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Entries in Syrian-African Rift Valley (1)


I Didn’t Know There Were Earthquakes in the Middle East. Did You?

I never stopped thinking like a gardener when I visited the Middle East, this past summer. Probably, that is what set me up for a shock as we were driving south from the Galilee to the central part of the Holy Land. About a few miles outside of East Jerusalem, the terrain suddenly changed. In place of the green farmlands, trees and plants, all I could see was cold dark rock. For a moment, I thought, that I was participating in a science fiction movie and that I was driving on a lunar surface! The terrain had turned a dark slate-grey color and appeared to be solid stone - not a blade of grass, not a single tree or shrub, not even a grain of sand or a drought tolerant plant, and not a sign of any wildlife. For as far as the eye could see, and broken up only by the distant sites of Palestinian villas towering on the horizon, there were rolling hills of stone, some in gentle undulation but most, aggressively protruding out of the ground, at right angle and 45 degree angles to the plane of the earth; and all in ugly pock-marked malformations. No life can exist on this bedrock: nothing can grow here, no animal can graze and humans cannot survive here for very long.

I asked our guide to explain the presence of this disturbing terrain. He replied that it was bedrock and that normally it is found deep underground. However, continuous earthquake activity over the centuries had pushed it up and out to expose it.

Credit: to our guide, the Holy Land sits on a geological fault line that runs from Madagascar, Africa in the south to Turkey in the north. Historical archival evidence confirms that earth quakes occur, in the area of this fault line, about every 400 years. This recurring phenomenon explains why there is mention in the Bible of certain significant towns in one chapter, and no mention of them later on. If an earthquake destroys houses, the inhabitants are killed and the town ceases to exist. However, if the earthquake activity leaves the houses untouched, at the least, it will choke off the town’s source of water, either from underground wells or from nearby sources. Without water there can be no life, the unharmed inhabitants of the town are forced to move to a new location, and the city is abandoned. A similar fault line is also known to exist off the coast of Lebanon, beginning just north of the Israeli-Lebanon border.

Credit: the next portion of out tour, our guide would point out ancient buildings that were built upon the earth quaked ruins of older structures. He would show us the different colorations of the foundations of homes and buildings, indicating that a darker formation represented the foundation from an earlier period, later used to support a newer structure. Of course, by newer, he meant from the Empires of the Greeks, the Romans or the Ottomans.




The vast Syrian-African Rift Valley - the physical boundary between the two continents of Africa and Asia. Credit: study was never this fascinating. But then of course geology and earthquakes were only marginal to the larger narrative. In school, we never did make it to study the book of Zacharia, where, in Chapter 14, an earthquake is described, as splitting apart the Mount of Olives.

Photo credit:AFTAUAccording to Tel Aviv University geologist Dr. Shmulik Marco, the Middle East is long overdue for a major earthquake that will have devastating effects. The last strong destructive quake occurred there in 1033 C. E. 


The Old City of Jerusalem after an earthquake, picture taken on July 12, 1927. Photo credit: American Colony Hotel, American Colony Collection, originally posted to 2007 The only known quake in modern time occurred in 1927 with an epicenter in the northern part of the Dead Sea and reading 6.2 on the Richter scale. Dr. Marco expects the next occurrence to measure over 7.0. That is why the government of Israel has already instituted codes, impacting the way new buildings are constructed, to help prevent catastrophic damage.

There is an old rhyming European adage that translates into “Man plans while God laughs”. Many in the Middle East hope for peace and secure statehoods while scientists warn of an impending physical disaster that will cut through all religious aspirations and political dreams. Earthquakes are equal - opportunity catastrophes. They don’t discriminate about whom they harm. Everyone will be vulnerable.