Seton Hall professor’s new book discusses famous earthquake

On Nov. 1, 1755, one of the most disastrous earthquakes in history ravaged Lisbon, Portugal. It was measured between 8.5 and 9.1 on the magnitude scale and was 1,000 times more powerful than the Haitian earthquake and 250 times larger than the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. After this earthquake, the city was hit with a tsunami and a firestorm. These three events destroyed Lisbon and began a series of events that would change history forever.

In his new book, “This Gulf of Fire: The Destruction of Lisbon, or Apocalypse in the Age of Science and Reason,” Mark Molesky, a Seton Hall University history professor, explores exactly how the earthquake, fire-storm, and tsunami affected religion, philosophy, and government.

Molesky worked on this book for about nine years and first began researching the Lisbon earthquake when he was an undergraduate student in the 1980s, he said. After that, he stopped then restarted his research.

One of the prominent effects of the earthquake is what Molesky calls the Great Lisbon Earthquake Debate. Voltaire, Rousseau and Kant were at the forefront of the philosophical and theological debates about the causes and implications of these disasters.

“This earthquake opened up a world that people were not familiar with,” Molesky said.

This earthquake marked the first international relief effort in history. While, Britain sent fifteen ships with food, clothing and building supplies, Spain sent food, clothing and money, Molesky said.

In addition to the philosophical and humanitarian effect that the earthquake had on the times, new scientific discoveries were made as a result of the earthquake as well, he added. Initially, scientists believed that the earthquake was caused by underground caves and water vapor while theologians believed that the earthquake was God’s way of punishing the earth, Molesky explained. It was not until long after that scientists discovered the real cause of the earthquake, plate tectonics.

Molesky said that he urges students to never let the topics they study during undergrad to die.

“This started as a fifteen page thesis and now it is a big book,” he said.

Everywhere he went, Molesky said he was discovering new things and through travelling to the library archives in Europe and Lisbon was his main source of reference, he added.

Ryanne Boyer can be reached at

Author: Staff Writer

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This