[Grand Lodge]
[Calendar] [Search] [Resources] [History] [Links] [Sitemap]
The age of the world
Modern writers often, unfairly, single out Archbishop James Ussher as the creator of a chronology that dates creation some 4000 years BCE. But he was neither alone nor first. From St. Jerome1 . to Sir J.G. Wilkinson,2 . such a recent creation date was widely accepted in Western thought. Archbishop Ussher’s chronology is also widely misquoted.
In 1642, Dr. John Lightfoot wrote that man was created at 9:00 a.m., and in 1644, he wrote that the world was created on Sunday, September 12, 3928. In 1650, the Irish Archbishop, James Ussher, published his computations that the world was created on Sunday, October 23rd, 4004, beginning at sunset of the 22nd. In the following excerpt, Andrew D. White doesn't misquote Ussher, but he does completely misrepresent John Lightfoot.
In 1896, Andrew D. White3 . published his History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, from which these notes are drawn.
Suffice it here that the general conclusion arrived at by an overwhelming majority of the most competent students of the biblical accounts was that the date of creation was, in round numbers, four thousand years before our era; and in the seventeenth century, in his great work, Dr. John Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and one of the most eminent Hebrew scholars of his time, declared, as the result of his most profound and exhaustive study of the Scriptures, that "heaven and earth, centre and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant, and clouds full of water," and that "this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning."4 .
For a table summing up the periods, from Adam to the building of the Temple, explicitly given in the Scriptures, see the admirable paper on The Pope and the Bible, in The Contemporary Review for April, 1893. For the date of man’s creation as given by leading chronologists in various branches of the Church, see L'Art de Vérifier les Dates, Paris, 1819, vol. i, pp. 27 et seq. In this edition there are sundry typographical errors; compare with Wallace, True Age of the World, London, 1844. As to preference for the longer computation by the fathers of the Church, see Clinton Fasti Hellenici, vol. ii, p. 291. For the sacred significance of the six days of creation in ascertaining the antiquity of man, see especially Eiken, Geschicht der mittelalterlichen Weltanschauung; also Wallace, True Age of the World, pp. 2, 3. For the views of St. Augustine, see Topinard, Anthropologie, citing the De Civ. Dei., lib. xvi, c. viii, lib. xii, c.x. For the views of Philastrius, see the De Hæresibus, c. 102, 112, et passim, in Migne, tome xii. For Eusebius’s simple credulity, see the tables in Palmer’s Egyptian Chronicles, vol. ii, pp. 828, 829. For Bede, see Usher’s Chronologia Sacra, cited in Wallace, True Age of the World, p. 35. For Isidore of Seville, see the Etymologia, lib. v, c. 39; also lib. iii, in Migne, tome lxxxii.
5 .
The same adhesion to the Hebrew Scriptures which had influenced Usher [sic] brought leading men of the older Church to the same view: men who would have burned each other at the stake for their differences on other points, agreed on this: Melanchthon and Tostatus, Lightfoot and Jansen, Salmeron and Scaliger, Petavius and Kepler, inquisitors and reformers, Jesuits and Jansenists, priests and rabbis, stood together in the belief that the creation of man was proved by Scripture to have taken place between 3900 and 4004 years before Christ.
6 .
For Lightfoot, see his Prolegomena relating to the age of the world at the birth of Christ; see also the edition of his works, London, 1822, vol. iv, pp. 64, 112.
7 .

1. Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymous (c. 342-420). Italian scholar and Latin Church father, born in Stridon. Made the first Latin translation of the Bible from the Hebrew. [Chambers Biographical Dictionary.Edinburgh: 1990. p. 780]^
2. Wilkinson, Sir John Gardner (1797-1875). English Egyptologist, author of Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians (1837-41) [Ibid p. 1560]^
3. Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918). President and Professor of History at Cornell University. He was co-founder of the university with Ezra Cornell in 1868. [Cambridge Biographical Dictionary. Cambridge: 1994. p. 234]^
4. A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Andrew D. White. George Braziller, New York: 1955. p. 9.^
full text (with typos):
5. Ibid. p. 252 note.^
6. Ibid. p. 253.^
7. Ibid. p. 256 note.^
Misquotes and errors
Archbishop Ussher’s chronology is widely misquoted, often with the addition of a time of day. The computation of the time can be ascribed to John Lightfoot, but he only gave a time for the creation of man. White misquotes Lightfoot: there was no corrolation between Ussher and Lightfoot’s computations.


© 1871-2024 Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon A.F. & A.M. Updated: 2011/08/05