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Biblical Archaeology Review 3:1, March 1977

The Importance of Dating

By Paul W. Lapp

Contacts with history in high school or college have left most of us with something of a distaste for chronology. At least those in the over-thirty generation can hardly have escaped history courses where the instructor concentrated almost exclusively on chronological structure, key events and persons of the period; and the study of history boiled down to memorizing a chronological framework, the dates of kings, and dynastic charts. Does it really matter whether Columbus discovered America in 1392, 1492, or 1592?

From one perspective, precise chronology is not essential to historical appreciation and understanding. To one without a clear perception of the course of events of the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries, misdating the discovery of America by a century hardly distracts from whatever significance the event has for him.

On the other hand, if a historian were to take such a cavalier attitude toward chronology, he might easily conclude that the discovery of America was the result of the creative forces unleashed by the Reformation or an attempt to test the theory of Copernicus. It is important for the historian to reckon with the fact that Copernicus was nineteen when America was discovered. A historian can do little with persons or events which cannot be fitted into a rather precise chronological framework.

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