Wednesday, May 30, 2012

More on the Earthquake and Jesus' Crucifixion

I commented last Friday (Earthquake Research and the Day of Jesus' Crucifixion) on a Discover News Article Quake Reveals Day of Jesus' Crucifixion.  I was somewhat sceptical about the article's claim that earthquake research had helped to pinpoint the day of the crucifixion, not least because the article appeared to suggest a ten year window for the earthquake in question (26-36 CE) but also because of all the passages in Matthew's Gospel, this is one that causes the historian to raise an eyebrow.

I was grateful to hear subsequently from the primary author of the article that had given rise to the Discovery News report, Jefferson Williams.  And over the last few days, it has been a pleasure to exchange emails and to get a feeling for his research.  Our new dean at Duke is often telling us about the importance of interdisciplinary work, and perhaps this is one of those occasions when the arts and sciences come together in a surprising way!

After having corresponded with Dr Williams, I find myself reassured that his approach does not fall into the "Science proves religion" camp.  It is clearly not an attempt to engage in careful scientific research with a view to the alleged corroboration of details found in the Bible.  Indeed, it is clear that his approach is open and exploratory, and is essentially asking questions about possible correlations between the broad dates suggested by his research alongside textual data that may or may not witness to the same events.

The details of the article are Jefferson B. Williams, Markus J. Schwab & A. Brauer, "An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea," International Geology Review 54/ 10 (2011): 1219-28.  I am sure it goes without saying that I have no expertise whatsoever in Geology and earthquake research and my comments will deal solely with the article as it relates to the study of the New Testament.  Here is the abstract:
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.
I had wondered about the strange coincidence between the decade of Pontius Pilate's governorship (26-36 CE) and the date range for this earthquake, also roughly 26-36.  However, it seems that this was accurately reported in the Discovery News article.

What was much less accurately conveyed in that piece was the implication that this research helped to pinpoint the date of the crucifixion.  If anything, the flow of interpretation goes in the opposite direction.  Williams and his co-authors in fact have a date range of "31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years" and, having established this, they inquire about possible candidates in the textual record, one of which is the earthquake mentioned in Matt. 27.51.  The authors conclude their article in the following manner:
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. (8).
In other words, the article is not an attempt to find scientific corroboration for the events that are described with such apocalyptic flourish in Matthew 27.

Nevertheless, if Biblical scholars like us are right about Marcan Priority and right to be sceptical about the historical value of Matthew's redactional embellishments here, it is at least a delightful detail that there was indeed an earthquake in the region in roughly the right time period.  It is intriguing to think that Matthew may have been redacting Mark with some kind of knowledge of an earthquake in the period.

Perhaps that was what stimulated the imagination of the evangelist, or his tradition, as they retold the Marcan story.  I must admit that I do find that an attractive hypothesis.  However, the reluctant sceptic in me suspects that Matthew was able to add an earthquake in 27.51 without that precedent.  The fact that he introduces another in 28.2, at the resurrection, inclines one to think that this is simply the way that Matthew writes.

Williams et al suggest that this earthquake, in Matt. 28.2, could be understood as "an aftershock event" (7).  However, Matthew also uses the same term, σεισμός (seismos), in his retelling of the Stilling of the Storm (Matt. 8.24), so it may be that the terminology is simply characteristic of Matthew's dramatic style of narrative.

The difficulty in analyzing ancient texts for data relevant to scientific analysis is that there can be a certain etymological excitement in seeing a term like seismos that is so recognizable to us because of its relationship to our terms like seismic which are derived from it.  However, we have to use a little caution given that it is not a simple case of one-to-one mapping from our "earthquake" to their seismos, just as our "leprosy" does not correlate perfectly to their λεπρός (lepros), and the related words.

In cases like this, a lot depends on context.  Williams et al (3-4) also work with Josephus's report of an earthquake in 31 BCE, which features details of destruction that make it sound major.  Indeed this event is their "'anchor' earthquake", helpful because Josephus dates it to the "seventh year" of Herod's reign (Jewish War 1.370).  Some caution may be necessary in relation to the precise dating at 31, e.g. Daniel Schwartz, in comparing the account in War its parallel in Antiquities 15.121, dates it in the Spring of 30 BCE.

See further comments by David Meadows in Rogue Classicism and Thomas Verenna.


Bob MacDonald said...

