*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 28th of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


“I think I remember (I tried to go back and find it, but couldn't) you mentioned quickly that there was a time in church history when theologians believed they had determined the calendar date of creation – what. I'd be inquisitive to learn what methods they used”

This is from Sarah in Rockford. Do you know what makes Rockford awesome? The Rockford Peaches- the all-women’s baseball team from A League of their Own. You know what else? Cheap Trick. We need more double-necked guitars.

Sarah- the show you listened to was on James Ussher. Ussher (2 Ss) was a priest, academic bishop, and Archbishop in the Anglican Church in Ireland.

So here’s the short version- usually told mockingly about his precision- we are told that around 1650, he used the Old Testament chronologies to assert that the world began on Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. (some add that he said at noon. This seems to have been added by another man working at the same time).

Let’s break down how he got here and how we might think about tricky issues about dating historical biblical events.

[First- I am often asked about BC/AD and BCE/CE. If my context is teaching Christian history, I think it makes sense to use the traditional BC/AD. Otherwise, I’ll follow the publication's style guide or use my own “Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays” internal logic to decide what to use, and then I stop thinking about it. You, of course, are free to do as you wish.]

It’s important to note that James Ussher was a scholar embarking on an essentially Enlightenment project. Like many others in his day, he wanted to scrutinize all previously accepted knowledge in light of new techniques in scholarship, printing, new paradigms, etc. the dating of the beginning comes from his ginormous “Annals of the World”- of which only a sliver has to do with the Old Testament and the age of the earth.

Ussher worked with the chronologies in the Old Testament (Adam to Solomon, Solomon to Exile, and between the Testaments) and other calendars systems used by neighboring tribes and other religions. This wasn’t an apologetic trick that could be worked out like a syllogism but rather part of the development of the doctrine of history itself.

Ussher and others transitioned from history as a collection of morality tales into a scientific discipline. His “science” might be flawed- just as early doctors used leeches on patients. But his use of chronologies and calendars are like the old doctor’s leech- it seems silly, but from a distance, we see it as part of the development of a science or way of knowing.

Hear noted evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould on Ussher

“Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology.”

One of the reasons Ussher’s particular dating became so commonplace was its inclusion into the 1701 edition of the King James Bible and then into many subsequent versions.

[Once again, I will only allude to my antipathy towards study Bibles and any extra text that is not a variant reading or alternate translation. I’ll die on this hill, but not on this show].

In our “post-Scopes Monkey trial” world, it seems conversations about the age of the earth come with bulging neck veins and wagging fingers- but for Ussher, it was an attempt to bring some scientific clarity to a question.

Fun fact, Sarah and others, Ussher did calculate based on his work that the fall took place on November the 10th.

Getting conflicting news of sending me your questions- CHA works, I think (?) and Danv@1517 is an easy go-to, as is messaging on Twitter.

The Last Word for today comes from Eugene Peterson’s translation of Genesis 1- the first five verses.

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

God spoke: “Light!”
 And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
 and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
 he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day One.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man who “heard the WACS recruited old maids for the War, but mommy wasn’t one of them” He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows there is no crying in baseball… but also no baseball right now. C’mon owners- let’s get Spring training underway. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.