Gould, Fall in the House of Ussher

all--for no information exists. Ussher and all other chronologists therefore tried to link a known event in the period of kings with a datable episode in another culture--and then to use the timetables of other peoples until another lateral feint could be made back into the New Testament. Ussher proceeded by correlating the death of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar II with the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin (as stated in 2 Kings 25:27). (Nebuchadnezzar was, of course, prominent in Jewish history for conquering Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and deporting its prominent citizens--the so-called Babylonian captivity.) Ussher could then calculate through the Chaldean and the subsequent Persian records, eventually reaching the period of Roman rule and the birth of Jesus.

3. But where did Ussher get October 23, 4004? Surely, neither the Bible nor any other source gives a specific date, even if you can estimate the year. Was this date, at least, a bow to dogma, even if the rest of the chronology has more scholarly roots?

No, not dogma, but a different style of interpretive argument--one based on symbol and eschatology rather than on listed chronology. (You cannot label this style as dogma, if only because each point became a subject of lively disagreement and fierce debate among scholars. No resolution was ever obtained, so the church obviously imposed no answer ex cathedra.)

First of all, the date 4004 rests comfortably with the most important of chronological metaphors--the common comparison of the six days of God's creation with 6,000 years for the earth's potential duration: "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" (2 Peter 3:8). Under this widely accepted scheme, the earth was created 4,000 years before the birth of Christ and could endure as much as 2,000 years thereafter (a proposition soon to be tested empirically and, we all hope, roundly disproved!).

But why 4004 and not an even 4000 B.C.? By Ussher's time, chronologists had established an error in the B.C. to A.D. transition, for Herod died in 4 B.C.--and if he truly talked to the Magi, feared the star, and ordered the slaying of the innocents, then Jesus could not have been born after 4 B.C. (an oxymoronic statement, but acceptable as a testimony to increasing knowledge).

Thus, if Jesus was born in 4 B.C., eschatological tradition should fix the date of creation at 4004 B.C., without any need