There are several passages in the psalms where theophany is accompanied by earth shaking, quaking, shuddering, or being displaced. Psalm 18:8 for example has 3 of these words. I think I see see (with a quick manual check) suneseisas used in the LXX for PS 60.4 (רעשׁ quake). (same word as seismos? I don't read Greek). I would have wondered if Mt is referring to such accompaniments of judgement in the crucifixion scene. It seems to me a very sensible way to paint the cost of this event. (A quick check of pss 18:8 and 77:19 shows that the LXX translators favoured other glosses for this particular word. There are several Hebrew synonyms
רעשׁ quake, rustle
געשׁ shake
רגז shudder
רעד tremble
פלץ tremor )

Richard Fellows said...

Thanks for the balanced discussion.

The crucifixion was at full moon in spring, when tidal forces might be large, and, for what it is worth, the earthquake in Josephus is recorded as being at the beginning of spring. Could there be a correlation between tidal forces and the type of eathquake that would show itself in an Ein Gedi core? The correlation between earthquakes and full moons is week, from what I have read, but perhaps Williams could comment.

Unknown said...

I've never seriously looked into the correlation between tidal forces and earthquakes. A quick search on google of "tidal forces and earthquakes" reveals that there are papers out there on this and the work may largely come from China

Wikipedia has a short summary here.

scroll down to the subsection on tides.

I kind of doubt tides trigger earthquakes very often. Otherwise I think I would have heard more about it.

Unknown said...

I have a question and I would like to start a discussion about what I like to call the Josephus Quake.Would it be safe to assume that the oral tradition was as wide and varied as the apocrypha or even more wide and varied ?

Or not ?

I'm curious.


Seismite = a layer of soil or sediment that was deformed by an earthquake

The sediments indicate that the 31 BC earthquake was very big; probably around a 7.0 which is thought to be around the largest magnitude earthquake possible on that part of the Dead Sea transform.

It deformed thick blankets of sediment in the north and south parts of the dead sea. Thick blankets of sediment get deformed over a broad area when you inject a lot of energy into the shaking. They correspond large earthquakes. Think of this like going into your garden at the start of spring. Which takes more energy ? Dig up a thin layer in a small plot with a trowel or turn over a big field of soil with a shovel ?

I prefer to call the 31 BC earthquake the Josephus quake because our understanding of the ages of these earthquakes continues to evolve. The Josephus quake is event B in the picture in the link below in Nahal Ze'elim; on the southern shores of the Dead Sea in the shadow of the fortress at Masada.

Event B is the biggest seismite for the next ~1900 years in Nahal Ze'elim. We see thick Josephus quake seismites at several sites sites (Ein Gedi, Nahal Darga, Nahal Ze'elim). That earthquake also appears to have broken the ground surface near Hisham's palace outside of Jericho (from a Reches and Hoexter paper in the early 1980's).
I am of the opinion that the sediment record is more reliable than the textual record on the magnitude of this earthquake.
But what I want to explore in a thread on this blog is the date of the Josephus quake. The Josephus quake is a very important anchor earthquake for me. I need to know it's date and any potential variation in its date. I will contribute more geological clues about the date and I hope other can contribute what they know from the source documents. said...

Ant.15.5.2. "At this time it was that the fight happened at Actium, between Octavius Caesar and Antony, in the seventh year of the reign of Herod and then it was also that there was an earthquake in Judea, such a one as had not happened at any other time, and which earthquake brought a great destruction upon the cattle in that country. About ten thousand men also perished by the fall of houses; but the army, which lodged in the field, received no damage by this sad accident."

This seems to be a real earthquake and fairly precise. said...

But what does one make of this from Ant.15.5.1?
"had not Anthony fallen upon the Jews, and distressed them; for this man was Cleopatra's general over the soldiers she had there, and was at enmity with Herod, and very wistfully looked on to see what the event of the battle would be."

This of course was a different battle between Herod and 'Arabians'. Cleopatra was looking-on wistfully. And who is the guy Anthony?

Unknown said...

This brings up a long standing question that I hope someone good at parsing these texts will shed light on.

Josephus Flavius, who wrote in The Jewish War
(Book 1, Chapter XIX, 370):

"But as he [King Herod] was avenging himself on his enemies,
there fell upon him another providential calamity;
for in the seventh year of his reign, when the war about
Actium2 was 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 no harm, because it lay in the open air. "

Is Josephus saying that the battle of Actium (Sept. 2, 31 BC - was at its height during Heord's 7th year and then he adds that in the early spring of the same year that there was this earthquake ?

