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Tag: Mount Vesuvius

Should Vesuvian- or Plinian-type Volcanic Eruptions be Renamed?

mt vesuvius eruption

Guest Post By Ryan Thompson

Thompson has a Master of Science in Geoscience from Colorado State University, worked in the petroleum industry for over a decade, teaches science online, and self-identifies as a young earth creationist. He is the author of Revelation’s Geology: A Believing Geoscientist’s Investigation of Prophesied Catastrophe & Rescue.

When most people describe volcanic eruptions, the type that is most often depicted is that of what geologists call a Vesuvian-type eruption, named after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE that destroyed the region of Pompeii. This type of eruption is also commonly called a Plinian-type eruption as it was described in great detail by Pliny the Younger in two letters to his uncle.

Pliny described a dark cloud rising rapidly upward from Mount Vesuvius and being lit up by flames and large flashes of lightning. He then described thick, hot cinders and ash raining back down near the mountain, while further away the ash spread out resulting in a lurid darkness spread over the region. Strong earthquakes were also described.

Pliny’s wonderfully complete description of this type of eruption earned him the honor of having all subsequent eruptions of this type bear his name. Some geologists prefer to name geologic events after a type location however, which is why some refer to this type as a Vesuvian eruption. 

But was Pliny the first to fully describe such an eruption, or does a more ancient author deserve this honor? Science has a long history of memorializing the first, and yet in this instance, the first has been overlooked. The eruption of Mount Sinai in 1459 BCE, give or take a few years, was fully described by Moses. Therefore, this type of eruption should, by convention, be called a Mosaic- or Sinaian-type eruption.

Pliny’s description is considered to be a first because it contains certain criteria, all of which are also found in the description by Moses. These are:

1) a rapidly rising, hot cloud of ash and other volcanic material

2) lightning caused by static electric charges as the material is ejected upwards

3) flames or burning material known today as lava

4) thick darkness covering the surrounding region as the ash settles

5) strong earthquakes

“…the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness.” Deuteronomy 4:11

“…there were thundering and lightnings… Its smoking ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.” Exodus 19:16,18

The necessary criteria appears to be only lacking a description of ash. However, the Hebrew word used here for darkness, is the same Hebrew word used to describe the plague of darkness that settled on Egypt just a couple of months before. That darkness was described as a “darkness which may even be felt” (Exodus 10:21) indicating the presence of particles in the air causing the darkness—in other words, ash.

One potential point of controversy in renaming this type of eruption after Sinai might be that the exact location of the mountain has been lost to history and is only known to be somewhere in Arabia’s rift region where such eruptions have been documented. Not knowing the exact location should not be a problem as scientific convention still honors the first description even when the type is lost. There are many examples in biology where the type specimen of a new specie has been lost.

Another argument for its rejection would be that acceptance of the historicity of this event is limited to the realm of believers in Judeo-Christian religions. However, outside of the Bible, the Quran also portrays this event as historical.

“We made the mountain tower high above them at their pledge…” An Nisa 4:154

“…when his Lord revealed Himself to the mountain, He made it crumble…” Al Araf 7:143

Not only does the Quran affirm the historicity of the account, but just like the Torah, it marvels at the ability of the Creator to manifest Himself within such awesome displays of power within His creation. Will the skeptics also one day marvel when the whole earth is bathed in a thick and gloomy volcanic darkness? A future day is described by two later authors who use the same Hebrew word for darkness that Moses used (Joel 2:2 and Zephaniah 1:15). In Revelation, John also describes a future plague of darkness that is painful (Revelation 16:10). Could these prophecies be hinting at a future time of significant volcanic activity? Maybe then fellow geologists will accept calling these Sinaian-type eruptions.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser