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Bishop Ussher 

By Sir Peter Lely, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Bishop James Ussher and the Annals of the World

Bishop James Ussher Video

Bishop Ussher is mainly remembered for his chronology of the world which used scripture as the basis for his calculations of historical dates and times. I have mentioned him in the section on "Chronology" but his work is relevant to wider bible prophecy. He put the bible in the context of world history and consequently treated scripture as part of a real historical process. His chronology  of the world finishes in 73 A.D. but it provides us with the first modern systematic attempt to chart God's plan of time.


James Ussher (1581-1656) was born in Dublin in 1581. He became  a Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of all Ireland, and vice-chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin. In 1650 he published a 1,600 page volume in Latin covering the history of the world from creation up until about 70 AD. In 1658 an English translation was published entitled "The Annals of the World". He established the first day of creation as Sunday 23rd October 4004 BC and, using scripture, produced his chronology from that date. 

He was extremely learned and diligent in his attention to scripture and treated it as the literal Word of God. It is quite informative to examine some of the dates he arrived at and how he arrived at them. 

He dated his chronology using three different dating methods: -

1. The Julian calendar which was in use in his day. 365 days a year plus a leap year every four years. His chronology uses B.C. (Before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, Year of our Lord). 

2. Anno Mundi (AM). This literally means "in the year of the world" and this system counts the years from the first year of biblical creation. 

3. The third method used is the "Julian Period" (JP). This was a method used to extrapolate the lunar cycle, solar cycle and something called the indiction cycle back to an imaginary start date of January 1st thus creating an artificial epoch that all things could be included in. 

  • The solar cycle of the Julian calendar occurs every 28 years because there is a leap year every four years and there are seven possible days to start a leap year thus making a 28 year sequence

  • The lunar cycle, though not exact, is a period of 19 years after which the phases of the moon recur on the same day of the year.

  • The indiction cycle was a 15 year period used to date medieval documents throughout Europe

The Julian period was developed by Joseph Scaliger, a French classical scholar, in 1583 to harmonise these three cycles. He multiplied 28 x 19 x 15 to create the artificial time period of 7,980 years that was exactly divisible by the three cycles. The Julian Period extended the cycle of Julian years both back in time and forward. The cycle starts at noon, January 1st 4713 B.C. and is a leap year. Here all three cycles start at year 1.

An example of the three methods itemised above would be the year of the flood. Bishop Ussher calculated that the flood happened 1,656 years after creation. This is the AM date (Anno Mundi). It was also the year 2349 B.C. on the Julian calendar. Finally it was the year 2365 JP (Julian period). In other words about 2,365 years on from the Julian period start date of 4713 B.C.

Bishop Ussher divided his history into seven ages:

  • The First Age. Creation to the Flood.

  • The Second Age. The Flood to Abram

  • The Third Age. Abram to Moses

  • The Fourth Age. Moses to Solomon

  • The Fifth Age. Solomon to the Fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar

  • The Sixth Age. The captivity in Babylon to the Birth of Jesus

  • The Seventh Age. From the birth of Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

The following chart gives an idea of the dates that Bishop Ussher produced.

 Bishop Ussher's Annals of the World are an amazingly accurate picture of world history. Even so it is not a perfect chronology which makes it unfortunate that it was almost given the same status as scripture by being incorporated into some versions of the King James Version of the bible. One unusual thing about his chronology is that he puts the baptism of Jesus, when he was thirty years old, six years before the crucifixion. Most commentators regard the baptism of Jesus as the start of his three, or three and a half, years of ministry. Another unusual thing is that Ussher regards the ministry of Jesus as part of the final seventieth week of Daniel's Seventy Weeks (see section on "The Seventy weeks of Daniel"). Most commentators regard this final week as still unfulfilled.

Despite these things I regard Bishop Ussher as the father of bible chronology and I am amazed at what he achieved in the seventeenth century, working with the manuscripts and documents that were available to him at the time but without all the study aids that we have today.

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