Emmanueal Guidoboni notes that some archeologists think that this quake caused the abandonemnt at Qumran but notes that all the miltary activity in the area at the time could have also caused or contributed to Qumran's abandonment.

She also beleives this same earthquake was recorded by Malalas.

Unknown said...

It is very likely that this is the same earthquake as one recorded by Malalas: "During
the reign of the revered Augustus Caesar, a city in Palestine named Salamine [present day Lod] suffered from the wrath of God. Augustus rebuilt the city and called it Diospolis".

Is there a way to put up Greek text in these comments ?

One of the beauty of Emmanuela's Book is she is ALWAYS including the original text of the source document in the language it was written in and Malalas was written in Greek.

I have the greek characters on my computer but they don't paste in correctly into this comment.

Now, a note on Salamine.

There were a lot of Salamines way back when. I remember one was located where is now modern day Jordan roughly at the same latitude as the Sea of Galilee.

Lod, for those who don't know, is just outside Tel Aviv; 5-10 minutes in a car from the airport. said...

Jefferson wrote: "The Josephus quake is event B in the picture in the link below in Nahal Ze'elim; on the southern shores of the Dead Sea in the shadow of the fortress at Masada. "

Jefferson, I find this extremely interesting. Could you briefly describe Event B? said...

Jefferson, I would like you to explain what I am looking at - Event B. And where it is precisely?

Unknown said...


I crafted an explanation here

You are looking inside a gully that exposes a column of sediments that were deposited on the bottom of the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has been dropping so rapidly in the last 40 years (over 100 feet) that you can go to the shoreline and access sediments as far back 5000 BC in some sites (Nahal Ze'elim), 200 BC in others (Ein Gedi Trench).

These columns contain the history of this land and some of the history of the people who lived there. This is why the geologists and the people who read old texts need to interact. There is a lot we can learn; all the way back to Abraham and Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sodom and Gomorrah is probably an echo of a catastrophic Natural Gas explosion in the southeasten Dead Sea. And then I guess a story was moralized on top of that event. Lots of Geologists who know this Geology think that. This is the one event that we all look at the Geology and say that explosion probably did happen. We need to core the Southern Dead Sea on the Jordanian side. More on that later.

I know Abraham is way way back and may be mythical and who knows if he existed and who knows if Exodus hapenned because I read that the archeology suggests that the ancient Israelites may have largely come from Caananites who converted to Monotheism but there are unappreciated geologic clues in Exodus too. Freakish natural events like the crossing of the dry River Jordan in Joshua before conquering Jericho which is an event that happens once every 100 years and last hapenned in 1927 during the Jericho earthquake when a natural dam was created which stopped flow of the Jordan River for about 24 hours and dried up a large stretch of the river until the headwater broke through the natural dam and resumed flowing into the Jordan. More on that later. I have pictures, papers, etc. on a lot of this stuff that I can share.

I am going to ask you to go to my website and read chapters 01 through 08. I tried to make it a 4 minute read. Then please ask me questions and let me know whatever you find confusing. There are no stupid questions. I want questions. That website is where I want to learn how to explain this research to the rest of the world. The article was written for Geoscientists. It is dense. It was basically 12 years in the making. The website is for everybody.

I need to get people especially smart curious people who understand the old texts up to speed on this so that we can get into some nitty gritty questions to help try to figure this stuff out.

Unknown said...

The website is That will take you to the home page then you can go chapter by chapter.

I like to hit play music at the top of the Home page and again at the top of chapter 04.

The music serves a second purpose. I am trying to use it to mark the time it takes to read the site. By the time you get to 04, I hope the first song ends. By the time you get to Chapter 08, I hope the second song ends.

Unknown said...

I'm going to be quick I hope I didn't stop commenst by mmentioning WSodom and Gommorrah and the Joshua river drying.

