JF Ptak Science Books Post 2563
[Source: undetermined, via Twitter]
["Ten Fathers Before the Flood"--what a great title for a book!]
Dublin-born James Ussher (1581-1656) was born into a well-placed family and achieved high theological orders, being the Irish Archbishop of Armagh and the Primate of All Ireland, and of course a polyglot and scholar above all. What he is remembered most for today--at least outside of Ireland--is his chronology of the world which placed the creation of all things at a very specific time, on the evening of 22 October 4004 b.c.e. (I guess the b.c.e. should be redundant, but it isn't.)
I should point out that I'm writing about this today because Thony Christie (of the excellent Renaissance Mathematicus blog https://thonyc.wordpress.com/) shared a tweet of Ussher's table of chronology from Australian Peter Harrison and it brought back memories of dealing with Ussher from years ago. It is easy now to take a few potshots at the man and his work, daring to think that Ussher could figure this out using Biblical chronology and establishing the date of the creation of all things to an afternoon 6019 years ago.
The thing about Ussher is that he was a very smart guy--very. His work puts me in the mind of Robert Burton and his Anatomy of Melancholy, which is a great and probably unreadable book, filled with a staggering amount of everything. Ussher as it turns out uses the Bible of course but uses a vast amount of secular references as well, reaching out to all sorts of important and obscure sources, some of which have disappeared over the last 470 years. As a piece of scholarship (he wrote on general history from Gensis to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem) and the product of the mid-17th century, Ussher's work (completed evidently in just four years, though how long the overall research took is anyone's guess) is a tremendous accomplishment. All it takes is a little dip into it (forgetting the modern knowledge of geology etc.) to realize that this is a fantastic work.
- Full text of the Annals of the World appears here: https://archive.org/stream/AnnalsOfTheWorld/Annals_djvu.txt
In his introduction/epistle Ussher remarks that many of the great historians considered marking the event of creation to be an impossible task, some saying that only divine intervention would lead to the ultimate cause. He cites the preface of Censorinus in his (fantastically titled) Explication of Times Intervals: "If the origin of the world had been known to man, I would have started there." (Consor. in c. 20.) And also Ptolemy in his Astronomical Supputations on the impossibility of this knowledge, "To find the details of the history of the whole world or such an immense period of times, I think it is beyond us that desire to learn and know the truth." (Ptolem. 1. 3.)
Ussher calmly explains how he did came upon doing it for himself without much fuss: "Anyone can do this who is well versed in the knowledge of sacred and profane history, of astronomical calculations and of the old Hebrew calendar. If he should apply himself to these difficult studies, it is not impossible for him to determine not only the number of years but even the days from the creation of the world. Using backward calculations, Basil the great, told us we may determine the first day of the world."
Ussher signs off from the epistle to start his work so: "Other things the prudent reader will figure out for himself. I wish you the enjoyment of these endeavours and bid you farewell." Even if you don't get past this intro you'll still get a decent understanding of how deep Ussher went, and why he should be remembered for the content of his work in context of his time rather than just that beginning-of-creation date.
1. And we wont discuss here the whole end-of-creation thing, which should have come to pass about 11 years ago, if not earlier (if using the calculation of others), as found in 2 Peter 3:8King James Version (KJV) "8 But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." So six days of creation=6,000 years, 4004bce+6k=2004 ace.
2. Other early estimates of Creation include:
- Bede 3852 bce
- Scaliger 3949 bce
- Kepler 3992 bce
- Newton ca. 4000 bce