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Dating the World : The Science of Biblical Chronology

Jeffrey Hopes
p. 65-83


Aux xviie et xviiie siècles, la science de la chronologie biblique constitua un élément essentiel de la foi chrétienne et de l’exégèse biblique. Souvent en désaccord entre eux quant aux dates précises, les chronologistes britanniques partageaient avec leurs homologues européens un objectif commun : exploiter les informations données par les Écritures afin de créer une chaîne chronologique continue entre la création du monde et la naissance du Christ. Le lien, ou l’harmonie ainsi créée entre l’Ancien et le Nouveau Testaments, servait à ancrer l’avènement du Christ dans l’histoire et les prophéties de l’Ancien Testament. Les difficultés que ce projet rencontrait comprenaient notamment le texte de la Bible elle-même et les mesures du temps utilisées, pas seulement par les Juifs, mais par d’autres civilisations dont les chronologies furent progressivement intégrées à la chronologie biblique afin de construire une histoire universelle. La sécularisation que cette démarche impliquait, alliée à de nouvelles informations sur la possible date de la création provenant de sources extratextuelles, commença dès lors à mettre en doute la primauté de la Bible dans les études chronologiques. Cet article propose un tour d’horizon de la chronologie biblique en Grande-Bretagne entre les Annales Veteris Testamenti de James Ussher (1650) et la deuxième moitié du xviiie siècle.

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Texte intégral

“This dry and complicated Subject.”
Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, &c. (1744), 118.

  • 1  I use CE (Common or Christian Era) and BCE (Before the Common or Christian Era) throughout.
  • 2  For Ussher’s methodology and the details of his chronological calculations, see Barr.

1In the “Epistle to the Reader” which precedes his Annals of the World, first published in Latin in 1650 as Annales Veteris Testamenti and in its English translation in 1658, James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland, the most famous of British Biblical chronologists, asserts that contrary to what Ptolemy (c.90 CE – c.168 CE),1 Julius Firmicus Maternus (4th century CE), and even the French Jesuit Dionysius Petavius (Denis Pétau) (1583-1632) had said, it was possible to come to a precise knowledge of Biblical chronology and so of the history of the world. Ussher famously calculated that the world had been created at midday on Sunday, October 23rd, 4004 BCE. His chronology was based, like that of so many other Christian chronologists, on the premise that the information contained in the Scriptures enabled such facts to be known with a precision that profane philosophers could never have aspired to. Furthermore, if such knowledge was made available by God to man, it was man’s duty to use it. Biblical chronology was thus not just an accessory to the understanding of the truths contained in the Old and New Testaments, it was an integral part of such truths. What can at times seem only (as indeed it sometimes was) a task to occupy the time of retired clergymen was above all an essential part of the study of the Bible and of the understanding of God’s purpose.2

2Chronologists disagreed about the date at which God had created the earth. Thomas Hearne (1698) gives a long list of different authors and the dates that they propose, ranging from 3707 BCE to 6984 BCE (Hearne 25-27). Ussher’s date of 4000 BCE is adopted by Hearne out of convenience and probability, not as the result of detailed calculation. Rather than the date itself however, it was the duration of time between the creation and the birth, and then the death of Christ which mattered. What distinguished, and still distinguishes, Christian readings of the Old Testament from Jewish readings of the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible, is the way Christians see the Old Testament as anticipating, prophesying and leading up to the birth of Christ and so the Christian era. The creation of the world was the creation of the world into which Christ would be born, a birth that would explain and justify Old Testament history. As we shall see, this meant that Scriptural chronology simultaneously worked forwards from the creation and backwards from Christ’s birth. Prophecies and history both played a part in Biblical chronology. The fuller English title of Ussher’s work is The Annals of the World deduced from the origin or time, and continued to the beginning of the Emperour Vespasians reign, and the totall destruction and abolition of the temple and common-wealth of the Jews. The reason why Ussher continued his chronology to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE was that this was one of the events held to have been prophesied in the Old Testament.

3Ussher’s was the most famous among a long list of Biblical chronologies written in English. Elsewhere in Europe the great names of late sixteenth and early seventeenth century continental chronologists included the Dutchman Joseph Scaliger, the Frenchman Denis Pétau (Dionysius Petavius), Isaac Vossius, another Dutchman, and the French Calvinist Jean Le Clerc. Important work had been done in England before Ussher’s Annals appeared : Hugh Broughton’s A Concent of Scripture was published in 1588 and Thomas Hayne’s General view of the Holy Scriptures in 1640, while John Lightfoot’s The harmony of the foure evangelists and its sequel (or prequel), The harmony, chronicle and order of the Old Testament, appeared in 1644 and 1647 respectively. John Mede (1643), John Swan (1635, 1653) and Mathias Prideaux (1648) also produced influential work. Ussher took his place in a golden age of Biblical chronologists. In this brief survey of the hundred years that followed Ussher’s Annals, I propose to explore briefly the reasons for building chronologies, the problems that the chronologists encountered and some of the controversies that arose from them, the relationship between Biblical chronology and universal history, the role of prophecy in chronologies and finally the doubts which increasingly and almost imperceptibly started to undermine the whole enterprise of measuring the age of the world from Biblical sources.