Sodom and gomorrah. masoretic text says flaming sulfur and salt rain down from the sky. salt is all ovre the dead sea. sulfur in the form of gypsum is all over the lisan peninsula in the south dead sea. seismic has detected sizeable natural gas pockets as shallow as 500 meters in the Lisan. Amoco Egypt VP told me that in the 90's they were drilling shallow geotechnical holes on the east side of the dead sea to build a and had a nat gas blowout at 100 feet of depth. they moved an oil rig on site and had another blowout and amoco had to come in and save the day. lot of shallow nat gas hazard in the dead sea. lots of hydrocarbons. you see tar bubble on shore all the time the old name was the asphaly sea.

there are supposedly at least 10000 bronze age graves in the SE Dead Sea.

Unknown said...

so the explosion could be a natural event on which a morality tale is told ???

speaking of sodom and gomorrah and since it is an isssue nowadays, I have a lot of gay friends, I'm not homophobic and I want my gay friends love to be viewed as equal to anyone else's. I have sympathy for well meaning people of faith struggling with this issue but I'm not a fan of anti gay bigotry; not that I'd expect that out of anyone here. said...

Jefferson, I have got as far as 03.

In 01 the grey layers represent seismites or sediments of disturbed mud that have accumulated layer by layer. These indicate earthquake activity. Is that correct?

In between the grey layers are thin brown layers which indicate quiet periods. Is that correct?

There seems to be a large number of earthquakes in this region.

Event B seems to be caused by a very large earthquake. I would like to know if you can trace the fault line of this earthquake? What would have been the effect on the immediate region around Masada and beyond? said...

And the effects in Masada?

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for all the comments.

Jeff: the issue of the dating of the 31 BCE / 30 BCE earthquake is discussed in Daniel R. Schwartz, Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity (Tübigen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992), 179-80, with further useful biblio there. Schwartz inclines towards the Spring 30 BCE date, working with a dating of Herod's reign from the autumn of 37. Thus 7th year + Spring = Spring 30 BCE.

If you can't get the book in your library, a lot of it, including the relevant pages, are available on Google books:

Unknown said...

thanks Mark.

I need to read that.

Regarding Geoff's questions

In 01 the grey layers represent seismites or sediments of disturbed mud that have accumulated layer by layer. These indicate earthquake activity. Is that correct?


In between the grey layers are thin brown layers which indicate quiet periods. Is that correct?


There seems to be a large number of earthquakes in this region.



Event B seems to be caused by a very large earthquake. I would like to know if you can trace the fault line of this earthquake?




What would have been the effect on the immediate region around Masada and beyond?


Jefferson and Mark, I'll put my cards on the table. I have been saying for a number of years that I do not believe, for various reasons, that the Romans under Vespasian built the so-called circumvallation wall around Masada. I believe it was built by Herod as a defensive wall to keep out troops invading from the north. The accounts of Antiquities 15.5 and War 1.19 mention a wall or a bulwark.

I believe there is a reference to the wall in War 1.19 - "And when Herod was come thither, he tried to manage this war with particular prudence, and gave orders that they should build a WALL about their camp;" Herod's camp was Masada.

Similarly in the garbled account in Ant.15.5 - "Upon this message from Antony, Herod returned back, but kept his army with him .... he resolved to encamp himself; and he cast up a BULWARK, that he might take a proper season for attacking the enemy; ... they were in very good order; ... and had not permitted their enemies so much as to come to a close fight with them. And when they were so tumultuous, and showed such great alacrity, the king resolved to make use of that zeal the multitude then exhibited; and when he had assured them he would not be behindhand with them in courage, ..., and stood before them all in his armor, all the regiments ... in their several ranks: whereupon a consternation fell upon the Arabians; for when they perceived that the Jews were not to be conquered, and were full of spirit, the greater part of them ran away, and avoided fighting; and they had been quite destroyed, had not Anthony fallen upon the Jews, and distressed them; for this man was Cleopatra's general over the soldiers she had there, and was at enmity with Herod, and very wistfully looked on to see what the event of the battle would be."

There is enough here to make me believe this was Cleopatra and Anthony ganging up on Herod.

Unknown said...

I have been saying for a number of years that I do not believe, for various reasons, that the Romans under Vespasian built the so-called circumvallation wall around Masada.

You can test that hypothesis using luminescence dating. This will give you an approximate date when a mineral in the sediments last was exposed to the sun. To test a fortification wall such as the one in Masada, you will need to be careful in designing your experiment because that wall will have a history.

If, for example, you are right and it was built by Herod, it will have been damaged and in need of repairs after the josephus quake and the matthew quake. Plus it may have received repairs and modifications at other times.

Unknown said...

