Saturday, February 14, 2015

Biblical Accounts of Volcanic Eruptions with Tsunamis-Part II

“a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea” Revelations 8:8

In part I of this blog I reviewed the geologic and geographical setting of the Mediterranean and looked at a detailed account of a volcano in 2 Samuel 22. In the second part I look at some passages that just hint at a volcano with a tsunami.

2.-- Nahum 1:3-8 This account provides much less detail but it still includes language that sounds like a tsunami. Pinker (2004) provides theological perspective of this passage.

3 The LORD is slow to get angry. He is very powerful. The LORD will not let guilty people go without punishing them. When he marches out, he stirs up winds and storms. Clouds are the dust kicked up by his feet. 4 He controls the seas. He dries them up. He makes all of the rivers run dry. Bashan and Mount Carmel dry up. The flowers in Lebanon fade. 5 He causes the mountains to shake. The hills melt away. The earth trembles because he is there. So do the world and all those who live in it. 6 Who can stand firm when his anger burns? Who can live when he is angry? His anger blazes out like fire. He smashes the rocks to pieces. 7 The LORD is good. When people are in trouble, they can go to him for safety. He takes good care of those who trust in him. 8 But he will destroy Nineveh with a powerful flood. He will chase his enemies into the darkness of punishment.

ANALYSIS  In this passage references to a tsunami are (4) “He controls the seas. He dries them up” and in verse 8 Nahum prophecies “ a powerful flood.”  Nahum’s possible reference to pyroclastic flow is interesting, in verse 3 he says “Clouds are the dust kicked up by his feet .” This is similar to David’s account in 2 Samuel 22: 10, but in this case Nahum might be talking about a dust storm, because in verse 4 he seems to talk about a drought in the region from Carmel to Lebanon. But he maybe connecting this drought as a possible environmental consequence the Thera eruption. Figure 2 is a map of the eastern Mediterranean Sea showing the location of Nahum’s drought, Thera and other relevant locations. Other than the cross reference with possible pyroclastic flow, this account seems to be independent of David’s account of Thera. The possible mixing of the description of the volcano with other natural disasters is also done by Amos (see below).

Again we are looking for any reference to something that sounds like a volcano and a tsunami in a Biblical passage. Amos uses a writing style where two chapters are joined into a single thought by repeating this phase almost verbatim in both chapters:  “The whole land rises like the Nile River. Then it settles back down again like that river in Egypt.” If we use that bridge between chapters, we get a story of a possible volcano and a tsunami mixed with something that sounds like an earthquake and maybe an eclipse.

1.--Amos 8:8-9
8 “The land will tremble because of what will happen. Everyone who lives in it will mourn. So the whole land will rise like the Nile River. It will be stirred up. Then it will settle back down again like that river in Egypt.”
9 The Lord and King announces, “At that time I will make the sun go down at noon.
   The earth will become dark in the middle of the day.

     Amos 9:5-6
5 The Lord rules over all. The Lord touches the earth, and it melts. Everyone who lives in it mourns. The whole land rises like the Nile River. Then it settles back down again like that river in Egypt.
6 The Lord builds his palace high in the heavens. He lays its foundation on the earth. He sends for the waters in the clouds. Then he pours them out on the surface of the land. His name is the Lord.

ANALYSIS: In this text Amos seems to reference tectonic activity that now understood as tectonic plate movements in this region. Amos 9:6 might be a reference to a tsunami with “He sends for the waters in the clouds. Then he pours them out on the surface of the land.” and the description of a volcano in” The Lord touches the earth, and it melts” lacks the expected reference to a mountain. Here Amos 8:8 sounds like an earthquake. But in the next verse he says “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” This could be a the clouds of the Thera volcano or a solar eclipse. But the mixing of an eclipse and a earthquake is a less likely meaning, so I think it is more likely that Amos is talking about the Thera eruption.

2.--Revelations 8:8-9. (New International Version)
8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood,
9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

In Revelations seven trumpets are sounded. This is the second. Here a tsunami is implied by a huge mountain being thrown into the sea and ships being destroyed. Although the writer of Revelations was on the Island of Patmos (only 88 miles or 140 km from Santorini), it was written about 1700 years later (see figure 1 and 2). But I think this passage by John of Patmos as a very remarkable summary of the Thera caldera collapsing into the sea and causing a mega-tsunami. However, we can not exclude this passage as being a reference to a more recent event at Mount Etna or the much older event at Etna when the Valle del Bove was formed 8300 years ago. So this could be an event that has happened more than once in the Mediterranean, and the geologic setting suggests that it will certainly happen again sometime in the future.


