Time, part 1: measuring time

The Gezer calendar (Archaeological Museum, Istanbul)

The Gezer calendar (Archaeological Museum, Istanbul)

Let’s face it: life is just one day after another. “The sun ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose,” says Ecclesiastes, adding that this was all very wearisome. Given the tedious repetition of days, it is a bit odd to count them. Neither hunters nor the first farmers needed a calendar. The changing seasons gave sufficient warning of what was going on. Once your crop was ready, you could harvest it. In most agricultural societies, there was no need to measure time very accurately. There certainly was no need to construct a complex calendar.

The first calendars were impractical. Here is W.F. Albright’s translation of a calendar found in Gezer in Israel (now in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul). It dates to about 900 BC.

His two months are harvest
His two month are planting
His two months are late planting

His month is hoeing up of flax
His month is harvest of barley
His month is harvest and feasting

His two months are vine-tending
His month is summer fruit.

[Read more on the website of Ancient History Magazine]


2 Responses to Time, part 1: measuring time

  1. Hendri Schut says:

    Dear Jona,

    Thank you for sharing yet another interesting bit of ancient history. But I connect my thanks with a question, or rather a few inter-related:

    What exactly do you mean when you say: “The first calendars were impractical”?

    Isn’t there something like a contradiction when you put it like this? Isn’t there too much – unconscious – transposition of ‘modern appearance and opinion’ to ‘historical ancient fact’? Shouldn’t this be put into something like: “The first calendars may appear rather impractical to our eyes.”

    Are not all calendars, the first simplex ones included, when initially devised, practical, i.e. adjusted to the needs of the people who construct them? In my opinion the Gezer-calendar is not necessarily, or rather at all, an contemporary example of an ‘impractical’ calendar, although it may seem to our eyes as rather vague or not much of a true ‘calendar’ at all.

    Why would one construct an impractical calendar in the first place?

    So, isn’t there too big a ‘jump’ of thought between the first and second sections of your mail?

    I want to stress that I’m here only responding to the wording of your mail below, not to the text on the website of Ancient History Magazine.

    Kind regards,

    Hendri Schut

  2. Yes, you are right. They were not impractical by design. The Gezer calendar was an attempt to put some order to chaos, but the people must have known that they needed something better.

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