Earthquake patterns recorded in historical documents of Middle Eastern countries indicate that the region's next signification quake is long overdue, according to a new study by a Tel Aviv geologist.
"All of us in the region should be worried. A major quake of magnitude seven on the Richter scale in the politically-fragile region of the Middle East could have dire consequences for precious holy sites and even world peace," said university geologist Dr. Shmulik Marco.
Dr Marco has based his thesis on translations of hundred of historical and religious documents - some housed within the confines of the Vatican vaults - and come to the conclusion that a series of devastating quakes may have hit the Holy Land over the last 2000 years.
He said the major ones were recorded along the Jordan Valley in the years 31 BC, 363 CE, 749 CE, and 1033 CE.
"So roughly, we are talking about an interval of every 400 years. If we follow the patterns of nature, a major quake should be expected any time because almost a whole millennium has passed since the last strong earthquake of 1033," said Dr. Marco.
He said these documents, written by the clergy and the monks spanning over two millennia, could help determine the location and impact of future quakes on several fault planes cutting through Israel and its neighbouring countries.
"We use the records, written in churches and monasteries or by hermits in the desert, to find patterns," he said.
"Even if these papers were not 'officially' recording history, they hold a lot of information. ... Some are letters to Europe asking for funding of church repairs. And while many of these accounts are told in an archaic religious manner, they help us confirm the dates and location of major calamities.
"Following these patterns in the past can be a good predictor of the future," he added.
He said one of the most cited Christian chroniclers in history upon whom he based some of his conclusions was the ninth-century Byzantine aristocratic monk Theophanes, venerated today by Catholics.
In one manuscript, Theophanes wrote, "A great earthquake in Palestine, by the Jordan and in all of Syria on 18 January in the 4th hour. Numberless multitudes perished, churches and monasteries collapsed especially in the desert of the Holy City."
Dr. Marco said while Christian sources helped him confirm ancient catastrophes and cast light on future ones, Jewish sources from the Bible gave him small pieces of the puzzle.
A verse in Zachariah (Ch. 14) described two instances of earthquakes, one of which split apart the Mount of Olives. This when juxtaposed with ancient correspondence by Muslim clergy further broadened the picture, he said.
"Earthquakes are a manifestation of deeper processes inside the earth. My questions and analysis examine how often they occur and whether there is pattern to them, temporally or spatially. I am looking for patterns and I can say that based on ancient records, the pattern in Israel around the Dead Sea region is the most disturbing to us," Dr. Marco said.
"When it strikes and it will this quake will affect Amman, Jordan as well as Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. Earthquakes don't care about religion or political boundaries," he added.