• Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on Remember, Archaeology is NOT a Treasure Hunt!

    By Gordon Franz

    Introduction

    The headline of the Science Section of the New York Times for Tuesday, September 28, 2004 read, “Solving a Riddle Written in Silver.” I recognized the picture underneath the headline right away. It was a portion of a silver amulet that was discovered in Jerusalem in 1979. The article described the scholarly debate concerning the date assigned to the amulets by the excavator and his team in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. They claim that these two objects contain the two oldest Biblical text ever discovered to date. Unfortunately the BASOR article is very technical. It discusses the style of the letters and how this is used to date the amulets. This, however, is important to answer the critics who have suggested the amulets were not as old as the excavator claims they were. This article will not deal with the technical aspects of the debate, as important as they are, but rather, I would like to take you behind the scenes and share some of the human interest stories relating to the discovery, unrolling, announcement and publication of these two amulets.

    Monday morning, July 30, 1979 is as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday. It was about 6 AM when I arrived at the excavations below the St. Andrew’s Scottish Presbyterian Church, a site that would later be known as Ketef Hinnom, “the shoulder of Hinnom”.

    The director of the excavation, Gabriel Barkay, known to his students and friends as Goby, asked me, “Gordon, how energetic are you?” I replied, smiling, “As energetic as a 25 year old person could be.” “Good,” he said, “I want you to clean out that cave over there with three junior high Israeli students.” I was up to the challenge. As I headed for the cave, Goby confided, “By the way, the cave might be loaded. But remember, archaeology is NOT a treasure hunt.” Thus began one of the most interesting weeks of my life.

    This was one of the first archaeological excavations I ever worked on and now I was an area supervisor of three junior high Israeli students. I was about to receive a crash course with on the job training in Methodology of Archaeological Excavations 101, also known as, how to excavate a burial cave when you don’t know what you are doing. Fortunately, I was a quick learner and Goby was a great teacher.

    The Burial Cave

    The repository, the place where the bones and any burial gifts for the dead were deposited after the flesh had decayed, measured 3.69 meters long, by 2 meters wide. The ceiling stood 2.23 meters from the floor. The ceiling had collapsed which suggested to Goby that there might be a sealed layer underneath with archaeological artifacts.

    As we began to work, I realized three problems. First, there was a lack of light. We were dependent upon the sunlight or its reflection that came through the 51 cm by 61 cm door of the repository that stood about a meter an a half above us. Once our eyes adjusted to the darker cave we could see fairly well. Second, there was a communication problem. I did not speak any Hebrew and the Israelis did not speak any English. Third, the three junior high students were just that, junior high students.

    Goby gave them instructions in Hebrew to clean around any objects they found and leave them in situ so they could be measured, described, drawn and photographed in their original location. Do you think these junior highers listened to Goby or me? At first they would dig little pits until they found something and then hold it up and say, “Tireh ma matzati!” (Translation: “Look what I found!”). Frustration was setting in very quickly.

    Goby instructed me to divide the cave into six quadrants and excavate one or two at a time. I put a string across the top of the ceiling of the repository and leveled it with a line level. This was our datum line. Using tape measures and a plumb line, I was able to draw an outline of the cave, then plot and draw many of the pieces that were uncovered. This was a learning experience for me. Goby stressed the importance of measuring all the objects from their lowest point. I am glad I listened to him because years later, it would prove very important in the dating of the amulets.

    During one of our breaks the first morning, Goby said to me, “Gordon, I want you to find me an inscription. If you do, I’ll give you a party.” I laughed because I knew from his Archaeology of Jerusalem classes that inscriptions in Jerusalem are very rare. Nevertheless, I half jokingly said, “I’ll find you an inscription on the last day and in the last square.” Little did I know how prophetic that statement would be.

    By Tuesday afternoon we had realized just how important this cave was, so we replaced the junior high students with adults from the Institute for Holy Land Studies across the valley on Mt. Zion. Late in the afternoon we had run out of boxes and bags to put our “special finds” in, so Goby and I went shopping for these items. We could not get these items from the Department of Antiquities because they were temporarily closed due to a police investigation.

    We had already found bronze and silver objects that had corroded. I asked Goby if there was a chance of finding any gold objects. He answered in the affirmative and mentioned that a burial cave in the Silwan Necropolis across from the City of David had an inscription that mentioned there was no silver or gold buried in the cave and concluded with a curse on anyone who opened it (Avigad 1953: 143). I did not like that last line. Seeing the corroded objects that we had found, I asked Goby what gold would look like when it was uncovered. He said, “Don’t worry, you’ll recognize it when you see it.” How true that was, the next day I found a gold earring that looked like it was made the day before.

    We were afraid that if certain elements in the population from the nearby neighborhoods found out about the jewelry objects they would visit the site at night and clean the place out. Since the site was out in the open and people were coming and going, we had to speak in code. Silver objects were called “gray matter,” gold was “lemon,” coins were “buttons,” and bones were called “Napoleons” (as in Bone-apart).

    Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were normal eight-hour days, but time was of the essence. Thursday we worked from 5:30 in the morning until 5:30 at night, 12 hours. Friday we worked from 5:30 in the morning until 9:30 at night, 16 hours. While Goby and I were sifting in the late afternoon, two individuals with black hats and black coats were walking down the Hebron road on their way to the Western Wall for Shabbat prayers. They saw us and we saw them. Goby remarked to me with a serious tone in his voice, “We have to finish tomorrow because if we don’t they will be back Sunday morning with their friends to protest our excavations.” Thanks to Rev. Tom Houston, the pastor of St. Andrews, we were able to use an electrical outlet above the cave. Jim Monson, a professor at the Institute of Holy Land Studies, provided a light bulb and electrical cord so we were able to work into the night.

    Saturday morning, August 4, we began work at 6 AM with the help of students and staff of the Institute. We divided into two groups with one excavating inside the cave, and the other outside sifting for the small finds that might have been missed by those in the cave. I was running between the two groups recording and drawing the objects. Earl Hagar was photographing the finds as they were uncovered.

    About mid morning, Judy Hadley, an archaeology student at Wheaton College (now a professor at Villanova University) brushed aside some dirt to reveal a rolled up piece of silver. I described it in my journal as a “silver roll” and recorded it as object 31 from Area D, located at a level of 188 cm and then drew it on my plan. It was given basket number 481. Later, it would be called Ketef Hinnom amulet I. Goby suspected it might have an inscription on it, but it first had to be cleaned and unrolled and that would take time. We finished cleaning out the dirt from the cave at 1 AM Sunday morning. It had been a 19-hour marathon day!

    Sunday and Monday we continued sifting the material that was excavated after dark on Saturday. Sifting is best done in daylight so we took the dirt from each quadrant and placed them in labeled buckets, boxes, trays or whatever containers we could find so the dirt could be sifted in daylight. A second silver roll came up in the sifting during one of the afternoons. It would become known as Ketef Hinnom amulet II.

    Monday, in one of the last buckets to be sifted, a seal was discovered. Using his son’s Play-doh, Goby made an impression of the seal and it revealed the name “Paltah”. Unbeknownst to us, this was only the first inscription.

    A summary of the excavation has been published in preliminary form, but not a final excavation report (Franz 1986; Barkay 1994).

    Opening the Scrolls

    The two silver amulets were given an initial cleaning at the labs of Tel Aviv University. Museums in England and Germany were given the opportunity to unroll the objects, but declined because they were afraid of damaging the fragile objects. Three years after their discovery, the delicate job of opening them was finally entrusted to Joseph “Dodo” Shenhav of the Israel Museum. Under his able direction, the amulets were successfully unrolled during the fall of 1982 (Rasovsky, Bigelajzen and Shenhav 1992: 192-194).

    On one Friday morning, Dr. Yaakov Meshorer, the curator of the numismatics section of the Israel Museum, looked at one of the amulets under a microscope. He recognized the paleo-Hebrew writing. He tried to call Goby but because Goby had just moved he did not have a phone in his apartment. Yaakov left a message with Goby’s wife saying “Urgent, call Yaakov.” In Israel, when somebody gets a message like that it usually means that someone died and the funeral is that day. When Goby finally got the message he quickly called Dr. Meshorer who conveyed the good news about the writing on one of the amulets. Unfortunately for Goby, it was Friday afternoon and the museum labs would be closed until Sunday morning, so he had to wait until then to view the inscription.

    That Friday night I took some students from the Institute to their homes after Shabbat dinner and vespers. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to stop by Goby’s new apartment to see his succa (booth made of branches for the Jewish holiday Succoth) that his family had on their porch. He said with excitement in his voice, “Gordon, I have good news for you. One of the scrolls was opened and it has the word yodheyvavhey on it.” My Hebrew still wasn’t that good, but I recognized the spelling right away. It was the name of the Lord, YHWH. This was the first time the Lord’s name was found in an archaeological context in Jerusalem.

    Goby entrusted the drawing of the two scrolls to one of his graduate students from the Institute, Bill J. Wilson. He would take the scrolls from my room, because I had them under lock and key, to the Israel Museum in order to draw each and every line he could see using an electronic microscope, the best in Israel at the time. It was a painstaking job, but Bill did an outstanding job of recovering and drawing 90% of the inscription but it still did not make sense.

    The First Public Announcement

    The first public announcement of this discovery was on Sunday afternoon, January 9, 1983, at a public lecture at the Rockefeller Museum sponsored by the Albright Institute and Hebrew Union College. These lectures usually last from three until four in the afternoon. As it turned out, this lecture was hosted and moderated by Professor Avraham Biran, the doyen of Israeli archaeology. There was a bit of irony in this setup. Avraham Biran is notorious for going over his allotted time when he presents a paper at professional meetings. Of course, no moderator would have the heart to stop an enthusiastic Dr. Biran in the middle of an exciting presentation, much to the consternation of the presenter that follows him! On the other hand, when he is moderating a session, he is famous for stopping a presenter in mid sentence if the person went over his or her allotted time.

