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The Ultimate Three Minutes

The Story of Two Great Human Watersheds – Their Preparation and Their Coinciding

The Very Revd. William Cummings (Honorary Canon Emeritus, Norwich Cathedral; sometime Dean of Battle) studied at Oxford (where he was awarded Half Blues by the University of Oxford for Cross-country Running in 1960 and Athletics in 1961) and served in the pastoral ministry of the church in Norfolk and Sussex. His authorship in retirement is formed and informed by forty years of pastoral experience.

The Ultimate Three Minutes is a statement of Christian theology in terms of “Salvation History”, introducing the functions of Abraham, Moses, Second Isaiah and the Psalms; and placing in historical context the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ – his uniqueness, the formation of the Gospels, and the Eucharist as the identifying thread which binds the redemptive or salvation process into a coherent whole and vivifies the Christian hope. This presentation of basic Christian Gospel theology is carried within a simplistic account of the history of the Ancient World, written in the style of a continuous narrative, with digressions into special topics such as the Psalms, Augustus and Providence, the Sixth Chapter of St John’s Gospel, and the Northern Frontier. It also features a parable drawn from modern science.

The title of the book borrows from two distinguished scientists. In The First Three Minutes Steven Weinberg describes the developments of the first three minutes of the universe, following the explosion of the “Big Bang” 13.8 billion years ago. In The Last Three Minutes Paul Davies describes the final subsidence of the universe into entropy and heat death. The Ultimate Three Minutes: The Story of Two Great Human Watersheds –Their Preparation and Their Coinciding provides a humanitarian parallel. The title embodies a value judgement, namely the need of the human race for redemption, and the achievement of that redemption by Jesus Christ, the Anointed Saviour, on his Cross. The “Ultimate Three Minutes” is the final three minutes before Jesus Christ expelled his final breath, when the suffering and the cost of the redemption of mankind was at its most heavy and precarious.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-734-6
Paperback Price: £14.95 / $19.95
Release Date: July 2015
Page Extent / Format: 224 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Foreword by the Rt. Revd. Nicholas Reade
List of Maps and Genealogy


1 The Dancing Floor
2 The Dancing Years
3 The Century of the Crescent Quiescent
(900–801 BC)
4 The Century of the First European Miracle
(800–701 BC)
5 The Century of the Fall of Assyria
(700–601 BC)
6 The Century of the Tightening World
(600–501 BC)
7 An Underestimated Contribution
(546–538 BC)
8 The Century of the Second European Miracle
(500–401 BC)
9 The Century of Farewell to the Aegean
(400–301 BC)
10 The Century of the Intermeshing
(300–201 BC)
11 The Century of Creaks, Cracks and Contradictions (200–101 BC)
12 The "Century" of Accelerating Discontents
(100–50 BC)
13 Thirteen Centuries of Song (1,370–103 BC)

Chapters 14–32 (a)–(s)
The "Long" First Century AD (50 BC–AD 120)
14 (a) The "Decade" of the Assassination of Julius Caesar (50–43 BC)
15 (b) The "Decade" of the Second Triumvirate
(43–30 BC)
16 (c) The First Decade of Augustus:
The Restoration of the Republic (30–21 BC)
17 (d) The Second Decade of Augustus:
The Ascendancy of Augustus (20–11 BC)
18 (e) The Third Decade of Augustus:
The Splendid Isolation of Augustus (10–1 BC)
19 (f) Augustus and Providence (63 BC–AD 14)
20 (g) The Fourth Decade of Augustus:
The Disillusionment of Augustus (AD 1–10)
21 (h) The Decade in the Wake of Augustus
(AD 11–20)
22 (i) The Decade of the Disillusionment of Tiberius
(AD 21–30)
23 (j) The Decade of Tiberius and Caligula
(AD 31–40)
24 (k) The Decade of Claudius and the Council
of Jerusalem (AD 41–50)
25 (l) The Decade of the Rise and Fall of Agrippina
the Younger (AD 51–60)
26 (m) The Decade of Nero and theYear of the
Four Emperors (AD 61–70)
27 (n) The Decade of Vespasian (AD 71–80)
28 (o) The Decade of Titus and Domitian
(AD 81–90)
29 (p) The Decade of Domitian, Nerva and Trajan
(AD 91–100)
30 (q) "Where Can I Get a Drink?"
(AD 91–100)
31 (r) The Decade of Trajan
(AD 101–110)
32 (s) The Decade of Trajan and Hadrian
(AD 111–120)
33 The "Century" of the Two Watersheds
(50 BC–AD 120)
34 The Century of the Climax of the
Ancient World (AD 101–200)
35 The Century of the Superannuation of Rome
(AD 201–300)
36 The Century of Kaleidoscopic Mutation
(AD 301–400)
37 The Century of Diverging Destinies,
AD 401–500
(a) The East
38 The Century of Diverging Destinies,
AD 401–500
(b) The West
39 The Northern Frontier
(10,000 BC–AD 500)
40 The Ultimate Three Minutes (Passover AD 33)
41 The Parable of the Target
42 The Parable of the Doppler Shift


