Time — is anyone else amazed at the arbitrary nature of time, people’s manipulation of a force which controls and organizes our lives? The turn to a new year reminds us yet again of the power of Christ’s birth for Christian Europe. That event ended one era and restarted a new era at 1 A.D., seemingly discounting the millennia that preceded it.

Ancient history

At Wikipedia’s “Timeline of Ancient History” article, we learn that “recorded history” began with the Early Bronze Age in 3300 B.C. Early writing occurred in 3000 in Egypt while China and other civilized areas were developing. In about 1800 B.C., alphabetic writing emerges. The Middle Bronze Age in 2000 and the Late Bronze Age in 1600 preceded Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, forming at about 800 and 700 — all B.C., before Christ’s birth. We know Christ’s birth occurred in the time of the Roman Empire. Because the Roman Empire encompassed three continents (Europe, Africa, and western Asia) for which time was “common,” the B.C./A.D. system gained precedence over other forms. Non-Christian Israel, for example, uses a timeline of less than 6,000 years while China’s timeline embraces more than 4,000 years. Only in modern times have we acknowledged that other cultures, non-Christian ones, might be sensitive to Before Christ and “In the Year of our Lord,” anno Domini, so that now historians use CE, the common era, and BCE, before the common or current era.

B.C. and A.D.

Another source points out that B.C. and A.D. were not used until several hundred years after Christ’s death. The Roman calendar used three reference dates — Kalends, Nones, and Ides — and counted backward from these in a rather complicated method of naming days of the month. The Romans also named years after rulers and counted from the founding of Rome so that A.D. 100 would be the 853rd year since the founding of the city, ab urbe condita, abbreviated AUC.

The B.C. dating system widely used after 800 was invented by a monk, Dionysius Exiguus of Scythia Minor (the region from the Danube river on the north and west to the Black Sea on the east) in A.D. 525. Dionysius wanted to replace the calendar named after the cruel emperor Diocletian who persecuted Christians. The Anglo-Saxon historian the Venerable Bede knew Dionysius’s work and incorporated Anno Domini in his “Ecclesiastical History of the English People” in A.D. 731. Use of A.D. spread throughout Europe when Emperor Charlemagne, influenced by the English cleric and scholar Alcuin, popularized the term and disseminated it throughout his empire. From the 11th through 14th centuries, A.D. was in use in Roman Catholic countries. Portugal in 1422 was the last Western European country to adopt A.D., and the Eastern Orthodox countries abandoned the Byzantine calendar in 1700 for Dionysius’ system.

The end of time

Just as arbitrary as discovery of the “beginning” of the Christian era is the belief of when the world will end. Some ancient people believed that the world would end 500 years after the birth of Christ when the dead would be resurrected. Even today, predictions of the world’s end abound, whether that end results from our own making or some Divine act. Early Americans believed the world would end in 1666 because of the reference to “666” in Revelations. A Wikipedia chart lists many who predicted the end of the world, including Christopher Columbus who claimed the world created in 5343 BCE would last 7,000 years, ending in 1658.

In 2012, polls in 20 countries revealed that more than 14 percent of people believe the world will end in their lifetime, ranging from 6 percent in France to 22 percent in the U.S. and Turkey. The polls found these beliefs related to youth (below age 35), lower rates of education and lower household incomes. Three percent of Britons thought the end times would be caused by the Last Judgement contrasted with 16 percent of Americans. Psychologists theorize the people believe in an apocalypse because this belief reduces the “actual danger in the world to a single and definable source, an innate fascination with fear, ... paranoia and powerlessness, and a modern romanticism” inspired by fiction that deals with end-times (“The Walking Dead” and zombies, for example).

Expressions that employ ‘time’

One source lists 100 idioms that use “time” in everyday expressions, some of which follow: once upon a time, all in good time, bide one’s time, ahead of one’s time, have the time of one’s life, keep time, live on borrowed time, behind the times, make time for, the time is ripe, have a devil of a time, stand the test of time, pressed for time, in one’s own time, a whale of a time, no time to lose, long time no see, a matter of timetime for a change, for the time being, the big time, do or serve time, just in time, no time like the present, call timetime flies, turn back the hands of timetime is money, kill time, have the time of one’s life, time is a great healer, a time for everything, time will tell, time’s arrow, from time immemorial, two-timetime out of mind, time-honored, timeless, and time on my hands.

Poets and other writers have addressed the vagaries of time, too. The Bible reminds us, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The Roman philosopher Virgil (70-19 BCE) in “Georgics” said: “Sed fugit interea, fugit inreparabile tempus,” translated as “But meanwhile, it is flying, irretrievable time is flying.” Ovid, Roman poet, in his “Metamorphoses” said “Tempus edax rerum,” “Time the devourer of everything.” Shakespeare has innumerable references to time in his sonnets and plays. From “Richard II,” “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” And all of us recall the lines from “Macbeth”: “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, / To the last syllable of recorded time; ...”

Out of time and space, I’ll end with Will Rogers: “Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.”

Liz Meador is an adjunct instructor at Wayne Community College. Questions or suggestions for column topics may be sent to lizmeador@earthlink.net.