    Before the lecture to a packed auditorium, Goby told Dr. Biran about the two amulets and he would announce the discovery that afternoon. When he was introduced, Dr. Biran told the audience that Goby had an important discovery to announce.

    The lecture started promptly on time (vintage Biran). Bill Wilson and I were sitting in the second row, right behind Dr. Biran. We were amused to see him sitting on the edge of his seat with excitement as each slide was put up on the screen showing a different discovery. Goby started his lecture with the topography of the site, then he talked about the Byzantine church and monastic complex. He moved on to the Roman burials and finally the Iron Age burial caves. I looked at my watch and it was five minutes to four and Goby had not started to talk about Cave 25. I thought to myself, “Biran is going to yank Goby off the stage even before he has time to reveal the amulets.” At 4 PM Goby finally got around to talking about Cave 25 and proceeded to talk about each discovery in the cave for another 15 minutes. Finally, the last five minutes he dropped the “bombshell” about the amulets and the Name of the Lord appearing in an archaeological excavation in Jerusalem for the first time. With that, Goby finished and the audience broke out in a thunderous applause. Avraham Biran was beside himself with excitement and publicly congratulated Goby on his “sensational” discovery.

    After Goby talked with his colleagues and friends, I had a chance to speak with him. I said, “Goby, knowing Biran’s habit of cutting people off in mid sentence, did you deliberately go overtime?” He gave me a devilish grin and said, “Yes.” To this day, Goby is the only person known to have gone overtime during a session moderated by Professor Biran and gotten away with it.

    The Oldest Biblical Texts

    In 1986, the Israel Museum wanted to have a “display of the month” devoted to the excavations at Ketef Hinnom. In preparation for the exhibit, Adi Yardeni of the Israel Museum redrew the amulets. One morning she had a chance conversation with a religious colleague at the museum. She mentioned she was drawing a text with the name of the LORD written three times on it. He replied, “Three times? Maybe it’s the priestly blessing.” When Yardeni returned to her work, she tried to read the passage of Numbers 6:24-26 into the inscription. Much to her amazement, it worked. Thus, the first Biblical inscription from the First Temple period was deciphered (Rabinovich 1986: 16, 17).

    When the exhibition opened at the Israel Museum in June of 1986, the announcement of the two oldest Biblical texts was made. The next day it was in every newspaper in America.

    On Saturday, June 21, 1986, I was attending a church picnic in New Jersey. One of the elderly gentleman from church asked if I had heard about an important Biblical discovery in Israel. I asked him questions about it, but he was vague on the details. He just remembered it was the oldest Biblical text ever discovered. He promised to bring the article from the paper to church the next day.

    The next day he showed me the article. I got the shock of my life. As I was reading the article I began to realize, “This is the excavation I worked on. Those amulets were in my room. I’ve held them in my hand!” That afternoon I entertained the preacher for the day, Mr. T. Ernest Wilson, a retired missionary from Angola. In the course of our conversation he asked me if I knew anything about this discovery. I smiled and said, “Would you like to see a drawing of it?” At this point the drawings had not been published and Bill Wilson and I were the only ones in America that had a drawing of the amulets.

    The Publication of the Texts

    Archaeological protocol gives the right of publication in a timely fashion to the director of the excavation or to someone designated by the excavator. Goby has always been a thorough and meticulous scholar and will only publish something after he has completely studied the issue.

    When I was in graduate school (1986-87) I was invited to give a paper on the amulets at the Southeast Regional Evangelical Theological Society meeting in Columbia, SC. I called Goby to ask his permission to give the paper. He hesitated at first, but then asked, “Will the people in the audience be theologians or archaeologists?” I replied, “Theologians.” He said, “Fine, go ahead and give the paper.” I appreciated Goby giving me permission because he still had not published the amulets in a technical fashion. The first article in Hebrew was in 1989 (Barkay 1989) and then translated and published in English in 1992 (Barkay 1992).

    A Description of the Amulets

    The larger amulet, Ketef Hinnom I, was 27.5 mm wide, with a diameter of 11 mm. In the center was a hole 2 mm in diameter, used to thread a string through in order to wear around the neck. When unrolled, the plaque measured 97 mm long and 27 mm wide. The weight of the object was 7.6 grams.

    This amulet was almost pure silver. The metal analysis showed a 99% silver content and a 1% copper. These plaques might be the beaten (hammered) silver brought from Tarshish mentioned in Jeremiah 10:9.

    The letters were incised on the plaques. Jeremiah, a contemporary of these amulets, describes how the writing was possibly done, “with a pen of iron, with a point of diamond” (17:1, NKJV).

    At the top of the amulet is a group of letters that at first did not make sense. After re-photographing the amulets in 1994, the group of letters became readable (Barkay, Lundberg, Vaughn, Zuckerman, Zuckerman 2003). With more letters, the text became more understandable. The first fourteen lines read, “…]YHW … the grea[t … who keeps] the covenant and [G}raciousness toward those who love [him] and those who keep [His commandments … …]. The Eternal? […]. [the?] blessing more than any [sna]re and more than Evil. For redemption is in Him. For YHWH is our restorer [and] rock” (Barkay, Lundberg, Vaughn and Zuckerman 2004: 61). It was observed that the “substance of the reading for lines 2-7 is reasonably secure because these lines fit, at least loosely, a biblical parallel attested to in Dan. 9:4 and Neh. 1:5 (with a similar reading in Deut. 7:9)” (2004:55).

    The end of the amulet has part of the priestly blessing. The last portion of it, however, was lost when the scroll was unrolled.

    The smaller amulet, Ketef Hinnom II, is 11.5 mm wide and 5.5 mm in diameter in a rolled up position. Unrolled, it is 39.2 mm long and 11 mm wide. Unfortunately, the bottom third was missing. The priestly blessing on it says, “The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace.” The passage in Numbers 6:24-26 upon which it is based has fifteen words in it. The scribe of the amulet left out five words in order to create a shorter blessing. And we thought the Reader’s Digest Bible was a modern invention!

    The Dating of the Amulets

    The burial cave in which the amulets were found was carved in the mid-seventh century BC. The pottery assemblage comes from three discernable periods. The first period is the end of the Iron Age. This pottery style parallels the pottery from Lachish, Level II, and the City of David, Level X. These levels are dated to the end of the Judean Monarchy, or 587 BC. The second period is the Babylonian period when most of the Judeans were in captivity in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah mentions people who remained behind after the Babylonians carried away, or killed, most of the Judeans (Jer. 41:5; 39:10). The third period represented was the Hellenistic period. The few finds from this period were confined to the area around the entrance of the repository of the burial cave.

    Based on the style of the letters, or paleography, Goby dated the amulets to the late seventh century BC, or very early sixth century BC (Barkay 1992). Several scholars challenged this date and argued that it was much later, during the Hellenistic period. One of the reasons was the existence of the eight Hellenistic pottery pieces in the cave.

    The importance of careful records cannot be overestimated. Goby had to go back and look at the journal that I kept and the plan of the burial cave with the objects plotted on them. It was observed that the average depth of the deposits in the repository was 65 cm deep. The Ketef Hinnom I amulet was found 7 cm above the floor. This demonstrated that the amulet was one of the earliest objects thrown into the repository. Ketef Hinnom II was found in Area A, the back quadrant. Goby observed that this was also one of the earliest deposits.

    On paleographic grounds, these two inscriptions should be dated to the end of the seventh century BC. This fits well with the corresponding archaeological data as well as historical considerations. Clearly these are the two oldest Biblical texts found to date. They predate the Dead Sea Scrolls by at least 400 years.

    Implication for Biblical Studies

    There is at least one important implication for Biblical studies. According to the critical scholars, Numbers 6:23-27 should be attributed to the so-called “P source” which is generally dated to the Post-Exilic, or Persian Period. It is obvious that we now have two examples of this text that were written prior to the Babylonian captivity. This makes it impossible to assume that the Priestly Benediction was crystallized during the Post-Exilic period.

    A word of caution is in order. These amulets cannot be used to prove when the priestly blessing was originally composed, or even who wrote it. The only thing they can tell us is that at the end of the seventh century BC the priestly blessing existed. We have to turn to the Bible to find out that Aaron, the brother of Moses, first gave the blessing and Moses wrote it down sometime during the last half of the 15th century BC.

    Conclusion

    These amulets were worn around the neck to protect the wearer from evil or to surround themselves with the name of the Lord for protection. We observe the same phenomenon today when people wear religious objects, hoping that God would be gracious to them and protect them. It seems that the Biblical passages are added on at the end of a “prayer request” for protection from some evil person or calamity, or for blessing in the wearer’s life.

    These two silver objects with Scripture verses on them could be the forerunner to the phylacteries of the later periods. It is interesting, Torah instructed the people to “wear the Word of God.” In Exodus 13:9,16 it says, “And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth” (NKJV, cf. also Deut. 6:8; 11:18; Prov. 6:21; 1:9: 3:3, 22; 7:3).

    The people literally wore the Word of God. The LORD gave this injunction in order to keep the Word of God constantly before His people, that they might learn it and obey it.

    Even today this is still a good practice. In memorizing the Word of God, a poster or picture with a Scripture verse on it is helpful. But more important than wearing the Word of God, or hanging it on our wall, is to have it abiding in our hearts. King David declared, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11 NKJV).

    Bibliography

    Avigad, Nahman
    1953 The Epitaph of a Royal steward from Siloam Village. Israel Exploration Journal 3: 137-152.

    Barkay, Gabriel
    1989 The Priestly Benediction of the Ketef Hinnom Plaques. Cathedra 52: 37-76 (Hebrew).

