James Ussher (born::January 4, 1581-fl. flourit::1625-died::March 21, 1656) was Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He is best known for his massive compendium of ancient history, The Annals of the World.
Life and Career
He entered Dublin University at the age of 18, and at 20 achieved ordination as a deacon and priest. At 26, he became Professor and Chairman of the Department of Divinity at Dublin University, and held his professorship from 1609 to 1621. In 1625, he became Archbishop of Armagh, an office he apparently held until his death. In 1628, King James made him a Privy Councillor.
He was considered well-read and well-versed in history, a subject that he seems to have enjoyed immensely. He authored several histories of the doings of the Irish and English churches dating back to Roman times. More to the point, he made himself an expert in Semitic languages, an expertise that informed his argument in favor of the Masoretic Text of the Bible in preference to the Septuagint.
He died in 1656. Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell honored him with a State funeral and a burial in Westminster Abbey. His extensive library of manuscripts, many of them Middle Eastern originals, became part of the collection at Dublin University.
Arguments for Biblical Chronology
As mentioned, Ussher is best known for his chronology of events in the Bible and other events recorded outside it. Ussher assumed, first of all, that the Bible was the only reliable primary source for the events that it records. This included the lengths of the lives of Abraham and his ancestors, and of Isaac, Jacob, and the line of Judah, including especially the Davidic dynasty of the Kingdom of Judah (the Southern Kingdom of Israel) and the various dynasties of the Kingdom of Israel (the Northern Kingdom).
In deciding how to synchronize the Christian or Anno Domini era with an era using Creation itself as its epoch, Ussher chose the death of Nebuchadnezzar II as the anchor point and worked backward from that date through the Bible. Thus he calculated the date of Creation as 23 October, 4004 BC. So influential was Ussher that for centuries his chronology was included in every printed edition of the King James Version of the Bible, beginning in 1701.
The obvious objections that secular historians have against Ussher's chronology are, as one might expect, to the notion that the earth is only six thousand or so years old instead of 4.6 billion years old. That, however, is a purely philosophical objection—and indeed, young earth creationists have by now assembled a powerful body of evidence that the earth is indeed that young.
The Biblical objections are more serious, however. They turn on Ussher's interpretation of certain passages, such as Galatians 3:17 and Ezekiel 4:5 , that separate certain key events in Hebrew history. Happily, Ussher left copious notes detailing his methods and his arguments. Today Larry Pierce, who undertook to translate the Annals into English from their original Latin, has prepared vigorous defenses of Ussher and his work.
Centuries after Ussher died, Edwin R. Thiele (The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings) attempted a revision of the chronology of the Divided Kingdoms Northern and Southern to make them comport to generally accepted dates from Assyrian chronology. Pierce, since 2003, has led a counterattack against Thiele and has argued for the primacy of Scripture over any archaeological find, no matter how allegedly strong the evidence might appear to be.
In addition, Floyd Nolen Jones began in 1993 to solve the chronological problems himself. He concluded that Ussher, not Thiele, was correct in most of his dates. But he also suggested that Ussher had made an error in reckoning the periods of reign of the last two kings of Judah, which caused him to conclude, in error, that the Fall of Jerusalem took place in 588 BC. Jones synchronized this event at 586 BC, in accord with virtually every other scholar of ancient history. In addition, Jones proposed a solution to the difficult problem of the tenures in office of the Judges, a feat that Ussher was never able to accomplish.
- James Ussher in the Encylopedia Britannica online
- Larry Pierce, "The Forgotten Archbishop," Appendix B of James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Larry and Marion Pierce, eds., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pp. 891-2
- Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004.