et al.
2004). Seismites from other outcrops on the shores
of the western Dead Sea have also been cor-
related to historically documented earthquakes
(Enzel et al. 2000; Ken-Tor et al. 2001a, 2001b;
Kagan et al. 2011).
(5) Correlation to seismic intensity. In the Ein Gedi
core, a relationship was discovered between esti-
mated local intensity due to an earthquake and
the probability that a brecciated layer would
correlate to a seismic event. At historically esti-
mated modified Mercalli intensities (MMI) greater
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International Geology Review 3
than VII (i.e. VIII and higher), all well-documented
earthquakes were correlated, whereas at intensities
smaller than VI, none were matching (Migowski
et al. 2004). In the Nahal Ze’elim outcrops,
Williams (2004) independently estimated that the
threshold intensity for seismic deformation is VIII.
Williams was further able to develop a quantita-
tive relationship between the historically estimated
intensity of local ground shaking (expressed as
peak horizontal ground acceleration) and the thick-
ness of the brecciated layers themselves.
In the thinnest brecciated layers (e.g. less than 1 cm
thick), the entire interval appears to have been fluidized,
brecciated, suspended, and then redeposited after the
seismic shaking ended (Migowski et al. 2004). In larger
brecciated layers (several tens of centimetres thick and
larger), the brecciated layers appear to have been deformed
in situ, avoiding suspension and resettlement. We suspect
that the thinnest brecciated layers originally (preseismi-
cally) formed a thin veneer of uncompacted and possibly
not fully grain-supported sediment that was mechanically
closer to a suspension of water and detritus than the under-
lying sediment. When relatively lower intensity ground
shaking occurred, these thin layers were then fully sus-
pended into the water column and resettled. The thicker
layers appear to have been formed by longer lasting and
more intense levels of ground shaking.
A strain softening type of liquefaction apparently
played a significant role in the formation of the larger
brecciated layers. This type of liquefaction has been
observed in low-permeability sediments such as marine
clays (e.g. see Vucetic and Dobry 1991) and is consid-
ered to have been operative in the Dead Sea sediments
deposited from a deeper lacustrine environment such as
was found in the Ein Gedi core. In strain softening lique-
faction, increases in strain cause a reduction in the shear
modulus of the soil, which reduces to such a point that the
soil can no longer resist the deforming forces. More con-
ventional pore pressure-induced liquefaction may be more
operative in coarser grained, higher permeability Dead Sea
sediments deposited in shore and near-shore environments
(e.g. Enzel et al. 2000). Heifetz et al. (2005) proposed a
model for soft sediment deformation that agrees well with
field observations.
An important mechanical aspect to the deformation
of Dead Sea sediments during earthquakes involves the
sediment anisotropy. Cemented aragonite crusts provide
lateral reinforcement. In fact, the sediments are signifi-
cantly stronger in cyclic load tests when the load is applied
laterally rather than vertically (Sam Frydman, personal
communication 2000). In Holocene Dead Sea sediments,
the aragonite crusts appear to undergo brittle rather than
plastic failure during seismic shaking. Seismic loading
away from the immediate epicentre of an earthquake is
Preseismic Coseismic Postseismic
(A) (B) (C)
Figure 3. Interpretation of how brecciated layer seismites are
formed. (A) Laminated sediments are deposited at the bottom of
the Dead Sea. (B) Ground motion during an earthquake leads to
liquefaction of the top layers of sediment on the Dead Sea floor.
(C) Sedimentation continues depositing more laminated sedi-
ments on top of the brecciated layer. Modified from Marco and
Agnon (1995). Reproduced/modified by permission of American
Geophysical Union.
usually dominated by vertically propagating shear waves,
which load the sediments horizontally. This appears to have
been the case in most of the observed brecciated layers
where the brittle aragonite crusts evidently fractured due
to horizontal forces (Williams 2004).
It appears that in the fine-grained lacustrine sediments
present in the Ein Gedi core, brecciated layers were formed
by either suspension of a thin veneer of uncompacted water
and detritus or a strain softening type of liquefaction cou-
pled with brittle failure of aragonite crusts. Whatever the
specific mechanism of failure, brecciated layer formation
can be visualized in a simplified form as shown in Figure 3.
The important point is that the brecciated layers apparently
formed at the sediment–water interface, and the timing of
each event is constrained by dating the first undisturbed
layer overlying the disturbed sequence (Marco and Agnon
1995; Migowski et al. 2004).
The 31 BC ‘anchor’ earthquake
Because of the ubiquity of sediment deformation due to
the 31 BC earthquake throughout the Dead Sea (Reches
and Hoexter 1981; Enzel et al. 2000; Ken-Tor et al. 2001a;
Migowski et al. 2004; Kagan et al. 2011), once this event is
identified in a given section, it can be treated as a chrono-
logical anchor (see Event B in Figure 2). Varve counting,
for example, can proceed from the 31 BC event upward in
the section towards more recent earthquake events. The pri-
mary historical source for the earthquake of the early spring
of 31 BC is Josephus Flavius, who wrote in The Jewish War
(Book 1, Chapter XIX, 370):
But as he [King Herod] was avenging himself on his ene-
mies, there fell upon him another providential calamity;
for in the seventh year of his reign, when the war about
Actium2was at the height, at the beginning of the spring
the earth was shaken, and destroyed an immense number
of cattle, with thirty thousand men; but the army received
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4J.B. Williams et al.
no harm, because it lay in the open air. (Josephus et al.