    ______1992 The Priestly Benediction on Silver Plaques from Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem. Tel Aviv 19: 139-192.

    ______1994Excavations at Ketef Hinnom in Jerusalem. Pp. 85-106 in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed. Edited by H. Geva. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society.

    Barkay, Gabriel; Lundberg, Marilyn; Vaughn, Andrew; and Zuckerman, Bruce
    2004 The Amulets from Ketef Hinnom: A New Edition and Evaluation. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 334: 41-71.

    Barkay, Gabriel; Lundberg, Marilyn; Vaughn, Andrew; Zuckerman, Bruce; Zuckerman, Kenneth
    2003 The Challenge of Ketef Hinnom. Near Eastern Archaeology 66: 162-171.

    Franz, Gordon
    1986 The Excavations at St. Andrews Church in Jerusalem. Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 27: 5-24.

    Rabinovich, Abraham
    1986 Word for Word. The Jerusalem Post International Edition. August 9, pages 16,17.

    Rasovsky, Marima; Bigelajzen, David; and Shenhav, Dodo
    1992 Cleaning and Unrolling the Silver Plaques. Tel Aviv 19: 192-194.

  • Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on Nahum, Nineveh And Those Nasty Assyrians

    By Gordon Franz

    [Disclaimer: If there are any similarities in this discussion between Ashurbanipal II and his Assyrian troops and Saddam Hussein and the Republican guards, it is purely coincidental. Having said that, it is my position Saddam Hussein is not discussed in the Book of Nahum, nor are automobiles on the LA Freeway (cf. Nahum 2:3)!]

    If I mentioned the city Nineveh, what would come to your mind? Most likely you would say Jonah. We’ve all heard the story about Jonah being swallowed by the great fish and then going to Nineveh to preach against the city. His message was short and to the point, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The city, from the king to the dogcatcher, repented. Have you ever wondered what happened to Nineveh after that? The short prophetic book of Nahum tells us “the rest of the story.”

    During the summer of 2002, I had the privilege of spending three days in the British Museum in London. Wow, what an experience! I have been studying and teaching archaeology for over twenty-five years and never had the opportunity to see the many objects on display in the museum that have Biblical connections

    The main interest of my visit was the objects in the Assyrian Rooms, especially the rooms containing the bas-reliefs of Ashurbanipal II (ruled 668-631 BC), the last great king of Assyria. Several years ago I taught the book of Nahum at my home church. I endeavored to illustrate my messages with archaeological discoveries relating to the text. In my studies, I was surprised at the number of references to objects in the British Museum. When I first visited the rooms with the reliefs, I was not disappointed. With the book of Nahum opened before me, most of the word pictures in the book could be illustrated, in one way or another, from the reliefs of Ashurbanipal II. In this article we will visit the galleries associated with the book of Nahum and visualize the “rest of the story.”

    The Date of the Book of Nahum

    Scholars have long debated the date of the book of Nahum. A wide range of dates has been suggested, from the 8th century BC (Feinberg 1951:126,148) to the Maccabean period, early 2nd century BC (Haupt). Yet the book gives us internal chronological parameters in order to date the book. Nahum describes the conquest of Thebes (No-Amon) by Ashurbanipal II in 663 BC as a past event, thus the book could not have been written before that date. The entire book is a prediction of the fall of the city of Nineveh in 612 BC. Thus, the book was written somewhere between 663 and 612 BC.

    A case can be made for the proclamation of the message, and writing of the book, about 650 BC. If this is the correct date, the Spirit of God used this book to put King Manasseh into a position where he could come to faith and to bring Judah back to the LORD. Up until this point in the reign of King Manasseh, the kingdom, led by the king, was “more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Chron. 33:9). The LORD sent seers (prophets) to speak to the nation, but the nation would not listen to the Word of God (33:10, 18). While not named, one of the seers was probably Nahum. His vision concerning the total destruction of Nineveh would be seen by the Assyrian overlords as fomenting rebellion and insurrection, and possibly seen as support for Shamash-shum-ukin, the king of Babylon, in his current civil war with his brother Ashurbanipal II. If a copy of the book of Nahum fell into the hands of the Assyrian intelligence community, King Manasseh would have had to give account for this book. The Biblical records state, “the LORD brought upon them [Judah] the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon” (2 Chron. 33:11). This event would have transpired in 648 BC, the year that Ashurbanipal II temporarily ruled Babylon after he eliminated his brother as a result of the four-year civil war (Rainey 1993: 160).

    Dragging someone off with hooks in their nose would be in keeping with Ashurbanipal’s character. In the excavations of Sam’al (Zincirli) a stela was found with Esarhaddon holding two leashes attached to the nose-rings of Baal of Tyre and Usanahuru, a crown prince of Egypt. Flanking the stela, watching intently, is Esarhaddon’s son, Ashurbanipal on the left and his brother Samas-sumu-ukin on the right. Ashurbanipal observed his fathers brutality and followed his example (Parpola and Watanabe 1988:20, 21).

    During Manasseh’s interrogation by Ashurbanipal II (and it must have been a brutal one, the text uses the word “afflicted”), he “implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received His entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (2 Chron. 33:12,13).

    Upon his return to Jerusalem, Manasseh began building projects in the city as well as elsewhere in Judah and removed the idols and altars he had placed in the Temple (2 Chron. 33:14-15). “He also repaired the altar of the LORD, sacrificed peace offerings and thanks offerings on it, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel” (33:16). This activity was in accord with what Nahum had challenged the people to do. “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feast, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off” (1:15). The challenge was for Judeans to renew their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the thrice-yearly feasts of Pesach (Passover), Shav’uot (Pentecost) and Succoth (Tabernacles) (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:22-24; Deut. 16:16, 17). There was also a command for the remnant that faithfully prayed to the Lord desiring to bring the nation back to Biblical worship and to bring the king to the Lord. They were to perform the vow they had made to the Lord. The Bible records a half-hearted attempt to return to Biblical worship. “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to the LORD their God” (2 Chron. 33:17). The only true place of worship was the Temple in Jerusalem, not the high places.

    Nahum prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the sole superpower, at the zenith of Assyria’s power and glory. He boldly proclaimed a message that was not popular, nor “politically correct.” In fact, most Judeans would think his prediction of the downfall of Nineveh was impossible.

    The Reliefs From Ashurbanipal’s Palace in the British Museum

    Ashurbanipal II reigned in Nineveh from 668-631 BC. At the beginning of his reign he lived in Sennacherib’s “palace without rival.” Ashurbanipal refurbished the palace about 650 BC. In Room XXXIII, he placed his own wall reliefs. Ashurbanipal’s other major construction project was the North Palace for the crown prince (Russell 1999: 154).

    Nahum was from Elkosh (Nah. 1:1). Some scholars have suggested Elkosk was located at the village of Al-Qush, 25 miles north of modern day Mosul, a city that is across the Tigres River from Nineveh. These scholars take this position because: (1) the names are similar, (2) the local Christian tradition holds that Nahum was from there and his tomb was there, and (3) Nahum’s writings show his familiarity with the city of Nineveh. Some speculate that Nahum was an Israelite captive who lived in the area and was an eyewitness to the city.

    There is, however, another possibility. Elkosh was in southern Judah and Nahum was part of the Judean emissary that brought the yearly tribute from King Manasseh to Nineveh. While in Nineveh, he would have observed the broad roads (Nah. 2:4), walls (Nah. 2:5), gates (Nah. 2:6), temples and idols (1:14), and its vast wealth (2:9). I’m sure the minister of propaganda would have shown him the wall reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s residence. These reliefs were intended “as propaganda to impress, intimidate and instigate by representing the might of Assyrian power and the harsh punishment of rebels” (Comelius 1989: 56). Or as Esarhaddon would say, “For the gaze of all my foes, to the end of days, I set it [stela] up” (Luckenbill 1989: II: 227).

    Let us examine the reliefs found on the walls of Ashurbanipal’s palace and see how they illustrate the word-pictures used by Nahum in his book.

    Blasphemy against Assur (Nahum 1:14)

    In 650 BC, Nahum would have seen the newly opened Room XXXIII in the Southwest Palace of Nineveh (Sennacherib’s “palace without rival”) with the reliefs depicting the campaign against Teumman of Elam and Dunanu of Gambula in 653 BC. One particular relief would have caught his attention (WA 124802, Slab 4). On it, a pair of Elamite captives is being depicted as having their tongues pulled out and being flayed. The caption above stated, “Mr. (blank) and Mr. (blank) spoke great insults against Assur, the god, my creator. Their tongues I tore out, their skins I flayed” (Russell 1999: 180; Gerardi 1988: 31). These two individuals are identified in Ashurbanipal’s annals as Mannu-ki-ahhe and Nabu-usalli (Russell 1999: 163).

    It was with great boldness that Nahum proclaimed, “The LORD has given a command concerning you [the king of Assyria]: ‘Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and molded image. I will dig your grave, for you are vile'” (1:14). These words were a direct attack on Assur and the rest of the Assyrian deities, as well as the king. Yet Nahum boldly proclaimed the message God gave him, in spite of the potential threat to his life!

    Chariots, Not Volkswagens! (Nahum 2:3,4)

    The second chapter of Nahum describes the fall of the city of Nineveh to the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BC. He describes in detail the shields, chariots and spears of the Assyrian foes. While we do not have any contemporary Babylonian reliefs of their chariots, there are Assyrian reliefs of Assyrian chariots riding furiously. These chariots are depicted on the reliefs of the Assyrians attacking the Arabs.

    Nahum mentions the broad roads of Nineveh. Ashurbanipal’s grandfather, Sennacherib, was the one who improved the streets of Nineveh. In the “Bellino cylinder” he boasts, “I (Sennacherib) widened its (Nineveh’s) squares, made bright the avenues and streets and caused them to shine like the day” (1:61).