Why chronologize ?

4In his Ductor historicus (1698), in part translated from the Eléments de l’histoire by Pierre Le Lorrain, abbé de Vallemont which had been published two years before, Thomas Hearne (here translating Le Lorrain) lists the three grounds for certainty in chronology : the testimony of written sources, astronomical observation and the existence of eras or epochs “so constant and evident in History, that it never came into any Man’s Thoughts to call them in question” (Hearne 9). In 1730, Arthur Bedford pointed to the link between the first two of these :

He who considers the exact Motions of the heavenly Bodies, and especially of the Sun and Moon, may thereby be fully convinc’d That the Orderer of them is a most wise and a most powerful Being ; or, as we commonly say, That there is a god. And he who shall consider, how exactly these Motions do correspond with several remarkable Passages in the Sacred Scriptures, beyond all the Possibility of human Contrivance, cannot but be equally sensible, That these Scriptures were communicated to us by that god, who gave the Laws of Motion to these heavenly Bodies ; and that from the first Creation of them, he infallibly foreknew whatsoever should come to pass in Time, until the Frame of this World shall be dissolv’d. (Bedford 1)

5Holy Scripture and nature, both God’s creations, were bound to concur in the chronological information they provided : “it may be surprising to behold and observe the Harmony, which there is between the Motions of the Heavens, when compar’d with the Types and Prophecies, and the Transactions on the Earth,” Bedford continues (1). Representing this harmony was one of the chronologist’s main tasks. Robert Cary compares his hugely ambitious Paleologia chronica. A Chronological account of ancient time of 1677 to a clock ; he invites the king, to whom it is dedicated, to “take notice by what Method the Joints of old time (which to the Author seem to have been dislocated) come to be Set and Knit together” (Cary, “Epistle Dedicatory” np.). The chronologist thus sought to demonstrate the continuity and inter-connectedness of time in God’s world.

6A common metaphor for such continuity, which, as Le Lorrain explained, needed to be divided into epochs in order to be more easily apprehended, was that of a chain. Here is the New Englander Edward Holyoke in 1658 :

The golden chain of times are evident, which draw from the apostasy of our first Parents unto our Lords Resurrection which when they are all known do bring unto Christ, and we shall find much comfort and edification, if we often think upon them for they are a greater ornament to the Scriptures, than any chains of the finest gold or of the most rare and polished Jewels to the neck. (Holyoke 375)

7The frontispiece to Thomas Allen’s A Chain of Scripture Chronology (1659) represents the different epochs of human history linked together by a chain. It is this Scriptural chain which gives meaning to history and to the different epochs into which it is divided. Such an image recalls the great chain of being, the natural, and of course unchanging hierarchy of life and matter. Chronology, like nature, knows no interruption, no uncertainty : it is the demonstration of God’s mastery over time, just as the chain of being shows his mastery over the world he created. It also enables man to situate himself within this divinely inspired history as John Jackson points out in his monumental, three volume Chronological antiquities of 1752 :

It must be both highly useful and satisfactory to Beings of so short a Duration as Man is, to be able to discover the Original of Time and Beginning of Things : to live, as it were, in all past Ages, and fix the History of Mankind to certain Epochs, whence we can carry it down to its utmost Period ; and so know the Times of the most ancient past Transactions almost as well as those of the present Age. (Jackson xxv)

  • 3  The title page of this work indicates that it was originally written by “the author of the Devotio (...)
  • 4  After breakfast he retires to his study : he cuts little bits out of the Bible and gums them with (...)

8A particular manifestation of this perceived connectedness is the practice of constructing “harmonies” between different parts of Scripture. John Lighfoot’s two Harmonies were imitated by Leonard Hoar’s Index Biblicus of 1668 and the anonymous The harmony of the holy gospels digested into one history, according to the order of time of 1705,3 whilst A Concise Scripture Chronology published in 1789 was penned by “a Lover of harmony.” Theobold Pontifex was still making harmonies to prepare his mid-nineteenth century sermons in Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh.4

Problems and controversies

  • 5  For Ussher’s rejection of the Septuagint and the differences between its chronology and that of th (...)

