Amos’ Earthquake

In Numbers 16, Korah and his co-conspirators are defeated by the ground beneath them. “The ground under them split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all those associated with Korah, together with their possessions. They went down alive into the realm of the dead, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone from the community.”

In Amos a ground shaking event sets the tone for his prophetic warnings. “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 was king of Israel.” The event is not just an anchoring in time. Rather, it becomes a regular motif in his prophetic warnings. In chapter 6, “For the Lord has given the command, and he will smash the great house into pieces and the small house into bits.” In Amos 8, “Will not the land tremble for this, and all who live in it mourn? The whole land will rise like the Nile; it will be stirred up and then sink like the river of Egypt.” And in Amos 9, “I saw the Lord standing by the altar, and he said: Strike the tops of the pillars so that the thresholds shake. Bring them down on the heads of all the people.”

The Bible itself can in this instance be used to prove this earthquake was likely a real event, and not just used to heighten the immediacy of his message. At the outset, Amos references a King Uzziah, saying that the earthquake occurred “when Uzziah was king of Judah and Jeroboam son of Jehoash a was king of Israel.”

This same King Uzziah is known by the differently authored 2 Chronicles 26, where it writes “Then all the people of Judah took Uzziah, a who was sixteen years old, and made him king in place of his father Amaziah.”

King Uzziah is also a figure attested in archaeology, from different ancient seals. One seal belonged to a “Shebnayau servant of Uzziyau.” Another seal, this one containing an Egyptian style motif, belonged to Abiyau servant of Uzziyau. These seals are dated to the 8th century BCE, which accords with scholarly estimates of the reign of King Uzziah.

The earthquake itself is referenced in another biblical book that was written roughly two and half centuries later.

Zechariah is the author of a book within Twelve Minor Prophets. He was a post-exilic era prophet in the Persian era. Just as Amos makes reference to his time at the opening of his book, Zechariah does the same. “In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo.” Zechariah in chapter 14 refers back to an earthquake centuries earlier: “You will flee by my mountain valley, for it will extend to Azel. You will flee as you fled from the earthquake a in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with him.”

This mention of a centuries earlier earthquake is a testament to its memory as an actual event and to its great power.