Foreword by the Rt. Revd. Nicholas Reade, former Bishop of Blackburn

I am struck by the extraordinary breadth of ‘The Ultimate Three Minutes’, though not surprised having, during his time as Dean of Battle, known William Cummings as a serious student, widely read, and above all as a fine conventional parish priest with a deep concern for the people in his care. His book takes an innovative look at the central tenets of the Christian Faith, focusing on those ultimate three minutes in the context of world history from earliest times, using both historical and scientific data to suggest that both history and science support the central Christian truths of the Incarnation and Saving Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The book follows the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic Period; the establishment of civilisation in the Bronze Age; the slow gathering of the whole of the West into the control of the Roman Empire, and then, above all the providential appearance and career of the Roman emperor Augustus at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ. When we reach the final summarising chapters we find some unusual parables involving a phenomenon of modern physics, and a poignantly personal dedication to the Gospel message.

In his time in office I always saw Dean Cummings as among the last of that breed of clergy committed to carrying on that great tradition, once quite common in the Church of England, of many parish clergy who regarded good learning and a scholarly approach as a priority in their ministry, and this is a strong reason why this book needs to be taken seriously. It will appeal to both the believer and those seeking the truth of the Christian message, and also those interested to know how a thoughtful Christian with a scientific background finds meaning and Divine disclosure through the processes by which things in this world happen.

Very fittingly the final section ends with the General Thanksgiving from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This prayer, said by generations of Christians in thanksgiving for our Creation and Redemption through Christ, is where the answers lie to Paul Gauguin’s three questions at the heart of this book, ‘Where do we come from?’ ‘What are we?’ ‘Where are we going?’ Most certainly this book will help us to answer those questions, and show us that every moment of our lives is filled with eternity, which is why it needs to be read widely.


In this book there is foundational and transformative wisdom. The book sweeps authoritatively through world history weaving into it the insight given in Jesus Christ as to its and our purpose.
Dr. John Twistleton, “New Directions”, October 2015

Many scholars look at the history of Israel and its great prophets, or the Church and the early Church Fathers in isolation from the world in which they operated. Canon Cummings could never be accused of this. Canon Cummings’s easy style makes it a very enjoyable read.
The Revd. Gary Green at

The former Dean of Battle has set the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ against a panoramic view of human development which focuses on the Roman civilisation and reveals a deep understanding of it. He thereby shows the relationship between one of the great watersheds of human history and the ultimate watershed of the divine plan of salvation. A fascinating read.
Canon Eddie Burns (author of the popular hymn “We have a Gospel to proclaim”), “The See” magazine – Journal of the diocese of Blackburn, November 2015

The book records the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the writing of the Gospels and the founding of the early Christian Church. This is written within the context of human history, with particular reference to the centuries of the Roman Empire, when these momentous events took place. As those who remember Bill will expect, the book is erudite and painstakingly researched, but is above all a really fascinating read.
Antony Heath, Long Stratton and Wacton Village Magazine, September 2015

Reviewed by Caroline Kerslake, The Barnabas Fund (Hope and Aid for the Persecuted Church)

Cummings, a parish priest in England, details the events of the ancient world that led up to the death of Jesus Christ. He describes the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic Period, the establishment of civilization in the Bronze Age, the gathering of the West into the control of the Roman Empire, Tiberius and Caligula, Claudius and the Council of Jerusalem, Agrippina the Younger, Nero, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian, and the watershed events of Augustus’ reign and Jesus Christ’s death, as well as the climax of the ancient world and the centuries that followed, to illustrate how the last three minutes of Jesus’ life were the ultimate three minutes in the “redemption of a fallen universe.”

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