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Why Was the World Created in 4004 BC?

We appear to be living in an age where science no longer matters.  As you may know, the English word “science” comes from the Latin term “scientia,” which means “knowledge.:  People who reject “science,” well, what is it they’re rejecting?   We live in dangerous times.

Apart from the more obvious examples of this rejection that you can find in the newspaper every day (involving a human-induced apocalypse of biblical proportions), there are still, of course, a large number of “creationists” out there, who not only deny evolution (as a student now then will always tell me, with passion in his voice, “Hey, it’s ONLY a theory!!”) but who also subscribe to a young earth theory.  The earth has just been around for about 6000 years.  Really.  (When I was a fundamentalist I knew people who seriously claimed not only that dinosaurs and humans were walking around the earth together, but that fossils that appear to date to millions of years earlier were put into the geological record by Satan, who wanted to lead the world astray so they would all go to hell.  They were serious.)

But why 6000 years?  Why not, say, 7000 or 5000?  Turns out there’s a reason for it.  In fact, as you also may know, in the traditional King James Bible, where there are dates given in the margins for various key events, Genesis 1, the creation of the world, is given as 6004 BCE.  Now *that’s* strange.  Why not just round it off a bit?   What’s with the precision?

I deal with this in a sidebox in my college-level textbook on the Bible, as I posted years ago on the blog.  Here is the original post:

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In my Bible Intro, I am including a number of “boxes” that deal with issues that are somewhat tangental to the main discussion, but of related interest or importance. Here’s one of the ones in my chapter on Genesis, in connection with interpretations that want to take the book as science or history. For a lot of you, this will be old news. But then again, so is Genesis.

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In 1650 CE, an Irish archbishop and scholar, James Ussher, engaged in a detailed study of when the world began.  Ussher based his calculations on the genealogies of the Bible, starting with those in the book of Genesis (which state not only who begat whom, but also indicate, in many instances, how long each of the people thus begotten lived) and a detailed study of other ancient sources, such as Babylonian and Roman history.  On these grounds, he argued that the world was created in 4004 BCE — in fact, at noon on October 23.  This chronology became dominant throughout Western Christendom.  It was printed widely in King James Bibles and continues to be believed by non-evolutionarily minded Christians today.

This has been a useful dating for many Christians since that time.  For many centuries – going back in fact to the early second century of the Common Era – there have been Christians who thought that the world would last for 6000 years.   The reason is a bit complicated.  According to a passage in the New Testament…

To see the rest of this post you will need to be a blog member.  If you’re not, you better join up fast.  If we’ve only been here 6000 years, there’s not much time left!

According to a passage in the New Testament, “with the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pet. 3:8).   Now, if the creation took God six days to complete, and each day is a thousand years, then the creation must be destined to last a thousand years.  Right?  That would mean it would all end about 2000 years after Jesus had died.

Why, though, did Archbishop Ussher not simply round things off a bit and opt for the year 4000 BCE, say, some time in late afternoon?  It was because he realized full well that there was a problem or two with our modern calendars.   The calendar we use was invented in the sixth century CE by a Christian monk named Dionysius Exiguus (whose name, in English, translates as “Dennis the Short”).  Dionysius began the new era (C.E. or A.D.) with the year 1.  He had no option to that, since the concept of zero was not mathematically worked out yet in the sixth century, and so the first year could not have been 0.   But even more than that, Dionysius Exiguus miscalculated the date of Jesus’ birth, from which the era had its beginning.  For if Jesus was in fact an infant during the reign of King Herod – as related by both Matthew and Luke in the New Testament – then he must have been born no later than 4 BCE, the year of Herod’s death.  This creates a problem, of course, for those who continue to work with the abbreviations AD (anno domini: Latin for The Year of our Lord) and BC (Before Christ) – since, as sometimes noted, according to the calendar we use Jesus was actually born four years Before Christ!

The larger problem, though, for literalistic Christians who believe that the universe came into being not some 13 billion years ago, as modern astronomers maintain, but in 4004 BCE, ago, as Ussher claimed, and who think that is that the world is supposed to to exist for exactly six thousand years, based on the six days of creation in Genesis, it should have ended already, by noon on October 23, 1997.