9The principal harmony that needed to be established was that between the Old and the New Testament. It was essential that the links in the chronological chain and the periodization of Biblical chronology be made crystal clear. Many of the controversies between chronologists concerned disagreements over the divisions of time itself and the divisions of time within Scripture and in other, non-Jewish, civilisations. One of the most important sources of such disagreements was the precise Biblical text that was to be used. Despite Ussher’s declared adherence to the Hebrew Bible (notably in the form of King James’s translation), support for the Septuagint, supposedly translated from the Torah into Greek by Jewish translators on the orders of the Greek King Ptolomy ii of Egypt, persisted, even gaining ground in the early eighteenth century.5 Adepts of the Septuagint claimed that the text of the Hebrew Bible had been corrupted by later Jewish translators. William Whiston (1702, 1712), Thomas Brett (1729) and Charles Hayes (1736, 1741) all argued in favour of the Septuagint’s chronology, one which increased the time between the creation and the birth of Abraham by at least 1500 years. One reason for preferring this longer time-scale was that it enabled Biblical chronology to come closer to the Egyptian chronology recorded in Manetho’s list of Egyptian dynasties.

10Measuring the units of time used by both Jewish and “profane” chronologists proved even more complex. All attempts to define, in years, months and years, the exact chronology of Biblical events, had to take into account which calendars ancient writers and chronologists were using. The most convenient assumption was that the Julian calendar, which Britain only abandoned in favour of the Gregorian reform in 1752, could be used for the whole of Scriptural time. To do this, it was necessary to show that the Jews used a solar year, even though they might also have had recourse to lunar months. This solution, adopted by Ussher and others, avoided both having to take account of the “lost” years of the Julian system and having to reconcile lunar months with solar years. However, it could not get round the fact that the Jewish year mentioned in the Bible was made up of 360 days of twelve 30-day months. This, as Thomas Allen noted, had induced a difference of 23 years between the two calendars at the time he was writing (1659).

11These questions were addressed in detail by Isaac Newton in his Chronology of ancient kingdoms amended published in 1728 but which had been written many years earlier. Newton begins by deploring the defects of Greek, Latin and Egyptian calculations of time. The Greeks used generations and the Olympiads (even when they professed to be using years), Roman chronology is complicated by the obscurity of the date of the founding of Rome and the Egyptians constantly exaggerated the antiquity and the length of their dynasties. “I have drawn up the following Chronological Table,” he explains, “so as to make Chronology suit with the Course of Nature, with Astronomy, with Sacred History, with Herodotus the Father of History, and with it self” (Newton, 8) He admits however that errors of twenty years or more might occur. The work is divided into two parts. The first is a Short Chronology starting with the flight of the Canaanites from Egypt (situated in about 1125 BC) and finishing in 331 with death of Darius Codamannus, the last king of Persia. In the second part, The Chronology of ancient kingdoms amended, Newton continues to explore the shortcomings and the inconsistencies of profane chronologies. He pays particular attention to the use of lunar months by both the Egyptians and the Greeks. Whilst this makes it difficult to arrive at a measurement of time in solar years, it does allow the astronomical observations of the ancients to be verified. Disconcertingly for modern readers of the author of the Principia, Newton uses the astronomical observations imparted to Jason during the voyage of the Argonauts to establish a more reliable chronology than that related by ancient chronologists. He thus uses Biblical chronology, which he sees as the only valid textual account, in conjunction with astronomical observations to date the voyage of the Argonauts to 30 years after the death of Solomon, whereas Greek chronologists date it nearly 300 years before. Newton thus gave equal credit to Greek myth, astronomy and Bible chronology, so discrediting the chronologies of the ancient kingdoms.

From Biblical chronology to universal history

  • 6  For further examples, see Killeen 92-93.

