EARTHQUAKE, ground vibrations produced generally by a sudden subterranean occurrence. Accounts of destructive earthquakes extend far into antiquity. In biblical times earthquakes, like thunder and other natural cataclysms, were regarded as demonstrations of God's unlimited power. It was believed that the phenomenon preceded divine manifestations (I Kings 19:11–12; Isa. 6:4; Ezek. 3:12–13), the revelation at Sinai (Ex. 19:18), divine wrath (Ps. 18:8; 104:8), and collective punishment (I Sam. 14:15; Isa. 5:25; Nah. 1:5; 16:32; Amos 9:1), and it was also envisaged as heralding the end of the world (Ezek. 38:19–20). The descriptions of earthquakes in the Bible – especially by prophets – indicate that such cataclysms occurred from time to time and that people were therefore familiar with their consequences. The almost scientific description of the phenomenon of earth dislocation and cracking related in a prophecy of wrath (Zech. 14:4–5) might be based on a personal experience of an earthquake. Because of its powerful impact, the major earthquake which occurred toward the end of King Uzziah's reign (about 800 B.C.E.) was referred to for some time in date references (Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5). In 31 B.C.E. a disastrous tremor in Judea claimed 10,000 to 30,000 victims (Jos., Ant., 15:122). In 749 a powerful earthquake, thought to be 7.3 on the Richter scale, hit northern Israel, destroying Bet(h)-Shean , tiberias , Kefar Naḥum (capernaum ), and susita . The earthquake caused a huge tidal wave that led to the death of thousands. Another series of earthquakes occurred in 1033, striking Tiberias and its environs. During the last 2,000 years, earthquakes in Palestine and its neighborhood have been recorded in greater detail (see bibl. Amiran, 1951; shalem , 1951; Arieh, 1967). These records reveal that, on the average, several damaging earthquakes have occurred in each century, but usually only one reached disastrous proportions. Seismological observatories have been operated by the Geological Survey of Israel since 1955 and by the Weizmann Institute of Science since 1969. Recent seismographic measurements indicate that most earthquake epicenters are situated in or near the Jordan Rift Valley, an area where the two most destructive earthquakes since the 19th century originated. The earthquake on Jan. 1, 1837, whose epicenter was near Safed, took about 5,000 victims, ruined much of the old city, and was strongly felt from Beirut to Jerusalem. This earthquake was preceded by one in 1759 in which the walls of safed were ruined and many were killed. On July 11, 1927, an earthquake occurred north of jericho violently affecting vast areas from Lebanon to the Negev, and in Transjordan killing about 350 persons and ruining some 800 structures (mainly in Shechem). This earthquake stopped the flow of the Jordan River for a few years owing to rock collapse. The last significant earthquake in Israel was in 1995 in Eilat (elath ), when the epicenter was in the Red Sea, therefore causing minor damages. In 2004 a series of tremors struck Israel, mainly in the Dead Sea area. Experts argue that such earthquakes are a warning sign of a bigger one yet to come in the next few years. The extent of damage caused by an earthquake depends not only on magnitude, focal depth, and proximity to the epicenter, but also, and sometimes mainly, on local ground features, topographic conditions, type of foundation and construction, and density of population. In areas with long-standing earthquake records, seismic risk can better be evaluated than in areas without such records. Cities which have suffered relatively much from earthquakes are Safed, Tiberias, Shechem (all near the epicenter zone, and partly built on slopes and unconsolidated ground with poorly built structures), Lydda, and Ramleh (unstable ground conditions). Jerusalem, with its rocky fundament, has remained during its long history relatively undamaged by earthquakes, as if to justify the psalmist's verse: "Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides for ever" (Ps. 125:1). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: C.F. Richter, Elementary Seismology (1958); N. Shalem, in: Jerusalem Quarterly, 2 (1949), 22–54 (Heb.); idem, in: Bulletin of the Research Council of Israel, 2:1 (1952), 5–16; D.H.K. Amiran, in: IEJ, 1 (1950–51), 223–46; 2 (1952), 48–62; E.J. Arieh, in: Geological Survey of Israel, 43 (1967), 1–14. (Eliyahu Arieh)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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