Written by: James Ussher

James Ussher (sometimes spelled Usher) (4 January 1581–21 March 1656) was Anglican Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland between 1625–1656 and a prolific religious scholar who most famously published a chronology which calculated the date of Creation as October 23, 4004 BC.

Ussher now concentrated on his research and writing, and returned to the study of chronology and the church fathers. After a 1647 work on the origin of the creeds in 1648 Ussher published a treatise on the calendar. This was a warm-up for his most famous work, the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (“Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world”), which appeared in 1650 and its continuation, Annalium pars postierior in 1654. In this work, he calculated the date of creation to be nightfall preceding 23 October, 4004 BC. Other scholars calculated their own dates for Creation, such as that by the Cambridge academic, John Lightfoot. The time is frequently misquoted as being 9 a.m., noon or 9 p.m. on 23 October. See the related article on the Ussher chronology for a discussion of its claims and methodology.

Ussher’s work is sometimes, and often mockingly, associated with Young Earth Creationism, that holds that the universe was created only a few millenia ago.

In fact, calculating the year of creation may seem a trivial and slightly eccentric activity to some nowadays with the benefit of geology and palaeontology – the Earth now being dated by the scientific community at around four billion years old, with the universe nine billion years older than that – but at the time it was an important and difficult task which many Renaissance scholars, such as Joseph Justus Scaliger had attempted.

Ussher’s chronology represents a considerable feat of scholarship. It required the Bible to be firmly anchored in history, which needed a huge depth of learning in ancient history, including the rise of the Persians, Greeks and Romans. Then constructing a biblical chronology required expertise in biblical languages, and in-depth knowledge of the Bible. His account of historical events for which he had multiple sources other than the Bible is usually in close agreement with modern accounts; for example, he places the death of Alexander in 323 BC and that of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The period of time between the Flood and the Creation depended on the version of the Old Testament that was used: Hebrew (1656 years), Samaritan Pentateuch (1307 years), or the Ethiopic text (2262 years). Ussher favoured the Hebrew version. Annals has recently been republished in modern English.