12Newton’s work attracted considerable criticism from chronologists who, unlike him, were concerned to reconcile Biblical and profane chronologies. This had been standard chronological practice from the sixteenth century and gave rise to the practice of drawing up chronological tables of universal history which included both Biblical and profane historical events. Biblical chronology was always held to be superior, so that considerable contortions were necessary to make Egyptian, Chaldean, Greek and Roman chronologies fit the Biblical account. The result was chronological tables which began with the dating of the creation of the world and the offspring of Adam up until the Flood, but which gradually introduced profane historical events as the population multiplied. In the detailed chronology contained in Thomas Porter’s A compendious view, or Cosmographical, and geographical description of the whole world (1659), the fall of Troy, the reign of Aeneas and the founding of London make their appearance just before the birth of Samuel (Porter 98) while James Anderson’s Royal Genealogies (1732) was at pains to connect Scriptural genealogy to the history of neighbouring and subsequent civilisations.6 Authors and printers elaborated sophisticated typographical representations of such tables in ever-smaller type so as to enable the reader to visually embrace the correspondence between different chronologies or within Scriptural chronologies themselves. Indeed, the possibility of such visual representation at times seems to constitute an additional proof of their exactitude. The most spectacular example of this attempt to bring an entire chronology into the scope of an all-embracing frame is the single sheet The fulness of the times of the Jews and Gentiles by one E. T., published in 1680, in which the author establishes a correspondence between Biblical chronology, the dimensions of Noah’s Ark, the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, the Old Testament prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel, and the New Testament prophecies of St Paul and the Book of Revelation. Comprehending the history of the world in a single work, in a single table or even on a single page, becomes a metonymy for both the divine command over time and man’s attempt to comprehend and survey his own history.

The role of prophecy

13As we saw at the outset, Biblical chronologies worked both backwards and forwards. Thomas Allen’s table gives both the time elapsed since the Creation and the time to come before the birth and the death of Christ. For early Biblical chronology, the ages of the Patriarchs provided plentiful information, but after the Flood, the dates of the reigns of the kings of Judah and of Israel were extremely difficult to establish. Scripture was nonetheless seen as having provided the key to overcoming such difficulties in the form of prophecies which looked forward to the birth and death of Christ and beyond. By far the most important of these was the prophecy transmitted to Daniel by the angel Gabriel concerning the seven times seventy weeks (always interpreted as seventy years) which would occur before the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the coming of the “appointed” (or “Messiah” in the translation of the King James’s Bible). As Alexander Cooper explained in An Essay upon the chronology of the world (1722), these 490 years account for a period of time until the birth of Christ which the profane chronologies otherwise leave unexplained. Not all commentators however subscribed to such a literal reading of the prophecy and some denied that it concerned the coming of the Messiah at all. Joseph Mede (1643), Sir John Marsham (1649) and, in the eighteenth century, the deist Anthony Collins (1724) all argued that the prophecy, like the Book of Daniel, dated from the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, so between 175 and 165 BCE, much later than the 490 years prior to the birth of Christ posited by those who placed the prophecy during the reign of Darius the Great. Collins agreed that the prophecy did concern the coming of Christ, though in an allegorical rather than a literal sense. Benjamin Marshall (1712, 1713) was one of many who replied to this aspect of Collins’s Discourse of the grounds and reasons of the Christian religion (1724), defending the literal reading of the prophecy. An anonymous treatise of 1744, entirely devoted to the prophecy, disputed its application to the birth of Christ. In a reading which recalls the Jewish exegesis of the Biblical text, the author argues that the prophecy applies not to the birth of Christ but quite literally to the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. The word “messiah” indicates “the appointed,” a word used to describe a king or a high priest. The end point of the seventy “weeks” is thus the retaking of Babylon by Cyrus and the liberation of the Jewish nation in 141 BCE. “The appointed” is thus Cyrus himself and Daniel’s prophecies of destruction, floods and deflagration refer to the later persecutions perpetuated by Aristochus Epiphanes.

Cracks in the edifice

14Beyond the usual debates between chronologists, such works, like the deists’ arguments in favour of an allegorical reading of Scripture, signal an increasing plurality of interpretations of Biblical chronology, so raising the question of the reliability of Scriptural texts. The Bible was increasingly seen as one amongst a number of sources that could be used in writing universal history. Like Egyptian or Greek accounts, it too was frequently obscure and open to interpretation. Whilst the general framework of the narrative of the creation of the world and the chronology of the first ages of man remained intact, the details of that narrative were increasingly open to discussion. The reasons for such a change were to be found in part in the attacks by Spinoza and his followers on the credibility of the Bible, attacks which nourished early eighteenth-century scepticism and deism in England. Elsewhere in Europe, writers such as the French materialists were increasingly questioning the Biblical account of the Creation. Yet it was also the expansion of Biblical scholarship itself which moved the focus away from the literal interpretation of the Scriptures of which chronology was a part. In any case, as Kevin Killeen remarks in his study of Thomas Browne, the historical obscurities of Scripture not only posed a challenge to chronologists, they forced them into speculative interpretation, however much they sought also to maintain the primacy of Scriptural truth : “Comparative historiography walked a fine line between acceptable scholarship and the presumptuous doubts that this scholarship might lead to” (Killeen 101).