This was evidently a powerful earthquake. Amiran et al.
(1994) believe that local intensities were as high as X in
several places, whereas Arieh (1993) assigned a maximum
local intensity value of IX and ML=7.0.3Ben-Menahem
(1991) estimated ML=6.7 and places the approximate epi-
centre 25 km north of where the Jordan River empties
into the Dead Sea along the Jericho fault. Williams (2004)
suggested that the fault break was most likely on the Jericho
fault with a southern termination near Nahal Darga and
a northern termination well up the Jordan Valley directly
north of Gesher Adam (Jisr Damiya).
Ben-Menahem (1991) mentions damage in Jerusalem
at the Second Temple, Masada, Qumran, and Jericho at
Herod’s Winter Palace. Guidoboni et al. (1994) believes
this earthquake is mentioned by Iohannes Malalas in
Chronographia (Malalas et al. 1986) when he reported
that a city in Palestine named Salamine (possibly present-
day Lod, near Tel Aviv) was destroyed and rebuilt by
Augustus and re-named Diospolis. Rahmani (1964) reports
that Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem was destroyed by this
earthquake. Amiran et al. (1994) note that earthquake dam-
age was severe in Galilee and Judea. Karcz (2004) and
Ambraseys (2009), however, caution that there is limited
textual evidence regarding the area affected by this earth-
quake and suggest that the extent of damage reported from
archaeological sites in Israel (e.g. at Qumran, Masada,
Jason’s tomb, and/or Jericho) due to a 31 BC earthquake
may be overstated. Karcz (2004) estimates a magnitude of
The 31 BC earthquake appears to have ruptured the
ground surface near Jericho and shows up in trenches exca-
vated by Reches and Hoexter (1981). A seismite from
the 31 BC earthquake also appears to be present in out-
crops at Nahal Darga as a thick deformed layer labelled
Stratigraphic Unit 11 by Enzel et al. (2000). At Nahal
Ze’elim, a brecciated layer labelled Event B was assigned
to the 31 BC earthquake (Ken-Tor et al. 2001a). This
brecciated layer is 17 cm thick and spatially continu-
ous, appearing as shown in Figure 2. Kagan et al. (2011)
assigned a 6 cm-thick brecciated layer in En Feshka to
the 31 BC earthquake. Migowski et al. (2004) identified
a 9 cm-thick brecciated layer with the 31 BC earthquake,
and this layer is shown at the bottom of the thin-section log
in Figures 4 and 6.
Methods and results
Counting varves from 31 BC to 31 AD
Thin-section images along with interpretive tracks of the
Ein Gedi core from the 31 BC earthquake to the early first-
century earthquake are shown in Figures 5 and 6.
Figure 4. Close-up of deposition immediately following the
31 BC earthquake, when Josephus reported a drought.
It should be noted that the dark cracks present in
the thin-section slides were created during the epoxy
impregnation process in creating the thin sections. Fresh
sediment slices (10 ×2 cm) were impregnated with
resin after freeze-drying (Brauer and Casanova 2001). The
impregnated sample blocks were cut along the long axis
so that the cutting plane could be used for large-scale
thin-section preparation.
Excluding the depth track (in millimetres) on the far
left, there are nine tracks in these logs. On the far left and
far right are images of the thin sections themselves (slides
A3-3-2 and A3-3-3). Adjacent to each microscope image is
a varve quality track.
A varve quality index is defined below.
1=Discontinuous ambiguous clastic layer.
2=Clearly identifiable clastic layer but thickness
estimate is not very accurate.
3=Well-preserved varve with good accurate estimate
of thickness.
Every counted varve was assigned an index value of 1, 2,
or 3. For the purpose of this study, where the goal is accu-
rate chronological dating, a varve quality index value of
1 indicates that the varve is somewhat suspect and a varve
quality index of 2 or higher indicates that the varve count
is regarded as fairly certain.
In the 62 years counted from 31 BC to 31 AD, 36 (58%)
had a varve quality rating of 1 and 26 (42%) had a varve
quality rating of 2 or higher. In addition to the varve quality
tracks, two more track types are present. They are the facies
tracks and years tracks.
The facies tracks were developed for each individ-
ual slide (A3-3-2 or A3-3-3) and use simplified symbols
geared towards the goal of counting varves and identifying
earthquakes. Layers are defined, as shown in the facies leg-
end of Figures 5 and 6, into one of three types of facies:
clastic layers, evaporites, and brecciated layers. Evaporites
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International Geology Review 5
Figure 5. Interpreted log of Ein Gedi core thin-section A3-3-2 (composite core depth 2715–2755 mm) and overlapping thin-section A3-
3-3 (composite core depth 2737–2833 mm). As a result of thin-section microstratigraphy and varve quality determination, a composite
varve chronology is shown in the central column.
are primarily authigenic aragonite but gypsum and rare
halite can also be present.
