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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Terra Terror: An Interdisciplinary Study of Earthquakes in Ancient Near Eastern Texts and the Hebrew Bible

  • Author(s): Roberts, Ryan Nathaniel
  • Advisor(s): Schniedewind, William M
  • et al.

The relationship between tectonic environment and human activity has a long history that intimately involves the Ancient Near East and Levant. Texts from the third millennium onward attest to earthquake imagery while records of actual earthquakes cluster in two periods in the Middle and Neo-Assyrian periods. The research first examines the relationship between the tectonic environment and earthquake imagery that is found amidst Storm-god imagery. Next, close attention is paid to the textual and archaeoseismic evaluation of earthquakes recorded in Middle and Neo-Assyrian texts and the extent to which historical information from these texts can inform a reconstruction of the earthquake's effects. Within the Levant, a detailed archaeoseismic evaluation of Iron IIB sites with purported mid-eighth century seismic damage suggests better methodological controls are needed to identify seismic damage in the archaeological record. A number of interdisciplinary approaches, including post-disaster housing, earthquake eyewitness accounts, and gender and vulnerability studies are applied to Amos in order to provide a fresh perspective on identifying earthquake imagery within the book. These approaches help reconstruct the socioeconomic, political, and religious effects of the earthquake mentioned in Amos and illustrate how his oracles and prophetic validity would have been authenticated through the earthquake. These approaches also shed new light on "social justice" texts within Amos and how the aftermath of an earthquake would have underscored, anew, the gap between the rich and poor.

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