The Annals of the World
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The Annals of the World was updated from the 17th-century original Latin manuscript to modern English and made available to the general public for the first time in 2003. In its pages can be found the fascinating history of the ancient world from the Genesis creation through the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. Considered not only a literary classic, but also an accurate reference, The Annals of the World was so highly regarded for its preciseness that the timeline from it was included in the margins of many King James Version Bibles throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, calling to mind the fact that the earth is only around 6,000 years old.
James Ussher (4 January 158114 January 1581
29 Teveth 5341 He
28 Teveth 5584 AM–fl. 16251625
5628 AM–21 March 165621 March 1656
25 Adar 5416 He
54 Adar 5659 AM) must surely rank with Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch, Suetonius, Tacitus, Dio Cassius, and Pliny the Elder and Younger as an historian. The Annals of the World, his magnum opus, is the result of a lifetime of travel, study, and research.
Ussher attempted to join the Bible to all other works of recorded history, and to present a unified treatment of the natural and political history of the world from Creation to 70 AD, the date of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by the future Roman Emperor Titus. To do this, he relied heavily on ancient historical sources, and even traveled to the Mediterranean region to examine as many primary sources as he could. No one since (perhaps) Flavius Josephus had attempted to join Biblical and extra-Biblical history as Ussher did.
Most people remember Ussher for the chronology that bears his name—and with good reason, because Ussher determined to settle the chronology of the Bible before he attempted to unite other chronologies with it. He first had to decide which text of the Old Testament he would use—the Septuagint, the Samaritan Pentateuch, or the Masoretic Text. He chose the Masoretic after determining that it was as reliable as any ancient text could be, and was as close to an original as he could obtain.
After deciding on the text, he further relied on a number of internal clues in various parts of the Old Testament, including:
- The detailed genealogy from Adam to Noah (Genesis 5 )
- The equally detailed reckoning of the global flood (Genesis 7 ), and of the birth of Arpachshad two years later (Genesis 11:10-11 )
- The genealogy from Arpachshad through Abraham (Genesis 11:12-32 )
- The detailed biographies of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- The biography of Joseph, including his sale into slavery in Egypt and his tenure as viceroy of that country.
- The explicit statement of the number of years of the "sojourn in Egypt" of the Israelites
- The equally explicit statement of the number of years between the Exodus of Israel and the groundbreaking of the Temple
- The richly detailed lists of the kings of the United Kingdom of Israel and the Divided Kingdoms of Israel, Northern (Kingdom of Israel) and Southern (Kingdom of Judah)
- The reckoning of the years of the Captivity and the eventual Restoration of Israel
- The prophecy of Daniel involving "seventy sevens" of years.
Further to this, he assumed:
- That the 430-year "sojourn" (Exodus 12:40-41 ) began with Abraham's departure from Haran into Canaan. He relied on Galatians 3:17 for this determination.
- That God was essentially finished with national Israel, according to the doctrine of Covenant Theology.
- That all the prophecies mentioned in Revelation are already fulfilled, a doctrine called Preterism today.
For another discussion of Ussher's reckoning of the date of Creation, see Anno Mundi#James Ussher.
Extra-Biblical or "Profane" Sources
Ussher relied on extra-Biblical historical sources when they treated subjects that the Bible did not treat. The Bible was always his standard source, and every other source would have to yield to the Bible in his treatment.
The most important extra-Biblical sources he had were astronomical records. Astronomical dating is one of the most reliable methods known to historical science for uniting the chronologies of two different civilizations. Ussher understood this and thus relied heavily on historical mentions of total eclipses of the sun and moon, sightings of the planets, and so on. He also used astronomical dating to calculate that the birth of Christ was four years earlier than the traditional Julian reckoning—probably relying on the notes of the German astronomer Johannes Kepler.
Ussher used a number of other sources, including histories by Josephus and other ancient historians. Yet the most remarkable treatment by Ussher of any given source must be his treatment of Manetho, the Greek priest who made the first attempt at a chronology of ancient Egypt. Manetho's chief error was, of course, to assume that the many "Dynasties" of Pharaohs ran consecutively. This implied that the First Dynasty of Egypt began earlier than the Global Flood—which Ussher knew to be impossible. Ussher solved the problem in a unique way: he truncated Manetho's chronology and simply discarded all Dynasties earlier than the Middle Kingdom as myths. But this also led Ussher to make a key error: to assume that two Pharaohs named Ramesses reigned for sixty-six years each, and that the first of these was the Pharaoh of the Exodus of Israel.
