London: Printed by E. Tyler, for J. Crook . . . and for G. Bedell, 1658. Folio. [xiv], 907,  pp., including index and leaf advertising books printed for, and to be sold by, John Crook. FIRST EDITION IN ENGLISH. Engraved frontispiece portrait of Bishop Ussher, separate engraved title with 10 illustrations including Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Christ’s last supper, the Temple, and the figures of Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus and Vespasian, printed title in red and black, text within borders, woodcut headpieces. Contemporary calf, rebacked, title and year in gilt on spine; interior excellent. Item #17417
First edition in English of Ussher’s famous treatise in which he calculates the time and date of creation as October 22, 4004 BC. Intended as a complete history of the world covering every major event from the time of creation, the chronology shows the exact dates of occurrences through Rome’s destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD. In making his calculations, Ussher first assumed that the Bible was the only reliable source document of chronological information. Biblical passages provided Ussher with clues to the number of human generations -- and hence years --since Adam and Eve. He chose the death of Nebuchadnezzar as a reliable date to anchor all the earlier biblical dates. Working backward, he ended up with his date for creation, as well as other biblical events, concluding, for example, that Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday, November 10, 4004 BC, and that the ark touched down on Mt Ararat on May 5, 2348 BC, “on a Wednesday.” The Church of England adopted Ussher’s dates for use in all of its official Bibles in 1701, and thus his calculations came to be regarded with almost as much unquestioning reverence as the Bible itself.
Even Sir Isaac Newton defended Ussher’s work in his Chronology of ancient kingdoms amended: “For an educated man in the seventeenth or even eighteenth century, any suggestion that the human past extended back further than 6000 years was a vain and foolish speculation.”
This work is extremely rare in its first printing. It provided a key point in the high drama of the Scopes trial; when Clarence Darrow examined William Jennings Bryan, he chose to focus primarily on a chronology of Biblical events, and frequently discussed Ussher’s calculations. Though Bryan stood fast with the Bible’s (thus Ussher’s) position on the date of creation, he broke faith with the most faithful Fundamentalists when he testified that he did not believe that the Genesis statement of six days to create the Earth meant literal 24-hour periods. This set up the current split in the Fundamentalist evangelical community between those whose literalist views compel them to accept Ussher’s chronology and those who accept fossil evidence and a more metaphorical interpretation of the “days” of Genesis, but who still insist that species were intelligently designed by God, and were not the products of evolution.
So the date of creation clearly does matter. If Ussher figured correctly, and every living thing has appeared in only the last six thousand hears, there would not have been sufficient time for any new species to evolve.
Ussher (1581-1656) was highly regarded in his day as a churchman and as a scholar. In 1625, he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the highest position in the Irish Anglican Church. He was also vice-chancellor of Trinity College, Dublin, and a member of King James’ Privy Council in Ireland. An expert in Semitic languages, he argued for the reliability of the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and wrote widely on Christianity in Asia.