Where the Circle Ends

  Imagine a world where the calendar marks months, but not years. There could be seasons: spring, summer, harvest, and winter. But, there would be no sense of past, present, or future—just an endless, circular present. And that's exactly what the world was like until God spoke to Abraham, a Sumerian living 4,000 years ago in what is now Iraq. In his book titled The Gift of the Jews, historian Thomas Cahill writes that when God called Abraham out of Sumeria, He also called the whole world into time and history. According to Cahill, many things we take for granted—our concept of time, progress, history, and even our notion of what it means to be human—we owe to the Jews and to the God of Scripture. "From Genesis onward," Cahill writes, "the Bible presents us with a new way of thinking about and experiencing reality." For example, Cahill notes that before Abraham, the world had absolutely no concept of history. Everything was just part of the great circle of the seasons that went round and round, never changing or progressing. The idea of progress from past to future did not exist. Cahill writes that "[Sumerian] thumbnail sketches of each [king's] reign are arranged… without the least regard for what may in fact have occurred in Sumerian history." Some of the kings are said to rule for hundreds of years. Others are said to have ruled for thousands of years! This concept of history also affected story telling. Sumerian stories lacked the beginning-middle-ending structure that the modern world associates with narrative. Instead, they began in the middle and ended in the middle. When Moses wrote Genesis it was the first time anyone attempted to put down a history that included a true sense of time and accurate dates. The Old Testament writings represent the first attempt to get facts, genealogies, and chronologies right—in short, history as we understand it today. And the more archeological discoveries there are, the more those facts prove to be accurate. Similarly, the story of Abraham's journey being called from Sumeria to the Promised Land represented a pronounced break with the familiar, cyclical mindset. Abraham was called by God to leave his home and go to a strange place, and God told him that He would raise from Abraham's seed a great nation. Cahill says this concept of a distant, unseen future, and a personal or national destiny, was unheard of prior to Abraham. For Christians, the idea of history and time is especially important. God's promises to Abraham and the entire account of Scripture articulate our great Hope in the anticipation of the fullness of time. Now, Cahill's theology is muddled, to put it gently. He explains away many miracles and doesn't believe the Bible to be the Word of God. But the central tenet of the book is brilliant, and particularly provocative for secular skeptics. Secularists, you see, are constantly berating Christians for being backward and unenlightened. What they really ought to do is read The Gift of the Jews, a work by an indisputably fine scholar. What they will see is that so much understanding we take for granted started with the God of the Bible speaking to Abraham. The Judeo-Christian revelation is not the negative influence that many secularists proclaim it to be. It is the root of our civilization. Had the God of the Bible not spoken, we might still be living in a world without an understanding of time and history.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary