This week I got an e-mail from a visitor who said he was pleased to find my website, but had to view it through a filter anyway, because I don’t rely on Archbishop James Ussher’s chronology. I’ve had to defend this view before, so after I responded to the letter, I posted a modified version of my reply to the FAQ page. Here it is:
How can you claim to be a young-earth creationist if you don’t accept Archbishop James Ussher’s chronology, which has the world begin in 4004 B.C.?
Whoa! I admit I was surprised to receive questions/comments like this. The criticism from evolutionists was expected because there are so many of them. Twice in 1997 I taught a class in creationism, and began by telling everybody that contrary to what evolutionists may think, I don’t believe the earth is flat. Then I would jokingly say that it’s because I always preferred the Hindu myth which has the world sitting on the back of a giant turtle!
On the other hand, it was a bolt out of the blue when I was called a heretic by some folks on the other side, simply because I believe the earth may have been created a millennium or two earlier than 4004 B.C. For the record, I do have the current edition of Ussher’s The Annals of the World; heck, a map that I drew is in it! I’ll give the archbishop credit where it is due: he wrote his history and worked on his chronology with the best sources available in his day, the main one being the library of Dublin. However, we must keep in mind that he lived nearly two centuries before the translation of cuneiform and Egyptian hieroglyphics; the only ancient civilizations well-known to scholars of the seventeenth century were those of the Hebrews, Greeks and Romans. They knew that Egypt had some older artifacts (it takes a lot of sand to cover up the Pyramids and the Sphinx, after all!), but otherwise the Egyptian civilization was a mystery. As for Middle Eastern civilizations like the Hittites, Phoenicians, Babylonians and Assyrians, their cities and artifacts had been lost completely, so many skeptics questioned whether they even existed. The only records that bothered to mention those civilizations were the Bible and the works of Greek authors like Herodotus. Thus, archaeologists have rediscovered a big chunk of mankind’s heritage, with all of their digging. Ussher, for instance, did not know about great rulers like Sargon I, Hammurabi, Akhenaten, Suppiluliumas, or any of the Assyrian kings before 750 B.C.
The problem I have is that Ussher’s work hasn’t kept up with what the archaeologists are finding. For example, he asserted that the ancient Egyptian civilization only came into existence 1,600 years before Alexander, when most historians give both Egypt and Mesopotamia at least a millennium more than that (I count roughly 2,500 years from the Scorpion King to Alexander, on my “low chronology”). To my knowledge, only Donovan Courville, Gunnar Heinsohn, and the Russian author of RevisedHistory.org seriously consider a chronology of the ancient world that’s much shorter than mine, and the figurative “shoehorn” that they use to make ancient history fit into their schemes is brutal, to say the least. Heinsohn, for instance, believes the Sumerians of the third millennium B.C. are the same people as the Chaldeans of the first millennium B.C.
Granted, Egyptian and Mesopotamian authors like Manetho and Berosus padded their chronologies, to make it look like their homelands were more than ten thousand years old. Today’s archaeologists and historians thus have to figure out, by using other evidence, what really happened. But while they have been able to eliminate most of the “ghost years” from the king lists of ancient historians, they can’t compress pre-classical history into the frame demanded by Ussher’s dates and leave it in a form we would recognize. For example, Ussher put Noah’s Flood in 2348 B.C., which most history texts will say was right in the middle of Egypt’s first golden age, the Old Kingdom. Some followers of Ussher go so far as to believe that the Flood came along while the Egyptians were building the Pyramids, and interrupted their work; then after the Flood they came back and picked up right where they left off, leaving no sign that they had even stopped. I find that hard to believe, when I compare the Pyramids with a more recent interrupted structure, the Washington Monument. Construction on the Washington Monument stopped in 1855 because funding for the project ran out, and wasn’t resumed until the 1870s; today you can still see a line, about a third of the way up, where the work had ended for twenty years. A case has been made for the Sphinx being older than the Pyramids, because it shows signs of water erosion, so it may have stood in a time when Egypt was wetter than it is now, but no erosion or any other signs of water damage have appeared on the Pyramids so far. I saw the Great Pyramid up close myself, in 1979, and don’t recall any limestone encrustations, coral, barnacles or shells to suggest that it had once been underwater. Still, I remember a church in Texas claiming that the Great Pyramid had been built by Enoch, and the fact that it’s now empty is proof that Enoch didn’t die, but “walked with God!” Big deal, most Egyptian tombs are empty when found, thanks to grave robbers, and I don’t hear that claimed as evidence for a resurrection of the occupants.
Finally, in later periods where the available documentation gets better, Ussher has so far been proven wrong, too. We are confident enough of our chronology of the Assyrians that for the years up to 911 B.C., we aren’t likely to be more than a year off with any event. For example, Shalmaneser III (859-824 B.C.) left us a picture of the Israelite king Jehu bowing at his feet, one of the oldest representations of a Biblical character anywhere. Unfortunately Ussher’s chronology has Saul, David, Solomon and the monarchs of the divided kingdom living more than a century before the Assyrian records which mention the latter by name.
To sum it all up, Ussher gave us an important milestone in the writing of history. Hardly anybody before him (or after him, for that matter) wrote a complete history, with dates, going all the way back to the time of the Creation. For that reason he’s worth reading, in the same sense that Marco Polo’s travel guide gives us one of the first looks at the Far East through Western eyes. But his work is not a third testament to the Bible, and I don’t think he claimed the same inspiration from God that the Prophets and Apostles had. If evidence comes along in the future that proves him right, I’ll be listening with an open mind; for example, a few years back I suggested 3467 B.C. as the date for the Tower of Babel, but since then have heard compelling evidence to move the date of that catastrophe up a few centuries, to 3182 or even 3113 B.C. That came from some scholars who are trying to build a chronology of Genesis based on years in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), rather than the more commonly used Massoretic text. In the meantime, though, I’ll continue to try writing the best possible creationist view of our origins, one that accounts for all the evidence we have on hand, and not try to force it into a worldview that’s obsolete.