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    anthonygale  July 1, 2019

    I suppose I get how they came up with 4004 BCE. Not that it makes sense to me (shouldn’t that mean it took 6000 years to get from “let there be light” to humans?). But how did they come up with October 23 at noon?

    Once out of curiosity I made a trip to the Creation Museum. They had an interesting argument for why dinosaurs must have coexisted with humans. They said the price of sin is death, therefore nothing died until humans committed the first sin. It follows that lions were vegetarians before the first sin. They continue that the fossil record contains dead things and, since nothing died until after the first sin, anything in the fossil record died after the first sin. Hence dinosaurs coexisted with humans.

    I live too far away now to go to Ark Encounter. Did you hear about them suing over rain damage? How ironic.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 2, 2019

      He worked it out by a detailed analysis of Greek, Roman, Ancient Near Eastern, and Biblical chronologies. I don’t remember the exact logic.

  2. Avatar
    AntiochusEpimanes  July 2, 2019

    I know fundamentalists who think the earth is 4.5 billion years old…but they think that the (accurate) genealogies in Genesis skipped generations…for example, at age 30 person A became the great, great, great…grandfather of person B. It seems to me that when it says person A became person B’s father at age 30, that means he became his father, not his distant ancestor. Is there any way to add multiple generations into each ‘begat?’

  3. Avatar
    ksgm34  July 2, 2019

    Bart, how did *you* reconcile the evidence for evolution and an old earth with your beliefs when you were a fundamentalist?

  4. Avatar
    Apocryphile  July 2, 2019

    Everyone knows the Earth is at least 1 million years old – archaeologists have discovered Raquel Welch’s fur bikini under the 20th Century Fox parking lot.

  5. Avatar
    anvikshiki  July 3, 2019

    Wow, Satan planted fossils in the Earth that appeared to be much older than they are? This makes me think of another one from astronomy. If the world is only some 6,000 years old, then stars that appear to be more than 6,000 light years away should not be visible. But most of the stars in the sky are thought to be far older. Did Satan arrange that too? And if so, if Satan planted all the false information in the universe, from the fossils in the soil to the stars in the sky, doesn’t all this make Satan just a little bit…too impressive? :).

  6. Avatar
    mannix  July 6, 2019

    Wait! Did Ussher take into account Leap Year? Since the Earth completes a rotation about the Sun in 365¼ days, an extra day is added every 4 years. For 4004 years, this amounts to 1001 days, or an extra 2 years and 271 days! Adding that to 23 Oct 4004 BCE pushes creation back to around June 11 4007 BCE.

  7. Avatar
    Ophiuchus  July 14, 2019

    Lots of good information on the Scopes Monkey Trial is available on the Famoous Trials website: https://famous-trials.com/scopesmonkey

  8. Avatar
    Bernice Templeman  July 15, 2019

    I actually currently believe the evolution of the Universe, earth, and humankind. The Genesis 1 story may help us to be grateful for all the good and remember we are all equal. I don’t read it as a factual story. I don’t know where it is written about the 2000 year second coming.
    Ancient Egyptians were further advanced in eternal life and equality. I believe in eternal life and think it is not just a second coming, but many. They may not be in 3 days or in exactly 2000 years.
    For example, I am Bernice daughter of Julia Bernice (really). I am not sure when (Julia) Berenice from the Bible died, but it is slightly under 2000 years, maybe around 1865 (could be more or less). If I go back another 1865 years I find an Ancient Egyptian Aat (The Great One). If I go further back, I would be in pre-dynastic Ancient Egypt where there was a white goddess (a human who overcame sin). This could be the Ancient Egyptian goddess Maat.
    I think their gods and goddesses were people who went to heaven and lived again. They were around a long time to see people born again, resurrected.
    I don’t think there is only one person who has gone to heaven and has eternal life. I also think Ancient Egypt has a strong presence in eternal life. You don’t have to be Egyptian, speak the language, etc to go to heave. I think it is your beliefs and actions. If you believe you were created good and don’t sin, you will stop sinning. That is forgiveness and atonement.

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