More Perspective.Posted: June 4, 2008
If you want to consider another mind-boggling fact about how little time has really elapsed since “ancient times,” try this one on for size. It’s something I came up with to tell my Sunday School kids at the beginning of each school year (our subject is Jewish history), and it concerns a whole different Abraham than in the blog post just below.
My grandfather (whom I knew well) was born in 1896. I (whom my grandfather knew well) will live till about 2035, most likely. That’s a distance of 139 years, but let’s be conservative and take it down to 125. So—125 years is the unit that spans that part of human history that is familiar to us in immediate personal, sensory terms. (I can smell the bowl of hard candies in my grandfather’s house right now.)
The original Abraham (father of monotheism, and of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, shown sacrificing his son Isaac in the Rembrandt above) is thought to have lived roughly 2000 BC. So, about 4000 years ago. Seems like a long time. Let’s just see how many of our 125-year personal family-knowledge units it would take to get us back that far.
Do the long division. There are exactly 32 units of 125 in 4000. 32 pieces of the timespan occupied by the thumb-to-index-finger space that is my grandfather and me. 32 of those. That’s all it takes to get all the way back to Abraham.
We moderns like to imagine a chasm separates us from our ancient forebears, from all that crazy stuff that went down in ancient Babylon, Egypt, Judea, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, Medieval Europe, the Middle Ages, etc. But it doesn’t. 32 grandparent-to-you units get you to the beginning of what we call civilization. Think about that the next time you despair that our world hasn’t come further than it has. I think we’re doing quite well for our tender age.