I know; it sounds like a trick question. But in the ancient world time was circular. The earth continually renewed itself through the regular recurring cycles of nature: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Such a cycle is basically “startime” (the sun is a star) produced by the rotation of the earth around the sun in our solar system giving us also, in addition to the recurring seasons of the year, the time of day: dawn, noon, sunset, night. These cycles are described as the theory of the eternal return. “The universe and all existence and energy [have] been recurring, and will continue to recur in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. The theory is found in Indian [India] philosophy and ancient Egypt and was subsequently taken up by the Pythagoreans and Stoics” in the Greek tradition.1 In many ways, without modern precision, cyclical time replicates our own system of sidereal time—time as tracked by clocks, watches, and chronometers. In short, except for daylight savings time, your watch is keyed to the circle of the earth around the sun.
The Judeo-Christian view of time, on the other hand, is linear. Everything originated in God’s act of creation (Genesis 1:1-2:4a; 2:4b-3:24) and moves forward toward the inevitable Day of the Lord at which moment “the heavens will pass away with a loud noise and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the works that are upon it will be burned up” (2 Pet 3:10 RSV)—and time will be no more. All events in world history, from creation to end, are believed included in this forward movement, which gives an illusion of progress in history.
Today we experience time from both of these perspectives. Reckoning time from a linear perspective and a cyclical perspective both prove useful for us in order to situate ourselves in time—e.g., hour of the day, season of the year, century provided by our linear calendar. We also experience time in other ways—as passing fast or slow, depending on how occupied we are in a given situation; as either individual and private or epochal and public—for example, one’s personal birthday celebration as opposed to the end of WWII. Life is believed to be a progressive series of such milestones or epochs—at least as we calculate time today.
The idea that time is linear is aided by a decision to distinguish the passage of time between BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini—in the year of the Lord). This theological plot on time, which shifts time from circular to linear is credited to Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor in 525 AD; his system was not widely accepted until after 800AD, however. The BC/AD system of Exiguus was used to number the years in the Gregorian and Julian calendars. Our modern calendar derives from the Gregorian Calendar, which is the most widely used calendar in the world today.2 Modern critical scholars change BC/AD designations to BCE (Before the Common Era) and CE (Common Era) in order to secularize the divisions. The segments remain essentially the same, however.
One comes to realize the core problem of time by addressing the following question: how are all personal and public epochs since the beginning of time linked so as to give us a single linear sequence of time with all events taking their place in a relentless progression toward a particular goal?3
Historians also think of the movement of history as a linear movement. History is defined as “a branch of knowledge that records and explains past events as steps in the sequence of human activities.”4 Historical narrative is an attempt to reconstruct the past, not in its aggregate totality, but in what the historian considers its more significant aspects. In my view, however, history itself is something other than a historical narrative.5 Nevertheless modern historians still see time and human history moving forward in a linear line. Yet here we are making circles around the sun locked into a solar system going no place in particular. How do you see it?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
3This argument is adapted from, and with apologies to, John Dominic Crossan, Raid on the Articulate. Comic Eschatology in Jesus and Borges (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 133-136.
4Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (2002), s. v. “history.”
5Hedrick, “History, Historical Narrative, and Mark’s Gospel,” Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog, Dec 22, 2013.
I see time as a spiral, sometimes compressed, sometimes elongated like a Slinky, sometimes going forward, sometimes backward or sideways.
The concept of time is a perceptual component of culture that can vary from one to another culture. Jamake Highwater spoke of linear time being alien to certain native American groups. (I noticed this with immigrants I taught from certain groups.) In a monochronic culture (like what is found in most “developed” cultures), time is rigid and linear, whereas in a polychronic culture, it is less tangible, according to those like Edward T. Hall who have studied various cultural groups. Relating to this is a characteristic called “space and tempo.” Moving in harmony with others in the group and nature (called “high-sync”) is more noticeable and meaningful in a polychronic group, whereas in a “low-sync” (monochronic) group, this “social rhythm” is under-developed and has less meaning.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Your first paragraph is interesting to me, prompting me to ask are you frequently late for meetings? I am prompted to that question by your comment that time for you "sometimes goes forward, sometimes backwards and sometimes sideways." Can you say more about that?
Never, though I don’t have “meetings” as much as (doctor’s) “appointments” these days.
