Ussher Lightfoot Calendar

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Beginning of James Ussher's Annales

The Ussher-Lightfoot Calendar is a chronology that dates back to an annalistic work by James Ussher , Archbishop of Armagh  and Primate of Ireland, in 1650. Among other things, he tried to derive the date of creation from information in the Bible , and determined Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. BC ( Julian calendar ); this corresponds to September 21 in the Gregorian calendar valid today .


Ussher's work, the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti ( Annals of the Old Testament, derived from the earliest beginnings of the world ), was his contribution to the long-running theological debate about the age of the earth . This has been a major concern of many Christian scholars for centuries . The year 4004 BC proposed by Ussher BC did not differ significantly from the estimates of Beda Venerabilis ( 3952 BC ) or Scaliger's (3950 BC). It was widely believed that the possible length of time the earth could exist was 6,000 years - 4,000 years before the birth of Christ and 2,000 years after, corresponding to the six days of creation, on the grounds that the Lord has a day like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day ( 2 Peter 3: 8).

Although Ussher's date may seem unusual from today's point of view, it was quite precisely within the range already accepted by the scholars of his time. In fact, as early as 1644 , John Lightfoot of the University of Cambridge had already made and published very similar calculations, the results of which agreed with the Usshers - in addition to the date, however, he also determined the time:

" This work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 BC, at nine o'clock in the morning. "
( Andrew Dickson White : A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. )
In German: “ This work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 BC. At nine o'clock in the morning. "

The names Ussher and Lightfoot are therefore mostly mentioned in connection, in recognition of their common “discovery” of the time of creation.

In 1728 Sir Isaac Newton published new chronological calculations ( The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended ) which sought to reconcile classical chronology with astronomical dates. He came to the conclusion that the world is 534 years younger than calculated by Ussher.

Meaning of the date

Ussher further limited the date to Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. According to the Julian calendar (September 21, Gregorian) by using the Jewish calendar and placing the creation time on the autumn equinox .

He derived the day of the week from the six days of creation and the seventh day on which God rested. The day of rest is Saturday in Jewish tradition, so creation must have started on Sunday. He calculated according to the Julian calendar ; Gregorian calendar October 23, 4004 BC Would be a Thursday.

The Gregorian date of the equinox is between May 22nd-24th. September; possible errors result from inaccuracies in the Julian calendar .

Ussher's methodology

The narrow range of estimates by scholars like Ussher was essentially based on a uniform methodology for calculating the time of creation. This was based on using the Bible as the main foundation. However, since the Bible had been compiled over the centuries from sources of different origins, in different versions and with lengthy gaps in time, it was not possible to make a simple summation of biblical ages and dates. In an article on Ussher's calendar, John Barr (see references at the end) distinguishes three different periods of time that Ussher had to investigate:

  • Early Period (Creation to Solomon ): The apparently simplest section, since the Bible contains a consecutive male line of descent from Adam to Solomon, including the age of each person. However, not all versions of the Bible have the same age information: For example, in the Septuagint they are much longer, which leads to a time of creation that was more than 1000 years earlier. Ussher solved this problem by resorting to the Hebrew Bible instead .
  • Early age of kings (Solomon up to the destruction of the temple and the Babylonian exile ): The line of descent is interrupted here, only the period of reign of the kings is recorded, but this is complicated by a series of overlaps and ambiguities. Ussher had to connect the biblical records with known historical data of other people and rulers in order to be able to establish a continuous chronological sequence.
  • Late Age of Kings ( Ezra and Nehemiah up to the birth of Jesus): The Bible gives no information about this at all. Ussher and his colleagues therefore had to try to link every known event of this period with a historically datable event from other cultures, such as the Chaldeans , Persians and Romans . For example, the death of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar II , the Jerusalem 586 BC. In the 37th year of the exile of Jehoiachin ( 2 Kings 25:27).

Using this method, Ussher was able to set the date of creation to around 4000 BC without further adjustments. To determine. He moved it back to 4004 BC. To account for a mistake made by Dionysius Exiguus , the founder of the Christian calendar . Herod's year of death was 4 BC. So that Jesus could not have been born later. His birth therefore had to be somewhere between 37 BC. BC, the year Herod took control of Jerusalem, and 4 BC. Chr. Lie. Ultimately, Ussher came to the conclusion that the year of Christ's birth must be 4 BC. Have been.

The time of year when creation took place was the subject of considerable theological debate in Ussher's day. Many scholars have suggested that it was in spring, the beginning of the era of the Babylonians , Chaldeans, and other cultures. Others, including Ussher, thought it more likely that the time was in autumn, mainly because that time of year marks the beginning of the Jewish year .

Ussher's chronology from today's perspective

It is a coincidence that Ussher's chronology is relatively well known to this day, while that of Scaliger, Beda and others has been forgotten. About fifty years after Ussher's death, his chronology began to be added to the annotated editions of the very influential translation of the King James Bible . On the first page of Genesis , Ussher's creation time was 4004 BC. BC, which established it as a canonical appraisal of the Bible. (In fact, only about a sixth of Ussher's Annales is based on the Bible.) The Scofield Bible also contained the chronology. It is missing from recent versions of the Bible, but numerous editions of the annotated King James Bible are still in circulation.

Ussher's work has become an example of a belief that the Bible should be taken literally. However, the assumption of such a short age contradicts the observations and findings in numerous areas of science. Just five years after Ussher's thesis, Isaac de La Peyrère , for example, suggested that human history alone must be older than 4000 years, which was supported by early geological hypotheses (such as the discovery of certain tools). La Peyrère, however, had to revoke his theses in view of the Inquisition , with his book being publicly burned in Paris .

A few thousand years old earth was completely questioned by geologists of the 19th century, who recognized that many millions of years must have been necessary for the geological processes that determined the current appearance of the earth. The theory of evolution Darwin pointed to lengthy developments.

Even so, there are still people today who rely on Ussher's Annales to prove their belief that the earth is actually about 6,000 years old. These include the young earth creationists .





Secondary sources

  • John Barr: Why the World Was Created in 4004 BC. Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology. In: Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. 67, 1984, ISSN  0301-102X , pp. 575-608.
  • Stephen Jay Gould : Fall in the House of Ussher. In: Stephen Jay Gould: Eight Little Piggies. Reflections in Natural History. Cape Books, London 1993, ISBN 0-224-03716-1 .
  • Philip Mauro: The Chronology of the Bible. Dönges, Dillenburg 1925.

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