If we accept the traditional timelines given for the Bible and the dates scientifically determined for the Thera eruption, then this event occurred roughly 640 years before 2 Samuel 22 and Psalms 18 was written. An observer analysis made of this account indicates that it is a volcanic eruption with a tsunami from the perspective of several independent points of view in time and distance. There are three or maybe four components of the Thera eruption known by scientific study that are included in the King David account: a tsunami, pyroclastic flow, lava bombs, and lava. Scientific studies also show that it was a Plinian eruption with a column of smoke that rose high in the atmosphere. We know that these eruptions darken the sky for days this also matches the 2 Samuel account and that by Amos. I think that David inadvertently helps to prove not only his existence but his kingdom by referencing the historic Thera eruption in detail, because only he could have been in a position to hear these stories of this event (see his kingdom in figure 2 Part I of this blog).

Related with the geologic environment of the Mediterranean volcanoes is plate tectonics. The concept (continental drift) for this was proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1915. An important part of this is to recognize that the surface of the Earth moves, so maybe this aspect should be attributed to Amos in the Bible. Both Amos and Naham seem to refer to historic events and make projections about the future with that information. Amazingly this basic idea is what is done today. We study past earthquakes and volcanic activity to determine the risk for the future.

All of these accounts of the Thera eruption provide detail that was not previously known to science. There appears to be a continuous loss of detail about the event as it becomes more distant in the past. This indicates that the knowledge of the event in each case is being passed down orally. By the time we get to Amos and Nahum the story of Thea seems to be more diluted and also mixed in with other natural phenomena like an eclipse and earthquakes.


Barber, E.W. and Barber P.T. (2004) When They Severed Earth from the Sky - How the Human Mind Shapes Myth. Princeton Univ. Press.

Cita, M. B. and Rimoldi, B. (2005). Prehistoric mega-tsunami in the eastern Mediterranean and its sedimentary response. Rend. Fis. Acc. Lincei. Vol: 16:137-157.

Foster K. P. and Ritner R.K. (1996) “Texts, Storms, and the Thera Eruption.”  Journal of Near Eastern Studies 55 (1): 1–14.

Galili E., Horwitz L. K., Hershkovitz I., Eshed V., Salamon A., Zviely D., Weinstein-Evron M., and Greenfield H. (2008) “Comment on: Holocene tsunamis from Mount Etna and the fate of Israeli Neolithic communities" Geophysical Research Letters. Volume 35, Issue 8.

Goodman-Tchernov B. N., Dey H. W., Reinhardt E. G., McCoy F., Mart Y. (2009) “Tsunami waves generated by the Santorini eruption reached Eastern Mediterranean shores.” Journal Geology , vol. 37, no. 10, pp. 943-946.

Mastrolorenzo G., Petrone P., Pappalardo L., and Sheridan M.F. (2009) “The Avellino 3780-yr-B.P. catastrophe as a worst-case scenario for a future eruption at Vesuvius” Geological Society, London, Special Publications. 322 (1) 105-119.

McCoy F.W. and G. Heiken (2000) Tsunami Generated by the Late Bronze Age Eruption of Thera (Santorini), Greece,  Volcanic Hazards and Disasters in Human Antiquity, Geological Society of America, Special Paper No. 345: 43-70.

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Pinker, Aron (2004) “Nahum’s Theological Perspectives” Jewish Bible Quarterly. Vol. 32, No. 3

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Taddeuci and Wohletz, (2001) Temporal evolution of the Minoan eruption (Santorini, Greece), as recorded by its Plinian fall deposit and interlayered ash flow beds. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Volume 109, p.299-317

Vespa, M., Keller, J., and Gertisser, R. (2006) Interplinian explosive activity of Santorini volcano (Greece) during the past 150,000 years. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, Volume 153, Issue 3-4, p. 262-286.

Yokoyama, I. (1978), The tsunami caused by the prehistoric eruption of Thera. In Thera and the Aegean World II, Dumas, C., ed. London, Thera and the Aegean World, 277-283.


A list of references to volcanic eruptions in the Bible. The number of times that a volcanic event is mentioned is shown in parentheses. Passages that also have a possible tsunami (looked at in this blog) are marked with an asterisk:

(2) Exodus 13:21, 19:18
(5) Deuteronomy 4:11, 5:4-5, 5:22-23, 9:15, 10:4
(1) Judges 5:5
(1) 2 Samuel 22:5-16*
(1) 1 Kings 19:11-12
(1) Nehemiah 9:19
(5) Psalm 18;4-15*, 83:14, 97:2-5, 104:32, 144:5
(2) Isaiah 4:5, 64:1-3
(1) Jeremiah 51:25
(1) Ezekiel 1:4
(1) Joel 2:10
(1) Amos 8:8-9*, 9:5-6
(1) Micah 1:4
(1) Nahum 1:5-6*
(1) Acts 2:19-20
(1) Hebrews 12:18
(1) Revelations 8:8*