My concept of life tends to be a spiral, relatively doing similar things each unit of time, be it day, week, or season, though the details vary. When encountering novelty, positive or negative, the spiral tends to either elongate or compress and I look backwards (introspection, I guess) for an analogy or solution comparable to use or sideways to present a divergent one. And, sometimes, especially when writing or making music, I find myself at different points of the spiral of my life. I reckon I see time as needing a context in order to be meaningful. The context needn’t be tied to a clock these days (unless I have a doctor’s appointment or am planning travel), but to a biological need (like eating or sleeping), weather (exercise, gardening) or curiosity (academic or musical pursuits). Since these are constants, I see them as spiraling, not particularly linear, though as all of life heading generally toward culmination. When the spiral stretches (because of context), time slows and when it compresses, “time flies,” not measurable with a clock but in my perception.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Time is continuously moving forward. According to Einstein's Law of General Relativity time can speed up or slow down depending on the environment of the observer, e.g. velocity. I do not recall offhand if this characteristic of time has been scientifically observed/proven.
A common basis of human time measurement is the circular movement of the earth, atoms, electrons, and material vibrations, and pendulum swings, due to their familiarity and regularity. None are perfectly regular, however.
Humans use the word time is various ways to denote a variety of ideas, e.g. past time, future time, on time, real time, time out, dinner time, but such use of the word time is not specifically accurate.
BTW, Re: ...here we are going no place in particular.
In actuality the earth is traveling along a specific though irregular curvilinear path according to the dictates of the laws of the universe, e.g. gravity, mass, velocity, acceleration, magnetism, drag, etc. It's motion is not a circle but rather an ever changing ellipse nor is the motion a regular period, rotation, and even spin about it's axis. All are perturbed slightly by natural forces. It's motion is sort of like human lives but with so much mass/inertia not so quickly nor erratically.
This is the way Science see it.
Good Morning Jim,
Thanks for weighing in. In the last paragraph you are describing the earth's elliptical (oval) orbit around the sun. I was talking about the solar system into which the earth is locked as not having a particular destination other than toward the edge of the universe. But now that I think of it neither does the earth have a particular destination other than to repeat the elliptical movement around the sun--in short it is going no place in particular either.
It occurs to me that the popular phrase "time is running out" may be applicable here, and it places a premium on how we think of the importance of time - there's an urgency within the cyclical repetition, whether we're talking about a baseball game where we trail 2 to 1 with one inning to play, or being age 80 and still hoping to do something that could improve the quality of life, or trying to save a generation of lives by preventing starvation in Yemen or getting a Palestinian/Israeli peace agreement. And just because tragedy repeats itself it doesn't mean that the tragedy in the moment shouldn't be solved before "time runs out." All of this of course presumes the ability to walk in the shoes of others, an ability grounded in inspirational events such as the life of Jesus, which re-lives itself in uncountable ways moving forward.
Good Evening Charlie,
1) What is time? Is it a measurement? Or is it a process? My understanding of time is that it is a measurement used to explain change. Without the concept of time- how would we explain the aging process?
2) "Nevertheless modern historians still see time and human history moving forward in a linear line. Yet here we are making circles around the sun locked into a solar system going no place in particular. How do you see it?"
If we are going no place in particular- how do you explain the evolutionary process? Eastern philosophers hold the theory that time is a repetitive and monotonous cycle... Western philosophers hold that time is a steady progression of significant events moving towards human evolution and transformation. Can one know with absolute certainty that there has been no human transformation in the past 1000 years? Absolutely none whatsoever?
3) Jim- thank you for pointing out in the previous blog that the worshipping of a divine being is not really a human "need" per se.... I agree, it isn't a need... Perhaps one could say it is a tendency or an urge. It does seem to be linked with being able to fit in with cultural and societal groups and traditions. Today is D-Day. Can you imagine the graves of our beloved soldiers on the beaches of Normandy being marked with anything other than a cross or a Star of David? I don't necessarily agree with the Church's teachings about the cross and Jesus's resurrection, etc... But it does give one a sense of commonality and community and togetherness to have a symbol of love and peace marking the sacrifice of our country's heroes.... What else could we use? Butterflies? So, it's just a symbol but it is an important one... No, like you stated, worshipping the divine is not a need... I don't know what it arises out of. But it surely is unifying in times of shared sacrifice and suffering and intentional conflict. It's the best we can do to honor the ultimate sacrifice of our young men for their courage and patriotism.
Many thanks as always Charlie!! Elizabeth in St. Louis..... LET'S GO BLUES!!!!!!!!!!
* In my second to last sentence- I meant to type "international" conflict *
Good Morning Elizabeth,
Sorry to be so long replying but I have been out of town and my mind has been occupied with other things.
