Time No Longer.

I’m about a third of the way through Dostoevsky’s Идиот [The Idiot], and I’ve gotten to the bit in II:5 where Prince Myshkin is wandering around Petersburg and — shortly after the striking sentence “Что же в самом деле делать с действительностью?” [Really, what can you do with reality?] — he remembers what he had once said to Rogozhin about the moment just preceding his epileptic fits (which he hasn’t had since he left Switzerland): “в этот момент мне как-то становится понятно необычайное слово о том, что времени больше не будет” [“at that moment somehow the extraordinary words ‘there shall be time no longer‘ become understandable to me” — I quote the Carlisles’ translation]. That really is one of the more extraordinary quotes from the book of Revelation, and it’s caught the imaginations of many people, including me. But it turns out it may be one of those pesky mistranslations.

The Carlisles use the King James Version, which is probably still the most familiar (the exact words of the KJV, citing the seventh angel, are “there should be time no longer”), and this is equivalent to the modern Russian version Dostoevsky quotes and the Latin “quia tempus amplius non erit.” But the original Greek is ὅτι χρόνος οὐκέτι ἔσται, and apparently χρόνος has a special meaning here, because the New English Bible has “There shall be no more delay” — similarly, the New World Translation has “There will be no delay any longer,” and I assume this is the standard modern interpretation. Anybody know the story here? Frankly, the “delay” version is obvious and boring, so I’m going to stick with the mysterious and unforgettable “time no longer” no matter what the scholars say.

Also, when I checked the Church Slavonic Bible, I found that it has “лѣта уже не будетъ,” using лѣто (modern лето [leto]) not in what I thought was its usual OCS sense ‘year’ (in modern Russian it’s ‘summer’) but apparently in a more general sense of ‘time’ (which I thought was врѣмѧ, часъ, or годъ); I’m curious about the Slavic stuff as well as the New Testament Greek stuff, and will appreciate anything anybody can tell me.


  1. Reminds me of the bumper sticker, “No More Years—Cthulhu for President”. Lovecraft, I trust, knew the Book of Revelations well.

  2. Another literary reference, in Portrait of the Artist: “Time is, time was, but time shall be no more.” In the movie version, John Gielgud read this line, to a spine-chilling effect.

  3. Marja Erwin says:

    I recall a few moments where I’ve been hit by safety sign– and then I’m in the street or dropping to the ground. But then it’s time before, nothing, then time after.

    Is this a specific type of seizure?

  4. Sounds to me like petit-mal seizures (epilepsy runs in my family, though I’ve been spared). Consider seeing a neurologist.

  5. Marja Erwin says:

    I was trying to ask: Does “there shall be time no longer” fit some people’s experience of some type of seizure? because they don’t fit my experience.

    I have seen 2 neurologists. I had an eeg, which was negative for photosensitive epilepsy at high strobe rates, around 30 Hz while lying down. I am more sensitive at lower rates, around 3 Hz.

  6. I cannot be quite sure, but probably, I interpreted the “time no longer” words as a colorful way to say “this will be the end of times”, “end of history”, something to that effect. Of course, I didn’t reed it as a devotee or a scholar, but as a work of fiction.

  7. Commentary on Revelations seems unanimous that the correct meaning is “delay,” but this does not appear to be based on any special meaning of χρόνος. The argument just seems to be that χρόνος can refer to a particular span of time, and for it to mean Time itself in this instance would be absurd (since time clearly continues after this point in the narrative).

    Of course, the whole book is known for the poor quality of its Greek.

  8. Cleve Cartmill’s “Deadline”, which (based on information in unclassified articles) explained exactly how the atomic bomb was built — in 1943-44.

  9. M.E. Saltykov-Shchedrin It came nearer, and as it approached the course of time gradually slowed down.

  10. The argument just seems to be that χρόνος can refer to a particular span of time, and for it to mean Time itself in this instance would be absurd (since time clearly continues after this point in the narrative).

    Well, that’s a terrible argument. It’s terrible in general (the fact that a sentence is hard to understand does not give you license to make stuff up), and it’s especially dumb in this case because look at the context! The whole damn book is absurd!

  11. I am truly disappointed in NT scholarship if that’s really how they decided this. What’s next, reinterpreting the whole Trinity idea because it’s “absurd”? What happened to credo quia absurdum?

  12. J.W. Brewer says:

    “[P]oor quality of its Greek” is so prescriptivist/judgmental . . . Why not just acknowledge that it is written in a rather distinctive variety/register/idiolect of Greek which is not really attested in other surviving texts of the era? It is btw interesting that generations of copyists largely resisted the urge (conscious or otherwise) to “fix” the text as they reproduced it.