15Ultimately however, it was the historical evidence from non-textual sources that was to do most to undermine the whole Scriptural narrative. The study of architectural remains and above all of geological phenomena such as fossil remains and sedimentation, raised the possibility of a completely new time scale, one that other civilisations, which were not required to fit the early history of the world between a scripturally asserted act of creation and the birth of an historical figure, had long entertained. The Chinese scientist Schen Kuo had seen in the eleventh century that geological and astronomical evidence pointed to an immensely long history of the world. More recently, the Danish geologist Nicolas Steno had produced evidence that pointed in the same direction, even though Steno, an early follower of Spinoza who later became a devout Catholic, was at pains to claim, not always convincingly, that his observations were compatible with Scripture (Israel 43-44). Steno’s Dissertationis prodromus (1669) was translated into English in 1671 by one H. O. as The prodromus to a dissertation concerning solids naturally contained within solids laying a foundation for the rendering a rational accompt both of the frame and the several changes of the masse of the earth : as also of the various productions in the same. Although it was never reedited or referred to by Biblical scholars, interest in the natural history of the earth increased. In English, the most influential works in this domain were Thomas Burnet’s The Theory of the Earth (1684) and John Woodward’s An Essay towards a Natural History of the Earth, and Terrestrial Bodies, especially Minerals (1702). Woodward, who was ridiculed for his fossil collection by Gay, Pope and Arbuthnot in their play Three Hours after Marriage (1717), argued that the Flood had dissolved the land which then re-solidified after the waters receded thus explaining the existence of fossils and their displacement far from any seas or oceans. Steno goes further, pointedly remarking that Scripture seems to have answers to problems that nature was incapable of elucidating. He raised the possibility that the two might not after all agree. At the end of his work, designed to be the introduction to a much larger one that never saw the light of day, he remarks laconically that “ ’tis evident, that in 4000 Years there have happen’d many and various Mutations” (Steno 108). These geological studies marked a significant move away from a purely logocentric approach to universal history of which Biblical chronology had become a part.

16The extraordinary amount of time, labour and print devoted to the study of Biblical chronology leaves the present-day reader suspended between admiration and incredulity. Dating the Christian world was an essential demonstration of the truth and harmony of God’s creation, a task which all Christians, whatever their church or denomination, could agree on. Catholics, Anglicans, Puritans, non-jurors, Arians and millenarians all participated in an enterprise that brought them together in fervent intellectual debate. And yet Biblical chronology was also a subject of intense and often bitter controversy. The texts on which chronologists worked, whether Scriptural or profane, were fundamentally the same from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, but they gave rise to widely differing interpretations that revealed not so much doctrinal dissension within Christian scholarship as the difficulty and the uncertainty of the whole project. Despite the initial postulate that God’s will and creation were clear and self-evident, the gaps and contradictions within Scriptural chronology and between it and the chronologies of other historical sources, were only too obvious. John Milner commented on this uncertainty in a defence of Ussher’s chronology published in 1698 :

if this uncertainty had been duly considered, the World would not have been burthen’d with many tedious and voluminous writings, such as Scaligers two Editions of his De emendatione Temporum, and his Canones Isagog. &c. Also Petavius’s two Volumes De doctrina Temporum. Finally, for want of the consideration of this not a few have spent a great part of their life in the study of Chronology, and many of them men of extraordinary parts and great diligence ; so that if the time and industry, which they laid out upon Chronological niceties, had been imploy’d in more useful Studies, they might have been very serviceable both to the time in which they liv’d, and also to future generations. (Milner 33-34)

None of which stopped Milner from entering the fray and proposing his own Biblical chronology.


17It is all too easy to place Biblical chronologists in the category of the “ancients,” soon to be banished by the onward march of modern science and philosophy. Yet, as Joseph M. Levine has shown, the ancients have much in common with precisely those sciences that we associate today with an emerging modernity, in particular an obsession with measures, genealogies, mathematical exactitude and diagrammatic representation. More than the pre-condition or the necessary accomplice of history, chronology constituted a stupendous attempt to represent and measure time. The temporal cartography which results from Biblical chronology and its extraordinarily elaborate chronological tables, demonstrates an application of modern, scientific methods to the study of Biblical texts which makes Newton’s contribution appear distinctly less incongruous. If the initial project of the chronologists gradually lost its pertinence, the methods they used and the learning they deployed remain a monument to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century scholarship.

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Primary sources

Allen, Thomas. A Chain of Scripture Chronology ; from the creation of the world to the death of Jesus Christ. In VII. periods. Viz. from the Creation to the Flood. Flood to the promise. Promise to the Law. Law to the Temple. Temple to the captivity in Babylon. Captivity to the return. Return to the death of Christ. London, 1659.