Correction : I don't know the source docs that well so I'm not sure if your references refer to a time period before or after the josephus quake. your mentioning of anthony, cleapatra, and herod suggests if it was after the josephus quake it was shortly after after since they were killed after defeat at actium in sept. 31 BC. said...

Thank you for the comments.

I am having problems getting access to

I am interested to see the path of the fault slippage on page 20.

Have you done any research on Masada itself to see the effects of any earthquake damage?

The wall around Masada was about 2 miles long. It was a larger construction than most think. It had integral accommodation for troops guarding the wall. Have you investigated this wall for earthquake damage?

Here are two posts I sent to the ASOR blog in 2009. The ASOR have mixed up my posts and archived them in a disordered fashion. I have to wonder if this was deliberate.

January 22nd, 2009 at 6:33 am
Nachman Ben-Yehuda has written two books about Masada. He has made a video in which he gives a guided tour. See the page below for details and the link to the video.

January 23rd, 2009 at 6:05 pm
The photograph here shows the southern cliff face clearly Defenders would have found it extremely difficult trying to escape up it. Yet the so-called circumvallation wall is along the top. Why would the Romans want to build a wall here? It would have been an utter waste of time and effort. Patrolling the wall would have had no advantage compared to patrolling the cliff. But for attackers coming from the south, once over that wall, they would have been able to make their way down with greater ease. The wall was a defensive wall against attack.

I wrote to Nachman Ben-Yehuda. My words are in ” ” and his comments are in capitals as he typed them.

“South of the fortress, the path of this outer wall appears to be over a second cliff face. There is a gorge between the fortress and this second cliff.”


“Fleeing defenders would have had great difficulty climbing up the face of the second cliff.”


“That is my reason for saying that the Romans had no need to build the wall there to keep defenders in,"


Unknown said...

Geoff, I generated a new pdf for the report and uploaded to please let me know if you have trouble downloading.

I have not visited the wall to look for quake damage but that is a good suggestion.

Also, when I published my most recent article I had no idea that Humphrey and Waddington's paper was controversial. Since it was published in a Journal such as Nature, I thought it represented consensus New Testament Scholarship.

I also did not know that Colin Humphrey does indeed appear to be using science to prove religion until I bought one of his books and read the last few paragraphs.

In fact, the only real date info I need from New Testament scholarship to inform my tests on the early first century seismite is

crucifixion was most likely in 30 or 33 AD

the only certainty on the year of the crucifixion is it occurred between 26 and 36 AD

crucifixion occurred on 14 or 15 Nisan.

the earthquake account in Matthew may be fictional

If anyone can direct me to a paper that summarizes those points that represents consensus scholarship and has no agenda besides exploration and a search for truth, I would love to know about it because, for now, Humphrey and Waddington give me one article where I can reference concise textual dating information such as a bove.

Mark, many thanks for the reference to that book. I will have to consider whether that affects my anchor earthquake date.

Richard Fellows said...

Peregrinus Proteus threw himself onto a fire at the Olympic games of 165AD. Lucian observed the event and seems to admit embellishing his account by adding that there was an earthquake:

If it was some one I liked the look of, I confined myself to plain prose, as in the present narrative: but for the benefit of the curious simple, I put in a few dramatic touches on my own account. No sooner had Proteus thrown himself upon the kindled pyre, than there was a tremendous earthquake, I informed them; the ground rumbled beneath us; and a vulture flew out from the midst of the flames, and away into the sky ....

This is perhaps a parallel to the kind of embellishment that Goodacre suggests that Matthew may have done.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the example. I shall try to remember it.

I have been well aware that it is thought to be an embellishment.

Matthew describes Jesus breathing his last breath and then in the very next beat, there is an earthquake, the temple curtain rips in two, the graves open, some people are resurrected, and the Roman centurion says "He really was the son of God".

So, I know it is over the top.

But what is compelling to me is, and you may have trouble appreciating this, the earthquake description, the seismites in the 3 locations on the western shores of the dead sea all fit a ~6.3 magnitude from a fault slip on the Jordanian side that would be a predicated "accomodation" to the very large slippage in the Josephus quake.

And the dates point to somewhere around 30 AD. This is why we included option 2 because we thought that temple damage due to an earthquake would create an oral tradition among the Jewish people. And that story would be told around the same time that the oral tradition began about Jesus' ministry and life.

so, I'm going to throw a few more tests at the seismite to see if I can coax out more information about the earthquake that caused it.

