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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


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ûrth´kwāk ( רעשׁ , ra'ash ; σεισμός , seismós ):

1. Earthquakes in Palestine

The last earthquake which worked any damage in Palestine and Syria occurred in 1837, and destroyed the village of Safed , near Mt. Hermon, and was felt even all the way to Hebron. Since that time a few feeble shocks have been felt but no damage was done. The region is just on the edge of the great earthquake circle whose center is in Armenia, and is liable to earthquakes. The large number of references in the Bible to earthquakes, and the evident fear in the minds of the people of those times, would seem to indicate that they were more frequent in Bible times than recently.

2. Causes of Earthquakes

There are three main causes of earthquakes:

(1) Earthslips

In the slow process of cooling, the crust of the earth tends to wrinkle and fold as it contracts. This causes a stress to be set up in the strata composing the crust. If the strata are too rigid to bend there must come after a time a break or fault. The shock caused by the break, which is usually several miles below the surface of the earth, is an earthquake, and it spreads in the form of earth waves from the break as center. Seismographs in all parts of the world are now adjusted to receive the waves even though the origin is on the opposite side of the earth.

(2) Explosion of Steam or Gases Under the Surface

Some earthquakes, especially those underneath the sea, are thought to be caused by water seeping through the soil and rocks and finding its way to the heated masses below. Steam is formed and if there is no escape for it, an explosion takes place whose force is felt on the surface.

(3) Volcanic

As earthquakes are of common occurrence in volcanic regions it seems likely that there is some connection between the two, but the relation has not been fully traced. It may be that the second cause is the origin of both the volcano and earthquake. See further, DELUGE OF NOAH .

3. Earthquakes in Jerusalem

Many destructive earthquakes have been recorded in the history of Syria, but they have been mostly in the north, in the region of Aleppo. Jerusalem itself has seldom been affected by earthquakes. The Hauran beyond the Jordan is covered with volcanic remains and signs of violent shocks, and the cities on the coast have suffered much, but Jerusalem on the higher ground between has usually escaped with little destruction.

4. Earthquakes in Scripture

A number of earthquakes are mentioned in the Scriptures: (1) At Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18 ); (2) Korah and companions destroyed in fissure and sinking ground (Numbers 16:31; Ant , IV, iii, 3); (3) in the Philistine camp in the days of Saul (1 Samuel 14:15 ); (4) after Elijah's flight (1 Kings 19:11 ); (5) in the reign of Uzziah, between 790 and 740 bc (Amos 1:1 ); Zechariah 14:5 probably refers to the same ( Ant. , IX, x, 4); (6) at Christ's death (Matthew 27:51-54 ); (7) at Christ's resurrection (Matthew 28:2 ); (8) at Philippi when Paul and Silas were freed from prison (Acts 16:26 ). Most of these shocks seem to have been slight and caused little loss of life. Josephus mentions one in the reign of Herod, "such as had not happened at any other time, which was very destructive to men and cattle" (Ant. , XV, v, 2). Professor G. A. Smith in his recent work on Jerusalem is of the opinion that earthquakes were sufficiently frequent and strong to account for the appearance and disappearance of Nehemiah's Fountain (Jerus, I, 74). The Hebrew ra‛ash is commonly used to mean a great noise. Large earthquakes are sometimes accompanied by a rumbling noise, but as a rule they come silently and without warning.

5. Symbolic Use

In the Scriptures earthquakes are mentioned as tokens of God's power (Job 9:6 ) and of His presence and anger (Psalm 68:8; Psalm 18:7; Isaiah 13:13 ): "She shall be visited of Yahweh of hosts ... with earthquake, and great noise" (Isaiah 29:6 ); also as a sign of Christ's "coming, and of the end of the world" (Matthew 24:3-7 ). See also Revelation 11:13 , Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:18 .


Milne, Earthquakes (Inter. Scient. series); Plumptre, Biblical Studies , 136; Dutton, Earthquakes .

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Earthquake'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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