The Lives of Men
In optimal circumstances, the average human lives about 75-years. Some more, and some less, of course. And, these days, many are living more due to the benefits of modern medical science and healthy lifestyles. But throughout our history, 70-80-years have been counted as the days of a man, barring war, accident, disease, and having survived infancy and childhood. Until modern times the average life expectancy has always been quite low exactly because of the paucity of these optimal circumstances. Now, when we think of history, most of us think of a linear progression of time, of one thing happening after another in an endless chain back: the bane of so many students who see it as a brain-numbing chore to memorize it all. But then in swift contravention of the linear view, many people simultaneously hold the view of History as an impossibly long, complex story chain composed of the lives and deeds of uncounted hundreds of millions of people. We quickly get confused because of the huge number of overlapping lives through history. Do we write the history of the 20th century as the history of billions of people living/dying simultaneously, or as the life of one person? Both are possible and both are valid, although not equal, instruments.
But I want to focus briefly on the linear model of time’s progress and suggest something different. World War I (1914-1918) - long since faded into meaninglessness for most people today - can still be said to be a single lifetime ago (90-years). The foundation of the American Republic in 1776 - 230 years ago - was only a little more than three lifetimes ago. William Shakespeare lived and wrote in Londona mere six lifetimes ago. Ten lifetimes ago takes us back to the construction of Notre Dame Cathedral and the days when Thomas Aquinas was teaching. That simplifies things a lot, doesn’t it? Twenty lifetimes ago, and the Roman Empirehad just collapsed. Twenty-seven lifetimes ago - maybe less - brings us to the time when Christ walked the Earth. Imagine 27 adult people in a room, and one of them could be Jesus. 31 lifetimes ago and Alexander the Great was running about. 32 lifetimes ago the Parthenon was built. All recorded human history can fit into the span of about 67 human lifetimes, a mere 67 individual human histories. The story of modern homo sapiens is the story of about 666 lifetimes, or 666 generations (taking us back about 50,000 years).
Imagine a history lesson model that puts 27 living elderly people in a room and you can have a living history account of Christ the Lord - or Joshua the Carpenter.
History is not a two-dimensional linear progression, of course. That is only a learning model, a schematic, and an inadequate one at that. It is reinforced by the habit/custom people have of tracing genealogies as if a family bloodline really does descend through time as a line to be traced with your finger. A more accurate model would be a three-dimensional web. But I don’t suppose you could get away trying to teach history like that in schools. Most teachers, let alone their pupils, would never understand it.
Genealogies are usually written with a purpose to trace the descent of an individual, or a small group like a family. That is why they appear the way that they do. They do not account for all siblings, half-siblings and cousins of a family and their marriages, intermarriages and descendents. They account for a line. So the complexities of a family’s true relations can be/are lost very quickly just by looking at a family tree.
Consider the evidence of the breadth of the confusion about genealogies. The recent novel and film, The DaVinci Code, by American Dan Brown, captured the imaginations of millions with the (old, worn and discredited) proposition of a married Jesus who had a child and living descendents today through Mary Magdalene. People whose imaginations get fired up by the idea do not understand Statistics. Genealogies spread and populations grow exponentially. So if Jesus of Nazareth had any children at all - even one - then the laws of Statistics tell us that everyone alive in the world today, not just one individual or one family, can probably legitimately claim descent from him. The same is true of everyone who ever lived because the fact of the matter is that human beings are so closely interbred that anyone in the past who every had an offspring can be said to be the ancestor of us all. Interesting, isn’t it? Jesus Christ and Jack the Ripper, Solomon and Lucrezia Borgia, Abraham Lincoln and the Marquis de Sade: my kin.