A brecciated layer has undergone deformation due
to ground motion (usually due to earthquakes) in the
predominantly undisturbed and finely laminated lacustrine
Ein Gedi sediments. A combination of one clastic layer
(deposited primarily during winter) and one evaporite layer
(deposited primarily during summer) is assumed to repre-
sent one varve or 1 year of deposition (Migowski et al.
2004). Varves inside of brecciated layers were counted
based on observed discontinuous laminations and main-
taining congruence in varve thickness with the average
thickness of adjacent undeformed varves. Years tracks were
constructed adjacent to the facies tracks based on this
assumption. One years track was created for each indi-
vidual thin section (A3-3-2 and A3-3-3), and a composite
years track was created combining what was regarded as
the most accurate varve counts between the two thin sec-
tions. Varve quality index values were used to decide which
chronology to use where the thin sections overlapped (see
Figures 5 and 6).
Palaeoclimate information may be contained in the sed-
iments deposited immediately after the 31 BC earthquake.
In his book Jewish Antiquities (Book XV, Chapter 9),
Josephus reported a drought in Judea in 28 BC or possibly
25 BC4:
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6J.B. Williams et al.
Figure 6. Interpreted log of Ein Gedi core (for explanation see Figure 5).
Now on this very year, which was the thirteenth year of
the reign of Herod, very great calamities came upon the
country; whether they were derived from the anger of God,
or whether this misery returns again naturally in certain
periods of time (14) for, in the first place, there were per-
petual droughts, and for that reason the ground was barren,
and did not bring forth the same quantity of fruits that it
used to produce. (Josephus 1930)
From 31 BC to 28 BC in Figure 4, we note that the arago-
nite layers are relatively thin and that there are a fairly large
number of gypsum rhombs.5If these were years of drought,
this would tend to support the thesis of Stein et al. (1997)
and Barkan et al. (2001) that enhanced aragonite produc-
tion requires a continuous supply of freshwater loaded with
bicarbonate (Migowski et al. 2006), leading to the con-
clusion that thick aragonite layers were precipitated in the
summers after years of heavier rainfall and abundant runoff
into the Dead Sea, whereas thinner aragonite layers corre-
spond to summer time precipitation following years of less
rainfall and less runoff. In addition, the extra gypsum in
these years may represent drier years, when the upper water
mass of the Dead Sea was diminished due to lower water
input and enhanced evaporation (Migowski et al. 2004).
Leroy et al. (2010) noted a decrease in cultivated pollen
(Olea,Pistacia,Juglans, and Vitis) in the Nahal Ze’elim
outcrop in the 5 years after the 31 BC earthquake, which
could indicate drought conditions and/or a decrease in
agricultural productivity due to destruction caused by the
31 BC earthquake.
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International Geology Review 7
The date of the crucifixion
Migowski et al. (2004) assigned the brecciated layer in
Figure 5 to an earthquake listed as occurring in 33 AD
in the earthquake catalogues. Ken-Tor et al. (2001a),
using the outcrops at Nahal Ze’elim, assigned a correla-
tive seismite (labelled Event C) to the 33 AD earthquake.
Kagan et al. (2011) also assigned 33 AD to an earthquake
event identified in outcrops at En Feshka. All of these
assignments could refer to an earthquake reported to have
occurred immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus of
Nazareth. The primary source document for the earthquake
of the crucifixion is the 27th chapter of the Gospel of
Matthew in the New Testament. It describes an earthquake
occurring when Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross:
50But Jesus, again crying out in a loud voice, yielded up
his spirit.51 At that moment the curtain in the Temple
was ripped in two from top to bottom; and there was an
earthquake6with rocks splitting apart.
The curtain referred to comes from the Aramaic word
parokhet, which was a 1 ft-thick piece of fabric cover-
ing the entrance to the holy of the holies in the Second
Temple. The Gospels of Mark and Luke also mention the
tearing of the temple curtain in the moments surrounding
Jesus’ death, but do not cite an earthquake as the cause of
destruction.7In Chapter 28, the Gospel of Matthew goes
on to describe another earthquake roughly 36 hours after
the one described above:
1After the Sabbath, toward dawn on Sunday, Mary of
Magdala and the other Mary went to see the grave.
2Suddenly there was a violent earthquake, for an angel of
God came down from heaven, rolled away the stone and sat
on it.
In modern terms, this might be described as an after-
shock event.
The day and date of the crucifixion are fairly well
known. The year is not so well known. According to the
four canonical gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and
John), the crucifixion occurred on a Friday on either 14 or
15 Nisan, a month in the Jewish lunar calendar. The year,
however, is not specified. One clue to the year is that the
crucifixion occurred during the reign of Pontius Pilate who
was the Procurator of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. This is
agreed upon by all four gospels as well as Tacitus in Annals
(Book XV, 44) (Tacitus et al. 1942).
