The “Amos Earthquake” has long been used as a chronological lynchpin for Biblical scholars who, almost without exception, utilize the work of Ari Ben-Menahem who dates the “Amos Earthquake” to 11 October 759. He bases this on his reading of 2 Chron 26 and Josephus. The fact is, there is nothing to support such a precise date and there is no scientific justification for linking an earthquake with leprosy inflicted on the king. A close reading of the biblical texts suggests strongly that Josephus was “just making stuff up.” Ben-Menahem’s reliance on Josephus reveals an uncritical use of his sources. It should also be noted that Ben-Menahem linked the quake with an eclipse in 763 that was known from an Assyrian list. (Alan Millard, The Eponyms of the Assyrian Empire 910-612 BC (SAAS2; Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, 1994), 41, 59.) Ben-Menahem (“Earthquake Catalog”, p. 262) finds the eclipse in Amos 8:8-9, “Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.” Also, Zechariah 14:4-7 and Jeremiah 4:23-24.
The traditional view of earthquakes in Palestine is that they were very frequent, but recent studies suggest otherwise. Following an earthquake around 1050 BC, no (or little) evidence for a severe quake has been uncovered until the mid-eighth century. The most recent studies now suggest that two earthquakes occurred during that period according to Ryan Roberts as described in his Ph.D. thesis “Terra Terror”.
What is of more interest in Roberts’ thesis is the idea that this earthquake, affecting primarily the northern kingdom of Israel, while sparing the southern kingdom of Judah, was the impetus for the rise of religious reform, i.e. the emergence of a new kind of prophet and changes in religious practice formulated in an effort to appease the god (in this case, YHWH). (Amos was the first prophet to act outside of the model of Elijah/Elisha who were mainly wonder workers and who transmitted their prophetic expertise from master to pupil.)
It has long been the consensus that the book of Amos is the oldest book of the Hebrew Bible. Roberts attempts to demonstrate that there are elements of the book of Amos that reveal eye-witness accounts of a great earthquake suggesting that the “prophecy” was certainly written after the event (though Roberts does not emphasize that point). Roberts also mentions that it might be possible to de-couple Amos from the mid-eighth century earthquake and place his book at a later time, such as following the second earthquake, a century later. However, as will be shown below, the Amos passages, while containing earthquake imagery, also include strong images of military devastation, exile, and even floods! It can also be noted that there is an abundance of earthquake imagery in Isaiah and Micah which would suggest that others followed the Amos model of prophecy in general, but these are only allusions and neither of them ever mention Amos’ earthquake specifically as the book of Zechariah does three centuries later. That raises the question, as Roberts points out, why, if the earthquake was so severe, did it go unmentioned for 300 years between the time that Amos was allegedly active, and the time of Zechariah?
Amo 1:1 The words of Amos, who was among the shepherds of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son of Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
Amo 1:4 So I will send a fire on the house of Hazael, and it shall devour the strongholds of Ben-hadad.
Amo 1:5 I will break the gate bars of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitants from the Valley of Aven, and the one who holds the scepter from Beth-eden; and the people of Aram shall go into exile to Kir, says the LORD.
Amo 1:7 So I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, fire that shall devour its strongholds.
Amo 1:8 I will cut off the inhabitants from Ashdod, and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn my hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, says the Lord GOD.
Amo 1:10 So I will send a fire on the wall of Tyre, fire that shall devour its strongholds.
Amo 1:12 So I will send a fire on Teman, and it shall devour the strongholds of Bozrah.
Amo 1:14 So I will kindle a fire against the wall of Rabbah, fire that shall devour its strongholds, with shouting on the day of battle, with a storm on the day of the whirlwind;
Amo 1:15 then their king shall go into exile, he and his officials together, says the LORD.
Amo 2:2 So I will send a fire on Moab, and it shall devour the strongholds of Kerioth, and Moab shall die amid uproar, amid shouting and the sound of the trumpet;
Amo 2:3 I will cut off the ruler from its midst, and will kill all its officials with him, says the LORD.
