Time. It is something we never have enough of, and something people of all cultures throughout history have struggled to understand fully. What is the nature of time? How does one calculate the passage of time? Is there even such a thing as time? Will time end at some point and for that matter, how did time begin? G. J. Whitrow, in his interesting book Time in History: Views of Time From Pre-History to the Present Day, explores the various perspectives of time in cultures ranging from the ancient Near East to present day Western concepts of this all important topic.
As a believer, we understand the importance of time. Scripture places the creation of all things by the Lord within a span of defined time. We know time will come to an end at some point when the Messiah returns with the righteous enjoying eternal life with the Father and the wicked experience eternal damnation. Eternity is a construct of time, albeit one we cannot grasp at present.
In everyday life, we mark off time in second, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. We look at historical events within a framework of time such as “in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation took place”. All in all, in today’s society, in large part, all things revolve around time.
Obsession with time is not the sole purview of today’s time conscience, fast-paced society. With that said, ancient societies and cultures throughout the centuries have devoted large amounts of their focus on matters related to time. As Whitrow saliently notes in this book, even the very construct of language has subsumed within it elements of addressing time. He cogently states, “Our idea of time is thus closely linked with the fact that our process of thinking consists of a linear sequence of discrete acts of attention. As a result, time is naturally associated by us with counting, which is the simplest of all rhythms.”
Whitrow first addresses concepts related to our awareness of time, then he proceeds to engage how time has been described through the centuries, and he spends the remainder of this work outlining how time was understood and applied from antiquity to the present day. All in all, it is a riveting investigation of how cultures have dealt with time.
What interested me most and led me to read this book was to search out an understanding of the Hebraic understanding of time, something I knew Whitrow addressed in this book. On the timeline of history, as it is treated in this book, the Hebraic perspective is included in the section that concentrates on classical antiquity. While the discussion of the ancient Israelite understanding of time only covers around six pages, it is nevertheless replete with valuable information that will serve the reader well in their knowledge of the Hebraic view of time. Perhaps most importantly, the information shared in this book is not only helpful in establishing an overview of the Hebraic viewpoint, but it will also help inform the reader on how to grasp time as understood and applied by the writers of Scripture.
For instance, Whitrow aptly states, “The outstanding feature that distinguishes Hebrew thought from Greek thought (particularly that of Aristotle) was the idea of the cosmos as a creation of God that actually had occurred in history. In Hebrew thought, unlike Greek, nature was not divine, and God transcended all phenomena. The sun, moon, and stars were all God’s creatures and served to show his handiwork.” Unraveling Greek Platonic thought from our understanding of theology in general and also from the perspective of how we understand time as revealed in Scripture. Whitrow does an especially excellent job of comparing and contrasting Hebraic versus Greek thought regarding matters of time, an issue all too often overlooked in the literature on the subject.
I highly recommend this excellent book by G. J. Whitrow. I also recommend another similar work by him titled What is Time. Both works provide the reader with a good understanding of time, how cultures have understood, related to, and applied time in their societies. Whitrow in Time in History engages the Hebraic understanding and application of time, something I encourage all believers to become better versed in as it relates directly to a proper approach to matters of time as it relates to Scripture. Scholarly yet written in a way all can understand, this book is a valuable tool on time I will keep handy for years to come.