Humphrey and Waddington (1983) tabulated the
days between 26 and 36 AD when 14 or 15 Nisan fell
on a Friday and came up with four possible years: 27,
30, 33, and 34 AD. Humphrey and Waddington (1983)
further pointed out that 27 and 34 AD were unlikely dates
when one tried to match the crucifixion with the time of
Jesus’ ministry and the estimated date of Paul of Tarsus’
conversion on the road to Damascus.8Thus, they listed
two dates as the most likely dates for the crucifixion:
Friday 7 April 30 AD (14 Nisan) or Friday 3 April 33 AD
(14 Nisan). They proposed that Friday 3 April 33 AD was
the more probable of the two dates.
Plausible earthquake candidates
Obviously, based on the discussion of the previous section,
it is not likely that an earthquake of the crucifixion could
have occurred in 31 AD. However, as mentioned earlier,
over half of the counted varves between 31 BC and 31 AD
were characterized as being discontinuous or ambiguous.
The 31 AD date is an estimate, the accuracy of which needs
to be determined.
One way to determine the accuracy of this estimate
is to compare the varve-counting accuracy of this study
with that of Migowski (2001), who counted varves in the
same core. Since both investigations independently came
up with similar dates for the early first-century earth-
quake (31 AD vs. 33 AD in Migowski (2001)), this is
considered to be a valid comparison. Between two well-
defined ‘anchor’ earthquakes of 31 BC and 1293 AD,
Migowski (2001) counted 1324 varves. Of these, 94 years
were masked by earthquake deformation. Inasmuch as
Migowski (2001) used varve counts in the masked intervals
to match her varve-counted year to historically documented
earthquakes, the number of masked years in the 1324-
year interval represents a combination of deformed layers
and adjustments in the varve count to account for errors
in varve counting; 94 years out of 1324 years amounts
to 7.1%. Assuming a worst case scenario that the entire
masked varve count is due to varve-counting errors, 7.1%
of the 62-year interval between 31 BC and 31 AD amounts
to 4.4 years. Rounding up, this means that for any given
earthquake between 31 BC and 31 AD, the dating pos-
sesses an accuracy of at least ±5 years. This places the
above-postulated 31 AD earthquake within the 26–36 AD
window (31 ±5 years) when Pontius Pilate was Procurator
of Judea and the earthquake of the crucifixion is historically
In addition to this statistical approach, one can also
use a geomechanical approach to assess the likelihood that
the earthquake dated at 31 AD was caused by another
historically reported earthquake. Several other historical
earthquakes occurred in the vicinity of the age range of
±20 years (11–51 AD). These earthquakes are9:
(1) a presumed submarine earthquake with an epicen-
tre off the coast of modern-day Lebanon near the
port city of Sidon in 19 AD (Turcotte and Arieh
(2) a 37 AD earthquake with an epicentre close to
Antioch, Syria (Guidoboni et al. 1994);
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8J.B. Williams et al.
(3) a 47 AD earthquake with an epicentre close to
Antioch, Syria (Guidoboni et al. 1994); and
(4) a 48 AD earthquake that is reported by Turcotte
and Arieh (1993) to have been caused by a rupture
along the Arava fault south of the Dead Sea.
Some doubt exists about the validity of the 48 AD rupture
on the Arava fault. Whereas Ben-Menahem (1979) noted
that there was archaeological evidence10 that indicated
an earthquake occurred in the Arava between 9 BC and
50 AD, the source for this date in many of the earthquake
catalogues appears to be based on an erroneous interpreta-
tion of an earthquake reported in the Act of the Apostles
in the New Testament. Willis (1928), whose earthquake
catalogue forms a reference for many of the more recent
earthquake catalogues, noted that an earthquake in 48 AD
was felt in Palestine and Jerusalem and that damage was
light. Willis (1928) lists Arvanitakis (1903) as his only ref-
erence for this earthquake. Arvanitakis (1903) reports that
a 48 AD earthquake was felt in Jerusalem and Palestine,
where damage was also characterized as light. The source
for Arvanitakis (1903) is the Acts of the Apostles (8:24) in
the New Testament. Although an earthquake is mentioned
in the Acts of the Apostles around 47–48 AD in Philippi,
Macedonia, while Paul and Silas were imprisoned, this
account is not in 8:24.11
In Chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles, the following
passage (16:25–26) can be found.
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing
hymns to God, while the other prisoners listened atten-
tively. Suddenly there was a violent earthquake which
shook the prison to its foundations. All the doors flew open,
and everyone’s chains came loose.
It is very unlikely that an earthquake in Macedonia would
cause damage in Jerusalem. Karcz and Lom (1987) concur
that the 48 AD earthquake may be a misrepresentation of
a Judean earthquake based on Paul and Silas’ release from
prison in Macedonia.
Nonetheless, all four earthquakes can be examined
on a magnitude–distance plot (Figure 7) which was used
by Migowski et al. (2004) to determine which earth-
quakes caused sufficiently energetic local ground shaking
to deform the sediments in the section. Earthquakes which
plot above the upper line on the chart did not deform the
section. We note that the earthquakes of 19 AD, 37 AD,
and 47 AD did not create sufficient localized ground shak-
ing at Ein Gedi to deform the sediments. Those that plot
well below the lower line in the chart did deform the sed-
iments. The 48 AD earthquake is plotted as it represents
a rupture in the Arava. It appears unlikely that such an
earthquake could have deformed the sediments in Ein Gedi.
