The tragic earthquake of AD 60
Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis were three closely-situated cities mentioned by Paul in the New Testament, each possessing Christians.

Laodicea was ~10 miles ~WNW of Colossae. Hierapolis was believed to be ~13 miles ~NNE of Laodicea. These three cities formed a crude triangle, the so-called "tri-city" area (See map 1 and map 2).

These cities were the target of a devastating earthquake around AD 60-62, probably just after Paul wrote his letters to the Christians of that area. According to historians, all three cities were destroyed. Barring miraculous intervention, this historic event probably claimed some of the lives of our Christian ancestors.

Realizing these words were written to Christians who may have been on the brink of disaster highlights the need that we should always be prepared to meet God.

The video above (filmed in 1999)—and those shown later—provides a frightening insight into the devastation and suddenness of earthquakes in Turkey (where the ancient tri-city ruins are located).

Fortunately, all indications were that the Christians of the area were living a life "worthy" of Christ (Col 1:10), a life that is described briefly and partially in Colossians 3.

Google map of Colossae
Google map of Laodicea
Google map of Hierapolis

Historical facts about the tri-city earthquake and its aftermath

  • Eusebius is said to have chronicled an earthquake destroying Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (Chron. Olymp. 210.4) in the 10th year of Nero [AD 64]. Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible: "That this city [Colossae] perished by an earthquake, a short time after the date of this epistle, we have the testimony of Eusebius..."

  • Tacitus records the quake in the 7th year of Nero (Nero was Emperor of Rome from AD 54-68, putting the earthquake around AD 61—Annals 14.27. Tacitus recorded that Laodicea was also destroyed in the quake, but was later rebuilt apparently without Roman assistance. Note that Jesus wrote to Laodicea, but Colossae was not mentioned among the letters of Revelation. By this time (AD 96), Colossae in large part no longer existed.

  • A few people were said to have formed a small village from the ruins of Colossae. The village was totally abandoned in the 8th century. (link)

  • Paul did not refer to this catastrophic event; thus, scholars believe Paul had either not yet heard the news, or that his letters to Colossians and Philemon predated the quake.

  • As mentioned, the church at Colossae may have met in the home of Philemon, to whom Paul also wrote a brief letter (the "Book of Philemon"). Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had escaped to Rome, where evidently Paul met him and led him to Christ. Paul urged Onesimus to return to Philemon. One wonders if Onesimus returned and, along with the inhabitants of Colossae, became a victim of the quake. No known historians indicate if Philemon's home was destroyed in the earthquake.

  • The hot springs of Hierapolis, and the beautiful pools of adjacent Pamukkale, were apparently formed due to the earthquake faults of the area, which are believed to have caused the great earthquake that destroyed Hierapolis (AD 60)—along with Colossae and Laodicea. "The tectonic movements that took place in the fault depression of the Menderes river basin did not only cause frequent earthquakes, but also gave rise to the emergence of a number of very hot springs. It is the water from one of these springs, with its large mineral content—chalk in particular—that created Pamukkale." (link)
    "The main active fault at the toe of the Pamukkale range-front is a normal fault...capable of earthquakes of at least magnitude 6...[and responsible for]...the earthquake of AD 60..." which destroyed nearby Hierapolis. "Most of the active thermal springs [of the Hierapolis area] are lined up along the fault," which cuts through the center of ancient Hierapolis. [pp 97-98] (link)

Facts about the earthquake and geography of the tri-city area

The following quotes are courtesy of Myth and geology by Luigi Piccardi, W. Bruce Masse, pp 95-105 :

  • "Active extensional faults bound the [Denizli Basin, where the tri-cities were located] on all sides..." [p 97]

  • "Thermal activity in the area is very intense..." [p 97]

  • "Colossae is located at the SE end of the Denizli Basin where the main boarder faults of the basin converge and meet. The most evident structure is the active fault that crosses through Honaz (ancient Chronae) at the base of Mt Honaz, about 3 km south of Colossae..." [p 98]

  • Evidence is plainly visible of the fault lines that destroyed Hierapolis and Colossae [p 95].

  • "Colossae was completely destroyed by the AD 60 earthquake. After that it survived only as a small village before being finally abandoned in eighth century, AD, replaced by Chronae (today Honaz). At present, the archaeological site is only a mound over the surrounding flat plain..." [p 99]

  • "[Hierapolis]...had to be entirely rebuilt after the earthquake of AD 60, and was abandoned after the 1354 event, the two strongest historical shocks..." [p 97]

  • "The temple of Apollo bridges the fault scarp [a feature on the surface of the earth that looks like a step caused by slip on the fault], and the Plutonium [a cave the pagans considered sacred, containing poisonous gases] is positioned inside the fault itself..." [p 98]

  • It was common for myths to arise from catastrophic events. Religious deceivers would typically use these events to improve credibility. For example, the worship of angels was reportedly well-established in the Colossae, when Paul wrote warning them against believing such myths (see Col 2:18). The worshiping of angels was evidently stirred even more by the AD 60 earthquake event, which Catholic legend supposed was caused by the Archangel Michael. Michael was allegedly summoned to Colossae by a local Colossian priest, Archippus (see Col 4:17, Phm 2). Archippus wanted Michael to stop the pagans from trying to destroy the temple (church at Colossae) by sending a stream of water towards it. Michael allegedly came to the rescue by splitting a rock, which caused the water to flow down into the earth—thus "saving" Colossae (how they explain that the earthquake ended up destroying the entire city of Colossae is not clear, demonstrating the ludicrousness of such legends). Please note that eventually the post-earthquake village at Colossae was replaced by nearby Chronae, which means "fissure" (due to a rock splitting from the earthquake). None of any of this remains, since the mound of Colossae and its surrounding area remain largely unexcavated. Pagans and misguided "Christians" alike (in disregard of Paul's warnings—Col 2:18) have believed the "angel Michael" myth, and numerous similar myths and legends, for centuries. [p 99, 103]