But, I have suspected that there is something we don't understand about the story that the earthquake may hint at. Maybe that's crazy but I am a far better scientist when I work on this problem than when I do anything else so I pursue it. said...

Thanks for the article in

So you could check the wall at Masada for earthquake damage. I wonder if anyone has ever bothered to do that? This would require quite a long walk, which I would not mind doing myself for other reasons. Are there any scientific reports on the subject? Surely someone has done this already.

Secondly, there is luminescence dating. Again with all the archaeologists that have done work on Masada, I am surprised that no-one seems to have done anything about this method of dating the wall.

On another subject, were you aware that Pontius Pilate was prefect of police for Judea and not the procurator or ruler of Judea? His inscription was found in Caesarea. A prefect of police was a military position. Probably the bulk of his work was keeping the troops in order who were garrisoned in Caesarea. There is doubt about the dates of his office also.

Unknown said...


Page 16 of my report (Estimation of ... ) in discussing earthquake damage reports for the Jossephus Quake states

Karcz and Kafri (1978) also report that at Tel Abu Alek (Jericho), the eastern wall of the Hasmonean Palace dips to the east, a tilt tentatively attributed to the 31 BC earthquake (Nezer, personal communication to Karcz and Kafri ). They note that at the same time, it also appears that the wall of the adjoining Herodian Palace is distorted and tilted eastwards, thus allowing the possibility that the tilting occurred at a date later than 31 BC.

Here is the reference.

Karcz, I., and Kafri, V., 1978, Evaluation of Supposed Archeoseismic Damage in Israel, Journal of Archeological Science, 5, 237-253.

I have this article. How can I send it to you ?

I don't know how often Archeologists use luminesence dating.

Unraveling earthquakes in the historic era is a multi discipilnary study if done right.

But, generally speaking Geology does not talk to Archeology, History, New Testament Scholars, or Classicists. Although I am one of a handful of Geologists who tries to read as much history as possible, I know I am ham handing the history as compared to a real historian or someone who can read the ancients texts in the original language. That is why I am here.

Do you have any articles where I can learn more about Pilate's dates in office and that he was a prefect of Police rather than Procurator ?

Unknown said...

Sorry, it may seem I am conflating Herodian Palace in Jericho with Herodian fortifications at Masada.

There is archeseismic evidence in Masada which I have referenced.

Unfortunately, one of the references (Ben-Menahem) never lists his references when he states that there was archeoseismic damage around such and such a time or a report in some text (e.g.The Talmud) which is annoying to say the least.

The earthquake information gets pretty sparse before the start of the Jewish rebellion in 66 AD. What we do have is concentrated in religious texts. And, as we know, since the ancients all though earthquakes were the work of the Gods, the reports in the religious texts are widely thought to be subject to exaggeration and downright fiction.

I will look through what I have to see what I have on earthquake damage in Masada. There are several archeologic studies that report earthquake damage in and around Masada in the times of ~100 BC to ~100 AD.

Unknown said...

Naomi Porat of the Geologic Survey of Israel is using luminescence dating in Archeological investigations.

Based on her articles, she seems to be a Geologist and an Archeologist.

Unknown said...

As you know Yigael Yadin excavated Masada but I only have his glossy book put out for the public. I don't have the Archeological Reports.

Currently I don't have access to ILL and for a lot of the Israeli stuff, you have to go to Israel to find the documents.

I spent days inside the libraries of The Geological Survey of Israel, Hebrew University, and the British School of Archeology copying texts and later scanning them int pdf docs for my own digital library on the subject.

As I understand it, there is a problem with the archeology in terms of earthquakes which is their dates aren't as definitive and they have difficulty distinguishing cracks and fissures due to earthquakes from cracks and fissures due to poor construction and shrinking and swelling of the soils under the foundations due to wetting and drying.

Mark Goodacre said...

Jeff: on Pontius Pilate see the books by Warren Carter and by Helen Bond. Both have good short articles on the web too: said...

The Evansville article has: "Important as Josephus' accounts are, however, they can only be used with a certain amount of caution."

The article relies heavily upon the writings attributed to Josephus, and is typical of what many scholars say. The question is, how much caution? How far did the authors go in their obfuscation and dissimulation of the facts? We are dealing with someone who probably committed the biggest heist in history, Vespasian. said...

