The Island of Santorini (Thera)

The Eruption of Thera

Devastation in the Mediterranean

(1) Greater Than Krakatoa

"When Krakatoa exploded on August 26, 1883, it caused widespread destruction and loss of life on the coasts of Java and Sumatra. Blast waves cracked walls and broke windows up to 160 km. away. Tidal waves, reportedly up to 36 metres high, inundated the shores of the Sunda Strait, destroying nearly 300 towns and villages, and overnight more than 35,000 people lost their lives."
     - J. V. Luce, "The Changing Face of the Thera Problem"

"Krakatoa erupted noisily. It could be heard as much as 3,000 miles away on Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean. Vibrations shattered shop windows 80 miles off. The energy; released in the main explosion has been estimated to be equivalent to an explosion of 150 megatons of TNT."

"Ships navigating the seas in the vicinity of Krakatoa reported that floating pumice in some places had formed a layer about 3 m thick. Other shops, 160 miles off, reported that they were covered with dust three days after the end of the eruption. In fact the dust cloud completely shrouded the area, so that it was dark even 257 miles away from the epicenter. The period of darkness lasted twenty-four hours in places 130 miles distant and fifty-seven hours 50 miles away. The black-out in the immediate vicinity continued for three days and was so total that not even lamp-light could penetrate it. Stunningly beautiful sunsets were observed during the winter months in both American and Europe, thanks to the suspension of fine particles of dust in the atmosphere."
     - Christos G. Doumas Thera - Pompeii of the Ancient Aegean, p. 141

"Two titanic volcanic explosions occurred in the Mediterranean in the fifteenth century BC, one on Mount Vesuvius and the other on the island of Thera near Crete. Each dwarfed the great explosion of the Krakatoa volcano in 1883."
     - Robert Jastrow, "Hero or Heretic?", Science Digest, Sep/Oct '80

According to current data, the last two great eruptions of Vesuvius occured in 3580 B.C.E and 79 C.E. (the latter being the eruption which buried Pompei and Herculaneum). Both Krakatoa and Thera have a Volcanic Explosivity Index or VEI of 6 which rates them as "colossal" with a plume height over 25 km and a displacement volume of between 10 and 100 ks km 3. Eruptions of this size occur only once every few hundred years on earth. Although the dating of pottery supports the fifteenth century time frame for the Thera eruption, dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating supported by historical records place it at 1628/7 B.C.E. .

"Descriptions of the Krakatoa explosion convey a sense of the horror that must have gripped the people who witnessed the earlier and more violent eruptions in the Mediterranean:

'A tremendous roar, heard over two thousand miles away'
'vibrations of the atmosphere circling the earth'
'ninety-foot waves breaking with devastating force'
'burning ashes raining down, blistering and killing people'."
     - Robert Jastrow, "Hero or Heretic?", Science Digest, Sep/Oct '80

"Estimates of the volume of material displaced by the Thera eruption indicated an intensity five or six times as great as that of Krakatoa..."
     - Dr. Floyd McCoy, in Ground Truth, Earthwatch Research Report

(2) A Great Flood Tide

"About 7 cubic miles (30 cubic km) of rhyodacite magma was erupted. The plinian column during the initial phase of the eruption was about >23 miles (36 km) high."
     - "Santorini, Greece"

"The ejection of huge masses of material created an enormous chamber under the earth's crust, and eventually the roof of this magma chamber must have fractured and collapsed."
     - Christos G. Doumas Thera - Pompeii of the Ancient Aegean, p. 137

"The caldera (or crater) created by this eruption of the the Stroggilí volcano on Thera (now known as Santorini) is said to have measured as much as 83 square kilometers in area. It presently extends down as much as 480 meters below sea level inside of the wall of cliffs which ring it and which themselves rise up as much as 300 meters above sea level.
     - Encyclopaedia Britannica

"The sea poured into this enormous void through fractures in the ring of land, in the northwest and southwest of the island. If the chamber collapse was sudden, the flow of water must have generated tidal waves to the north and southwest."
     - Christos G. Doumas Thera - Pompeii of the Ancient Aegean, p. 137-138

"Knossos [the Minoan capital] was shattered by a succession of earthquakes that preceded or accompanied the eruption, while great waves resulting from it appear to have damaged settlements along the northern coast of Crete."
     - Encyclopaedia Britannica