This leaves the 26–36 AD earthquake as the only histori-
cally reported candidate likely to have caused local ground
47 AD 37 AD
48 AD
19 AD
31 BC
V –
Distance from Epicenter (km.)
26–36 AD
5.5 5.7 5.9 6.1 6.3 6.5 6.7 6.9 7.1 7.3 7.5 7.7 7.9
Figure 7. Magnitude–distance plot with lines of equal inten-
sity based on Agnon et al. (2006). Magnitude and distance for
the 26–36 AD earthquake are based on Williams (2004). All
other magnitudes and distances are based on published earthquake
However, it is possible that a non-historically reported
earthquake created the 26–36 AD seismite. It has been
surmised that an earthquake of magnitude (M)of5.5or
larger is capable of deforming the ground surface in the
immediate vicinity of the epicentre (Avi Shapira, personal
communication 2000). A slightly more energetic version
of such an earthquake (e.g. ML=5.7) could be capable
of deforming lacustrine sediments in Nahal Ze’elim, Ein
Gedi, and En Feshka, but might not cause sufficient struc-
tural damage in nearby populated areas to be reported in
the currently extant historical record.
This leaves three possibilities for the cause of the
26–36 AD earthquake observed in the Ein Gedi section:
(1) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Matthew
occurred more or less as reported;
(2) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Mathew
was in effect ‘borrowed’ from an earthquake that
occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion,
but during the reign of Pontius Pilate;
(3) the earthquake described in the Gospel of Matthew
is allegorical fiction and the 26–36 AD seismite
was caused by an earthquake that is not reported
in the currently extant historical record.
We are grateful for the generous support of
GeoForschungZentrum in Potsdam, Germany, where all of
the thin-section production and most of the microscope work
was performed. Jörg Negendank assisted with discussions and
in supplying reference material. We also thank the following
researchers in Germany for their assistance and discussions:
Sushma Prasad, Jens Mingram, and Claudia Migowski. In addi-
tion, assistance in the form of help and/or discussions was
received in Israel from Revital Bookman, Amotz Agnon, Avi
Shapira, and Sam Frydman. Revital Bookman contributed with
article reviews. Finally, Steve Tsai of Cal State University
at Long Beach helped with useful insight in the early stages
of the primary author’s research, which concentrated on the
Geomechanics of the Dead Sea seismites.
Downloaded by [Jeff Williams] at 11:30 23 December 2011
International Geology Review 9
1. 3125.176N35
2. Actium was the site of a naval battle in Greece between
the forces of Mark Anthony and Caesar Octavianus, who
was later known as Augustus Caesar. King Herod of Israel
allied himself with Anthony and fought a series of land bat-
tles with the Arabians at the same time. Herod’s army is
believed to have camped in the plains of Jericho at the time
of the earthquake (de Vaux 1973).
3. ML=local magnitude.
4. Josephus refers to a drought in the 13th year of Herod’s
reign. In one reckoning, Herod’s reign starts in 40 BC,
when he was appointed King by Rome (Finegan 1998,
Section 227). In another reckoning, Herod’s reign begins in
37 BC (or possibly 36 BC), when he conquered Jerusalem
(Finegan 1998, Section 503). Thus, by the first reckoning,
28 BC corresponds to the 13th year of Herod’s reign and
in the second reckoning, 25 BC (or possibly 24 BC) cor-
responds to the 13th year of Herod’s reign. Finegan (1998,
Section 227) notes that Josephus could be inconsistent in
the way he reckoned time in his books.
5. At 2.5×magnification, the aragonite crystals are not visible,
but some of the larger white rhomboid-shaped gypsum crys-
tals are visible. Gypsum rhombs have a flattened diamond
6. Earthquake is translated from the word seismos (σισμ´
in the original Greek text. Seismos unambiguously refers to
an earthquake.
7. The curtain-tearing incident described in Matthew, Mark,
and Luke can also be interpreted allegorically.
8. This is described in Chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles in
the New Testament.
9. Besides earthquakes 1–4, there are no other historically
reported earthquakes in the vicinity of Judea between 11 and
51 AD.
10. The description in the catalogue reads as follows:
‘Structures at the Nabatian Temple at Aram (Gebel-E-Ram,
40 km. East of Akaba, built ca 31–16 AD), fortified to with-
stand earthquakes. Same at Tel-El Haleife, near Eilat, and at
11. This part of the Acts takes place in Samaria and depicts
a conversation between the apostles Peter and John and a
man named Simon. Acts 8:24 reads ’ ‘and having answered,
Simon said, you pray for me to the lord that nothing may
come upon me of which you have spoken’. There is no
mention of an earthquake.
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... SSD structures are widespread phenomena in a variety of tectonic settings and sedimentary environments, including deltas, lacustrine deposits, shallow coastal deposits, and glaciers (Moretti et al. 2001;Hilbert et al. 2016;Rana et al. 2016;Shanmugam 2017aShanmugam , 2017bFeng 2017b;Zhong et al. 2020). As common sedimentary structures, they have intrigued geologists for over 100 years (Seilacher 1969;Van Loon 2009;Williams et al. 2012;Alsop et al. 2013;Rodríguez-Pascua et al. 2016). The 27th International Congress on Sedimentology and the 4th International Conference on Palaeogeography both discussed SSD structures and their significance as a special topic. ...
