1. very timely… just discussing this very thing with a work mate, who says “oh go on.. no scholar would believe that” (ironic since I have a bachelor of theology.. but meh.. that’s what you get for doing IT instead of writing scholarly articles..)


  2. Evidence for earthquake activity along the Jordan Valley is long (stretching as far back as the 7th millennium BC, and one must not forget about references in the OT to God “shaking the earth.” Even today earthquakes occur in Israel). As geologists point out, the Dead Sea Rift is not a small one. Google: earthquakes Israel

    Interestingly, Josephus mentions an earthquake in a story involving a high priest in Palestine named “Jesus” the son of Gamalas, and a commander named “Simon,” the son of Cathlas, and includes a line about “amazing concussions and bellowings of the earth, that was in an earthquake. These things were a manifest indication that some destruction was coming upon men, when the system of the world was put into this disorder; and any one would guess that these wonders foreshowed some grand calamities that were coming.” [The Wars of the Jews, Book 4, Chapter 4, Paragraphs 4-5 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2850/2850-h/book4.htm#2HCH0004 ]

    The quake Josephus mentions was not an earthquake at Jesus’ death, but does give us an indication of how people viewed earthquakes back then, as foreshadowing human events, and perhaps indicative of the uses that someone like Matthew also might make of them when writing his story about Jesus. Whether an earthquake coincided with the death of the biblical Jesus as perfectly as Matthew depicts it does, is another question.

    Speaking of Matthew’s introduction of an earthquake motif (found in none of the other Gospels) note that the Greek (Septuagint) translation of the book of Ezekiel mentions an “earthquake” accompanying the valley of dry bones resurrection scene. But the Hebrew (Masoretic) text of Ezekiel does not mention an “earthquake” in those passages. Only in the Greek translation of the Hebrew can you find mention of an “earthquake” in that scene, and since the author of Matthew relied on the Greek OT translation (rather than the Hebrew Masoretic text) he may have combined the idea of a mass resurrection with an earthquake in order to add a further “fulfillment” to Jesus’ death from the book of Ezekiel (well, a “fulfillment” from the Greek translation of the book of Ezekiel, not from the Hebrew text!).

    As Mark Goodacre pointed out, Matthew also happens to be the only NT author who mentions earthquakes, two of them. Matthew is also the only NT writer to mention a mass resurrection accompanying Jesus’ death, and Matthew is the only NT author to mention guards being terrified two times, once at the sight of the opening of tombs and mass resurrection when Jesus died, and once more then other guards were terrified a day and a half later at the sight of an angel descending from heaven and moving the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb and sitting on top of it. None of the other Gospels mention a single earthquake, nor that the tomb was sealed and guarded, nor do they mention an angel coming down from heaven and sitting on the rock outside the tomb. And both of those Matthean resurrection tales, viz., the opening of many tombs, and the opening of Jesus’ tomb, are preceded by an earthquake. But none of the other Gospels mention a single earthquake, let alone two of them as in Matthew.

    Speaking of other earthquakes in the ancient world, writers besides Josephus mentioned them, and probably people connected them with “the gods”: Philostratus (AD 170–244/249) records in the life of Apollonius that earthquakes occurred in Crete during the reign of Claudius. He also records earthquakes during the time period in Chios, Miletus, Samos and Smyrna. Tacitus mentions earthquakes in Laodicea and Rome during the reign of Nero in addition to Colosse and Hierapolis. Tacitus, The Annals, Book 12 and 14, written in approximately AD 109. The Roman philosopher Seneca (3 BC–AD 65) records an earthquake at Campania. Suetonius (AD 75–160) records an earthquake in Rome during the reign of Galba (AD 68–69).


    1. If we miss what Matthew is doing, we will continue to look for geological and historical ‘proofs.’

  3. Just Sayin'

    I agree with Dr. Goodacre but would add that Colin Humphreys’ books (one on the Exodus miracles and a more recent one on the Last Supper and Crucifixion) are interesting, pleasant and stimulating reads, very clever in their own way and no threat at all to Biblical studies. Biblical studies scholars tend to sneer at them (not that Dr. Goodacre is doing that), which I think is a pity. I read them with enjoyment, as I know it doesn’t matter and doesn’t change anything whether Sir Colin is right or wrong. If you want an intelligent, fun book on either subject, by a non-specialist, I recommend them.


    1. Yes, Colin Humpreys’s books are well worth a read, though he does tend towards the idea of defending the Bible through science, esp. in the recent Last Supper book.


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