The Hebrew word "ra'ash," as well as its Assyrian and Arabic equivalents designating an earthquake, is indicative of a great noise or tremendous roaring. In Ps. lxxii. 16 the same word is used to describe the gentle rustling of wheat. It is also employed in poetry to express the harmonious choral song of angels. It would thus seem that during an earthquake the Hebrew was most impressed by the rumbling connected with it, which he regarded as a theophany (Ps. xviii. 8 [A. V. 7]; Hab. iii. 6; Nahum i. 5; Isa. v. 25). Thetrembling and smoking of the mountains, as during the revelation on Sinai (Ex. xix. 18, xx. 18), the moving of the door-posts, as during Isaiah's initiation (Isa. vi. 4), accompanying great theophanies, must in the view of the authors be regarded as earthquakes (comp. I Kings xix. 11, 12).
Palestine was subject to frequent earthquakes, the volcanic nature of the region around the Dead Sea and the Sea of Gennesaret being a contributory cause. The earthquake mentioned under Ahab (I Kings xix. 11) is legendary, but that under Uzziah (809-759
Josephus describes an earthquake that occurred in Judea during the battle of Actium. The earth trembled, and many animals and more than 30,000 persons perished ("Ant." xv. 5, § 2). The earthquake at the death of Jesus is mentioned in Matthew (xxvii. 52), but not in the other Gospels (see Crucifixion). A few years before Bar Kokba's insurrection, the cities of Cæsarea and Emmaus were destroyed by an earthquake (Eusebius, "Chronicon," eleventh year of Hadrian). In 499 severe earthquakes devastated Asia Minor, continuing until 502, when the synagogue of the Jews at Beirut fell (Assemani, "Bibl. Orient." i. 272; "Jerusalem," vi. 17). Antioch was visited by numerous earthquakes in the sixth century (Procopius, "De Bello Persico," ii. 14; Evagrius, "Hist. Eccl." v. 17, vi. 8). Bar Hebræus, 'Abd al-Laṭif, and the "Gesta Dei per Francos" mention many earthquakes in Palestine during the Middle Ages. On Jan. 1, 1837, the whole province of Galilee was shaken; the cities of Safed and Tiberias especially suffered, 4,000 Jews perishing. The seismic disturbance was also felt at Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and even at Jerusalem. The last-named city has otherwise been free from earthquakes (Robinson, "Biblical Researches in Palestine," etc., iii. 500-585; "Jerusalem," v. 295).
The Rabbis, following Joel and Amos, use the expression in the sense of "earthquake" (Yer. Ber. 13c; Ex. R. xxix. 9). Earthquakes, according to them, are a divine punishment for the performances in the circus and theater of the heathens, or for their immorality. Others held that earthquakes were meant to remind men of their sins. An earthquake, like thunder and lightning, called forth the benediction, "Praised be Thou, Eternal One, with whose power and might the world is filled" (Ber. ix. 1). A chapter on "Thunder and Earthquake," in the form of a calendar, is contained in the appendix to "Milḥemet Ḥobah," Constantinople, 1710.
- Forbiger, Handbuch der Alten Geographie, i. 636;
- M. Rahmer, Das Erdbeben in den Tagen Usia's, in Monatsschrift, 1870, xix. 241.