  • The apostle Paul made an unusual statement regarding Archippus, commanding him to "complete the work" he had received in the Lord (Col 4:17). This seems to hint at Archippus' lack of commitment. Catholic legend—which is rarely believable—has it that Archippus de-converted from Christianity to the "cult of Michael," which had a heavy emphasis on angel worship. This alleged de-conversion has been labeled by the Catholics and others "the Colossian heresy" [103]. It is not clear where the actual historical evidence for these legends originate.

  • Legend has it that during the earthquake, Archippus observed a huge "column of fire, reaching from earth to heaven." Fire is not uncommon in earthquakes, due to volcanic activity under faults, the possible presence of hydrogen gas, and or lightening. Geologists believe lightening was an electrostatic phenomena of the AD 60 earthquake [p 102]. The legend of Archippus bears a striking resemblance to an eyewitness account of a 1999 Turkey earthquake: "As [Ismet] stood, an explosion boomed over the gulf. 'The earth came alive with shaking,' he says. 'The sky turned red, a sword of light flow out of the sea, and a wave as tall as a ship thundered toward us.' A great crack opened along the waterfront, and 'like a drunk man trying to run,' Ismet leaped over it and raced inland. Three of his friends climbed trees. A blinding storm of dust from collapsed buildings rose over the town and swept down toward the shore..." (link). Many modern quakes cause explosions from ruptured gas lines.

  • In addition to lightening, "hydrogen [a highly flammable gas] could also be generated when rocks break and shear during earthquakes." Link

  • A well-documented fact of Colossian history was that the Lycus river, beginning at Colossae, disappeared underground for about 1/2 mile. In the area where the underground course was believed to run is now a ~30' deep canyon. It is believed this canyon was formed by collapsing of earth caused by the AD 60 earthquake [102]. This may help explain the existence of cold springs in the area; for if the Lycus flowed several hundred yards beneath the surface, it would have emerged cold. And although the 60 AD earthquake may have rendered the underground Lycus course extinct, it's clear that underground water activity was not uncommon. Realizing Hierapolis remains famous even today for it's hot springs, this helps explain Jesus' "neither cold nor hot" remarks about Laodicea, which was sandwiched approximately between its two sister cities (Rev 3:16—Colossae=cold, Hierapolis=hot).

  • More on the Denizli Basin earthquake of ~60 AD: link 1 link 2

How pagan priests used the geologic activity of the tri-city area to their financial benefit

The principal "god" of Hierapolis was Apollo, who was worshiped at the temple of Apollo in Hierapolis.

Unfortunately for the worshipers, the temple was situated in a bad location regarding earthquakes, purposely positioned over an active earthquake fault. The following quote helps explain why the pagans would do such an ostensibly foolish thing:
"The temple of Apollo has deliberately been built over an active fault passing underneath, giving rise to the cave of the Plutonium, as shown by seismological investigations. Temples dedicated to Apollo were often built over sites with geological activity, such as his most famous temple, the temple at Delphi...
"[The cave of Plutonium] was described by several ancient writers including Strabo, Cassius Dio, and Damascius. It is a small cave, just large enough for one person to enter through a fenced entrance, beyond which stairs go down, and from which emerges suffocating carbon dioxide gas caused by underground geologic activity. Behind the 3 square metres...chamber is a deep cleft in the rock, through which fast flowing hot water passes releasing a sharp smelling gas. Because people died in the gas, people thought that the gas was sent by Pluto, god of the underworld...
"During the early years of the town castrated priests of Cybele descended into the Plutonium, crawled over the floor to pockets of oxygen or held their breath. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and so tends to settle in hollows. They then came up to show that they were immune to the gas. People believed a miracle had happened and that therefore the priests were infused with superior powers and had divine protection.
"An enclosed area of...22,000 sq ft stood in front of the entrance. It was covered by a thick layer of suffocating gas, killing everyone who dared to enter this area. The priests sold birds and other animals to the visitors, so that they could try out how deadly this enclosed area was. Visitors could (for a fee) ask questions of the oracle of Pluto. This provided a considerable source of income for the temple. The entrance to the Plutonium was closed off during the Christian times.

See photos of the Apollo temple ruins (temple foundation is all that remains) and the adjacent Plutonium.

For an additional description of the fault line area in Lycus valley and under the temple of Apollo in Hierapolis, see this link.

Fault zones of the tri-city area

The following photos are courtesy of Myth and geology by Luigi Piccardi, W. Bruce Masse, pp 95-105 :—Uniting Bible believing Christians—Uniting Bible believing Christians—Uniting Bible believing Christians—Uniting Bible believing Christians—Uniting Bible believing Christians

Examples of carnage caused by modern day Turkey earthquakes

  • To get an idea of the damage that earthquakes in Turkey can cause, read this article: "The magnitude 7.4 catastrophe created headlines worldwide. Tens of thousands dead. Some 250,000 homeless..."

  • See these links for post-earthquake videos of the damage believed caused by the Turkey earthquake of August 17, 1999:
    Video 1 Video 2 Video 3

Additional recommended reading:
The Book of Colossians: Introduction
Were there two churches at Colossae—or only one?
Is your Bible accurate—Three common misunderstandings.

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