In the beginning . . . Jewish contestations of time
Ancient Judaism, as it is described in the Old Testament, struggled withthe concept of time. My aim in this chapter runs counter to Stern’s claim (2003: 4) that time is absent from the literature of ancient Judaism, for what I shall argue is that the culture of ancient Judaism was utterly dominated by debates on time. Such discussions analysed its character, the manner in which it functioned, the question as to how it might be recorded, and its place in the dialogue between man and God. In making this argument, I am contesting the view not only of Stern, but of other scholars, such as Gunnell who notes that the Old Testament contains (Whitrow 1988: 53) ‘no numbered dates, despite its concern with an intricate historical record’ to argue that (1988: 52), ‘unlike the Greeks, the Hebrews never tried to analyse the “problem” of time as such. They seem neither to have conceptualized their experience of time nor formed an abstract idea of history.’ I find myself much more in agreement with Heschel’s view (1976: 200) that ‘Judaism is a religion of history, a religion of time’, while Barr’s key linguistic study (1962) would certainly lend support to a reading of the Bible that questioned the rigidity of Hebrew/Greek divisions. Indeed, as Wenham argues (1976: 21), ‘Biblical theology may be crudely described as a theology of history.’ In this chapter I hope to show how the
‘story of time’ in the Old Testament is based around an orientation towards particular forms of time.