Evidence of Biblical Earthquake Uncovered by Israeli Archaeologists in Jerusalem

Researchers believe collapsed structures with broken pottery inside found at Jerusalem dig is first evidence that an earthquake in the 8th century B.C.E. caused damage to the ancient city

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Remains of the tools shattered in the earthquake.
Remains of the tools shattered in the earthquake.Credit: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Archaeologists working at Jerusalem's City of David site have uncovered what they believe is evidence that an earthquake mentioned in the Book of Amos, thought to have occurred in the eighth century B.C.E., impacted the ancient city.

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The discovery of a destruction layer containing collapsed buildings and shattered pottery provides new evidence of the biblical-era earthquake, researchers believe.

The earthquake is mentioned in the Book of Amos ("in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake"), and evidence for it has been found in digs throughout Israel. Further evidence was also found by drilling into the seabed at the Dead Sea.

The destruction layer was discovered in a structure in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan in excavations conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Ir David Foundation. This area of Jerusalem was abandoned after the First Temple period (starting around 3,000 years ago) due to the fact that the flow of the main spring in the city, the Gihon spring, was diverted to the west with the construction of the Siloam tunnel.

As a result, in the Second Temple period (516 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.) and in later periods, the area was covered with thick layers of refuse. But under the refuse, finds from the First Temple period – including the remains of buildings – have been discovered. Inside one of the destroyed structures, a large number of clay vessels were found – oil lamps, storage jugs, and cooking vessels that were damaged when the walls of the building collapsed.

The storage vessel after restoration.Credit: Ortal Chalaf, The Israel Antiquities Authority

Researchers Joe Uziel and Ortal Chalaf believe that the collapse was caused by the earthquake described by the prophet Amos, evidence of which has also been found at other excavations in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

The first piece of evidence of is that the destruction layer does not contain ash, which would have been characteristic of a building destroyed by fire. “There is no evidence of a fire, and we see destruction,” Uziel said. “But to prove that this doesn’t involve one building that sustained an isolated trauma, we compared it to other sites, both in Jerusalem and at other places where we also see this layer, so that we can make the connection and say that this isn’t an isolated event but rather something more widespread.”

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