... Formation mechanism Internal force, external force, and gravity Unlithified Helwig 1970;Allen 1977;Field et al. 1982;Liang et al. 1991;Rossetti 1999;Van Loon 2009;Qiao et al. 2011Qiao et al. , p. 2016Qiao et al. , 2017Suter et al. 2011;Li et al. 2012;Williams et al. 2012;Douillet et al. 2015;Fichman et al. 2015;Toro and Pratt 2016;Su et al. 2018;Sun et al. 2018; Rodríguez-López and Wu 2020. ...
... A widespread 6.3 magnitude earthquake has been confirmed to have taken place on the western shore of the Dead Sea in Palestine at any time between 26-36 CE, as varved sediments indicate [17]. The magnitude was probably sufficient energetic to cause local deformations in the sediment layers but not energetic enough to enter a widespread historical record. ...
A long-lasting belief is that the gravitational stress by the moon would be responsible for earthquakes because of causing a tidal deformation of Earth's crust. Even worse, earthquakes are sometimes said to be correlated with eclipses. We review the origin of this wrong statement and show that the idea is owed to a fallacious perception of coincidence. In ancient times the two catastrophes were linked interpreting the announcement of Doomsday, while in modern times a quasi-scientific essay disseminated such an interrelation shortly before the theory of tectonics.
Full-text available
Studies of seismicity induced by water level changes in reservoirs and lakes focus typically on well-documented contemporary records. Can such interactions be explored on a historical timescale when the two data types suffer from severe uncertainties stemming from the different nature of the data, methods and resolution? In this study, we show a way to considerably improve the correlation between interpolated records of historical Dead Sea level reconstructions and discrete seismicity patterns in the area, over the period of the past 2 millennia. Inspired by the results of our previous study, we carefully revise the historical earthquake catalog in the Dead Sea to exclude remote earthquakes and include small local events. For addressing the uncertainties in lake levels, we generate an ensemble of random interpolations of water level curves and rank them by correlation with the historical records of seismic stress release. We compute a synthetic catalog of earthquakes, applying a Mohr-Coulomb failure criterion. The critical state of stress at hypocentral depths is achieved by static poroelas-tic deformations incorporating the change in effective normal stress (due to the best-fit water level curve) superimposed on the regional strike-slip tectonic deformations. The earthquakes of this synthetic catalog show an impressive agreement with historical earthquakes documented to have damaged Jerusalem. We refine the seismic catalog by searching for small local events that toppled houses in Jerusalem; including all local events improves the correlation with lake levels. We demonstrate for the first time a high correlation between water level changes and the recorded recurrence intervals of historical earthquakes.
In order to uncover the paradoxical nature of antinomic pair of black and white, so far their appearance in icon painting, science, mythology and symbolism has been examined, which has been done by considering key facts, findings, and paradigmatic episodes. Now, the examination has been brought to hermeneutical limits, taking into account the ancient mythology, history of science, biblical studies and iconography. Technological-coloristic paradox, cosmological and astrophysical paradox, paradox from epistemology, and oneiric paradox have been singled out. As the culmination, the icons of Transfiguration, Crucifixion and Resurrection have been considered, along with the Old Testament motif of the exodus from Egypt and the biblical motif of the cloud of unknowing. It has been concluded that research on black and white as an open topic, gives integrative and ultimate possibilities and challenges at all times.
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In this study we present the work done to review the existing historical earthquake information of the Dead Sea Transform Fault Zone (DSTFZ). Several studies from various sources have been collected and reassessed, with the ultimate goal of creating of new homogenized parametric earthquake catalogue for the region. We analyze 244 earthquakes between 31BC and 1900, which are associated with the geographical buffer extending from 27N to 36N and from 31E to 39E. Of these, 93 were considered real seismic events with moment magnitude (Mw) greater than 5 that indeed occured within this zone. While we relied on past parametric data and did not assign new macroseismic intensities, magnitude values or epicenters for several controversial events, we did however resort to the primary sources to obtain a more critical perspective for the various assigned macroseismic intensities. In order to validate the derived parametric information, we tried to associate the events present in the historical records, with any evidence coming from past field investigations, i.e. geological or archaeological studies. Acknowledging the uneven quality and quantity of data reporting each event, we provided each entry with an uncertainty range estimate. Our catalog lists 33 events of Mw≥6 absent from the latest published compilation with compatible time span and areal coverage. The whole catalog is considered complete down to Mw 7 and in certain areas down to Mw 6 after the year 1000, with majority of the larger earthquakes located in the part of DSTFZ, which extends from the southeast part of Dead Sea lake till Antioch.
