The earth turns 6,016 today, in case you weren’t aware.
We know this because of the work of Archbishop James Ussher, a 17th century Irishman who was quite a scholar. While those of us who don’t take everything in the Bible literally and who accept scientific evidence that the earth could be 4.5 billion years old may scoff at Ussher’s contention, it was quite an accomplishment for his day.
Ussher (1581-1656) lived in a time when literal biblical depictions of a three-story universe with the earth at the center and the heavenly bodies cycling around a giant dome were just being questioned by astronomers like Galileo (1564-1642), who was tried by the Inquisition and forced to live under house arrest for questioning church dogma.
Only a very few people were beginning to ask the sort of questions about the Bible that would lead to the more analytical or critical areas of study that are common today: the Bible was considered a source of true facts, and only true facts, from the seven days of creation to Methuselah’s 969-year life span to Isaiah’s ability to make the sun go backwards.
Given that worldview, Ussher’s accomplishment was amazing. It required an impressive knowledge of classical history, from which he drew known dates to calibrate a chronology of the Bible. A key date was the death of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who (according to Ptolemy’s history) died in 562 BC. Working backward by adding the ages from biblical genealogies and and other chronological evidence, then correcting it for a known error in the work of Dionysius Exiguus, who had chosen the date for the shift from BC to AD on the calendar, Ussher concluded that creation must have begun on October 22, 4004 B.C.
In an English translation of his own (Latin) words, Ussher concluded: “Which beginning of time, according to our Chronologie, fell upon the entrance of the night preceding the twenty third day of Octob[er] in the year of the Julian [Period] 710. The year before Christ 4004.”
Ussher published his findings in a lengthy work with an impressive title, again in translation: Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabes.
The archbishop’s conclusions were widely adopted, and his chronology integrated into many versions of the King James Bible (“Authorized”!), leading many to think the dates were as inspired as the scripture. Even today, many biblical literalists (sometimes called “Young Earthers”) continue to believe the earth is just 6,000 years old.
The date scheme played into a once-popular belief that the earth’s total duration would be 6,000 years, since there were six days of creation and “a day with the Lord is like 1,000 years” [2 Peter 3:8]). That means, of course, that we’re now 14 years into a bonus run.
Make the most of it!