Evolution: With the passage of time, evolution occurs, but it is scarcely a straight line process, and it works just as well under the cyclical model of time (the ellipsis of the earth around the sun)as it does with the linear concept of time. Evolution happens over many centuries and there are many blind alleys and mistakes (Mother Nature is scarcely perfect in what she does. as we can see from what happens in the birthing process of humans and animals even today).
Thanks Charlie- obviously your question is very subjective- but it's not a matter of value judgements as to the direction time is heading. I don't have any moral authority to decide if it's leading somewhere "good" or "bad" or what kind of job Mother nature does. My judgement of those processes adds nothing important to the subject at hand. If time moved in a circle, then wouldn't the same people and same events happen over and over again? Are the same people being born and re-born? Evolution and reincarnation don't seem compatible to me. When you play a video tape and then rewind it, guess what? You watch the same movie over again. Are we watching the same human movie over and over again with the same people doing the same things in the same way in the same place? That's what cyclical means. Time is a concept used to explain change, linear or not. We became physical humans in order to experience the process of change. Non-physical entities do not change.
I have a question about the disciples and Jesus's resurrection... A Christian theologian named William Lane Craig said in an interview that historical evidence shows us that the disciples believed Jesus was raised from the dead. Do you think the disciples actually believed that? Other than the gospels, do you know of any writings by Josephus or anyone else who stated that Jesus's disciples' believed he was raised from the dead? Elizabeth
I disagree that counting time by days, months, years is less monotonous than seeing time as cyclical. They are both ways of perceiving time. What one does within one’s cycle or line defines whether ‘tis monotonous. The use of a circle to envision the cosmos implies that it has no beginning or end, whereas a line, though by definition continuing forever tends to suggest beginning and ending points . This is perhaps most clearly seen in the ideas of some religions, with Christianity beginning with creation and ending with the second coming of the Christ and the prophets’ end point, “Day of the Lord, when the right are redeemed, the evil punished. But, even within Judaism and Christianity, there is the notion of a cyclical world, in the “wisdom books” of Tanakh, the reiteration of certain themes (blessings of the younger son, elevation of the poor & widow, good king/bad king) throughout, and some of the parables of Jesus (seed & harvest, sower, prodigal son, mustard seed)also give a cyclical view. I’m also quite comfortable thinking of the oxygen-CO2, nitrogen, and water cycles, as well as food chains presented as cycles of life.
Some (I’m thinking of Campbell) see the difference being that the linear view came from nomadic groups generally “on the move,” whereas the cyclical view came from more stationary farming groups.
I looked down in the garden today and there, in the beans, was a large black snake. I was overjoyed, because it chomps the critters that nibble the plants, probably until a different predator kills it. Such is life.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
It seems to me that there can be progress and failure in a circular view of time without threatening the idea that time is cyclical. A cyclical view of time does not require reincarnation. One just accepts that on this planet we are not going any place in particular and life as we now know it on this planet plays itself out normally on our elliptical movement around the sun.
I have no idea what the disciples actually believed; I only know what the texts they left behind say. The texts do not agree regarding the nature of the resurrection. There are "pagan" reflections on early Christian beliefs.
Thank you Charlie,
I suppose one could assume the planet and the sun are relatively stationary... If they were not stationary, then where would they go? And why? To another galaxy? That's an odd scenario to contemplate. However, I don't see the positioning of planets as having anything to do with the concept of time. Is the concept of time stationary or mobile? Does time stand still or does it move? Within the course of time, there are cycles and seasons. But is time itself a stationary cycle or a flowing river? Either way, I don't see what that has to do with planet Earth. Maybe I'm missing something.
Regarding the disciples belief in Jesus's resurrection- I've been looking at your other writings to see if there's any pre-Markan accounts that say the disciples came upon an empty tomb. I'm trying to figure out what the earliest manuscript says with regard to an empty tomb. Obviously, the story spread like wildfire and I'm trying to figure out if it was started by Paul or by someone else. Elizabeth
RE: I don't see that has anything to do with planet Earth
Time measurement has long been thought of in terms of familiar and significant regular time intervals, i.e. year, one Earth orbit about the Sun; month, i.e. one Lunar orbit about the Earth; day, i.e. one rotation of the Earth about it's polar spin axis.
For a review of the arguments regarding Mark's story of a disciple discovery of an empty tomb, you may want to look at Kris Komarnitsky's Doubting Jesus Resurrection, 12-43.
For example: Paul was silent about an empty tomb, but his analogy in 1 Corinthians 15:35-54 of a seed transforming into a plant suggests an early belief that there would be no corpse remaining after transformation to a spiritual body.