Ancient shoalwater platform (saltern) and deepwater (slope and basin) evaporites are dominantly subaqueous precipitates, and, as for the mudflats and pan settings discussed in the previous chapter, when we seek equivalence in the Quaternary record we find our marine-fed choices are limited both in number and scale (Fig. 4.1; Table 4.1). If we consider all nonmarine and marine saline perennial water masses in modern systems as suitable for discussion in this chapter then, as well examples of larger saline perennial lakes, such as Great Salt Lake and Lake Urmia, we must include the feeder-edge brine pools to some larger saline pans and lakes, such as pools or moat facies to lakes Magadi and Natron, and some centripetal depressions to the Turkish lakes such as in Acigolu. In Chap. 12 subaqueous cryogenic continental examples discussed include Karabogazgol and various mirabilite lakes on the Canadian plains. I also arbitrarily split out of this chapter some examples of the larger continental saline pans with feeder pools. This latter group, including most of the South American salars, were discussed in the preceding chapter. Following a similar reasoning, if the bulk of the Holocene column in a lake is dominated by subaqueous textures, then I include it in this chapter, even though Holocene aggradation has moved uppermost part of the Holocene column into a sabkha setting, as in many modern gypsum-filled coastal salinas in southern and western Australia.
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Phillips and Hedges suggested, in the scientific magazine Nature (1989), that neutron radiation could be liable of a wrong radiocarbon dating, while proton radiation could be responsible of the Shroud body image formation. On the other hand, no plausible physical reason has been proposed so far to explain the radiation source origin, and its effects on the linen fibres. However, some recent studies, carried out by the first author and his Team at the Laboratory of Fracture Mechanics of the Politecnico di Torino, found that it is possible to generate neutron emissions from very brittle rock specimens in compression through piezonuclear fission reactions. Analogously, neutron flux increments, in correspondence to seismic activity, should be a result of the same reactions. A group of Russian scientists measured a neutron flux exceeding the background level by three orders of magnitude in correspondence to rather appreciable earthquakes (4th degree in Richter Scale). The authors consider the possibility that neutron emissions by earthquakes could have induced the image formation on Shroud linen fibres, trough thermal neutron capture by Nitrogen nuclei, and provided a wrong radiocarbon dating due to an increment in C 614 content. Let us consider that, although the calculated integral flux of 1013 neutrons per square centimetre is 10 times greater than the cancer therapy dose, nevertheless it is 100 times smaller than the lethal dose.
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Historical accounts, archaeoseismic and paleoseismological evidence allowed us to reappraise two earthquakes affecting northeastern Sicily and southern Calabria in the 1st (probably between 14 and 37) and 4th (likely between 361 and 363) centuries AD, to obtain a better reconstruction of their effects and to reconsider their sources.The 1st century event damaged the area from Oppido (Calabria) to Tindari (Sicily), roughly that of the February 6, 1783 Calabria earthquake. The similitude of these earthquakes is further stressed by the fact that they generated tsunamis, as recorded by historical data and by the tsunami deposits found at Capo Peloro, the oldest dated 0-125 AD, the youngest linked to the 1783 event. These earthquakes could be related to the same Calabria seismic source: the Scilla fault. Northeastern Sicily and southern Calabria were also damaged by one or more earthquakes in the 4th century AD and several towns were rebuilt/restored at that time. The hit area roughly coincides with that of the Messina 1908 earthquake suggesting similar seismic sources for the events. However, because close in time, historical descriptions of the 4th century Sicilian earthquake were mixed with those of the 365 Crete earthquake that generated a basin-wide tsunami most likely reaching also the Sicilian coasts. Reevaluating location, size, damage area and tsunamigenic potential of these two earthquakes of the 1st and 4th centuries AD is relevant for reassessing the seismogenic and tsunamigenic potential of the faults around the Messina Strait and the seismic hazard of the affected areas.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
This paper throws light on the manifold of Web2.0 sources and social media related to earthquake geology. We discuss special web mapping applications and databases, blogs, paper-related websites, video and photo services, social media networks and news services with regard to our research field. A website specially designed for paleoseismological topics is introduced and its visitor numbers presented. The statistics clearly reveal that the site is regarded as a news source in case of catastrophic earthquake events.
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Observations of intraclast breccia layers in the Dead Sea basin, formerly termed "mixed layers," provide an exceptionally long and detailed record of past earthquakes and defi ne a frontier of paleoseismic research. Multiple studies of these seismites have advanced our understanding of the earthquake history of the Dead Sea and of the processes that form the intraclast breccias. In this paper, we describe a systematic study of intraclast breccia layers in laminated sequences. The relationship of intraclast breccia layers to intraformational fault scarps has motivated the investigation of these seismites. Geophysical evidence shows that the faults extend into the subsurface, supporting their potential association with strong earthquakes. We defi ne fi eld criteria for the recognition of intraclast breccias, focusing on features diagnostic of a seismic origin. The fi eld criteria stem from our understanding of the mechanisms of breccia formation, which include ground acceleration, shearing, liquefaction, water escape, fl uidization, and resuspension of the originally laminated mud. Comparison between a dated record of breccia layer and the record of historical earthquakes provides an independent test for a seismic origin. The historical dating is signifi cantly more precise and accurate than the radiocarbon dating of breccia layers. Yet, assuming that the lamination of the sediments shows an annual cycle, the precision of counting laminae may approach the precision of the historical record. A similar accuracy is then expected for the intervals between earthquakes. We review our work based on counting laminae representing the historical period, mutually corroborating the seismic origin and the annual lamination. The correlation of documented historical earthquakes with individual breccia layers provides quantitative estimates for the threshold of ground motion for breccia formation in terms of earthquake magnitude and epicentral distance. The investigation of breccia layers and the associated historical earthquakes has underscored cases in which a breccia layer represents a pair of earthquakes. We consider the resolution of individual events in records of breccia layers. A thick breccia layer can account for multiple events, biasing the paleoseismic record. The resolution of an interseismic time interval is no better than the ratio between the thickness of a breccia layer and the rate of sedimentation. We use revised age data for the Lisan Formation and reassess temporal clustering of earthquakes during the late Pleistocene. The variation of recurrence interval corroborates signifi cant clustering. During periods of clustered earthquakes, of order of 1000-5000 yr, the interseismic interval becomes short, and the resolution diminishes, so the peak rate of recurrence may be underestimated. Recurrence intervals inferred from the Dead Sea record of Holocene breccia layers do not feature the extreme variation encountered in the late Pleistocene record. Yet the Holocene record shows marked transitions between periods, each with relatively uniform recurrence interval. Two of the transitions are contemporaneous with transitions in the recurrence intervals of the Anatolian faults, implying broad-scale elastic coupling.
