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Father Time's Scythe Is Not a Reaper's Tool

Gary North - December 31, 2013
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Google supplies us with lots of images of Father Time. In most cases, he is carrying a scythe.


Have you ever thought about this? You should have, but you probably haven't.

Who was Father Time? He was not the grim reaper. His scythe was not for reaping.

He was Chronos. Chronos was the ancient Greek god of time. His name is the basis of the word "chronology." Wikipedia says:

Chronos was imagined as a god, serpentine in form, with three heads--those of a man, a bull, and a lion. He and his consort, serpentine Ananke (Inevitability), circled the primal world egg in their coils and split it apart to form the ordered universe of earth, sea, and sky. Chronos was confused with, or perhaps consciously identified with, due to the similarity in name, the Titan Cronus already in antiquity, the identification becoming more widespread during the Renaissance, giving rise to the allegory of "Father Time" wielding the harvesting scythe.

The titan Cronus was Zeus's father. His father was Uranus (Sky).

What has this got to do with a scythe? A lot. We also read on Wikipedia:

In ancient myth recorded by Hesiod's Theogony, Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Uranus. Uranus drew the enmity of Cronus' mother, Gaia, when he hid the gigantic youngest children of Gaia, the hundred-handed Hecatonchires and one-eyed Cyclopes, in the Tartarus, so that they would not see the light. Gaia created a great stone sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to castrate Uranus.

Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Uranus met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle castrating him and casting his testicles into the sea. From the blood that spilled out from Uranus and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. The testicles produced a white foam from which the goddess Aphrodite emerged. For this, Uranus threatened vengeance and called his sons Titenes (according to Hesiod meaning "straining ones," the source of the word "titan", but this etymology is disputed) for overstepping their boundaries and daring to commit such an act.

Every time I see Father Time and his scythe, I think of the old saying: "A tool for every purpose, and every tool in its place."


Time was the great enemy in the classical world. Time was seen as the destroyer. Time was what had to be overcome. The various Chronos festivals of the ancient world were periods of ritual debauchery. They were later called Saturnalia festivals, named after the Roman god of time, Saturn. The ancients believed that a structured ritual rejection of common morality would lead to social restoration: power from below. This is sometimes called the myth of the eternal return. (A good book on this is Roger Caillois' Man and the Sacred. Another is Mircea Eliade's The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History.)

New Year's Eve is a legacy of this tradition. It is also a time of drunkenness. It is a ritual re-creation of the cosmos. It is a time of resolutions -- resolutions that will break bad habits: a new creation.

The Israelites had no such celebration. Neither did the early church. They viewed the creation as exclusively God's work. It was not creation out of chaos -- the Greek view -- but rather creation out of nothing. Man played no part in the creation. There is no lawful participation in such a ritual act.

For Jews and Christians, time is not the enemy. Time is a tool of production. Both groups look forward to the advent of the New Heaven and New Earth, which will have a down payment in history (Isaiah 65:17-20). Both groups see time as the arena in which ethical thought and action challenge moral rebellion in a battle for the hearts of men. Both see redemption as the overcoming of rebellion. Both reject the idea of the myth of the eternal return. Both see history as linear: creation, fall, redemption, and culmination -- a one-way development. This outlook made possible the modern world, including science. (See Stanley Jaki's books, especially Science and Creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe [1974], and The Road of Science and the Ways to God [1978].)

At midnight tonight, a new year will arrive. It should not be pictured as a child. It should be seen as a mature man without a scythe. He should be carrying a scale, the symbol of honest judgment. In the Bible, this is the meaning of "honest weights and measures." Honest judgment, not the scythe, is the tool of dominion. Justice, not bloody revolution, is the means of progress. Justice, not the ritual overthrow of moral standards, is the means of restoration.

Stay sober. Avoid scythes.

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