Ussher, Explained and Corrected

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Excerpt In 1654 James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh in Ireland, published his Annals of the World, in Latin. An English translation was made available in 1658, two years after Ussher’s death. Bishop William Lloyd put Ussher’s chronology, with some of his own modifications, in the margins of a 1701 edition of the Bible. For many years the King James Version was printed with these dates. This led many to believe that Ussher’s dates were “the” Bible chronology, a position which is defended by some writers to this day. Continue reading

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We shall follow Ussher on the road of time to see how he handled the Bible’s chronological data, starting with Creation, which he placed in 4004 BC, down to the Hebrew kingdom period. At that point we shall leave the good archbishop and his traveling companions as they journey farther on to the time of our Lord and the end of the Jewish commonwealth at the hand of the Romans.

From Adam to Exodus

Rapid progress can be made on the road from Adam to the Flood. Using the genealogical list in Genesis 5 as it appears in the Hebrew (Masoretic) text as his guide, Ussher calculated the date of the Flood as AM (Anno Mundi: year of the world) 1656, 2349 BC. After the Flood, the ages of the patriarchs at the birth of their son (not necessarily the firstborn) give AM 1878, 2126 BC for the birth of Terah, father of Abram (Abraham). A rough place in the road then appears. Gen 11:26 says that after 70 years, Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Did Terah’s wife have triplets, or did he have three wives who gave birth to three individuals in one year? How does this fit with Stephen’s statement in Acts 7:4 that Abram, at age 75 (Gen 12:4) left Haran after the death of his father (at age 205), making Terah 130 years old when Abram was born? Ussher wisely decided that Abram, although named first, was not the first of the three sons to be born, thereby placing Abram’s birth in Terah’s 130th year, AM 2008.

After this there are good highway markers down to the entry of Jacob into Egypt. Isaac was born when Abram was 100, Jacob when Isaac was 60, and Jacob’s descent into Egypt was at age 130 (Gen 21:5, 25:26, 47:9), in AM 2298. At this marker there is a fork in the road: how long were Jacob’s descendants in Egypt? Exodus12:40,41 says that the sojourning of the descendants of Israel who dwelt in Egypt was 430 years. At first reading, this would suggest 430 years from the time Jacob’s family entered Egypt. In Galatians3:16,17, however, Paul says that the giving of the Law, which happened in the year of the Exodus, was 430 years after the promise to Abraham, or possibly after the confirmation of the promise. If the starting point of the 430 years is the original promise to Abraham, this reduces the time Israel spent in Egypt to 215 years (the Short Sojourn); if 430 years measures back to the confirmation of the promise when God appeared to Jacob and repeated the promise, then the Exodus must be placed 430 years after Jacob’s descent (the Long Sojourn).

The controversy of the Long Sojourn vs. the Short Sojourn continues to our day, and it is not our purpose to resolve it, but to follow Ussher on the fork he took. He decided on the Short Sojourn and the Exodus in AM 2513. Ussher gives the BC date for the Exodus as 1491 BC, but it must be remembered that his BC dates are measured upward from the chronology of the divided kingdom, while his AM dates are measured downward from Creation. If Ussher’s dates for the kingdom period need adjustment, then his BC dates for the Exodus and all prior periods will also need adjustment.

Read the rest of this article in PDF format: Ussher Explained and Corrected by Rodger Young PDF (5.94 mb)

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