Guy Steibal has recently done some archaeological work on Masada. I wrote to him on January 22, 2009, mentioning my e-mail correspondence with Nachman ben Yehuda on the circumvallation wall at Masada. Steibal replied on the 24 April, 2009 - my comments in my e-mail to him are in "".

Dear Geoff,

I am sorry for the delay in my answer, but as I noted previously your letter came during a very hectic period of time. Now to the theme of the siege wall at Masada. To begin with I have numerous objections to Ben-Yehuda’s views that elapse the scope of your inquiry. Do note that he writes as a sociologist and clearly neither from an archaeologist nor that of a historian point of view.

To put all the cards on the table I do not accept your hypothesis that the wall was a part of the original defences of the fortress (i.e. Herodian). This is only briefly why; You wrote:

"That is my reason for saying that the Romans had no need to build the wall there to keep defenders in..."

* Constructing a siege wall had in addition to practical functions also psychological virtues. Namely the wall was built also as a statement. This is why on the south-eastern sector one can see that the wall was built only in the sectors that were visible from the fortress. Mind you that there is no need to built a wall at all in this area – but it was built – this logic applies both the siege time but also to the Herodian time... It was built in accordance to the Roman drill, with ample parallels.

"As a further point, I believe the wall had integral accommodation for troops. Am I correct? Yet the Romans chose to build their own camps at the site. It would seem that the accommodation in the wall was not satisfactory, and possibly in a state of dilapidation."

* No! The wall was solid with no accommodations what so ever.

"This leads me to a second question. Is their any evidence of stones being taken from the wall and used in the construction of the Roman camps?"

* No. No spoila. The wall consists clear part of the system. This is proven by the fact that in the small camps one can clearly see that theirs wall and the siege wall are integrated. i.e., one building phase.

This was only a part of his e-mail. But it does have some interesting points.

He says the wall and the small camps are integrated. Well, Herod could have constructed the small camps - they could have been
guard houses for his troops.

He also says the the purpose of the wall on the southern summit was built for psychological reasons, as a 'statement'. And he concedes that there was no need to build a wall there.

He doesn't seem to like a sociologist such as Nachman commenting on his work. Never mind that Nachman has taken a great interest in Masada, writing two books and producing a video guided tour. There is the religious dimension. This does show the need for a multi-disciplinary approach. said...

For a copy of an article on Luminescence Dating in relation to archaeology see: said...

I have to wonder if Guy Steibal has used the well known technique (at least among archaeologists) of luminescence dating on the 'circumvallation' wall at Masada. If he has, is he unwilling to say what results he found? If he has not, then he has surely ignored the possibility of applying a technique which he should have known about.

One thing is for sure. Guy Steibal was certainly nervous about replying to my e-mails. Nachman Ben Yehuda, perhaps knowing what Steibal's reponse would be, had suggested that I write to him. It took from January to April in 2009 for Steibal to reply with a letter of about one page. This was after I had sent two e-mail reminders. There is a great deal at stake here - academic reputations, and Israeli traditions about Masada. said...

In the writings attributed to Josephus, the Romans liked to portray the Roman authorities at loggerheads with the Jews. If we think of Flavian historians writing their own version of history, to cast those Romans who had gone before in a bad light didn't matter to them. In fact the whole war conflict was blamed on the Jews constantly agitating the Romans and the Romans annoying the Jews. You see Vespasian had to have his excuses lined up for his so-called 'war' to make his ransacking of the temple for its vast wealth seem incidental, a natural outcome, just a consequence of the conflict.

But lets focus on the Romans annoying the Jews. Pilate is an example. He is supposed to have brought Caesar's image on ensigns into Jerusalem. This was against Jewish law. In fact Pilate's supposed intention was to take his winter quarters in Jerusalem in order to abolish Jewish law totally. And if the Jews would not would not accept the ensigns this would offend Caesar. (See Ant.18.3.1) This all in spite of the tolerance that Rome had towards the religion of its client states. But I have to wonder if there was a different story.

Suppose that Agrippa was sent by Tiberias as king. (See War 2.9.2) He was a Hasmonean king determined to bring back prophecy and the prophets. Prophecy and law do not go together. They are contradictory. The former by its very nature is unpredictable. But Agrippa believed that was the way God spoke. The king was going to abolish the law and reinstate prophecy. So he removed the Urim and Thummim from the Antonia where they had been kept under lock and key, and brought them into the temple. This dismayed the priests, who could see their power disappearing. The Urim and Thummim were precious stones worn in the high priest's breastplate. They shone in the sunlight and were used in prophecy.