"On the west cost of Turkey, just north of the island of Rhodes*, is a small body of water whose shoreline is like an ever-narrowing funnel. Its open mouth faces west, toward Thera, and anyone living behind that mouth might just as well have been a flea located in the throat of a cannon. As the shock wave surged east between increasingly confined shorelines, the waters piles higher and higher until at last they became a foaming white mountain eight hundred feet tall. The wave penetrated thirty miles inland, in the general direction of Mount Ararat; and when it receded, it dislodged house-sized boulders, scoured the soil and carved out channeled scablands. Elsewhere, on a strip of Turkish coast only ninety miles north of the funnel, the wave seems to have risen barely twenty feet high. Tsunamis are like that - capricious."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) p. 87

* "Where local lore has it that a city called Cyrbe was 'swallowed up by a great flood-tide'."
Bronze Age Map

"There came a sound, as if from within the Earth
Zeus' hollow thunder boomed, awful to hear.
The horses lifted heads towards the sky
And pricked their ears; while strange fear fell on us,
Whence came the voice. To the sea-beaten shore
We looked, and saw a monstrous wave that soared
Into the sky, so lofty that my eyes
Were robbed of seeing the Scironian cliffs.
It hid the isthmus and Asclepius' rock.
Then seething up and bubbling all about
With foaming flood and breath from the deep sea,
Shoreward it came to where the chariot stood."
     - Euripides, The Hippolytus

"According to the oral tradition handed to Euripides [who lived on the west Aegean between 480 and 405 B.C.], a wall of water heaved up from the deep, into a sky as clear as glass. This is precisely what one would expect if the poet had recorded the memory of Bronze Age Tsunamis in the western Aegean, which was spared the added calamity of Thera's death cloud."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) p. 89

"Later Greek traditions, such as the story of Deucalion's flood, may enshrine a memory of similar waves that swept the coasts of the mainland at this time."
     - Encyclopaedia Britannica

(3) Hell on Earth

After the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, "St. Pierre was a cityscape that made Dante's hell look shamefully mild. All the horrors hatching out - the blackened things, the charcoal people, the dead and the still-moving dead - all of these had required just ten thousand cubic yards of vaporized rock dusted less than half an inch deep over eight square miles of the city. Survivors' accounts of the Pelée death cloud provide only the slightest glimpse of how the eastern half of Crete must have suffered in the aftermath of Thera.
"Thera blew a thirty-cubic-mile hole in the earth. Thera was fifteen million times worse than Pelée."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) pp. 72-73

Stones from the Thera explosion have been found as far as the Black Sea.

"On easternmost Crete, more than seventy miles away from ground zero, the great palace of Zakros fell amid flames and ashy deposits. Stone slabs were slammed horizontally across the ground in a manner originally attributed to an earthquake, but all the stones seem to have toppled in the same direction as if pushed over by a great wind. Like Herculaneum, Zakros perished so quickly that people did not have time to flee with household objects. All the implements of Minoan life were left behind: gold rings, razors, tweezers and rare perfumes. At the same time, Phaistos, second in size only to Knossos, was utterly carbonized on the southeast coast."
"More than seventy miles east of Thera, directly in the path of the cloud, Southern Turkey and the islands of Kos, Rhodes and Cyprus received more than a foot of ash. In those places, the cloud, even if it had shed all of its heat (which it probably had not), would have suffocated almost everyone caught outdoors."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) pp. 62, 75

(4) Global Climatic and Economic Disruption

A huge cloud of dust and gas enveloped the earth, and there are accounts of unnusual darkness in Egyptian and Chinese literature.

"In the twenty-ninth year of King Chieh [the last ruler of Hsia, the earliest recorded Chinese dynasty], the Sun was dimmed...King Chieh lacked virtue...the Sun was distressed...during the last years of Chieh ice formed in [summer] mornings and frosts in the sixth month [July]. Heavy rainfall toppled temples and buildings...Heaven gave severe orders. The Sun and Moon were untimely. Hot and cold weather arrived in disorder. The five cereal crops withered and died."
     - written during the reign of Emperor Qin c.1600 B.C.

