Amos’ Destruction Layer

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In Numbers 20 & 21, the Israelites traversed a distance stretching from the Sinai Desert to the northern reaches opposite the land of Canaan. From Kadesh in the Desert of Zin, they traveled to Mount Hor, encountered Arad, then moved on to Oboth, Iye Abarim, Zered Valley, the Arnon River, Beer, Mattanah, Nahaliel, Bamoth, Jahaz, to the Jabbok and on to the border with Ammon.  

In the book of Amos in the Twelve Minor Prophets, the prophet Amos references an earthquake. “The words of Amos, one of the shepherds of Tekoa, the vision he saw concerning Israel two years before the earthquake, when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash a was king of Israel.” It is an event recalled later in the prophetic book Zechariah, when he warns “You will flee as you fled from the earthquake a in the days of Uzziah king of Judah.”

Evidence of Amos’ earthquake stretches across the length of the biblical lands of Israel and Judah.

In archaeology, a destruction layer at a site will typically feature evidence of widespread destruction, with collapsed walls, destroyed pottery and unburied corpses. A destruction layer caused by war might feature arrowheads, ash and other evidence of fire, and skeletons with signs of violence such as pierced skulls. A destruction layer caused by earthquake would show destruction that is beyond the human hand.

Destruction layers from the mid-8th century BCE are evident at numerous sites. And these point to devastation from Amos’ earthquake.

At Gath, today’s Tell es-Safi but at one time a significant Philistine city, archaeologists discovered an 8th century BCE wall displaced from its foundation, a testament to the quake’s power. Similar destruction was observed at Gezer, where massive stones were found cracked and shifted, indicative of the seismic force that shook the city’s fortifications. Jerusalem’s City of David bore witness to this event, where a destruction layer revealed collapsed walls and broken pottery, but crucially, no evidence of fire, suggesting the ruins resulted from seismic activity rather than human conflict.

Lachish’s destruction layer, marked by a large quantity of broken pottery, suggested a rapid event, aligning with the absence of fire and the continuation of life immediately post-destruction, hinting at a natural disaster rather than a military siege. In Tel ‘Erany, near Lachish, an archaeological layer showed walls torn apart, with parts of a stone-paved floor sinking, indicating ground movement consistent with an earthquake.

The excavation at Tel Rehov, in the Bet She’an Valley, suggested earthquake damage through a thick mudbrick collapse and a split in the northern wall. At Tel Agol, in the Jezreel Valley, significant portions of fortress walls were brought down, underlining the quake’s power. Megiddo’s findings included tilted walls, fractured stones, and mudbrick collapses, with stratigraphic correlation across the site suggesting widespread seismic damage. Hazor presented perhaps the most compelling evidence, with walls found bent, cracked, and leaning in directions that indicated a powerful seismic force, mirroring the biblical account’s description.

The geographic range and severe damage at these sites point to a major earthquake that could be used to anchor a point in time, the memory of which lasted for centuries.

The image above is of the ancient city of Hazor, a city that suffered significant damage in the 8th century BCE.