    In the context of the book, Nahum sees a vision of chariots in the streets of Nineveh, not Volkswagens, as some prophecy teachers have speculated!

    Take the Booty and Run! (Nahum 2:9,10)

    Nineveh was the Fort Knox of mid-7th century BC Mesopotamia. On every Assyrian campaign they always removed the silver, gold and precious stones and other items from the cities that they sacked. When they bragged about the booty that was taken, silver and gold always topped the list. As an example, after the fall of No-Amon (Thebes), Ashurbanipal bragged that he took: “Silver, gold, precious stones, the goods of his palace, all there was, brightly colored and linen garments, great horses, the people, male and female, two tall obelisks. … I removed from their positions and carried them off to Assyria. Heavy plunder, and countless, I carried away from Ni’ (Thebes)” (ARAB II: 296, para. 778). There are also reliefs of Assyrian scribes writing down the booty that was taken from other cities.

    In Nahum’s vision he saw someone say, “Take spoil of silver! Take spoil of gold! There is no end of treasure, or wealth of every desirable prize. She is empty, desolate and waste!” (2:9,10a). The Babylonian Chronicles (BM 21.901) described the spoils taken from Nineveh by the Babylonians and the Medes in these terms: “Great quantities of spoil from the city, beyond counting, they carried off” (ARAB II: 420, para. 1178).

    One of the excavators of Nineveh has commented, that there has been very little gold and silver found in the ruins of the city. The Medes and Babylonians “cleaned house” after they conquered the city, just like Nahum predicted.

    Diodorus, a Greek historian from Sicily, writing in the 1st century BC, described the final hours of the king of Nineveh, Sardanapallus, in these words: “In order that he might not fall into the hands of the enemy, he built and enormous pyre in his palace, heaped upon it all his gold and silver as well as every article of the royal wardrobe, and then … he consigned [his concubines and eunuchs] and himself and his palace to the flame” (Book 2. 27:2; LCL 1:441). Unfortunately the Babylonian account is broken at this point. It says, “On that day Sin-shar-ishkun, king of Assyria, fled from the city (?) …” (ARAB II: 420; para. 1178).

    If Diodorus is correct, the king of Assyria tried to take his wealth with him. At best, the gold and silver melted and were collected later. The Bible is clear that people cannot take their wealth with them to the afterlife, but it can be sent on ahead. The Lord Jesus admonishes His disciples to “lay up for themselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 619-21).

    The Lion Hunt (Nahum 2:11-13)

    David Dorsey, in his outstanding book, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (1999:301-305), places the lion’s den verses (2:11-13) at the center of the book’s chiastic structure. In commenting on the pattern of the structure he says, “This progression underscores the certainty of Nineveh’s fall: Yahweh’s prophet not only believes that it will happen; he composes dirges as though it has already happened. The placement of the eulogy over the ‘lion’s den’ in the book’s highlighted central position reinforces this sense of certainty” (1999:304, italics mine).

    Nahum used the lion and lion hunt motifs that both the Judeans and Assyrians would have been well familiar. The Assyrians had a long history of depicting their king and warriors as mighty lions or great lion hunters (Johnston 2001:296-301). The Bible also depicts the Assyrian warriors as roaring lions (Isa. 5:29) and Yahweh as a lion who will tear up His prey and carry it off to His lair (Hosea 5:14, 15; 13:7, 8; Johnston 2001:294, 295).

    According to Ashurbanipal’s annals, at the beginning of his reign, two deities, Adad and Ea blessed the land of Assyria with plenty of rain. This rain caused the forests to thrive and the reeds in the marshes to flourish. This blessing resulted in a population explosion among the lions. They exerted their influence in the hills and on the plain by attacking herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and people. Many were killed (ARAB II: 363, para. 935). Ashurbanipal II, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, took charge of the lion hunts in order to control the lion population (ARAB II: 392, para. 1025).

    Ashurbanipal also engaged in lion hunting as a sport. Apparently lions were captured alive and put in cages in the king’s garden in Nineveh and used for staged lion hunts (Weissert 1997:339-358). One relief that was found in the North Palace at Nineveh and had apparently fallen into Room S from a second floor had three panels depicting a lion hunt. On the top panel, a lion is released from a cage and Ashurbanipal is shooting him with arrows. The central panel is interesting because it shows the bravery of the king. On the right side of the panel, soldiers are distracting a lion. On the left side, Ashurbanipal sneaks up and grabs the lion by the tail as he rears to his hind legs. [I dare anybody to try this stunt at a zoo today!] The inscription above says, “I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, in my lordly sport I seized a lion of the plain by his tail and at the command of Urta, Nergal, the gods, my allies, I smashed his skull with the club of my hand” (ARAB II: 391, para. 1023). The king attributes his bravery to the deities. Dr. J. E. Reade, one of the keepers of the Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum has observed, “It is notable that much of the lion’s tail has been chipped away, so that the lion has been, as it were, set loose; this defacement was probably the action, at once humorous and symbolic, of some enemy soldier busy ransacking the palace in 612 B.C.” (Curtis and Reade 1995:87). On the lower panel, Ashurbanipal is pouring out a wine libation over the carcasses of four lions. In the inscription above, the king boasts of his power by saying, “I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, whom Assur and Ninlil have endowed with surpassing might. The lions which I slew, – the terrible bow of Ishtar, lady of battle, I aimed at them. I brought an offering, I poured out wine over them” (ARAB II: 392, para. 1021). The king attributes his mighty power to the gods, Assur and Ninlil.

    In contrast, Ashurbanipal boasts that kings and lions are powerless before him. At the beginning of one of his annals (Cylinder F) he states, “Among men, kings, and among the beasts, lions (?) were powerless before my bow. I know (the art) of waging battle and combat. … A valiant hero, beloved of Assur and Ishtar, of royal lineage, am I” (ARAB II: 347, para. 896). Ashurbanipal has tied his lion hunting and military conquests together in one statement.

    In the vision of Nahum concerning Nineveh, Nahum asks a rhetorical question, “Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion walked, the lioness and lion’s cub, and no one made them afraid?” (2:11). He sees Nineveh as a lions den that has been destroyed and the lions are gone. The “prey” in verse 12 is apparently the booty that the Assyrians have taken from all the cities they conquered in recent memory. In verse 13, the LORD states directly, “Behold, I am against you. I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messenger shall be heard no more.” The phrase “the sword shall devour your young lions” draws our attention to another relief showing Ashurbanipal thrusting a sword through a lion. The inscription associate with this relief says, “I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, in my lordly sport, they let a fierce lion of the plain out of the cage and on foot … I stabbed him later with my iron girdle dagger and he died” (ARAB II: 392, para. 1024).

    The book of Nahum sets forth an ironic reversal of the Assyrian usage of the lion motif. Dr. Gordon Johnston has observed, “The extended lion metaphor in Nahum 2:11-13 includes the two major varieties of the Neo-Assyrian lion motif: the depiction of the Assyrian king and his warriors as mighty lions, and the royal lion hunt theme. While the Assyrians kept these two motifs separate, Nahum dovetailed the two, but in doing so he also reversed their original significance. While the Assyrian warriors loved to depict themselves as mighty lions hunting their prey, Nahum pictured them as lions that would be hunted down. The Assyrian kings also boasted that they were mighty hunters in royal lion hunts; Nahum pictured them as the lion being hunted in the lion hunt. By these reversals Nahum created an unexpected twist on Assyrian usage. According to Nahum the Assyrians were like lions, to be sure; however, not in the way that they depicted themselves: rather than being like lions on the prowl for prey, the hunters would become the hunted!” (2001: 304).

    Nahum was keenly aware of the culture that he was writing to and was able to effectively use it to convey a powerful message from the Lord.

    Nineveh, a Bloody City (Nahum 3:1)

    Nahum pronounced “woe to the bloody city (of Nineveh)” (3:1). The city and the Assyrian Empire had a well-earned reputation for being bloody. Just a casual glance at the reliefs in the British Museum from the palaces of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal show the “gory and bloodcurdling history as we know it” (Bleibtreu 1991:52). There are reliefs with people being impaled, decapitated, flayed, tongues pulled out, making people grind the bones of their dead ancestors, even vultures plucking out the eyes of the dead!

    One panel graphically shows the disrespect for human life. On it, a commander is presenting a bracelet to an Assyrian soldier who had decapitated the five or six heads at his feet. There are two scribes behind him recording the event. This bracelet, perhaps a medal of valor, is worth five or six lives! In Assyrian thinking, life was cheap.

    Countless Corpse (Nahum 3:3)

    There is an old adage that says, “What goes around, comes around.” The Bible would use an agricultural metaphor, “You reap what you sow” (cf. Gal. 6:7). This is true in the geo-political realm as well as the personal realm. The Assyrians, over their long history, were brutal and barbaric people. Yet there came a point in history where God said, “Enough is enough,” and He removed the offending party (Nahum 2:13; 3:4).

    Nineveh fell in 612 BC, yet is wasn’t until the 1989 and 1990 seasons of the University of California, Berkeley excavations in the Halzi Gate that graphic evidence of the final battle of Nineveh was revealed. Upwards to 16 bodies were excavated in the gate, all slain (Stronach and Lumsden 1992: 227-233; Stronach 1997: 315-319). Archaeological excavations have vividly confirmed the words of the Biblical text. “Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses – they stumble over the corpses” (Nahum 3:3).

    The Fall of No-Amon (Thebes) (Nahum 3:8-11)

    Nahum taunts the Assyrians for trusting in their fortifications for protection and security. Nineveh was a heavily fortified city, yet the Lord had decreed its demise.