"The death cloud deposited a dense ash layer hundreds of miles east of Thera, but penetrated west only sixty miles, stopping at the island of Melos. To halt the cloud at Melos, the headwinds from the west must have been very strong, and from the meteorologists came word that Westerly squalls were almost exclusively a September through November phenomenon on the Aegean, suggesting that the volcano exploded in autumn."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) p. 233

"One could also envisage the destruction of the ships on which Minoan power depended, and the longer term disruption of agriculture by a heavy overlay of ash."
     - Dr. Floyd McCoy, in Ground Truth, Earthwatch Research Report

As the dust cloud "circled the globe, the next spring must have been much like the spring of 1816, 'the year without a summer,' that followed the explosive reawakening of Tambora in Indonesia. There were no harvests in New England that year. Megatons of utrafine dust had been hoisted fifty miles high into the stratosphere, where it shaded out some of the sun's radiation, absorbing its heat long before it reached the ground. As June and August snowstorms swept across New York, few people could draw consolation from the strange beauty of a blood read moon, or from the most splendid sunsets the world had seen in more than thirty-four hundred years."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) p. 77

"The cataclysmic eruption brought about the abrupt transition from the Minoan to the Mycenean culture-documented in various legends from the area-and perhaps even accounts for the stories of Atlantis and Exodus."
     - Dr. Floyd McCoy, in Ground Truth, Earthwatch Research Report

For details on the archaeological record of the eruption, see:
     Devastation of Crete.

An exploration of Plato's enduring myth can be found at:
     Origins of Atlantis.

Hebrew and Egyptian Accounts?

(1) The Earth Melts

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth."
     - Psalm 46:1-8

"The Lord, the LORD Almighty, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn-- the whole land rises like the Nile, then sinks like the river of Egypt--he who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land-- the LORD is his name.
'Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites [that is, people from the upper Nile region]?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor [that is, Crete] and the Arameans from Kir?'"
     - Amos 9:5-7

The eruption of Thera occured around 1450-1500 B.C.E. according to archaeological dating which is during the same time frame as the scriptural dating for the Exodus of Moses (1447 B.C.E.)
(Note that dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating, supports an ealier date, 1628/7 B.C.E., for the eruption.)

(2) "Fine Dust" and "Fire Mingled with Hail"

"Ash identified as coming from the [Thera] eruption has been found in coastal sites as far away as Israel and Sardis in Anatolia. The wind may have been blowing from the south or west."
     - Encyclopaedia Britannica

"Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 'Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh. It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on men and animals throughout the land.' So they took soot from a furnace and stood before Pharaoh. Moses tossed it into the air, and festering boils broke out on men and animals."
     - Exodus 9:8-10

The eruption of Thera was almost a thousand kilometers from the Nile delta - the land of Goshen - too distant to have suffered much damage from the accompanying earth tremors although, coincidentally, a severe earthquake and hail (falling volcanic stones?) did devastate the delta at the end of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom.

"...The fire ran along upon the ground....There was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous."
     - Exodus 9:23-24

"Such things were witnessed as the Mount St. Helens cloud (in its Plinian phase) passed over Yakima, lancing down lightning and warm ash instead of rain..."
"...Recent excavations suggest that at least a quarter inch of dust fell out of the cloud as it rolled over Egypt. The dust was rich in sulfur, and some of it appears to have fallen as acid rain. Doubtless it blacked out the sun for several days..."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) pp. 80-81, 77

(For details on the Egyptian ash fall, click here.)

(3) Three Days of Darkness

"And then straightaway, as they moved swiftly over the great Cretian deep, night terrified them, the night which they call 'the pall of darkness'. No stars nor moonbeams pierced the deadly darkness. It was black chaos coming down from the sky, or some other darkness rising from the inmost recesses of the Earth. They did not in the least know whether they were voyaging on the water or in Hades."
     - Apollonius of Rhode, Argonautica

"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt--darkness that can be felt.'
So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days."
     - Exodus 10:21-22

"The land was in great affliction. Evil fell on this earth....It was a great upheaval in the residence....Nobody left the palace during nine days, and during these nine days of upheaval there was such a tempest that neither the men nor the gods could see the faces of their next."
     - Stone Shrine at el-Arish

The inscription dates from the Ptolemaic period but refers to a much earlier event (during the reign of a King Thom?). A papyrus from the Middle Kingdom also tells of a period of great destruction and darkness.

"The Sun is covered and does not shine to the sight of men. Life is no longer possible when the sun is concealed behind the clouds. Ra has turned his face from mankind. If only it would shine even for one hour! No one knows when it is midday. One's shadow is not discernible. The Sun in the heavens resembles the moon."
     - "Admonitions of Ipuwer"

An alternative explanation is that the darkness was caused by a a hot southerly wind from the Sahara called a khamsin. Such winds can kick up fierce sand storms lasing to or three days - blowing massive drifts over small buildings, and obscuring the sun in a dark, yellow haze.

For remarkable parallels between the "Admonitions" and the Book of Exodus see:
     The Plagues of Egypt.

