The Ussher Method of Calculation
 

Many have attempted to calculate the dates of Old Testament events from the various genealogical passages and tables in the Bible.  James Ussher (1581-1656) was archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. His chronology was published in 1650 in Annales Veteris et Novi Testamenti, and was inserted in the margin of reference editions of the King James Bible, which had been first published in 1611. It follows the Hebrew text, and puts the Creation at 4004 BC and the Flood at 2349 BC.

His method works like this:

Genesis 5:25-27 is typical of the genealogical passages:

And Methuselah lived 187 years, and begat Lamech: And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech 782 years, and begat sons and daughters: and all the days of Methuselah were 969 years, and he died. (KJV)

Almost all chronologists have considered the verses quoted above to mean:

When Methuselah was 187 years old his son Lamech was born; then Methuselah lived another 782 years, and died at the age of 969.

While this is called the Ussher method here, it was also used by earlier writers like Josephus, Africanus, and Eusebius, as well as Ussher and many more recent writers. With a little simple arithmetic, the elapsed time from Adam to Abraham can easily be calculated.  this sort of absolute dating system is called sometimes called AC or more often AM, meaning Anno Mundi or "Year of the World."  Another problem arises when trying to convert this elapsed time to our current calendar.  This requires a known point in our current calendar.  This also is not a trivial task and I would refer the interested reader to the reverence at the bottom of this page. At any rate here is a table of dates for Old Testament people and events.

 

Some Ussher Dates (taken from an old 1924 Family Bible)1

BC Date

Event

Calculated AM Date

4004 BC

The Creation

0

3874

Seth born

130

3769

Enos born

235

3679

Cainan born

325

3609

Mahalaleel born

395

3544

Jared born

460

3382

Enoch born

622

3317

Methuselah born

687

3130

Lamech born

874

2948

Noah born

1056

2448

Shem, Ham, Japheth

1556

2349

Great Flood of Noah

1655

2346

Arphaxad born

1658

2311

Salah born

1693

2281

Eber born

1723

2247

Peleg born

1757

2218

Nimrod born

1786

2217

Reu born

1787

2185

Serug born

1819

2155

Nahor born

1849

2126

Terah born

1878

1996

Abram, Nahor, Haran

2008

1921

Terah died

2083

1897

Isaac born

2107

1837

Jacob & Esau born

2167

1729

Joseph sold into Egypt

2275

1706

Jacob moved to Egypt

2298

1689

Jacob died at age 147

2315

1635

Joseph died

2369

1571

Moses born

2433

1491

Exodus from Egypt

2513

1490

Tabernacle completed

2514

1451

Moses died

2553

1056

King Saul died

2948

1048

David king of all Israel

2956

1012

Start of Solomon's Temple

2992

Calculation : AM dates = 4004 - BC dates

Note 1 -- Noah's three sons: Gen. 6:1 Noah had 1st son at age 500. Gen. 7:6,11 Noah was 600 when Flood began. Gen. 11:10 Shem's son was born when Shem was 100, 2 years after the Flood. Thus Noah was 502 when Shem was born and Noah was 602 when Shem's son was born, and Shem was not the oldest son. Gen. 9:24 Ham was Noah's youngest son. Thus Japheth must have been the oldest, Shem was in middle, and Ham was the youngest. Gen. 9:28-29 Noah lived for 350 years after Flood, and died at age 950. Gen. 11:11 Shem died 500 years after birth of son, at age 600.

Note 2 -- Terah's three sons: Gen.11:26 At age 70, Terah had the first of 3 sons. Gen. 11:32 Terah died at age 205. Gen. 12:4 Abram was 75 when he left Haran, soon after Terah had died. Thus Terah must have been 205 - 75 = 130 when Abram was born. Thus Abram had one brother who was 60 years older than Abram. We don't know whether that was Haran or Nahor. We don't know whether Abram was son #2 or #3.

Note 3 -- Jacob and Joseph: To calculate Jacob and Joseph's relative birthdates, begin with Genesis 41 - 50 and find their relative ages. Then work backward. Gen.37:2 Joseph was 17 when sold into Egypt. Gen.41:46 Joseph was 30 when he became Chief Food Administrator. Gen.41:46-48 The 7 good years began at that time, followed by the start of 7 years of famine. Gen.45:6,11 During the 2nd year of famine, Joseph's brothers made their 2nd trip to buy grain. Joseph must have been 30 + 7 + 2 = 39. Gen.45:16 - 46:7 Joseph's brothers went home and brought Jacob and their families to Egypt. Gen.47:9 Jacob was 130 at that time. Therefore Jacob must have been 130 - 39 = 91 when Joseph was born.

1Table 4 from Sewell ( http://www.ldolphin.org/sewell/sewellchron.html 10/8/07)