So were the conflicts portrayed in Ant.18.3.1 and War 2.9.2, between Pilate and the Jews, or between Agrippa and the priests? Thus was this a purely religious dispute between a king who believed in prophecy and priests who believed in obeying the law? said...

Ant.18.3.1 describes the 'ensigns' as 'ornaments' a strange word to use. Was it so strange? Was it a word a word that slipped passed the editor: "on which account the former procurators were wont to make their entry into the city such ensigns as had not those ORNAMENTS." This is awkwardly stated, a sure sign of an editor.

Ant.3.7.5 has this to say about the high priest's breastplate: "Twelve stones also there were upon the breast-plate, extraordinary in largeness and beauty; and they were an ORNAMENT not to be purchased by men, because of their immense value. These stones, however, stood in three rows, by four in a row, and were inserted into the breastplate itself, and they were set in pouches of gold, that were themselves inserted in the breastplate, and were so made that they might not fall out. Now the first three stones were a sardonyx, a topaz, and an emerald. The second row contained a carbuncle, a jasper, and a sapphire. The first of the third row was a ligure, then an amethyst, and the third an agate, being the ninth of the whole number. The first of the fourth row was a chrysolite, the next was an onyx, and then a beryl, which was the last of all. Now the names of all those sons of Jacob were engraven in these stones, whom we esteem the heads of our tribes, each stone having the honor of a name, in the order according to which they were born." said...

In the parallel passage to Ant. 18.3.1, War 2.9.2 has: "for those that were near them were astonished at the sight of them, as indications that their laws were trodden under foot"

Why were these 'Jews' 'astonished at the sight of them', and why did they consider that 'their laws were trodden underfoot'? What was it that really got to them? Was it the images of Caesar on the ensigns, or was it the ornaments? They were used to dealing with images of gods and emperors on coins. So was it ornaments that they were so bothered about, in particular the urim and thummim that scholars tell us had gone out of use in ancient times. Were these 'Jews' 'astonished' because they were looking at these ancient stones. Did they believe that they had been used for prophecy, but were associated with the darker practices of divining, or necromancy, thus 'treading their laws under foot' and 'exciting a great tumult' among them. Was this the cause of offence against their 'ancient laws'.

This all goes back to my initial assumption that Agrippa had been made king of Judea. The consensus doesn't believe that. It would imply there was no need for a Roman Governor. With that assumption, Pilate either did not exist at the time, or was in the background living a quiet life doing the job he was appointed to do in Caesarea.
Kokkinos in his book The Herodian Dynasty says that the herodians retained their influence after the death of Herod the Great. said...

Perhaps Jefferson would like to look at War 2.9.5 and 6. This passage comes immediately after the 'disturbances' caused by 'Pilate'. I am suggesting that Pilate was substituted for king Agrippa and that the 'disturbances' were between Agrippa and the priests, not between Pilate and the Jews. In Antiquities immediately after these 'distubances' we have the passage that testifies to Jesus. (See Ant.18.3.3)

There is something very strange about War 2.9.5. Agrippa is supposed to have feasted Caius, and to have wished Tiberias dead so that Caius could be made Emperor. Tiberias heard this, supposedly from one of Agrippa's domestics. Tiberias apparently put Agrippa in prison for this treasonable offence, yet amazingly did nothing about Caius. So was there another story here also?

Agrippa is supposed to have complained to Tiberias about Herod the Tetrarch (Antipas). But we are given no reason for Antipas's complaining. So suppose that Antipas complained to Tiberias about the 'disturbances' he had caused with the priests. (War 2.9.2-4). Suppose Antipas feasted Caius and wished Tiberias dead so that Caius could become Emperor. Suppose it was Caius who told Tiberias what Antipas had said. Tiberias would then justifiably put Antipas in prison, for a very long time.

And when Caius became emperor, he would justifiably have given Antipas's tetrarchy to Agrippa, and then have Antipas banished to Spain. And the words "to whom Caius gave his tetrachy, by way of addition (to Judea) would be true. (War 2.9.6) The reference to Philip's tetrarchy is an interpolation.