Anderson, James. Royal Genealogies : or, the genealogical tables of emperors, kings and princes, from Adam to these times ; in two parts. London, 1732.

Bedford, Arthur. The Scripture Chronology Demonstrated by Astronomical Calculations, and Also by the Year of Jubilee, and the Sabbatical Year Among the Jews : or, an account of time from the creation of the world, to the destruction of Jerusalem ; as it may be proved from the Writings of the Old and New Testament. In a Method hitherto Unattempted ; and which was first proposed by the Learned Archbishop Usher. In which the Hebrew Text is vindicated ; and the Objections against it, as consisting of many Mutilations, and numerical Alterations, are occasionally considered ; and the Authority of the Samaritan and Septuagint Versions, in Opposition to the Original Copy, is confuted. Together with The History of the World, from the Creation, to the Time when Dr. Prideaux began his Connexion. Illustrated with a great variety of tables, maps, and copper plates. London, 1730.

Brett, Thomas. A Chronological Essay on the Sacred History from the Creation of the World to the Birth of Christ : being a defence of the computation of the Septuagint. With tables, wherein the Greek and Hebrew Accounts are compared together and adjusted to the Julian Period. To which is added, An Essay on the Confusion of Languages, and a Discussion of that Question, Whether the Primitive Language be any where remaining ? London, 1729.

Broughton, Hugh. A Concent of Scripture. London, 1588.

Burnet, Thomas. The Theory of the Earth Containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and of all the General Changes which it Hath Already Undergone, or is to Undergo, till the Consummation of all things. London, 1684.

Butler, Samuel. The Way of All Flesh. [1903]. Ed. Richard Hoggart. Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1966.

Cary, Robert. Palaeologia Chronica. A Chronological Account of Ancient Time in Three Parts : I. didactical, II. apodeictical, III. Canonical. London, 1677.

Collins, Anthony. A Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion. London, 1724.

Cooper, Alexander. An Essay upon the Chronology of the World, from the Creation to the Birth of Christ : In Which The whole Chain of Time in that Period is made up and established upon Scripture Proofs. In a due Consistency with the Accounts of the most approved Authors. With a particular Explication of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks. Edinburgh, 1722.

Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, &c. Explained from the sacred writings, and applied to the history of the Jews. [Edinburgh ?], 1744.

E. T. The Fulness of the Times of the Jews and Gentiles, in the Legal and Evangelical Administrations, Endeavoured to be Made Out in an Essay, to Demonstrate the Wonderful Harmony of the Scripture Chronology Recorded in the Old Testament, and Thereby the True Time of the Messiah’s Coming, by the Admirable Consent of that Account, with the Measures of Noah’s Ark, the Tabernacle and Temple, and of both these with the Prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, S. Paul, and S. John throughout his Revelations. London, [1680 ?].

The Harmony of the Holy Gospels Digested into one History, According to the Order of Time ; divided into Three Hundred and Fifteen lessons ; with suitable meditations and Prayers Subjoyned to each lesson. Done originally by the author of the Devotions by way of offices, publish’d by Dr. Hicks. Reformed and improved by James Bonnel Esq ; late Accomptant General of Ireland, for his own Use; and now published from his own papers for the Use of others, by the author of his life. London, 1705.

Hayes, Charles. A Vindication of the History of the Septuagint from the Misrepresentations of the Learned Scaliger, Dupin, Dr. Hody, Dr. Prideaux, and other modern criticks. London, 1736.

Hayes, Charles. A Dissertation on the Chronology of the Septuagint. With an appendix, shewing, that the Chaldean and Egyptian antiquities, hitherto esteem’d Fabulous, are perfectly consistent with the computations of that most ancient version of the Holy Scriptures. By the author of The vindication of the history of the Septuagint, and the Critical Examination of St. Matthew and St. Luke’s Gospels. Magna est Veritas & praevalebit. London, 1741.

Hearne, Thomas. Ductor Historicus, or, A Short System of Universal History and an Introduction to the Study of that Science... partly translated from the French of M. de Vallemont, but chiefly composed anew by W. J., M.A. London, 1698.

Hoar, Leonard. Index Biblicus : or, The historical books of the Holy Scripture abridged With each book, chapter, and sum of diverse matter distinguished. And a chronology to every eminent epocha of time superadded. With a harmony of the four Evangelists : and a table thereunto. A singular help for all persons of what age, rank, or ability soever ; for their better knowledge, remembrance, and observation : of that only sure, and perfect fountain of divine light : rule of Christian life : & foundation of everlasting hope. London, 1668.

