Timekeeping in the Ancient Mediterranean and Near East

Imagine a world without watches, clocks, or any timepieces. Life would, and did, move more slowly. We can understand our ancestors better if we understand this. 

By Mark D. Harris

Students of antiquity stumble over important questions. To accept any ancient work such as the Bible as a valid historical document we must understand the basics of daily life in the Bible. It is unfortunate, or exciting depending upon your point of view, that the Bible encompasses over 2,000 years, thousands of square miles and dozens of cultures. Simple questions abound such as “what time of day was Jesus crucified?” While this article will not provide a definitive answer, it will shed light on the question.


Time was divided into days, weeks, months and years during the Israelite monarchy. During and after the Babylonian exile the Jews adopted the Babylonian system of dividing the daylight period into hours.

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Tensions Between Rome and the Jews During the Early 1st Century AD

One of the recurring themes of the Roman Empire in the first century AD is the friction between the Jewish people and the Romans.  Much of stemmed from the dramatic cultural difference between the Romans who adopted Greek culture and the Jews, some of whom adopted Greek culture but most of whom held tightly to their Hebrew traditions.  The reign of the Seleucid Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BC) and the revolt of the Maccabees set an unbridgeable chasm between the two.

There were other reasons for the Jewish-Roman friction as well:

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