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Soft sediment deformation features present in the lacustrine sediments of the Dead Sea (Figure 1) present a continuous record of earthquakes in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan over at least the past four millennia. Numerical Modeling is used in an attempt to begin to define relationships between site-specific Mechanical Properties, Earthquake Magnitude, distance to the nearest fault rupture, and the thickness of the observed deformed layers. It is hoped that this type of analysis might eventually lead to a more refined understanding of historically reported earthquakes in the Dead Sea Graben.
Examination of the silty sediments in the lower Van Normal reservoir after the 1971 San Fernando, California earthquake revealed three zones of deformational structures in the 1-m-thick sequence of sediments exposed over about 2 km² of the reservoir bottom. These zones are correlated with moderate earthquakes that shook the San Fernando area in 1930, 1952, and 1971. The success of this study, coupled with the experimental formation of deformational structures similar to those of the Van Norman reservoir, led to a search for similar structures in Pleistocene and Holocene lakes and lake sediments in other seismically active areas. Thus, studies have been started in Pleistocene and Holocene silty and sandy lake sediments in the Imperial Valley, southeastern California; Clear Lake, in northern California; and the Puget Sound area of Washington. The Imperial Valley study has yielded spectacular results: five zones of structures in the upper 10 m of Late Holocene sediments near Brawley have been correlated over an area of approximately 100 km², using natural outcrops. These structures are similar to those of the Van Norman reservoir and are interpreted to represent at least five moderate to large earthquakes that affected the southern Imperial Valley area during Late Holocene time. The Clear Lake study has provided ambiguous results with respect to determination of earthquake recurrence intervals because the cores studied are in clayey rich in organic material sediments that have low liquefaction potential. A study of Late Pleistocene varved glacio-lacustrine sediments has been started in the Puget Sound area of Washington, and thirteen sites have been examined. One has yielded 18.75 m of sediments that contains 1,804 varves and fourteen deformed zones interpreted as being caused by earthquake, because they are identical to structures formed experimentally by simulated seismic shaking. Correlation of deformational structures with seismic events is based on: (1) proximity to presently active seismic zones; (2) presence of potentially liquéfiable sediments; (3) similarity to structures formed experimentally; (4) small-scale internal structures within deformed zones that suggest liquefaction; (5) structures restricted to single stratigraphie intervals; (6) zones of structures correctable over large areas; and (7) absence of detectable influence by slopes, slope failures, or other sedimentological, biological, or deformational processes. © 1975, Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company
This book examines historical evidence from the last 2000 years to analyze earthquakes in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. Early chapters review techniques of historical seismology, while the main body of the book comprises a catalog of more than 4000 earthquakes identified from historical sources. Each event is supported by textual evidence extracted from primary sources and translated into English. Covering southern Romania, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, the book documents past seismic events, places them in a broad tectonic framework, and provides essential information for those attempting to prepare for, and mitigate the effects of, future earthquakes and tsunamis in these countries. This volume is an indispensable reference for researchers studying the seismic history of the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, including archaeologists, historians, earth scientists, engineers and earthquake hazard analysts. A parametric catalog of these seismic events can be downloaded from
The catalogue lists 270 seismic events with assigned magnitudes, that occurred after 92 B.C. in 18 provinces within 1600km from Jerusalem. In most provinces the list is complete within the specified bounds of time and magnitude. Emphasis is layed on the Dead Sea fault system where the list is believed to be complete from ML more than/equal to 6.4 over the past 43 centuries.-Author
This book provides a catalog of earthquakes that have occurred in Egypt, Arabia, the Red Sea region, and the surrounding areas of Libya, Sudan, and Ethiopia from the earliest times (184 BC) to the present day. By careful and intensive study of historical sources and a review of the instrumental data of this century, the authors describe each earthquake as fully as possible and analyze each in a geographical and historical context. They further scrutinize the completeness of the earthquake catalog over time and examine the range of sources and the problems associated with such historical records.