Holyoke, Edward. The Doctrine of Life, or, Of Mans Redemption, by the Seed of Eve, the Seed of Abraham, the Seed of David, &c. as it Was Taught in Severall Periods of Time, from Gen. 3.15. till Christ Came in the Flesh, to Fulfill all Typicall Prefigurations of him by His death : wherein also sundry other fundamentall points are discussed and cleared from some common mistakes : as Daniels chronologie of seventy sevens, which is cleared from the uncertainty which too many expositors have unadvisedly cast upon it : and about the Jewes calling, that it must not be understand of any return to Canaan, or of their restauration to a perspicuous common wealth any more, but of the calling of a remnant of them to the faith, in the countries where they live dispersed : and with the true nature of our Lords sufferings, with sundry other such like points, as may be seen in the table : propounded by way of question and answer, with annotations thereunto annexed : divided into three parts. London, 1658.

Jackson, John. Chronological Antiquities : or, the antiquities and chronology of the most ancient kingdoms, from the creation of the world, for the space of five thousand years. 3 vols. London, 1752.

Le Clerc, Jean. A Compendium of Universal History from the Beginning of the World to the Reign of the Emperor Charles the Great written originally in Latin by Monsieur Le Clerc ; done into English. London, 1699.

Lightfoot, John. The Harmony of the Foure Evangelists among Themselves, and with the Old Testament : the first part, from the beginning of the gospels to the baptisme of our saviour, with an explanation of the chiefest difficulties both in language and sense. London, 1644.

Lightfoot, John. The Harmony, Chronicle and Order of the Old Testament : the years observed and laid down chronically ; and the books, chapters, stories, prophesies, &c. taken up orderly, as the naturall method, and genuine series of the chronology and history doe require. With reasons given of dislocations of texts and stories, where they come : very many remarkable observations upon the text as it goes along : difficulties in the chronology untyed : differences in the relating of stories reconciled : and abundance of places in the Old Testament, briefly cleared. Also, a second part of the Harmony of the four Evangelists among themselves, and with the Old Testament ; from our Saviours baptism to the first Passeover after. By John Lightfoote Staffordiens : a member of the Assembly of Divines. London, 1647.

A Lover of harmony (anon). A Concise Scripture Chronology, In which the Writings of Moses, Samuel, David, and the Prophets Are Harmonized, many Difficulties Made Clear, and Apparent Contradictions reconciled. Portsmouth, [1789].

Marshall, Benjamin. Chronological Tables in Which are Contain’d not only all the chief things of sacred history from the creation of the world ’till Christ’s time, but also all other the most remarkeable things of those times that are recorded in any of the antient writers now extant. [Oxford], 1712-13.

Marshall, Benjamin. A Chronological Treatise upon the Seventy Weeks of Daniel ; wherein is evidently shewn the accomplishment of the predicted events, as Especially Of the Cutting Off of the Messiah after the predicted Vii Weeks and LXII Weeks, according to the Express Letter of the Prophecy, and in most exact Agreement with Ptolemy’s Canon ; so also Of the Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, In the LXXth, or separate One Week, In the Litteral, Obvious, and Primary Sense ; (however this be groundlessly call’d in Question by a late Writer, in a Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion :) In a particular Disquisition upon the Three latest Hypotheses of these Weeks published among us, viz. That of the late Learned Bishop Lloyd ; That of the late Learned Dr. Prideaux ; And that of the Reverend Mr. Lancaster. All which Hypotheses are here fully consider’d ; And the late Bishop Lloyd’s is generally supported and established. With chronological tables Suited to the Whole. London, 1725.

Marsham, Sir John. Diatriba Chronologica Johannis Marshami. London, 1649.

Mede, Joseph. Daniels Weekes an Interpretation of Part of the Prophecy of Daniel. London, 1643.

Milner, John. A Defence of Arch-bishop Usher against Dr. Cary and Dr. Isaac Vossius together with an introduction concerning the uncertainty of chronology. Cambridge, 1694.

Newton, Sir Isaac. The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended. To which is prefix’d, A short chronicle from the first memory of things in Europe, to the conquest of Persia by Alexander the Great. London, 1728. 

Porter, Thomas. A Compendious View, or Cosmographical, and Geographical Description of the Whole World. With more plain general rules, touching the use of the globe, then bave been yet published. Wherein is shewed the situation of the several countries, and islands : their particular governments, manners, commodities, and religions. Also a chronology of the most eminent persons, and things that have been since the creation, to this present : wherein you have a brief of the gospel, or a plain, and easie table, directing readily where to find the several things, that were taught, spoke, done and suffered, by Jesus Christ, throughout the said gospel. The which is not onely pleasant, and delightful ; but very useful, and profitable ; for all. But chiefly for those who want, either time, to read, or money to buy, many books. London, 1659.

