Your RDA of Irony

Happy New Year

 Let us welcome the Jewish New Year:  5771.  Of course, there is no scientific or historical justification for 5771.  The Jews have only been around for 3500 years, and the world is somewhat older than than 5771.  Yet, that number is not a zany choice or an arbitrary guess.  As Milton Friedman explained in his classic work “How Little To Tip a Waitress Before She Spits in Your Food”,  the market will inevitably determine the correct value of everything.  So it has to be 5771 if the Jews are willing to buy that.

But how did the Jews originally come up with such a paltry amount for the age of the world?  When the chronology was first calculated–21 centuries ago–it seemed a reasonable sum.  At the time, Rome only claimed to be 600 or so.  Even Egypt couldn’t go back farther than 3000 years.  So, allowing for 7 days of creation, Methusaleh,  40 years in the desert, 4000 years seemed a plausible total.  (The Greeks had found these skeletons of very large reptiles but that only proved the existence of dragons.)

Even if the ancient Jews had known that the world actually was over 4 billion years old, they would have had trouble writing that large a number.  The concept of zero did not yet exist.  Yes, Jews did have a vague equivalent to the zero: the nebbish; but nebbish really was more of a metaphysical concept than a mathematical one.  

So 21 centuries ago, our chronology was the best we could do.  All right, now we know better.  Happy 4,500,000,000 New Year might be precise, but 5771 has more eccentric charm.

p.s.  Let’s not forget the historic significance of this day:

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