Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire.

AuthorWilson, Joseph A.P.
PositionBook review

Kosmin, Paul J. Time and Its Adversaries in the Seleucid Empire. Harvard University Press, 2018. 379 pages. Cloth, $55.00.

Paul Kosmin's ambitious work aims to persuade classicists and social scientists in equal measure. The author suggests that an innovatively transcendent temporal reckoning system was embodied in the "Seleucid Era epoch" (p. 26) and this caused a seismic shift in world history. Our near-ubiquitous assumption of a universal, standard, measurable, linear time is (in Kosmin's estimation) a condition derived from Seleucid appropriation of Babylonian creation mythology in the service of Hellenistic statecraft. Any individual monarch's reigns and deeds could previously have been the key reference points in historical chronologies, which allowed the transient political concerns of scribes to rhetorically shape their descriptions of the passage of time in complex and irregular ways. Beginning with the Seleucids, individual political regimes (and/or sub-regimes) no longer altered the texture of recorded time in such a haphazard way. One might suggest that the 'current' of time began to pass unimpeded over the surface of historical events rather than being refracted and distorted through the rhetorical frameworks built by scribes around those various events. The state's totalizing efforts proved expedient for conceptualizing a more 'regular' timeflow at the grassroots level, and this helped to fix historical events into a linear sequence throughout the domain. This "panimperial synchronicity" became second nature (according to Ksomin) and formed the precursory template for the current international Common Era dating system (p. 48).

Also, the concept of an impending apocalyptic eschatology (i.e. an 'end of days') in Abrahamic and Zoroastrian cosmology is allegedly a reaction against Seleucid hegemony by the indigenous cultures of Babylon and Judea. Local reactions against Seleucid power thus served (somewhat ironically) to instantiate the very temporal system the Seleucids imposed, and then to spread it far beyond its diasporic Greek roots. A work grounded in analysis of ancient primary sources, Kosmin nonetheless frames his analysis with citations of canonical postmodern critical theory and postcolonial theory as embodied by Jacques Derrida, Dipek Chakrabarty, and others.

It is somewhat surprising that Kosmin did not do more to address the many obvious implications with respect to classical and contemporary social theory more...

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