Amo 2:5 So I will send a fire on Judah, and it shall devour the strongholds of Jerusalem.
Amo 3:14 On the day I punish Israel for its transgressions, I will punish the altars of Bethel, and the horns of the altar shall be cut off and fall to the ground.
Amo 3:15 I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end, says the LORD.
Amo 4:2 The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.
Amo 4:6 I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.
Amo 4:7 And I also withheld the rain from you when there were still three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would be rained upon, and the field on which it did not rain withered;
Amo 4:8 so two or three towns wandered to one town to drink water, and were not satisfied; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.
Amo 4:9 I struck you with blight and mildew; I laid waste your gardens and your vineyards; the locust devoured your fig trees and your olive trees; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.
Amo 4:10 I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword; I carried away your horses; and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.
Amo 4:11 I overthrew some of you, as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and you were like a brand snatched from the fire; yet you did not return to me, says the LORD.
Amo 4:12 Therefore thus I will do to you, O Israel; because I will do this to you, prepare to meet your God, O Israel!
Amo 5:4 For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel: Seek me and live;
Amo 5:5 but do not seek Bethel, and do not enter into Gilgal or cross over to Beer-sheba; for Gilgal shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing.
Amo 5:6 Seek the LORD and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it.
Amo 5:7 Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground!
Amo 5:8 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name,
Amo 5:9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.
Amo 5:16 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of hosts, the Lord: In all the squares there shall be wailing; and in all the streets they shall say, “Alas! alas!” They shall call the farmers to mourning, and those skilled in lamentation, to wailing;
Amo 5:17 in all the vineyards there shall be wailing, for I will pass through the midst of you, says the LORD.
Amo 5:18 Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD! Why do you want the day of the LORD? It is darkness, not light;
Amo 5:19 as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.
Amo 5:20 Is not the day of the LORD darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?
Amo 5:24 But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amo 5:26 You shall take up Sakkuth your king, and Kaiwan your star-god, your images, which you made for yourselves;
Amo 5:27 therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus, says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.
Amo 7:10 Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.
Amo 7:11 For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’”
Amo 7:12 And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there;
Amo 7:13 but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
Amo 8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
Amo 8:5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances,
Amo 8:6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
Amo 8:7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
Amo 8:8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
Amo 8:9 On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.
Amo 8:10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
Amo 9:1 I saw the LORD standing beside the altar, and he said: Strike the capitals until the thresholds shake, and shatter them on the heads of all the people; and those who are left I will kill with the sword; not one of them shall flee away, not one of them shall escape.
Amo 9:2 Though they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.
Amo 9:3 Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, from there I will search out and take them; and though they hide from my sight at the bottom of the sea, there I will command the sea-serpent, and it shall bite them.
Amo 9:4 And though they go into captivity in front of their enemies, there I will command the sword, and it shall kill them; and I will fix my eyes on them for harm and not for good.
Amo 9:5 The Lord, GOD of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt;
Amo 9:6 who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth–the LORD is his name.
The majority of references in the above text seem to be death by fire, sword and flood though certainly, elements that would describe an earthquake are present.
The book of Hosea is similarly dated to the late 8th century by scholars, and it does mention King Uzziah who Josephus implicates in the earthquake scenario, but no mention of the earthquake or anything similar to what Josephus wrote.
Parts of Isaiah are dated to the 8th century BC, parts to the 6th, and parts to the 5th, BC. Notice that he, too, only mentions Uzziah and makes no reference to the earthquake.
The book of Zechariah is dated to the 5th century BC or later and finally, there is a reference to the alleged “Amos Earthquake”.
One wonders, of course, if history is being retroactively created by the author(s) of Zechariah.
Finally, the books of Chronicles, which are dated to the 4th century BC or later tell us a story about Uzziah. It’s amazing how the tale has expanded over time though notice the very important fact that Chronicles makes no mention of the earthquake!
Therefore, there is a mystery here and we retain the designation “The Amos Earthquake” even if it is not scientifically correlated with Amos or any other possibly fictitious character in the Hebrew Bible.