The problem with the Bible, as a historical text, is a lack of supporting historic evidence. Many of the stories told in the Bible seem simply to not have happened in the real world.
For some parts of the Bible, this is obvious. Few believers will try to convince you that the story of Adam and Eve, or the Garden of Eden are literally true. Other parts of the Bible, typically from the New Testament, can be couched in a recognizable and historical context: the Roman occupation of first century Judea.
However between the two lies a massive grey area, and it is not clear where legend gives way to fact. Pinning down the historicity of this part of the Bible, with David and Solomon and the Hebrew temple, has proven extremely tricky.
Any clues which prove the historicity of these middle books of the Bible are therefore very valuable. Usually these take the form of testimony from competing and concurrent civilizations, such as Egypt or Assyria. Rarely does such evidence come from Judea or Israel itself: Jericho, for example, does not appear to have had its walls destroyed as depicted in the Bible, at least not in the right time period.
However recently, evidence of one such Biblica event may have been found in the archaeology. New research in Jerusalem suggests that the Biblical story of King Uzziah and the earthquake may indeed have been true.
The story of the King Uzziah earthquake reflects on the consequences of undermining the divine presence of God. Earthquakes are relatively common in the Middle East. However, the story of King Uzziah is depicted as an exception, where divine intervention led to an earthquake.
In the book of Amos, the titular prophet refers to a huge earthquake which struck Jerusalem. He notes that his first prophecy occurred two years before the earthquake, and the implication is that this is a familiar event and a useful reference marker for his audience.
Now, archaeologists have discovered evidence of a massive earthquake in Jerusalem almost 2,800 years ago. It would seem that the earthquake Amos referred to was a real event.
King Uzziah was one of the more famous kings of the ancient kingdom of Judah. He ascended the throne of Judah at the age of 16 and ruled for 52 years. In the first 24 years of his reign, he was the coregent to his father and reigned as the sole ruler of Judah following his father’s death.
The story of King Uzziah earthquake has always been a historically ambiguous part of the biblical narrative. On top of it, verifying the truth of historical accounts written millennia ago is a challenging task. For example, it is difficult to point out the precise cause of destruction of ancient kingdoms and significant sites.
The story of the earthquake and King Uzziah is in fact referred to in books of Amos, Ezekiel and Zechariah, all of which give evidence of an earthquake in the 8th century BC. This earthquake was included in the Biblical narrative because it was considered to have been sent from God.
King Uzziah was a successful ruler, and his capabilities ignited feelings of ultimate supremacy over his subjects and the world. Uzziah had conquered the Arabians and Philistines, in addition to fortifying his country with an organized and well-equipped army.
Drunk in the ecstasy of power and pride, King Uzziah entered Solomon’s Temple to burn incense at the altar of God himself. As blasphemy goes, this was a biggie.
In his bid to offer obeisance to God himself, King Uzziah attempted to deny the divinely ordained role of the priests offering incense at the altar. Defying the appeals of the priests against his action, King Uzziah threatened to kill them.
Suddenly, a massive earthquake created tremors in the ground, and bright rays of the sun pierced through a crack that appeared in the roof of the temple. Apparently, the rays of sun inflicted leprosy on the king immediately, and he had to live the rest of his life in isolation.
The intriguing premise of the story of King Uzziah earthquake shows how even the most powerful of kings have to bow down to a divine being. One of the earliest pieces of evidence of the biblical earthquake is the book of Amos, which was supposed to have been written two years before the earthquake.
In his book, Amos predicts a massive earthquake that will blast from Jerusalem and split Mount Carmel in half. Other biblical accounts of the earthquake exist, including the book of Zechariah, which predicts another massive earthquake on a similar scale in the future.
Archaeological evidence of the earthquake has been discovered across different sites across the region, such as Tel Agol, Hazor, Tell es-Safi and Gezer. The recent discovery of evidence of the King Uzziah earthquake in Jerusalem proves that the earthquake may have had a massive impact on the Judean capital itself.
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence that the 8th-century earthquake inflicted serious damage in Jerusalem. Evidence of this damage survives near the Temple Mount and in a wall from the First Temple era.
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The first floor in the southern corner of the ancient building showed evidence of destruction, albeit without any signs of fire. Without any evidence of fire damage, it was clear that the destruction of the place was not due to any invasion.
The stones in the upper part of the northern walls had collapsed and shattered a row of vessels underneath. Whatever had done this clearly had the power to move mountains.
According to the excavation directors of the Israel Antiquities Authority, the layer of destruction dates back to 8th century BC in Jerusalem. The similarities in the time of the earthquake determined through archaeological evidence and biblical accounts helped in verifying that the earthquake had occurred during the reign of King Uzziah.
Great, but So What?
The recently discovered evidence of the King Uzziah earthquake in Jerusalem draws attention to possible credibility of biblical events. Could we relate such findings with other biblical events?
Archaeological discoveries can help pinpoint actual causes and timelines of biblical events. Imagine discovering that the prophecies by a shepherd turn out to be true thousands of years later.
As new archaeological evidence about biblical evidence comes to the front, researchers can establish credibility of claims made in the Bible. For example, researchers have investigated the ancient city of Megiddo, situated around 80 miles (129 km) to the north of Jerusalem.
The research also revealed evidence of the same earthquake during the period of King Uzziah. In addition, archaeologists have also identified sites featuring destruction layers dating back to the mid-8th century BC. On top of it, researchers have also utilized carbon-14 dating for organic matter to discover evidence of an earthquake in the Dead Sea region.
The story of King Uzziah and the recent discovery of archaeological evidence of an earthquake during his reign create a new perspective on biblical events. Considering the exaggeration in certain biblical accounts, it is difficult to assume that everything written in religious texts has happened literally in real life.
On the contrary, evidence for a massive earthquake highlighted in ancient texts invites curiosity about truth of biblical events. Was King Uzziah punished for undermining the presence of God? Was the earthquake a random natural phenomenon that happened at an ill-fated time for King Uzziah?
Either way, it looks like it did happen, and one more piece of the biblical narrative can be couched in reality.
Top Image: Attempting to burn incense at Solomon’s Tempe himself, King Uzziah is driven out by an earthquake and given leprosy to boot. Source: Frank Zimmerman / Public Domain.
By Bipin Dimri