    He asked rhetorically, “Are you better than No-Amon (Thebes) that was situated by the (Nile) River, that had the waters around her, whose rampart was the sea, whose wall was the sea?” (3:8). No-Amon is the Egyptian word for “city of (the deity) Amon” commonly known today by its Greek name, Thebes.

    Esarhaddon had taken Egypt on his second invasion in 671 BC. When he died, the Egyptians revolted and Ashurbanipal went to Egypt to put down this revolt. He cleared the Delta of the Cushites (Ethiopians) in 667/666 BC and the Cushite ruler, Taharqa fled to No-Amon. On Ashurbanipal’s first campaign against Egypt, he took 22 kings from the seacoast, with their armies, to help him fight the Egyptians. Ashurbanipal claims that he “made those kings with their forces (and) their ships accompany me by sea and by land” (Rainey 1993:157). One of those kings was Manasseh, king of Judah, with his army. On his second campaign, he went to No-Amon and defeated the city and razed it in 663 BC. There were Judeans in the Assyrian army that saw this event. When they heard or read the words of Nahum they would have been encouraged. The Assyrians were able to defeat a strong and impermeable No-Amon, and God would now fulfill His Word and Nineveh will fall.

    Ashurbanipal had a relief of the fall of No-Amon. It is labeled “an Egyptian fortress” in the British Museum. Yadin cautiously states, “The crowning achievement of Ashurbanipal’s expeditionary force to Egypt was the capture and destruction of Thebes ‘of the hundred gates’ (the Egyptian capital during the XXVth Dynasty) in the year 663 BC. It is most probable that this is the event which the Assyrian artist depicted in such detail here in his portrayal of an attack on an Egyptian city” (1963:462). If this is the case, we have a very graphic illustration of the Biblical text. The top of the relief has the Assyrians besieging the city with ladders, soldiers undermining the walls and a soldier torching the gate. A close examination of the defenders reveals that there are two ethnic groups defending the city. One group with the Negroid features is the Ethiopians and the others are the Egyptians. Nahum said, “Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength. And it was boundless” (3:9a).

    On the left of the relief, above the Nile River, are Ethiopian captives being taken out of No-Amon. A careful examination of these captives reveals chains on their ankles. Nahum prophesized, “Yet she was carried away, she went into captivity. … They cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains” (3:10).

    Another remarkable illustration of the Biblical text is the group of twelve Egyptians to the right side of the relief awaiting their fate on the banks of the Nile River. As I stared at the group I noticed three children. Two were seated on the donkey and one was on the shoulder of his father. I could not help but wonder if these children knew the fate that awaited them. The words of the prophet were, “Her young children also were dashed to pieces at the head of every street” (3:10). Thankfully the Assyrian artist did not have the audacity to carve this scene on the relief!

    An interesting side note should be mentioned. Manasseh was with Ashurbanipal II when he conquered No-Amon, the city of the deity Amon, in 663 BC. That was the year that a son was born to him, the future king of Judah, Ammon. Apparently Manasseh named his son after the Egyptian deity Amon. This is consistent with Manasseh’s character of following after other gods. But why an Egyptian god and not an Assyrian one, I do not know.

    The Fig Trees and the Forts (Nahum 3:12)

    After asking Nineveh, “Are you better than No-Amon?” Nahum proceeds to describe the rapid fall of the cities and fortressed surrounding Nineveh. He says, “All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: if they are shaken, they will fall into the mouth of the eater” (3:13). When the figs are ripe, they drop easily from the tree when shaken. This is a word-picture that the Ninevites knew from personal experience. Figs were common in Nineveh, as attested to by their appearance on reliefs.

    A Locust at the Banquet (Nahum 3:15b-17)

    One of the most pathetic reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s palace is one of a royal banquet that commemorated the defeat of the king’s most hated foe, Teumman, the king of Elam. On this relief, Ashurbanipal is reclining on a couch under a grape vine in his garden sipping wine with his consort. There are servants around them with fans, while other servants are bringing food and playing musical instruments. From Ashurbanipal’s vantage point on the couch he could gaze on the trophy head of the Elamite king hanging from a ring in the fir tree.

    In a warped perversion of a Biblical description of peace, that of every man sitting under his vine and fig tree (Micah 4:1-4), this relief commemorated the cessation of war with the Elamites after nine years. Ashurbanipal attributes his victory to “the Assyrian pantheon, and in particular, the deities Ashur and Ishtar of Arbela. Thus the human head may be viewed as more than a memorial to a successful battle; it is symbolic of a major threat to the Assyrian throne, a threat that was decisively eliminated through divine might” (Albenda 1977:35). Yet Micah says that real peace will come when the nations go to the LORD’s House in Jerusalem and worship Him. Then “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Micah 4:3).

    There is one detail in this relief that should not be missed. In the upper left hand corner is one locust sitting on top of a palm tree. To its right is a bird swooping down as if to catch it. One art historian describes the scene this way: “Related to this is the image of a locust alight upon an upper branch of a tree, a short distance from the severed head of Teumman. A bird sweeps down toward the insect as if to devour it. This apparently minor detail may have special meaning, for in the annals Ashurbanipal describes the Elamites as a ‘dense swarm of grasshoppers’ [ARAB II: 329, para. 855]. Within this context, the locust may signify the last vestige of a once dreadful enemy, now virtually eliminated” (Albenda 1977:31,32).

    At the end of the book of Nahum we have another reversal of fortune. Instead of the Elamites being the locusts, the Assyrians are, and they are about to be eliminated! But Nahum does not describe the destructive aspects of the locust plague, but rather, the flight of the locusts after they have done their damage. In Nahum 3:17 he states, “Your commanders are like swarming locusts, and your generals like great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges on a cold day; when the sun arises they flee away, and the place where they are is not known.”

    One of the pioneer Israeli biologists, Prof. F. S. Bodenheimer, puts this aspect of Nahum’s mention of locusts in scientific terms. He describes his observations of the body temperature of the Desert Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in the fifth hopper stage thus, “Since dawn the locusts had been turning their bodies towards the rays of the sun to ‘drink’ the maximum of heat. Intensive migration set in only when the body temperature had reached about 40 degrees C. This utilization of sun radiation we called heliothermy” (1959:202). He attributes the first mention of heliothermy to Nahum (1959:201).

    The Fall of Nineveh

    Prior to the beginning of the 20th century, commentators discussed the date for the fall of Nineveh. The possibilities for this event ranged from 716 to 709 BC. In 1923, C. J. Gadd published a tablet from Babylon in the possession of the British Museum. The tablet was called the “Babylonian Chronicles” (BM 21.901) and it covered the years 616-609 BC, or the 10th to the 17th year of Nabopolasser, king of Babylon. The annals place the fall of Nineveh in the 14th year of his reign, the year 612 BC. This event provides the student of history with an absolute chronological peg for Biblical and Assyrian history.

    Conclusions

    We have journeyed through the halls of the British Museum in this article pointing out the reliefs and objects that help to illustrate the text of the small, yet important book, of Nahum. My hope is that this discussion has helped make the Biblical text “come alive” and has given the student of the Scriptures a more accurate visual aid to the Bible.

    Bibliography

    Albenda, P.
    1977 Landscape Bas-Reliefs in the Bit Hilani of Ashurbanipal. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 225: 29-48.

    Bleibtreu, E.
    1991 Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death. Biblical Archaeology Review 17/1:52-61,75.

    Bodenheimer, F.
    1959 A Biologist in Israel. Jerusalem: Biological Studies.

    Comelius, I.
    1989 The Image of Assyria: An Iconographic Approach by Way of a Study of Selected Material on the Theme of “Power and Propaganda” in the Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs. Old Testament Essays 2: 55-74.

    Curtis, J., and Reade, J.
    1995 Art and Empire. Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum. London: British Museum.

    Diodorus Siculus
    1998 Library of History. Book I-II.34. Vol. 1. Trans. C. Oldfather. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library.

    Dorsey, D.
    1999 The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker.

    Feinberg, C.
    1951 Jonah, Micah and Nahum. The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets. New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews.

    Gerardi, P.
    1988 Epigraphs and Assyrian Palace Reliefs: The Development of the Epigraphic Text. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 40: 1-35.

    Johnston, G.
    2001 Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to the Neo-Assyrian Motif. Bibliotheca Sacra 158: 287-307.

    Luckenbill, D. D.
    1988 Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man (ARAB).

    Masters, P.
    2000 A Tour of Biblical Evidence in the British Museum. Bible and Spade 13/2: 35-55.

    Mitchell, T. C.
    1988 The Bible in the British Museum. Interpreting the Evidence. London: British Museum.

    Parpola, S., and Watanabe, K.
    1988 Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths. State Archives of Assyria. Vol. 2. Helsinki: Helsinki University.

    Rainey, A.
    1993 Manasseh, King of Judah, in the whirlpool of the Seventh Century B.C.E. Pp. 147-164 in kinattutu sa darati. Raphael Kutscher Memorial Volume. A. Rainey, ed. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.

    Russell, J.
    1999 The Writing on the Wall. Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

    Stronach, D.
    1997 Notes on the Fall of Nineveh. Pp. 307-324 in Assyria 1995. Eds. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.

    Stronach, D., and Lumsden, S.
    1992 UC Berkeley’s Excavations at Nineveh. Biblical Archaeologist 55/4: 227-233.

    Ussishkin, D.
    1982 The Siege of Lachish by Sennacherib. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.

    Weissert, E.
    1997 Royal Hunt and Royal Triumph in a Prism Fragment of Ashurbanipal (82-5-22.2). Pp. 339-358 in Assyria 1995. S. Parpola and R. Whiting, eds. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.

    Yadin, Y.
    1963 The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands. Vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill.