(4) The Tsunami

"The low tidal wave across the sand would certainly make life difficult for charioteers or mounted soldiers, but wouldn't touch the 500-1000 people who had taken refuge on one of the low hills in the middle...Of course the volcanic ash in the sky would be very impressive in the morning and evening (red sky) and probably had some effect during the day (and night during moonlight) -- the great cloud going before them."
     - Timothy C. Green

"The problem with this argument is that the tsunami would have arrived only minutes after the Theran ash cloud (if not before), and if the cloud is what darkened the skies, brought about famine and disease, and frightened the pharaoh into letting Moses and his people go, there was simply not enough time for pharaoh's intimidation, and them for the Hebrews to pack their belongings and travel tens of miles to the 'Reed Sea' to meet the tsunami. The Thera explosion either humbled the pharaoh with its ash or destroyed his chariots with its tsunami. One cannot have it both ways, unless the Exodus account is considered, like the Atlantis legend, a composite of more than one event whose original sequence was forgotten or misunderstood by the time it was committed to writing."
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) p. 245

The Israelites, however, may have experienced effects of flooding from the tsunami similar to those described in the following passage:

"This is what the LORD says: 'See how the waters are rising in the north; they will become an overflowing torrent. They will overflow the land and everything in it, the towns and those who live in them. The people will cry out; all who dwell in the land will wail at the sound of the hoofs of galloping steeds, at the noise of enemy chariots and the rumble of their wheels. Fathers will not turn to help their children; their hands will hang limp. For the day has come to destroy all the Philistines and to cut off all survivors who could help Tyre and Sidon. The LORD is about to destroy the Philistines, the remnant from the coasts of Caphtor [that is, Crete]."
     - Jeremiah 47:2-4

According to David Rohl, a catastrophe in the Nile Delta was the prelude to the invasion of the Hyksos and fall of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. He also writes that this event initiated the flight of the Israelites led by Moses.

(5) A "Pillar; of Cloud" and a "Pillar of Fire"

"...By day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light."
     - Exodus 13:21

"The pillar of fire, said to have led the Israelites during their nocturnal peregrinations in the desert, has long troubled all but the most pious of scholars: 'Of all the mysterious phenomena which accompanied the Exodus, this mysterious Pillar seems the first to demand explanation' [W. Pythian-Adams]. The account in Exodus 13, so difficult to reconcile with what we know about the facts of 'history', is in perfect accord with the facts of comparative mythology, where the World Pillar forms a universal motive. Indeed, in many traditions the World Pillar is expressly described as a pillar of fire."
     - Efemeral Research Foundation, "Exploring the Saturn Myth"

The Egyptian word Keftiu, likely derived from a root meaning 'pillar', is generally accepted as referring to Crete. Was the pillar described in Exodus merely a myth? Compare the following lines describing the eruption of Etna:

"By day a burning steam of smoke; but by night a ruddy eddying flame."
     - Pindar, Odes Pythia, I, 22-24

The eruption of Thera so distant from the Nile delta, however, that the Israelites would not have seen anything so striking as a pillar of fire, especially after the ash cloud darkened the sky. If the pillar of smoke and fire refers to a volcanic event it must have been much closer at hand.

Conventional dating places the eruption of Thera during the early 18th Dynasty (1539-1425 BC) and the Exodus during the reign of Ramesses II (or, less probably, that of his successor Merneptah). Placing the Exodus during this period, however, is not supported by archaeological findings in Egypt and Israel.
179 years before Ramesses II took the throne, "in the year 22" of the reign of Thutmose III (ca. 1504 to 1450 B.C.E.), numerous fire circles were sighted and "fishes and volatiles fell down from the sky", phenomena which may have been associated with a large volcanic event. In addition, pumice from the eruption of Thera, has been identified within a stratified context at Tell ed-Daba (Ezbet Helmi) which spans the period from Ahmose to Thutmose III.
Unambiguous dating from bristle cone pines, however, places the Thera eruption at 1628/7 B.C.E., throwing the dates of the Egyptian rulers into serious doubt.

For evidence dating the Exodus to the Second Intermediate Period, see:
     In the Land of Goshen.

"After the Exodus, there arose among the Hebrews a historic tradition of associating God with a fiery cloud. It is possible that the tradition survives as a distorted and poorly understood memory of Theran ash storms. In the Book of Numbers, the Lost Ark of the Covenant...was often overshadowed by God's cloud, which struck out and consumed enemies, and on occasion even set part of the Hebrew camp afire: "
     - Charles Pellegrino, Unearthing Atlantis (1991) p. 81

"On the day the tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire. That is how it continued to be; the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. "
     - Numbers 9:15-17