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How Many Years?

by Tim O'Hearn

I am now 66 years old. That in itself means very little, other than that I was able to retire according to the U.S. government. On the other hand, if I had been born in the year zero, that means that I would be living in the year the apostle Paul died. Not that I would probably have known that. It’s not like Facebook or the New York Times were proclaiming his death to the world. Even if they had, the headlines would have been about Portia Kardashian, and the death of a preacher might have made page three. It might be interesting to look at some other coincidences of timing that we don’t often think about.

For instance (and this is what got me thinking about such things), there were about 500 years between the book of Malachi, the last book written in the Tanach (Old Testament) and the birth of Jesus. Within about 25 years, that is the time from when Columbus first sailed to the “New World” and today. We consider that a pretty long time in America, but often read the end of Malachi and immediately start Matthew, and think nothing of what came between. Maybe you read the books of the Maccabees, but most people skip that part of history. Just as a lot has happened in the Americas since Columbus, a lot happened between the testaments. Just thinking of people, you have Alexander and his generals, Julius Caesar (and Cleopatra and Antony), Confucius, and the Buddha.

Going back to people’s ages, we find some interesting facts. Jesus was “about 30” (Lk 3:23) when he started preaching. We consider Sylvester Stallone’s making of the movie Rocky at age thirty to be late blooming, but that was about the time a person was expected to start making his mark in first century Judea. Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward said “Methus’leh lived 900 years, but who calls that livin’ when no gal will give in to someone who’s 900 years.” The Bible is more specific, at 969 years. That means that if he were to have died today, he would have been 13 when William the Conqueror invaded England.

While not specifically ages, there are a couple of biblical periods that would fit into a person’s lifetime. If a person who is 70 years old was born when Nebuchadnezzar began the Babylonian captivity of Israel, he would now be living when that captivity ended under Cyrus. (the book of Daniel) That also happens to be the length of time that the European Common Market has been in existence (as of the writing of this article). Someone who is only five years older would have lived the span of time from the death of Pharaoh Nebkheprure (Tutankhaten, Tutankhamen), who is not mentioned in the Bible and probably just preceded Joseph’s tenure in Egypt, to the birth of Moses. Thus we are as far from the American Civil War as the exodus was from King Tut.

Then there are the spans of time between specific events. The 1,973 years from Abraham to Jesus is about the same as from the birth of Jesus to the year I graduated college. For those to whom that means nothing, that would have been the year of the Yom Kippur War, Watergate, and Roe v Wade. The span from Moses to Jesus (1,300 years) is the same as that from Jesus to the Hundred Years War, and such literary greats as Boccaccio, Dante, and Chaucer. From David to Jesus was about 970 years. That is equivalent to the time from Jesus to Macbeth, or to Eric the Red’s settlement of Greenland. In literary terms, that is the span from the poet Omar Khayam to today. If Joan of Arc had died the year Jerusalem was burned by Nebuchadnezzar, then we would be living in the year of Christ’s birth.

What is the significance of all of these facts? Probably nothing. Or, it may point out that we often don’t think about the passage of time in the Bible. People don’t realize that the church was entirely Jewish for the first fifteen years of its existence or that the computer age is as far from Jesus as Abraham. There is one other significance to all of this. Most of these events are of little real relevance today; but even after 2,000 years the death of Jesus is of paramount relevance. The Hundred Years War won’t save us, but Jesus does.