Ussher also used Greek mythological sources, and actually assumed that many of the personages of classical mythology were real kings and queens. He used a number of other sources, chiefly for Assyrian history; sadly, a fire in Dublin, Ireland destroyed many of these sources.
The Annals are, of necessity, a secondary source. Such a source is only as reliable as are its primaries. Given that, Ussher is in remarkable agreement—usually exactly or within one or two years—with most modern historians in their treatment of Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greco-Macedonian, and Roman history. Indeed, Ussher places the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon at 588 BC, very close to the 586 BC date that most modern archaeologists have assigned to this event.
He calculates the date of Creation as October 23, 4004 BC. This date derives from two key assumptions: that Abraham was born when his father Terah was 130 years of age rather than seventy, and that the Sojourn in Egypt began with the Abrahamic Covenant and not with the entry of Jacob into Egypt. Neither assumption is absolutely incontrovertible, but Ussher provides strong evidence for both.
The sharpest controversy, however, developed with Edwin R. Thiele's dissertation on the chronology of the Divided Kingdoms. This Biblical chronology dispute goes to the heart of any assessment of reliability, for it turns on whether one accepts Scripture as primary, or will allow secular evidence—itself sometimes of questionable reliability—to trump Scripture.
Ussher's arbitrary rejection of half of Manetho's king lists results from his repetition of Manetho's original error—assuming that the kings of Egypt, as listed, all ruled consecutively. Furthermore, he probably never realized that the ancient kings of Egypt routinely re-wrote the histories of their predecessors in a manner in which George Orwell would later predict that future governments would behave. The correction of the historical record of Egypt would be left to modern archaeologists.
That aside, his reckoning of the kings of the Divided Kingdom is as reliable as any other reckoning that anyone else has attempted. His calculations of the dates of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ show the same exacting attention to detail that inform the rest of the Annals. Most importantly, Ussher laid a remarkably solid foundation for historical research, one that has held up remarkably well for nearly four centuries. If, therefore, the Annals suffers from reliability problems, then they result almost entirely with problems with the secular or "profane" sources that Ussher had available to him, and less often from a questionable interpretation of Scripture.
Ussher stopped his account at 70 AD, in the belief that the history of the Jews ended in that year. But his treatment of the history of Western civilization up to that year is breathtakingly comprehensive. His assumptions concerning various early kings mentioned in classical myths are probably not accurate. But his treatment of classical history beyond, say, 1300 BC is as rich as is the treatment of modern history in any conventional textbook.
Moreover, many of his assumptions concerning ancient events have proved accurate, even though for centuries the Annals were the only Western extra-Biblical source attesting to them. These included:
- The Trojan War, which Ussher places during the era of the Judges. Until the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered the site, no one accepted the existence of a city called Troy. (Schliemann would later discover positive evidence of the Mycenean civilization.)
- The existence of the Assyrians and their wars with the Kingdom of Israel. In regard to this, many archaeologists had assumed that the Assyrians never existed—until the discovery of the site of Nineveh, capital of this empire, mentioned by Jonah.
The current edition of the Annals also includes eight valuable Appendices that lay a thorough foundation for Ussher's methods and calculations. These Appendices include a very thorough description of the Roman Republican and early Julian calendar (including full particulars on the placement of the Calends, Nones, and Ides in every month of each one), a discussion of Ussher's calculated time-line for the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, two different essays regarding the chronology of the Assyrian Empire, a set of ancient maps, a discussion of the Hebrew calendar and why its epoch begins so much later than Creation seems to, and finally, a discussion of why archaeology in general is less reliable than the Bible (because it has such a poor track record of sustaining any given conclusion from one decade to the next). Anyone attempting to settle any question of Ussher's chronological calculations must study these Appendices to see exactly how Ussher worked, and how he stayed as close to Scripture as has any man before or since.
The Annals of the World is one of the most comprehensive textbooks of ancient history available, and one whose dates have held up at least as well as have those of other historians. It would make a valuable addition to any school or home-schooler's library, for its comprehensive treatment of ancient history alone. And even if one disputes Ussher's reckoning of the Exodus and other key dates in Judeo-Christian history, this work is invaluable in showing how Ussher assigned those dates to begin with, and what assumptions he made.
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Citing this Resource
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<ref name=Ussher>[[James Ussher]], ''[[The Annals of the World]]'', [[Larry Pierce]], ed., Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003 (ISBN 0890513600), pghh. </ref>
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