BRADY: A fine Biblical scholar, Bishop Usher [sic], has determined for us the exact date and hour of the Creation. It occurred in the Year 4,004 B.C.
DRUMMOND: That is Bishop Usher’s opinion.
BRADY: It is not an opinion. It is a literal fact, which the good Bishop arrived at through careful computation of the ages of the prophets as set down in the Old Testament. In fact, he determined that the Lord began the Creation on the 23rd of October in the Year 4,004 B.C. at — uh, 9 A.M.!
DRUMMOND: That Eastern Standard Time? (Laughter.) Or Rocky Mountain Time? (More laughter.) It wasn’t daylight savings time, was it? Because the Lord didn’t make the sun until the fourth day!
-Jerome Lawrence & Robert Edwin Lee, “Inherit the Wind” (1955)
“… Ussher is sometimes something of a figure of fun in the popular consciousness: what incredible folly, people think, that one should suppose that the exact time and date of creation could be reckoned! Folly, however, was the last characteristic that could be ascribed to Ussher, a highly careful and rational person ‘of an erudition seldom matched by his critics.’”
-James Barr, “Why the World Was Created in 4004 B.C.: Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology”
FIRST EDITION, OFFERED TOGETHER WITH THE DEFINITIVE THIRD (GENEVA) EDITION, OF ARCHBISHOP USSHER’S FAMOUS ANALYSIS OF THE TIMELINE OF HISTORY, FIXING THE DATE OF THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE AT OCTOBER 23, 4004 B.C.
USSHER’S DATING OF BIBLICAL EVENTS, INCLUDING THE CREATION, GAINED WIDESPREAD ACCEPTANCE, WAS INCORPORATED FOR ALMOST THREE CENTURIES IN MARGINAL GLOSSES TO VARIOUS EDITIONS OF THE BIBLE, AND IS STILL ACCEPTED AS VALID BY MANY “YOUNG EARTH” CREATIONISTS.
James Ussher (1581-1656) was, from 1625, the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland. He played a key role in the seventeenth-century struggle to reconcile the theological differences between the (Protestant) Church of Ireland and the Church of England. He was also noted for his scholarship; “[h]ere the range of his achievements was extraordinary — spanning the Bible, theology, patristics, Irish history, ancient history, ancient languages, chronology, and the calendar. When [John] Selden called his friend ‘learned to miracle‘..., he was, of course, exaggerating, but only slightly” (Dictionary of National Biography). Today, he is best known for the two works offered here, which pieced together a timeline of history based on a careful correlation of evidence taken from biblical and extra-biblical sources, and concluded that the world was created in the year 4004 B.C. in the proleptic Julian calendar.
Of course, in the three and a half centuries that have passed since the first publication of these two works in 1650 and 1654, a wide range of paleontological, radiochemical, geological, and other evidence has multiplied Ussher’s figure for the age of the Universe by a factor of between two and three million. As a result, as Professor Barr indicated in his 1984 re-assessment of Ussher’s work, he is now “something of a figure of fun”; and rejection of Ussher’s chronology — like rejection of Ptolemaic cosmology, Galen’s anatomy, or the flat earth —is considered a touchstone of modernity. The 1955 publication of Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee’s play Inherit The Wind, and its subsequent success on Broadway and in Hollywood, contributed to Ussher’s fall from grace, although his chronology had been losing scholarly and theological support since the late nineteenth century. (The dogmatic endorsement of Ussher’s chronology in Inherit the Wind by “Matthew Harrison Brady” — the playwrights’ stand-in for William Jennings Bryan — is in fact unhistorical: in his cross-examination by Darrow at the Scopes trial, Bryan carefully avoided endorsing Ussher’s calculations, and freely conceded that a biblical “day” was not necessarily equivalent to a 24-hour period. See Michael Kazin, “A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan” (2006), at 292; and the Scopes trial transcript, which is available online.)
Unfortunately, Ussher’s current role as a strawman for the mockery of the theologically and geologically sophisticated tends to obscure the fact that his assessment of the data that was available in his time was an intellectual tour de force, a point that Professor Barr forcefully makes — and amply supports — in his 1984 paper. Indeed, the analogy to Ptolemy is apt — each of the two deployed a remarkably sophisticated and intellectually subtle analysis that ultimately failed only due to reliance on a false underlying premise — geocentrism in the case of Ptolemy, and biblical inerrancy in the case of Ussher. As the Dictionary of National Biography puts it, “[t]o modern writers, for whom the premiss is ridiculous, Ussher’s work seems both fanciful and pedantic in the extreme. But once one grants the premiss, the edifice which he erected on it can be recognized for what it is: a highly impressive piece of scholarship.” In an admiring exposition of Ussher’s work, the noted evolutionary biologist, bibliophile, and historian of science, the late Stephen Jay Gould, points to “the basic humanism of [Ussher’s] enterprise,” and quotes his response to the question “How do we know about creation?” — “Not only by the plain and manifold testimonies of Holy Scripture, but also by the light of reason well directed.’” (“Fall in the House of Ussher,” published originally in Natural History magazine in 1991, and reprinted in 1993 in Gould’s collection “Eight Little Piggies.”)
Annales Veteris Testamenti, a Prima Mundi Origine Deducti. London: J. Flesher, 1650. BOUND WITH: Jacobi Userii Armaghani Annales. In Quibus, Praeter Maccabaicam et Novi Testamenti Historiam. London: J. Flesher, 1654. Thick folio (187x295mm), contemporary blind-stamped vellum. Binding with general soiling and old orange stain on front board. Paper separation at base of first and last blanks (but holding). Text of 1650 Annales extremely clean;1654 Annales with toning at top and bottom of title, a tiny bit of dampstaining in gutter of first few leaves, small wormhole in margin of last two leaves.
OFFERED WITH: Annales Veteris at Novi Testamenti... Geneva: Gabrielem de Tournes et Filios, 1722. Tall folio (242x386mm), contemporary blind-stamped vellum. With large portrait of Ussher. Handsome bookplate of collector Caroli Sarolea on front free endpaper, neat scholarly ink notations on first few leaves; dampstaining in margin of last few leaves. Overall, text remarkably clean.
A BEAUTIFUL SET IN HANDSOME CONTEMPORARY BINDINGS.
Price: $3,500 .