  • Archaeology and the Bible Comments Off on Earthquakes: On The Increase? Or Warning Of Judgment To Come?

    By Gordon Franz

    Earthquakes are awesome natural phenomena that intrigue geologists who study them and terrorize victims who experience them. People caught in an earthquake often refer to it as one of the most terrifying experiences of their lifetimes. An earthquake, with its epicenter at Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles, California, jolted people awake in the early morning hours of January 17, 1994. The quake rumbled for 30 seconds.

    This earthquake was the second-costliest natural disaster in America behind Hurricane Andrew. The quake measured 6.8 on the Richter scale, with 62 deaths and over 9,000 injuries. Twenty thousand people were left homeless, 10,000 homes were destroyed and another 46,000 were damaged. Experiencing this earthquake and the aftermath was traumatic. A friend of mine, Jessica, experienced the earthquake and relates this account.

    “I’m a native of Los Angeles, which translates into one fact: I’ve been through many earthquakes. As a little girl, the 1971 Sylmar shaker, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, toppled a small statue in my parents’ house and knocked my doll collection to the floor. Several years ago the Whittier earthquake got my blood pumping enough to finally put together an earthquake survival kit: a can of tuna fish, a can of pineapple chunks, some Band-Aids and a sewing kit. Well, even if I remembered where my simple earthquake kit was hidden, it certainly would not have done me any good on January 17, 1994. After the 6.8 shaker, which left me feeling dizzy for days as the ground continued to rock and sway like a drunken sailor, I was in no mood to eat or sew!

    “The truth is, nothing prepared me for that morning. I was fast asleep. Suddenly, I felt the shaking and heard a loud noise and woke up. One would have thought I would have jumped out of bed immediately, but I was an old earthquake pro. Thoughts of riding out the quake under the warmth of my blankets crossed my mind. But the shaking got stronger and the noise more intense. My adrenaline kicked in. Leaping out of bed I discovered that the house was rocking so hard I could not move. The cacophony of sounds was frightening. Car alarms blasting, dishes crashing to the floor, buildings cracking, windows blowing out. Through it all, the sound of the earth, belching with a mighty jolt from its bowels, struck terror to my heart. It was a horrible sound. One which no one could ignore. A noise which woke up each and every one of us.

    “There was no question in my mind that this was an earthquake. If, what I was feeling in Sherman Oaks was so strong that I could not even walk because the floor was moving so violently, I wondered what it must have been like at the epicenter. My fear was that hundreds of people must have died there. When the shaking finally stopped, I simply stood there, trapped by a mountain of books. Quietly I gave thanks to the Lord because I had survived. I would like to say that my faith prevented fear, but to be honest, I was petrified. My mouth was so dry I could barely speak. My limbs felt like rubber. My thoughts turned to my family, scattered in various parts of L. A. Were they hurt? Or the unmentionable, were they dead?

    “The earthquake of January 17th made every previous quake I had been through seem like a gentle tap. Minutes, hours and days passed. Neighbors screamed, cried and evacuated. Homes were condemned as unsafe and uninhabitable by the city. It turned out that my neighborhood, only a few miles from the epicenter, was one of the worst streets in the earthquake. It was later named one of the 14 ghost towns, an eerie souvenir of January 17th. Almost every building on my street was “red tagged”. This meant that people had to pack up and leave their homes behind. Yet there was one townhouse building, comprised of forty units, which had the overall structure and foundation left intact and deemed safe. That was my home. I knew that the Lord had not only saved my life, but also spared my home. I got on my knees and thanked Him with a grateful heart, ‘Thank you Lord, for Your hand of protection upon me.'”

    EARTHQUAKES AND BIBLE PROPHECY

    Earthquakes play a role in Bible prophecy. They are mentioned in the Book of Revelation (6:12-17; 8:5; 11:13,19; 16:16-21) as well as the books of Isaiah (2:19,21; 5:25; 24:19), Ezekiel (38:19,20), Joel (2:10; 3:16) and Zechariah (14:4,5). A number of prophecy teachers point to what they assume to be an increase in the number of earthquakes and associate these quakes with the words of Jesus to show we are in, or near, the last days (cf. Matt. 24:7). As one writer puts it, “One of the major birthpangs Jesus predicted would increase in frequency and intensity shortly before His return is earthquakes” (Lindsey 1994: 83). Two questions should be raised: First, has there actually been an increase in earthquake activities? And second, does Jesus really say there will be an increase in earthquakes before He returns?

    In order to understand the purpose of earthquakes in the End-times, one must examine God’s purpose for earthquakes in history. In the middle of the 8th century BC, the “Big One” hit the Middle East. Let us examine the Biblical record and the archaeological evidence for this earthquake.

    THE EARTHQUAKE IN THE DAYS OF THE PROPHET

    AMOS AND KING UZZIAH

    My study of this earthquake began during the summer of 1987 when I was working on the excavation at Tel Lachish in the Shephelah of Judah. One day I got “Sennacherib’s revenge” (that is the Middle East version of “Montezuma’s revenge”) and was confined to bed, except for the occasional “turkey trot” to the outhouse in the eucalyptus grove some 50 meters from our camp. Trying to keep from getting bored, I began reading the excavation report from Tel Sheva and came across a reference to the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah.

    There is considerable evidence to suggest that the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah dealt considerable damage to the Middle East. Dr. Yohanan Aharoni identifies Tel Sheva as Biblical Beer Sheva. Aharoni suggests that Stratum III (the third level of occupation) was partially destroyed by an earthquake during the days of King Uzziah, but quickly rebuilt by its inhabitants (1973: 107,108). The excavator at Tel Lachish concluded that the same earthquake destroyed Stratum IV. When I returned home at the end of the summer, I compiled a list of sites which where effected by this earthquake. The list raised the questions, “What does this mean? Can we tell anything about this earthquake? Where was the epicenter? How strong was it?” For answers, I turned to my friend Dr. Steve Austin, a geologist at the Institute for Creation Research in San Diego. I gave him the list of sites with copies of the excavation reports and asked the question, “What does this all mean?” His reply was intriguing and exciting.

    The Archaeological Evidence

    The most vivid archaeological evidence for this earthquake was unearthed at Hazor, in the northern part of Israel, during the 1956 season. The area supervisor, the late Prof. Y. Aharoni, described the destruction to the walls of the houses. Some were cracked and others tilted or fell in a southerly or easterly direction (Yadin 1960: 24). One house had an ivory cosmetic spoon with a woman’s head on the backside. Yigel Yadin, the excavator of the site suggested it depicted a fertility goddess (1975: 154,155), something that Isaiah condemned (Isa. 2:8, 18, 20).

    This and other small finds gave indication of the material prosperity of the Northern Kingdom in the mid-8th century BC, something which the prophet Amos cried out against two years before this earthquake (Amos 1:1; 6:4). Renewed excavations by Hebrew University have uncovered further evidence of this earthquake (Dever 1992: 27*-35*).

    Another city with archaeological evidence for this earthquake is the Jordanian site of Deir ‘Alla. This site is situated about two-thirds of the way down the Jordan Rift Valley between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. This site also had walls tilting to the south and east as well as evidence for a rainstorm just prior to and during the earthquake (Franken and Ibrahim 1977-78: 68).

    None of the excavations, which have been conducted in Jerusalem thus far, have unearthed clear-cut evidence for the earthquake in the mid-8th century BC. However, the literary evidence does suggest some destruction. Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, connected the earthquake with the time King Uzziah was struck with leprosy. He says at the time “… the Temple was raven, a brilliant shaft of sunlight gleaned through it and fell upon the kings face…” He goes on to say, “… while before [to the east of] the city at the place called Eroge [possibly Ein Rogel] half of the western hill [of the mount of Olives] was broken off and rolled four stades [730 meters] till it stopped at the eastern hill [the City of David] and obstructed the roads and royal gardens [in the Kidron Valley]” (Antiquities 9: 224,225; LCL 6: 119). The later reference probably refers to a landslide that resulted from this earthquake. The archaeological evidence from Deir ‘Alla suggests that there was a rain storm prior to the earthquake. This would make the soil more susceptible to landslides. Recent studies by Israeli geologists show the western slopes of the Mount of Olives is landslide prone and there is strong evidence that three ancient landslides existed (Wachs and Levitte 1983; 1984: 118-121). Josephus probably referred to the one just above the southern end of the Silwan Village. This landslide would have filled in part of the Kidron Valley and probably covered Ein Rogel (“the springs of Rogel”) with large amounts of dirt. It might have been Uzziah, or his son Jotham, who sank a deep well, known today by the Arabs as Bir ‘Ayyub (the “well of Job”) to reach the waters of the spring. The prophet Zechariah (14:4,5) refers to this landslide as well (Wachs and Levitte 1984: 119,120, editor note). The noise generated by this landslide, especially as the sound echoed off the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys, must have been great. No wonder the people fled. The noise would have been enough to put the fear of the Lord into anybody!

    Lachish, located about 28 miles southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah, has no visual evidence of this earthquake. However, certain considerations lead the excavator, David Ussishkin, to conclude that this earthquake destroyed Level IV (1977: 14-27).

    Tel ‘Erany, located a few miles to the west of Lachish, had uprooted walls and split paved floors in the Level VI city as evidence of this destruction as well (Yeivin 1979: 168).

    During the 1990 season at Tel Gezer, evidence for this earthquake was unearthed in the area of the “Outer Wall”. Here, large blocks were cracked from top to bottom. In another place, the upper two courses were displaced upwards and outwards, as though they had violently “jumped” off their foundation (Dever 1992: 30; Younker 1991: 28). Randy Younker, the associate director of the excavation, eventually convinced Dr. Dever, the director, that this was evidence for an earthquake based on his first hand experience with earthquakes in California (Dever 1992: 30).

