Seleucid time-keeping and apocalypses

Beginning in 311 BCE, the Seleucids began counting history going forward as “n+1,” forever and ever. In contrast, formerly and elsewhere, time was marked by local events or consulships or years since the start of a monarchy. In an article entitled “A Revolution in Time,” for Aeon, Professor Paul J. Kosmin proposes that the Seleucid innovation in time-keeping was a necessary condition for the emergence of apocalyptic thinking and writing.

“The theological and political roots of ‘apocalyptic eschatology’, as this end-times literature is known, are complex and multiple. An entire subfield of Second Temple and early Christian scholarship is devoted to this problem of emergence. But the Seleucid Era has played no role in existing research within either classical ancient history or biblical studies. I suggest that the ubiquitous visibility and bureaucratic institutionalisation of an irreversible, interminable and transcendent time system provoked, as a kind of reaction-formation, fantasies of finitude among those who wished to resist the Seleucid empire. The only way to arrest the open-futurity and endlessness of Seleucid imperial time was to bring time itself to a close.” Hence the Books of Daniel, and (though he does not mention it) Revelation.

Given the possibility that the books of the Pentateuch were composed after 311 BCE, one must wonder if this idea of linear time entered them and colored Judean thinking about time and history from this early time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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