Prideaux, Mathias. An Easy and Compendious Introduction for Reading all Sorts of Histories : contrived, in a more facile way then heretofore hath been published, out of the papers of Mathias Prideaux Mr of Arts and sometime fellow of Exeter College in Oxford. Oxford, 1648.

Steno, Nicolaus. The Prodromus to a Dissertation Concerning Solids Naturally Contained within Solids Laying a Foundation for the Rendering a Rational Accompt Both of the Frame and the Several Changes of the Masse of the Earth : as also of the various productions in the same. London, 1671.

Swan, John. Speculum Mundi, or, A glasse representing the face of the world ; shewing both that it did begin, and must also end : the manner how, and time when, being largely examined. Whereunto is joyned an hexameron, or a serious discourse of the causes, continuance, and qualities of things in nature ; occasioned as matter pertinent to the work done in the six dayes of the worlds creation. Cambridge, 1635.

Swan, John. Calamus Mensurans the Measuring reed. Or, The standard of time. Containing an exact computation of the yeares of the world, from the creation thereof, to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. Stating also, and clearing the hid mysteries of Daniels 70. weekes, and other prophecies, the time of Herods reigne ; the birth, baptisme and Passion of our Saviour, with other passages never yet extant in our English tongue. London, 1653.

Ussher, James. Annales Veteris Testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti una cum rerum asiaticarum et aegyptiacarum chronico, a temporis historici principio usque ad Maccabaicorum initia producto / Jacobo Usserio Armachano digestore. London, 1650.

Ussher, James. The Annals of the World Deduced From the Origin of Time, and continued to the beginning of the Emperour Vespasians reign, and the totall destruction and abolition of the temple and commonwealth of the Jews : containing the historie of the Old and New Testament, with that of the Macchabees, also the most memorable affairs of Asia and Egypt, and the rise of the empire of the Roman Caesars under C. Julius, and Octavianus : collected from all history, as well sacred, as prophane, and methodically digested. London, 1658.

Whiston, William. A Short View of the Chronology of the Old Testament, and of the Harmony of the Four Evangelists. London, 1702.

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Secondary sources

Barr, James. “Why the World Was Created in 4004 BC : Archbishop Ussher and Biblical Chronology.” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library 67 (1985) : 575-606.

Israel, Jonathan. Radical Enlightenment. Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750. Oxford : OUP, 2001.

Killeen, Kevin. Biblical Scholarship, Science and Politics in Early Modern England : Thomas Browne and the Thorny Place of Knowledge. Farnham : Ashgate, 2009.

Levine, Joseph M. The Battle of the Books : History and Literature in the Augustan Age. Ithaca and London : Cornell UP, 1991.

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1  I use CE (Common or Christian Era) and BCE (Before the Common or Christian Era) throughout.

2  For Ussher’s methodology and the details of his chronological calculations, see Barr.

3  The title page of this work indicates that it was originally written by “the author of the Devotions by way of offices, publish’d by Dr. Hicks. Reformed and improved by James Bonnel Esq ; late Accomptant General of Ireland, for his own Use and now published from his own papers for the Use of others, by the author of his life.” Devotions in the ancient way of offices first appeared in 1668, the work of the catholic John Austin who used the pseudonym of William Birchley. They were republished for Anglican use by the non-juror George Hickes in 1700. The life and character of James Bonnell Esq ; late Accomptant General of Ireland. To which is added the sermon preach’d at his funeral was the work of William Hamilton, Archdeacon of Armagh and was published in 1703 along with a sermon preached on the death of Bonnell in 1699, written by Edward Wetenhall, bishop of Killmore and Armagh.

4  After breakfast he retires to his study : he cuts little bits out of the Bible and gums them with exquisite neatness by the side of other little bits : this he calls making a Harmony of the Old and New Testaments.” (Butler 97).

5  For Ussher’s rejection of the Septuagint and the differences between its chronology and that of the Hebrew Bible, see Barr 582.

6  For further examples, see Killeen 92-93.

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Jeffrey Hopes, « Dating the World : The Science of Biblical Chronology », XVII-XVIII, 71 | 2014, 65-83.

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Jeffrey Hopes, « Dating the World : The Science of Biblical Chronology », XVII-XVIII [En ligne], 71 | 2014, mis en ligne le 17 mai 2016, consulté le 25 février 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/1718.391

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Jeffrey Hopes

Université d’Orléans

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