    A final site with archaeological evidence of this earthquake is ‘En Hazeva, identified as Biblical Tamar, in the Aravah. In the gate area there are walls bowed outward with cracked stones on multiple courses. The excavators concluded, “based on the destruction debris and its configuration, we believe that the quake mentioned in Amos and Zechariah was responsible for the destruction of the Stratum 5 fortress gate complex…” (Cohen and Yisrael 1995: 231).

    These are some of the sites that have clear evidence of an earthquake in the mid-8th century BC. While we are dealing with a limited amount of evidence, a clear picture is emerging, i.e. a very violent earthquake in the middle of the 8th century BC with the tremor originating north of the land of Judah and Israel.

    The Geological Evidence

    Much research has been done on earthquakes in antiquities (Amiran 1951: 223-246; 1952:48-65; Amiran, Arieh and Turcotte 1994: 260-305; Amiran 1996: 120-130). Unfortunately there were no seismometers in the 8th century BC to measure earthquakes. If there were, we could determine where the epicenter was as well as the magnitude on the Richter scale. We do, however, have the observations of the destruction at archaeological sites that may help determine the intensity of the earthquake.

    I gave this information to Dr. Steve Austin at the Institute for Creation Research. Using a modified Mercalli scale, he was able to suggest that the epicenter was probably located to the northeast of Hazor in Lebanon (Austin, Franz and Frost 2000:666,667). Austin based his suggestion on the direction of the collapsed and leaning walls and isoseismals. He also proposed that the magnitude of this earthquake was about 8.2 on the Richter scale! (Austin, Franz and Frost 2000: 667.669). This earthquake was the largest in the last 4,000 years on the Dead Sea-Jordan Rift.

    The Biblical Evidence

    Assigning a date would help to put this earthquake into perspective. Unfortunately the chronology of the 8th century is a thorny issue and scholars cannot agree on some dates. For the sake of convenience, this discussion assumes the standard chronology of Edwin Thiele who places it in the year 750 BC. Josephus and the Rabbinic sources state that the earthquake took place the same time King Uzziah was struck with leprosy. Josephus also seems to hint that the earthquake took place on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement (Antiquities 9: 222-227; LCL 6: 117-121). This would also fit the evidence for a rainstorm found at Dier ‘Alla. Yom Kippur is at the beginning of the early rains.

    The prophet Amos brings his message of impending judgment to the high place at Bethel “two years before the earthquake” (1:1). In this sermon he predicts there will be a strong earthquake (Amos 4:11; 6:11; 9:1) and other calamities in the near future if the people do not turn back to the Lord, His Word and His Temple in Jerusalem and away from oppressing the poor and needy. The ultimate judgment would be captivity by the Assyrians. Amos appears to use this earthquake as a “proof” that his words about the captivity would be fulfilled. If the epicenter were in the Mediterranean Sea, one would expect a tsunami phenomenon (tidal waves). Interestingly enough, some of the rabbinic sources seem to refer to such a phenomenon. Amos 5:8 and 9:6 state, “Who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the face of the earth” (Luria 1987: 259-262). Because Amos was able to predict this earthquake two years before it happened, something modern geologists cannot do, Dr. Austin has begun to call this earthquake “Amos’ earthquake”!

    The prophet Isaiah ministered in Jerusalem to the Kingdom of Judah and was a contemporary of Amos, also mentions this earthquake. Isaiah 2-6 gives a vivid picture of the moral conditions of the Kingdom of Judah during the reign of King Uzziah (II Chron. 26). The king began his reign following the Lord, but because of his strength, his heart was lifted up with pride (26:16, cf. Prov. 16:18). The people of Judah saw this arrogant attitude and followed the example of their leader. [Who said character does not matter?!] In the second chapter of his book, Isaiah addresses the deep seeded problem in Jerusalem and Judah, the sin of pride. He demonstrated the proper use of prophecy by describing the “latter days” (2:1) and encouraged the people to walk in light of what it shall be like some day in the future (2:2-5). There is a day coming when Jerusalem will be exalted (2:2), yet the people were exalting themselves (2:11, 17). There would be a day coming when the people would learn the Word of God (2:4), yet the people were neglecting to apply the word of God to their lives (2:6-9). There would be a day when there would be no more military activity because the people would beat their swords into plowshares (2:4), yet the expansionist policies of King Uzziah dictated he build up his military forces (II Chron. 26:6-15). In light of what it shall be like some day in the future, the proper response of the people should have been to live in light of the Word of God today. The Apostle John sets forth this same principle for the Church today (I John 3:1-3). Isaiah predicted that a strong earthquake would be used as an instrument of God’s judgment, if the people did not humble themselves and turn back to the Lord (2:19,21, “…when He arises to shake the earth mightily”).

    When Dr. Austin sent me his conclusions on the geology of this earthquake, he included a map with a proposal that the epicenter was a point north of Hazor with the isoseismal lines emanating from it. My mind immediately went to Isaiah 2:13-16 and wondered if Isaiah knew of the direction of the shock waves. These verses reflect the north-south progression of the shock waves emanating from this earthquake. “Upon all the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up [the territory of Lebanon], and upon all the oaks of Bashan [the Golan Heights], upon all the high mountains [Upper Galilee], and upon all the ships of Tarshish [those ships anchored at Ashdod, now controlled by Uzziah (II Chron. 26:6), and destroyed by the seismic sea-wave (tsunami)]. I cannot be dogmatic on this point, but it is a possibility.

    Isaiah, the (Biblical) political activist, composed a song expressing God’s displeasure with His people after all He had done for them. They had neglected the two pillars of social concern, justice and righteousness. Instead, there was oppression and weeping (5:7). In his explanation of the song he pronounced “woes” against the people of Judah (5:8-25). He singles out the pleasure seekers (party animals), among others, for their excessive drunkenness because “… they do not regard the work of the Lord, not consider the operation of His Hand” (5:12).

    My only experience in an earthquake was on April 23, 1979 while studying at the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. It registered a 5.1 magnitude on the Richter scale (Amiran, Arieh and Turcotte 1994: 284). As I recall, I was sitting in my room listening to the afternoon news broadcast. It was an eerie feeling as the quake hit and I watched the walls swayed as if elastic. When I realized what was going on, I got out of the building as quickly as possible. The “party animals” (5:11,12) probably saw the walls of their houses swaying the morning of Yom Kippur, after a night of feasting and drinking, instead of fasting, as they should, and thought nothing of the swaying. They reasoned, “The walls always appear to sway when I am drunk!” Not recognizing the hand of the Lord, they stayed in their houses as the roofs collapsed and killed them. Sheol, the place of the departed dead, is pictured as enlarging itself (5:14, 15), indicating that a considerable number of people were killed as a result of this earthquake. During the reign of Jotham and Jeroboam II, a census was taken (I Chron. 4:17), probably to determine how many people survived this devastating tragedy.

    Some time after the earthquake, possibly around 735 BC, Isaiah reminded the people in the Northern Kingdom of their pride and arrogance by describing the aftermath of the earthquake. “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with hewn stones; the sycamores were cut down, but we will replace them with cedars” (9:8-11; Hayes and Irvine 1987: 184-186).

    The Psalms of the sons of Korah, in my opinion, were composed in the 8th century BC, probably during the reign of King Hezekiah. The psalmist may be referring back to this earthquake in the beginning of Psalm 46. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with swelling. Selah.” This could be a description of the shock waves as well as landslides around the Sea of Galilee. There appears to be evidence for ancient landslides on the eastern and western shores of the Sea of Galilee.

    The prophet Zechariah, more than 250 years after the earthquake states: “You shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah” (14:5). Recent studies of the Mount of Olives by Israeli geologists may be able to shed light on this passage (Wachs and Levitte 1984: 118-121). They think a landslide might be connected with the “splitting” of the Mount of Olives. In an extensive note by the editors, it was observed, “Regarding this passage there exists two conflicting interpretations. The more common reading of the text following the mention of splitting of the Mount of Olives is ‘And ye shall flee to the valley of my mountains; for the valley of the mountains shall reach unto Azel…’ as in the Masoretic text … The Revised Standard Version (King James) Old Testament gives instead, ‘And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it…’ The source of this discrepancy lies in the confused reading of the Hebrew word for ‘shall be stopped up’…, and for ‘ye shall flee’… The vowels in both words are identical, but when the diacritical points were added to the Hebrew Bible at a later period to facilitate reading, the text was apparently misunderstood and the meaning changed in this case. … The present authors, relying on their geological knowledge as elaborated in this article, have adopted the ‘shall be stopped up’ reading as more plausible in relation to the natural phenomena described” (Wachs and Levitte 1984: 119,120 editor note). This is something to consider.

    The earthquake in the mid-eighth century BC served as a warning of a greater judgment to come, captivity by the Assyrians. It confirmed the messages of the prophets Amos and Isaiah. Yet the people did not respond in a positive manner to the message of God.

    EARTHQUAKES IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION

    The Book of Revelation, written about A.D. 95, mentions at least five earthquakes (6:12-17; 8:5; 11:13, 19; 16:16-21). The final earthquake, mentioned in the seventh bowl of wrath, is described as “a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth. Now the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell. And great Babylon was remembered before God, to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath” (Rev. 16: 18, 19).