    Is, in the context of the sentence or larger passage, “delay” a plausible sense of “tempus,” or at least as plausible a gloss as it is of “chronos,” or are we to conclude that the early Latin translators were (from the perspective of more recent scholarship) just as clueless about what the Greek was trying to say as the KJV translators were and thus likewise stuck to literalness at the expense of accuracy?

  13. I am currently thinking that the early Latin translators and the KJV translators understood the Greek perfectly well, and it is the modern scholars who are clueless about what the author was trying to say.

  14. LSJ does give Classical instances where χρόνος means delay, but not definitively.

    It certainly seems that Aquinas took the Vulgate at face value, “Sed, si non est tempus, non est motus caeli. Ergo motus caeli cessabit.”

    As did early English translations. Wycliffe: “Tyme schal no more be.”

  15. hy not just acknowledge that it is written in a rather distinctive variety/register/idiolect of Greek which is not really attested in other surviving texts of the era?

    Well, that’s polite. I would rather describe it as a variety of Greek otherwise unknown to humankind, and the result of someone who is thinking in Aramaic writing down whatever Greek words come into his head that more or less fit his Semitic thoughts.

  16. So now the question is: what would the Aramaic word/phrase be?

  17. There are those who believe in time eternal and those who don’t. The later publish modern Biblical “translations”.

  18. From the Morson/Emerson book on Bakhtin I’ve been reading:

    Finally, the chronotope of the chivalric romance allows for a subjective playing with space and time in a way quite foreign to the Greek romance. In the Greek romance, time within each adventure is technically correct in the sense that a day is always a day and an hour an hour. But in the thoroughly miraculous world of the chivalric romance, time and space themselves become miraculous. Whole events may disappear as if they had never happened and, as in the fairy tale, hours may be extended and days compressed; time itself may be bewitched.

    Free dissertation topic for anyone who wants it: the Book of Revelation as early chivalric romance.

  19. J.W. Brewer says:

    Erring on the side of politeness is one of those things I occasionally strive to do, perhaps out of perverse motives given how contrary it is to internet-comment-thread stylistic conventions. Or perhaps out of pious motives given that the prose style under discussion is that of one of the authors of a canonical book of Scripture. Or perhaps out of motives somewhere in between given my suspicion of the Higher Criticism and my resultant suspicion that the unedumacated first-century Jews who wrote the stuff down were a lot smarter than the highly-credentialed German academic skeptics who deprecate them sometimes give them credit for.

  20. There is apparently also a theory (not universally accepted among New Testament theologians) that the semiticisms in Revelations are intentional, to better connect the descriptions of prophecies’ fulfillment to the original prophecies themselves.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    one of the authors of a canonical book of Scripture

    Likely included in the canon only because this John was equated with John the evangelist and John the apostle.

  22. Comparison of the Book of Revelation with some Dead Sea Scrolls may show some shared themes, as I suggest in “The Exclusion of Ephraim in Rev. 7:4-8 and Essene Polemic against Pharisees” http://people.duke.edu/~goranson/Exclusion_of_Ephraim.pdf

  23. Interesting, thanks! Here‘s a direct link to the article for those with JSTOR access.

  24. I’ve just gotten to the part where the tubercular Ippolit is sounding off to the company assembled at the Pavlovsk dacha where Prince Myshkin is staying, and contemplating his imminent demise he says he’s not even eighteen yet, adding “У мертвого лет не бывает” [A dead person doesn’t have years]. This is so reminiscent of the OCS “лѣта уже не будетъ” [there will no longer be years/time] from Revelations, cited in the post, that I choose to believe it’s a direct allusion.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    Latinists: What is the meaning of tempora in the quotation O tempora! O mores! I suppose it is “the times we live in, our own era”, but could it mean something else?

  26. I think it’s pretty clear that it means exactly that. Cicero’s first speech against Cataline begins with asking him rhetorically how long he intends to keep up his conspiracy against Rome. Then he says (in precis) “Don’t you understand what all these precautions mean? Do you imagine that the senators don’t know exactly what you are doing?”

    Then it’s “Oh the times, oh the customs!”, or perhaps “Shame on the age and its principles! The Senate is aware of these things, the consul sees them, and yet this man lives — not only lives, but is sitting right here! He takes part in Senate business, and all the while he watches us, marking off the names of each of us to be purged. And we think we are doing our duty to Rome if we manage to stay out of his way!”

