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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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The proximate cause of earthquakes, though by no means accurately defined, seems referable to the action of internal heat or fire. That the earth was once subject to the action of a vast internal power springing probably from the development of subterranean or central heat, the elevations and depressions, and the generally scarred and torn character of its exterior, make sufficiently evident. A power similar in kind, but more restricted in degree, is still at work in the bowels of the earth, and occasionally breaks down all barriers and devastates certain parts of the world.

The manifestation of these awful phenomena is restricted in its range. Accordingly geologists have laid down certain volcanic regions or bands within which this manifestation takes place. Over these regions various traces of volcanic agency are found, such as either gaseous vapors or hot springs, or bituminous substances, and in some instances (occasionally) active volcanoes. Several sources of bitumen are found on the Tigris, in the Persian mountains, near the Kharoon, and at Bushire, as well as along the Euphrates. At Hit, especially, on the last-mentioned river, it exists on a very large scale, and, having been much used from the earliest times, seems inexhaustible. Abundant traces of it are also to be seen amid the ruins and over the entire vicinity of Hillah—the ancient Babylon. Syria and Palestine abound in volcanic appearances. Between the river Jordan and Damascus lies a volcanic tract. The entire country about the Dead Sea presents indubitable tokens of volcanic agency.

Accordingly these places come within one of the volcanic regions. The chief of these are—1. that which extends from the Caspian Sea to the Azores; 2. from the Aleutian Isles to the Moluccas; 3. that of the Andes; 4. the African; 5. the Icelandic. Syria and Palestine are embraced within the first band; and these countries have not infrequently been subject to earthquakes. The first visitation of the kind, recorded to have happened to Palestine, was in the reign of Ahab (B.C. 918-897; ). A terrible earthquake took place 'in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah' (B.C. 811-759). Its awful character may be learned from the fact that Zechariah () thus speaks respecting it—'Ye shall flee as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah, king of Judah:' and also that it appears from Amos () that the event was so striking, and left such deep impressions on men's minds, that it became a sort of epoch from which to date and reckon; the prophet's words are, 'two years before the earthquake.'

That earthquakes were among the extraordinary phenomena of Palestine in ancient times is shown in their being an element in the poetical imagery of the Hebrews, and a source of religious admonition and devout emotion (see ; ; ; ). The only earthquake mentioned in the New Testament is that which happened at the crucifixion of the Savior of mankind (; ; ). This darkness has been misunderstood, and then turned to the prejudice of Christianity [DARKNESS]. The obscuration was obviously an attendant on the earthquake. Earthquakes are not seldom attended by accompaniments which obscure the light of day during (as in this case, from the sixth to the ninth hour, that is, from 12 o'clock at noon to 3 o'clock p.m.) several hours. If this is the fact, then the record is consistent with natural phenomena, and the darkness which skeptics have pleaded against speaks actually in favor of the credibility of the Gospel. Now it is well known to naturalists that such obscurations are by no means uncommon.

An earthquake devastated Judea some years (31) before the birth of our Lord, at the time of the battle of Actium, which Josephus reports was such 'as had not happened at any other time, which brought great destruction upon the cattle in that country. About ten thousand men also perished by the fall of houses.' Jerome writes of an earthquake which, in the time of his childhood (about A.D. 315), destroyed Rabbath Moab. The writers of the middle ages also speak of earthquakes in Palestine, stating that they were not only formidable, but frequent. In 1834 an earthquake shook Jerusalem, and injured the chapel of the nativity at Bethlehem. As late as the year 1836 (Jan. 1) Jerusalem and its vicinity were visited by severe shocks of earthquake, yet the city remains without serious injury from these subterranean causes.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Earthquake'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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