This Week in History: The World is Created (According to a 17th century Archbishop)

This week, Archbishop of Armagh James Ussher established the date of creation as October 22nd, 4004 BC.

These days, the majority of people believe that the Earth was created a few billion years ago. And so they should – the science is right there. But just a few hundred years ago, there was no such thing as radiometric dating, so anyone trying to figure out the date of something quite old had to rely on other means. For Ussher, that meant turning to everyone’s favourite best-selling book of all time, the Bible.

However, with multiple versions of the Bible in existence, containing very few explicit dates, this was much easier said than done. Ussher was forced to cross-reference biblical records with known dates and events, some as laughably obscure as the death of King Nebuchadnezzar II in 562 BC. This eventually brought him to 4000 BC, where he took off four years to account for an error made by the guy who came up with the AD numbering system. Ussher then narrowed this down to his final result by studying Jewish culture and noting that their year began in Autumn and their day of rest was Saturday.

Reading this in 2016, it might be easy to laugh at what seems like the crazed ramblings of a deluded old man, but hold out for a minute. Ussher’s work was made possible only through his extremely extensive knowledge of ancient history, languages, chronology, astronomy and calendars. His premise might have been wildly inaccurate, but his methods were some of the best of their era.

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