    The First century readers of the Book of Revelation would be “shaken” (no pun intended) by the statement “a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth.” Some of the elderly people of the cities of Asia Minor would have remembered the earthquake of AD 17. Pliny described this earthquake in his Natural History. “The greatest earthquake in human memory occurred when Tiberius Caesar was emperor, twelve Asiatic cities being overthrown in one night” (2:86:200; LCL 1: 331). Tacitus, in his Annals, described this earthquake as well. “In the same year, twelve important cities of Asia collapsed in an earthquake, the time being night, so that the havoc was the less foreseen and the more devastating. Even the usual resource in these catastrophes, a rush to open ground, was unavailing, as the fugitives were swallowed up in yawning chasms. Accounts are given of huge mountains sinking, of former plains seen heaved aloft, of fires flashing out amid the ruin. As the disaster fell heaviest on the Sardians, it brought them the largest measure of sympathy, the Caesar promising ten million sesterces, and remitting for five years their payments to the national and imperial exchequers” (2:47; LCL 3: 459). The elderly people of Asia Minor would have remembered the devastation of the AD 17 earthquake and thought to themselves, “If that was the worst recorded earthquake in human history and Revelation 16 predicts one even worst, I would not want to be around when that one hits!”

    IS THERE AN INCREASE IN EARTHQUAKES?

    After each major earthquake around the world, the pop-prophecy literature seems to contain articles regarding earthquakes and Bible prophecy. Invariably these articles point to the increase in earthquakes as proof that Jesus is coming soon. One writer states, “In the first century, Jesus Christ predicted an increase in earthquakes as a sign of His Second Coming” (Church 1994: 12). He then proof-text his point by quoting Matthew 24:7: “For nations will rise against nations, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.” Note the passage only says there will be “earthquakes in various places”. It does not day there will be an increase. It is amazing how some prophecy teachers read into the passage something that is not there.

    Two of the most popular prophecy teachers make similar statements. One says, “Earthquakes continue to increase in frequency and intensity, just as the Bible predicts for the last days before the return of Christ. History shows that the number of killer quakes remained fairly constant until the 1950s – averaging between two to four per decade. In the 1950s, there were nine. In the 1960s, there were 13. In the 1970s, there were 51. In the 1980s, there were 86. From 1990 through 1996, there have been more than 150” (Lindsey 1997: 296). His source is the United States Geological Survey (USGS), yet he gives no documentation for these statements. Another prophecy teacher, also citing the USGS says, “However, since A.D. 1900, the growth in major earthquakes has been relentless. From 1900 to 1949 it averaged three major quakes per decade. From 1949 the increase became awesome with 9 killer quakes in the 1950s; 13 in the 1960s; 56 in the 1970s and an amazing 74 major quakes in the 1980s. Finally, in the 1990s, at the present rate, we will experience 125 major killer quakes in this decade” (Jeffrey 1996: 194).

    The geologist, who developed the Richter scale, apparently had some contact with prophecy teachers. In 1969 he wrote, “One notices with some amusement that certain religious groups have picked this rather unfortunate time to insist that the number of earthquakes is increasing. In part they are mislead by the increasing number of small earthquakes that are being cataloged and listed by newer, more sensitive stations throughout the world. It is worth remarking that the number of great earthquakes from 1896 to 1906 (about twenty-five) was greater than in any ten-year interval since” (Richter 1969: 44).

    Two prophecy researchers wrote to a number of reputable seismologists around the world and asked three questions of them. “(1) Do you feel that there has been a tremendous increase in major earthquakes during this century compared with earlier centuries? (2) Do you feel that the earthquake activity in this century is in any way unique? (3) Do you know of any other seismologist who holds that our time has seen an unusually large number of earthquakes?” In an appendix a selected number of letters were reprinted. All the responses were unanimous that there has NOT been a dramatic increase in earthquakes, as prophecy teachers would like to have us think (Jonsson and Herbst 1987: 46-87, 237-248).

    More recently, a notice appeared on the US Geological Survey website entitled “Are Earthquakes Really on the Increase?” They state, “Although it may seem that we are having more earthquakes, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater have remained fairly constant throughout this century and, according to our records, have actually seemed to decrease in recent years.” They go on to explain why. “In the last twenty years, we have definitely had an increase in the number of earthquakes we have been able to locate each year. This is because of the tremendous increase in the number of seismograph stations in the world and the many improvements in global communications. In 1931, there were about 350 stations operating in the world; today, there are more than 4,000 stations and the data now comes in rapidly from these stations by telex, computer and satellite. This increase in the number of stations and the more timely receipt of data has allowed us and other seismological centers to locate many more small earthquakes which were undetected in earlier years, and we are able to locate earthquakes more rapidly.” [http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/

    general/handouts/increase_in_earthquakes.html]

    Dr. Steve Austin has demonstrated that the lists of the number of earthquakes given by the popular prophecy teachers are incomplete and poorly documented. If their analysis is correct, two assumptions should be true. “(1) a comparative infrequency of big earthquakes occurred in the first half of the century, and (2) an obvious increase in the frequency of big earthquakes occurred since 1950″ (Austin and Strauss 1999: 34). Dr. Austin demonstrates in his article that both assumptions are false and concludes the exact opposite. “(1) a comparative excess of big earthquakes occurred in the first half of the century, and (2) an obvious decrease in the frequency of big earthquakes occurred since 1950″ (Austin and Strauss 1999: 34). It behooves the prophecy teacher to be meticulous and complete in ones research and properly and completely document ones findings.

    What do prophecy teachers do when confronted with the evidence that earthquakes are not on the increase? One prophecy teacher dismisses the evidence as unreliable because the geologists were “schooled with the uniformitarian secular viewpoint” (Church 1997:337)! This teacher is asking his readers to ignore the geological evidence and to blindly accept his interpretation of the text. It should be pointed out that Dr. Austin is a “young earth creationist”!

    Are earthquakes on the increase? It might be hard to convince my friends in Southern California and some prophecy teachers, but the answer is “No!” Yet the prophetic Scripture does not state there will be an increase, it just states there will be earthquakes in “different places”. Let us not read into the verse more than is there.

    APPLICATION

    It would have been interesting to take a survey of all the churches in Los Angeles on the Sunday after the earthquake (January 23, 1994) and see how many preachers spoke on the “increase in earthquakes” as a sign of Jesus’ soon return. One would hope that many preachers spoke in the vein of Isaiah and Amos, warning the people in the area to return to the Lord and His Word.

    John Chrysostom, a priest in Antioch (in present day Turkey), took advantage of a similar situation after an earthquake devastated that city in AD 388 or 389. In his sixth sermon on Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16), given a few days after the earthquake, he warned the people of Antioch of a greater judgment to come (Roth 1984: 15, 16, 97-124).

    My friend Jessica sent me an insightful handout prepared by her pastor, Jack Hayford of “The Church on the Way” in Van Nuys after the earthquake (Hayford 1994). He pointed out the every believer has three assignments in this life. They are: “(1) to show forth good works (Matt. 5:16); (2) to shine forth a clear witness (I Pet. 3:15); and (3) to sustain a life of effective, spiritually impacting prayer (Rom. 8:26-28)”. Churches acted as relief distribution centers for supplies that came into the area from various Christian organizations (Kellner 1994: 56, 57). What an opportunity for believers in the Lord Jesus to show forth “good works” (Tit. 3:8; Gal. 6:10). This testimony afforded the opportunity to share the Scriptures to those who were asking “Where is God in the middle of all this?” The rest of Hayford’s handout provides the answer to this question from the Bible. All natural disasters are the result of the Fall (sin), but there is hope for those who would put there trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. The third issue he focused on was prayer. As Pastor Hayford commented, “We need to pray. We need to pray in confidence that it IS true – things would have been worse without what prayer there has been offered, AND, things will be worse if we don’t continue to intercede”. These comments on prayer are in the vein of Amos (7:1-6). He prayed, God heard, and judgment was stayed.

    Are earthquakes on the increase? No. Are they a warning of greater judgment to come? Yes. Just as Amos and Isaiah warned the Northern and Southern Kingdoms respectively, of a violent earthquake to come and their words were confirmed by that earthquake a few years later. History has bore out the fact that the Northern Kingdom did not heed the words of Amos after the earthquake and they continued in their sinful ways. Since they did not take this warning to heart, Amos’ other prediction, captivity by the Assyrians, was fulfilled more than 25 years later. Today, earthquakes should be understood as signposts pointing to a greater judgment, separation from God for all eternity in Hell if an individual does not come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

    The 1994 Northridge earthquake hit the pornography industry very hard. This industry, centered in and around Northridge, had every major studio and distribution center hit during the quake. One pornography film director said, “Can you imagine how the fundamentalist are going to leap on this when the smoke clears? They will say it’s God’s retribution” (Ferraiulo 1994: 57). Retribution? Probably not. God still loves them, yet hates their sin. In love, He has given them a warning and longs for them to trust Him as their Savior so they will not be separated from Him for all eternity. Pastor Hayford observed, “It seems as though the earthquake forced these people to get honest. It has stirred many to the deepest points of introspection, and if just one of them is turned away from the filth they’re involved in, it is a major victory” (Ferraiulo 1994: 57). More realistic is the comment by a Los Angeles Police Department detective, “I don’t think there’s anything that will drive these people out of the area, it’s a billion dollar business” (Anonymous 1994: A11). The industry, and Los Angeles, will probably continue along their merry, sinful ways just like the Northern Kingdom did in the years after the earthquake, yet later suffered destruction and captivity. Will they, or anyone else, continue to turn their hearts from the warning God has given? Or will they examine their own lives, admit they are sinners and can not save themselves and put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as the One who paid the penalty for their sin?

    The believer in the Lord Jesus should see earthquakes as the “whole creation groans and labor with birth pangs … even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:22,23). The believer can look forward to a perfect creation wherein righteousness and the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ dwells.

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    1983 Earthquake Risk and Slope Stability in Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Geological Survey of Israel.

    1984 Earthquakes in Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives Landslide. Israel – Land and Nature 9/3: 118-121.

    This paper was read at the plenary session of the ETS Eastern Regional Meeting, “Biblical Prophecy for a New Millennium”, held at Evangelical School of Theology, Myerstown, PA, on March 26, 1999.

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