In addition to an extensive look at Jewish and Roman burial laws and practices regarding honorable and dishonorable burial, Komarnitsky also addresses textual issues such as Mark ending with the fear and silence of the supposed women discoverers, the charge of a stolen body found in Matthew, and the mention of an obscure grave found in the non-canonical Secret Gospel of James:
"You have not yet been abused and have not yet been accused unjustly, nor have you yet been locked up in prison, nor have you yet been condemned unlawfully, nor have you yet been crucified without reason, nor have you yet been buried in the sand as I was."
K concludes: "It is plausible...the only thing historical on this topic that is preserved in the literary record is that Jesus was buried, and that is exactly how it appears in the early passage that this book is trying to explain: he was buried" (1 Corinthians 15:4).
That's why I am confused by Charlie's question with regard to "history" and "time." He sees them as the same thing. There's a difference between the course of human events & history and the measurement of time. Time measures the amount of orbits around the sun- check. The events that take place under the sun... There is no measurement for that. In other words, what are those events leading up to? One would have to have a complete understanding of the Universe in order to answer that and the human mind is much too limited to see the whole picture. Elizabeth
Thank you very much- that helps me. One more question- do you find it unusual that Philo of Alexandria did not mention any crucifixion or burial of Jesus? Many thanks, Elizabeth
From what I've read, Philo didn't mention Jesus at all. The historical ripple must have been very small. I find it interesting that the historical ripple was very small also for Jesus' chief spokesman, Paul; very little historical is mentioned in Paul, except a few teachings and crucifixion.
It's like the resurrection story overwhelmed anything historical until the gospels began to appear decades later under the pressure of the threat to generational memory and the failure of Jesus to return.
Studying Philo (primarily Feldman and Yonge’s translation of Philo) I had four primary reasons he wouldn’t have mentioned Jesus I will try to put in one sentence. He didn’t move in the same circles, living in Alexandria, related to familial political connections with the Herodians and leaders of Rome; his writings were generally apologetic toward Judaism centering on Genesis & Exodus; his audience seemed generally non-Jewish; and the idea that Jesus (or Jesus Christ) was known from Judea to Rome is probably mythic, part of the foundation myth of Christianity, so there seems no reason to assume he’d heard of Jesus. The best opportunity would have been “Embassy to Gaius,” but he was speaking generally of Pilate in almost a stereotype of a miscreant. With this and “Flaccus,” he was writing about evil political figures. There was no reason to detail a specific death of one person. Every outside source, contested or not, for Jesus came after a time when literature had been written about him, thus could have been used as a source.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
This is in response to your question to me about Philo. Dennis is likely correct. Philo likely died around 50--before Paul began to write his letters, and long before the gospels were written. The Jewish community in Alexandra sent a delegation to Rome around 39/40. At that early period Christianity was viewed as a sect within Judaism rather than a separate entity. We know very little about what was happening pre the Pauline letters. In my view, however Philo had never even been exposed to the radical Jewish Jesus movements. Besides Philo had more important things "on his plate."
History and time are two different "things." Human history itself is simply what actually happened in the past--the billions and billions of things that occurred every second of every day. Narrative history is a historian's selective description of some past events--certainly not in the aggregate. Time should be thought of in terms of a series of ellipses around the sun. Does this help?
Switching back to the original subject again.
In my view, "elliptical movement around the sun" is one way of objectively organizing, i.e., keeping track of, the human subjective experience of time which inexorably moves toward our own death, and probably also the death of our planet and galaxy in a burning blaze. We don't know if humanity will continue to survive through its evolving ingenuity. You seem to be saying that the objective component controls the subjective. I took Elizabeth to be saying that it's the other way around.
Yes Charlie that does help- I still don't understand how a series of ellipses around the sun could be seen as "going anywhere." But I can see how one would question the direction the course of history is headed- whether it's evolutionary or repetitive.
Interesting take Gene- I never thought of it that way "You seem to be saying that the objective component controls the subjective." I guess I was saying the opposite of that but didn't realize it.
So if I'm reading your responses correctly- it seems the resurrection story got around first, before the gospels? That had to have been because of Paul. I guess I never realized that Paul had more of an early influence than the original disciples or that Christianity was seen as a sect within Judaism not as a separate entity. It would be interesting to learn who disseminated the first resurrection stories and how they did so. Thank you again, Elizabeth
The ellipses the earth makes around the sun takes it nowhere. It stays in the same relationship to the sun. The solar system, however, is moving toward the edge of the universe at (I am told)a pretty fast clip, which moves the earth and all bodies in our solar system along with it. Jim can tell us more about such matters.
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