  27. Trond Engen says:

    I’m no latinist, but what else could it be? “Oh, the times! Oh, the manners!”

    I remember having wondered if mores might be a pun on mora “delay”, but I don’t think that works. But looking it up now I learned two interesting things:

    Lat. mora translates Gk. khronos as a rhythmical unit in poetry. That might bear upon the reading of the Revelation.

    Japanese tempura is a borrowing of Lat. tempora, maybe by way of Portuguese. The context is cooking during Lent.

  28. J.W. Brewer says:

    I think tempura in Japanese has to be a loanword from Portuguese. Whether it was, in the Portuguese lexicon, a Latin loanword (in the sense of one adapted fairly recently as of the 16th century rather than inherited, so it hadn’t gone through the millennium-plus of prior sound changes as Portuguese slowly diverged from its ancestor) is a separate question and it well might have been.

    One internet source (proceed at your own risk, because this is not an etymology I’ve otherwise investigated) claims the Portuguese are responsible for the Indian-cuisine word “vindaloo,” from colonial-Goan meat preparations described as “de vinha d’alhos.”

  29. In the plural tempora can have the sense of ‘state or condition of things’, particularly in a negative sense. Thus ‘O tempora’ can mean something like ‘O what a calamitous state of affairs’.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Thanks for the context. I had no idea where the quote came from, I would have guessed some sort of poetry, that’s why after reading the previous comments I thought the meaning might have been unusual.. This is even though we read Cicero’s oration in Latin class some decades ago (Quousque, Catilina …).

    Trond: Spellcheck wanted me to write tempura instead of tempora, was it doing it for you too? I had heard that the Japanese word was a borrowing from Portuguese, but I did not know the context.

  31. In his Apocalypse commentary David E. Aune translates 10:6b as “There will be no more interval of time.”

  32. See, I think the only responsible thing to do is translate “There will be no more time” and leave the interval suggestion for the commentary. It’s wrong to smuggle your interpretations into the actual translation.

  33. Marja Erwin says:

    Aside from physicists, would most people notice a switch to purely ordinal time?

    IIRC, Cicero’s prosecution of Verres involves the claim that Verres’ efforts to defend against Spartacus were an excuse for embezzlement, which makes me doubt Cicero’s claims about his other targets.

  34. David Marjanović says:

    What is ordinal time?

    My sister has learned the whole speech for fun. Quo usque tandem, Catilina, abutere patientia nostra […] consul videt. Hic tamen vivit. Vivit?

  35. @Marja Erwin: Embezzlement in ancient Rome is a complicated subject. While embezzlement was certainly a crime, it was also standard procedure for most magistracies, and Roman customs were designed to deal with the phenomenon. A certain amount of peculation was practically required by the system. Roman consuls, for example, were required to fund elaborate games and festivals out of their own pockets. Lesser officials were responsible for less elaborate personal expenditures. It was assumed that these festivals would be funded with stolen public funds.

    However, stealing too much (or too flagrantly) was sometimes prosecuted. Also considered punishable was running for a position solely for the financial benefit. That was one of the specific accusations against Verres.

  36. My sister has learned the whole speech for fun

    That seems to be a popular pastime; both Songdog and I can quote the first part, if not anywhere close to the whole thing.

  37. What is ordinal time?

    Based on the definition of ordinal scales, I’d say it’s a measurement of time in which the hours are numbered but not the same length. Roman time worked like this: the period from sunrise to sunset was divied into 12 hours, and likewise for the period from sunset to sunrise, so the length of an hour depended on the time of year.

  38. > So now the question is: what would the Aramaic word/phrase be?

    Since no one more knowledgeable has weighed in, I’ll take a stab at it . . .

    I believe the normal Aramaic word for “time” is z’man, which (like English “time”) is used both in the sense of “point in time” (see Daniel 3:8, Daniel 4:36) and in the sense of “amount of time” (see Daniel 2:16, Daniel 7:12). If the claim is that John of Patmos was thinking in Aramaic and translating too-literally to Greek, then I would presume that that’s the word he would have had in mind. (On the other hand, if the claim is that his Greek vocabulary was so limited that he wasn’t even calquing from Aramaic, but rather, just choosing the closest high-frequency word to his general desired sense, then it probably isn’t even relevant what Aramaic word he would have chosen. I don’t know any Greek whatsoever, so can’t judge if his Greek is bad enough to warrant such an extreme interpretation.)

  39. Thanks!

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