What is the earthquake that Amos speaks of in Amos 1:1? Is it talked about anywhere else in scripture?


An existing answer provides some bare essentials for a traditional understanding of "Amos's earthquake", that is, the earthquake that came two years after Amos's preaching and therefore (it is often argued) in some way confirmed his ministry.

The constellation of Amos 1:1 with Zechariah 14:5 and Isaiah 6:4, extrapolated to 2 Chronicles 26:16 and Josephus, in particular have long been observed. Here, for example, is W.R. Harper's comment from his 1905 International Critical Commentary Amos and Hosea (p. 7):

Two years before the earthquake] This phrase, contrary to Keil, is intended to mark a date. Since earthquakes (the view which makes it a civil commotion is untenable) are not infrequent in Palestine,* as may be gathered from their frequent mention in poetic descriptions, this must have been an especially severe one. Reference is made to it certainly in Zc. 14:5, possibly also in Am. 8:8.9 (an interpolation) and Mi. 1:2-4.† Tradition, according to Josephus,‡ connects it with Uzziah’s attempt to act as priest (2 Ch. 26:16) and with a shattering of the temple in the year of Uzziah’s death (Is. 6:4). On closer examination, however, we may ask, Does the editor mean to imply that this earthquake was a beginning of the fulfilment of the prediction of Amos?§ Had there, in other words, been an interval of two years, a period of repentance, between the last words of warning and this the first flash of the lightning which consumed them?‖ Does this chronological statement carry with it the implication that his work was of short duration, limited, perhaps, to the one year, “two years before the earthquake,”¶ or may it be inferred with Pusey from 7:10 2:11.12 that he had a long ministry, and that the discourses were written out only after a period of at least two years? The answers to these questions depend partly on one’s conception of prophecy, but more largely upon data which are not at hand. Jerusalem itself seems seldom to have been affected by earthquakes, and this may account for the lack of reference to specific earthquakes by O.T. writers, this being the only case mentioned in O.T. literature.**

* V. Pu. I. 286; Dr. 172; Che. EB. II. 1150f.; E. Hull, DB. I.634f.
† Cf. also Jo. 2:10. ‡ Ant. IX.10:4. § Cal. ‖ Pu. ¶ Bl. Einl. 363.
** Hoffm. (ZAW. III. 123) regards this case as an exegetical inference from 7:3.6 (cf. 7:8 8:2), the thought being that Israel's punishment is twice postponed, for a year each time; so Che. EB. I. 149; and Marti, EB. I. 776.

All the elements just mentioned are there.

For a long time, however, it was thought merest speculation to attempt to think "historically" about that seismic event. So, e.g., K. Dell cites A.G. Auld as saying "we know nothing now of that earthquake".1 However, many commentators have pointed to Yigael Yadin's findings from Hazor which strongly suggested a mid-8th C. earthquake occurred in the region.2

In spite of the difficulty (as noted by N. Ambraseys) in using seismic events from antiquity in this region for historical information,3 an article in the International Geology Review sets out to do just this, with reference to "Amos's" earthquake: Steven A. Austin, Gordon W. Franz, and Eric G. Frost, "Amos's Earthquake: An Extraordinary Middle East Seismic Event of 750 B.C.", International Geology Review 42:7 (2000) 657-671:

Widely separated archaeological excavations in Israel and Jordan contain late Iron Age (Iron IIb) architecture bearing evidence of a great earthquake. Masonry walls best display the earthquake, especially walls with broken ashlars, walls with displaced rows of stones, walls still standing but leaning or bowed, and walls collapsed with large sections still lying course-on-course. Debris at six sites (Hazor, Deir ‘Alia, Gezer, Lachish, Tell Judeideh, and ‘En Haseva) is tightly confined stratigraphically to the middle of the eighth century B.C., with dating errors of ∼30 years. Biblical and post-biblical sources indicate a single, regionally extensive earthquake in the year 750 B.C. [from published abstract]

Caution is still worth exercising, however, given the methodological issues raised by Ambraseys. That some seismic event (which reverberated throughout Amos's book, as Dell ably demonstrates) was associated with (and anticipated by) Amos's preaching is entirely plausible. And it may be that Austin, Franz & Frost are correct in their reading of the archaeological record, and if so, then

[t]he M1 ≍ 8.2 event of 750 B.C. appears to be the largest yet documented on the Dead Sea transform fault during the last four millennia.


  1. See K. Dell, "Amos and the Earthquake: Judgment as Natural Disaster", in Aspects of Amos: Exegesis and Interpretation, edited by Anselm C. Hagedorn, Andrew Mein (T & T Clark, 2011), pp. 1-14.
  2. Two examples for many: James Luther Mays, Amos: A Commentary (OTL; Westminster, 1969), p. 20 ; Shalom Paul, Amos (Hermeneia; Fortress, 1991), p. 35 and n. 32.
  3. Cf. Madhavi Nevader's comments towards the end of the first section of the "Earthquake" article in Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception.

And ye shall flee to the valley of the mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azal: yea, ye shall flee , like as ye fled from before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall come, and all the saints with Thee. Zechariah 14:5

According to Jewish tradition it happened at the time that Uzziah foolishly tried to burn incense as if he were a priest. II Chronicles 26:14-17. Josephus states of the earthquake By it half of a mountain was removed and carried to a plain four furlongs offs, and it spoiled the king's gardens. Antiq. ix 11. That is approximately half a mile. Some scholars believe that the earthquake happen at the time of Isaiah vision, and Isaiah 6:4 refers to this earthquake.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.