Monday, November 05, 2007

Usshering in a Bold New Seventeenth Century

Our friends at WorldNetDaily are now selling copies of a new book. Well, perhaps "new" is a misnomer.
In the 1650s, an Anglican bishop named James Ussher published his "Annals of the World," subtitled, "The Origin of Time, and Continued to the Beginning of the Emperor Vespasian's Reign and the Total Destruction and Abolition of the Temple and Commonwealth of the Jews." First published in Latin, it consisted of more than 1,600 pages.

The book, now published in English for the first time, is a favorite of homeschoolers and those who take ancient history seriously. It's the history of the world from the Garden of Eden to the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Actually, this translation takes both the originial Annals, along with its follow-up volume.
After a 1647 work on the origin of the Creeds, Ussher published a treatise on the calendar in 1648. This was a warm-up for his most famous work, the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti ("Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world"), which appeared in 1650, and its continuation, Annalium pars postierior, published in 1654.
Aside from mistranslating the title (or ignoring the change by the translator), the fine scholars at WorldNetDaily don't seem to know their source material very well.
...the author of the book... said the world was created Oct. 23, 4004 B.C. – making it exactly 6,010 yesterday.
Technically, Ussher stated that the earth was created on the nightfall preceding October 23, but that's apparently a common error. (Incidentally, despite the implication implicit in the "article" that WND is releasing this book for the first time, that's just a marketing ploy.)

Oddly, not everyone believes Ussher's scientifically-determined age for the earth. Skeptics have held parties mocking the date, and Clarence Darrow used the errors in Ussher's scholarship to great advantage in the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial (roughly as chronicled in Inherit the Wind).

Fortunately for Ussher's work, his original effort used the Julian calendar, and could safely ignore the ten or eleven day shift switching from the Julian to Gregorian calendars. But Ussher didn't concern himself overmuch with the fact that the numbering of Julian years was based on an estimate of Christ's birth by a sixth-century scholar, Dionysius Exiguus.

An argument could probably be made that this is a historical document, but it isn't history buffs who it's being marketed for. It's published by Master Books, an imprint of the New Leaf Publishing Group. As they put it,
Master Books remains a strong voice of truth in defense of the Holy Scripture from the very first verse, continuing the evangelistic tradition and vision at the heart of New Leaf Press for 30 years. My father, Cliff , wanted evangelism to remain the primary mission of our company
They publish fine tomes like Dinosaurs of Eden, Darwin's Demise, the Creation, Evolution and Deception DVD, and even the Tower of Babel Pop-Up and Read. These aren't scholars, folks. They're far-right fringe, Rapture-believing Young Earthers.

So who do you really think is the largest audience for this cute little work of misguided scholarship? Well, one hint might be the fact that it's written up in (and sold by) both and (Why do they really think that all of life's answers can be found in Genesis, anyway? Was it "Invisible Touch" or "Sussudio" that really inspired them?)

This is considered to be "History" (capital aitch), not a "Biblical timeline." Personally, I especially like the statement in the ad, "The fact that Ussher's chronology has been deleted from Bibles is evidence of the Church's backsliding into the deceptive ideas of evolution."

But for further proof, let's look at the interview with the translators, Larry and Marion Pierce. Marion at one point says:
The hardest thing for me was containing my enthusiasm! This project became a passion as I became more aware of the deep research and irrefutable sources Ussher used in ferreting out his information. Every footnote referenced cries out to the sceptic, 'Here are my sources; check them out and see if you can prove me wrong!'
Personally, considering how strong their agenda is, I'd really rather have their translation double-checked by a real scholar. Preferably an agnostic. Or at least a Lutheran (ELCA, not Missouri Synod...).

In their efforts to stamp out modern science, the Religious Right is turning to the scholarship of a seventeenth-century Anglican Archbishop, ignoring over three and a half centuries of collected knowledge.

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