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James Ussher

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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

Ussher was born in Dublin, Ireland. He determined early to pursue a career with the Church of England, a resolve quite similar to that of the Biblical Judge, Samuel.

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) began his study of the chronology of the Hebrew kingdom period. Thiele began with the Biblical data, and from those data he was led to correct commonly corrected dates in Assyrian history, as is documented on the Edwin Thiele page. Thiele’s research, however, has been repeatedly mischaracterized by Ussher defenders, notably Larry Pierce and Floyd Nolen Jones. In order to denigrate Thiele, Pierce characterizes his own research as based on the Bible, whereas he charges that Thiele based his chronology on Assyrian data and then adjusted Biblical data to fit Assyrian dates. Although this apparently has persuaded some who have not read Thiele, a reading of what Thiele actually wrote in this regard will show that such an allegation is false (again, consult details on the Edwin Thiele page). It is quite remarkable that Pierce, who has read Thiele’s works, can make a statement like the following that contradicts so clearly what Thiele actually accomplished:

The latest reconstruction by Thiele is but one of many attempts in the last 100 years to adjust the biblical account to match the current conjectured chronology of the Assyrians. Thiele very creatively manipulated the biblical data to eliminate about 40 years of history.” [1]

Similar false charges are made by Pierce’s colleague and fellow Ussher defender, Floyd Nolen Jones:

[Thiele] did not honor the Hebrew Scriptures. He did not even come close. Careful study reveals that his faith and loyalty were totally to the Assyrian Eponym List (to be addressed presently). When the Hebrew Text did not directly fit into the Assyrian chronological scheme, it was contorted and disfigured until it apparently confirmed.”[2]

That Thiele placed the Assyrian data as his infallible guide over the Scriptures is his own choosing . . . it is a decision for which he and all others who follow his example must give an account . . .”[3]

In 1993, Floyd Nolen Jones began to attempt to solve the chronological problems himself. He realized that there were several small discrepancies in Ussher’s dates for the Hebrew kingdom period. Taking a clue from Thiele, he accepted that, in the early years of the northern kingdom at least, the reign lengths of the northern kingdom were by non-accession reckoning. This resolved some of Ussher’s small errors. Other small errors remained, however, due to Jones not recognizing that Judah’s regnal year began in the fall (Tishri) whereas that of Israel began in the spring (Nisan), as accepted by Valerius Coucke, Thiele, and other modern scholars. Consequently, Jones’s elaborate charts have small discrepancies with the Biblical data, such as in the reign of Abijah of Judah, whereas if he followed Thiele more completely in this regard, several of his discrepancies would be resolved. Jones preserves, however, the major problems with Ussher’s chronology of the kingdom period. This has to do with Ussher’s interregna (see Biblical chronology dispute) that cannot be reconciled with 2 Kings 15:8 and 2 Kings 15:30. Because of his preservation of Ussher’s interregna, Jones is not able to account for the tribute that Menahem of Israel gave to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria, although that tribute is mentioned both in the Bible (2 Kings 15:9, where Babylonian and Phoenician inscriptions have shown that Pul = Tiglath-Pileser III) and in Assyrian inscriptions, notably the Iran Stela where Tiglath-Pileser mentions receiving the tribute of Menahem of Samaria. Jones’s dates for Menahem, (772 to 761 BC) and those of Ussher (772 to 762) would make it impossible for him to have given tribute to Tiglath-Pileser, who reigned from 745 to 727 BC. This incongruity is ultimately based on the interregnum that Ussher placed between Pekah and Hoshea, the last two kings of Israel, and which is in contradiction to the statement in 2 Kings 15:30 that Hoshea was actually reigning in Samaria in the same year that he killed Pekah. Ussher’s supporters have never resolved this contradiction to both the Biblical text and the archaeological fact.

Related References

  1. Larry Pierce, in James Ussher, The Annals of the World, revised and updated by Larry and Marion Pierce (Green Forest AR: Master Books, 2003). Comment by Larry Pierce on p. 914a.
  2. Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, rev. edition (Green Forest AR: Master Books, 2005, 2009), p. 114b.
  3. Jones, Chronology of the OT, pp. 114b–15a.