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Chronology vs. chronogenealogies: Is Ussher to blame?

Questioning biblical chronogenealogies in favor of secular Egyptian chronology

Published: 24 October 2020 (GMT+10)
James Ussher calculated the earth’s age as 4,004 years BC.

John Z. of the US wrote into CMI with a comment challenging the dating assumptions in Gavin Cox and Gary Bate’s feedback article—Can we understand Egyptian chronology before the Exodus? CMI’s Gavin Cox responds below.


The issue is likely not in the Egyptian dating, but rather in Ussher’s 4,004 BC year for the creation, which CMI uses (or a similar date). I’ve heard estimates by young-earth creationists for a creation date as early as approximately 11,000 BC, which would then create no issue with these Egyptian dates. In the Bible, “begat” doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate son. When you consider “begat” to be a direct father-son relationship, you run into problems, both with secular dating and Scripture. For example, Genesis 11:12 sounds very much like Salah was the immediate son of Arphaxad, and I’m sure most people read this verse that way. But Luke 3:35-36 says that Salah (Sala) was not an immediate son of Arphaxad. Rather, he was a “son” (immediate or otherwise) of Cainan, who was a “son” of Arphaxad.

Hi John

Thanks for writing to CMI with your query. You initially state “The issue is likely not in the Egyptian dating…” But this is exactly where the issues are to be found. There are many Egyptologists, secular and Christian, who recognize Egyptian dating requires much work to make it line-up with other chronologies around the Ancient Near East. Modern understandings of Egyptian chronology are primarily based upon the Egyptian priest Manetho, who is widely recognized as having written the first Egyptian ‘history’ c. 300 BC. However, Manetho wrote much later than much of the history he was writing about. This caused him to make some fundamental errors, which included having certain pharaohs’ reigns run consecutively, rather than run concurrently, which resulted in Egyptian chronology being extended. This was likely done in order to make Egyptian history appear more important, compared to that of the Greeks. If you want to understand the issues clearly, I can recommend Gary Bates’ article Framing the Issues, on biblical vs. Egyptian chronology to explain the details more fully.

You refer to the 4,004 BC creation date as “Ussher’s” and then dismiss it in favour of some un-named “young-earth creationists” who apparently accept an “11,000 BC” date for creation. However, Ussher should not be so easily dismissed, as his date for creation was based on an exceptional analysis of the biblical timeline, and an astonishing understanding of world history. Moreover, it is known that he had access to historical documents that are lost today. Furthermore, Johannes Kepler, the great 17th-century German astronomer, and mathematician calculated a creation date in the same ballpark of 3,992 BC. Also, Isaac Newton, probably the greatest scientific mind of all time, strongly defended a c. 4,000 BC creation date. All of their dates were derived from taking the biblical chronogenealogies derived from the Masoretic Text (MT) of Genesis 5 and 11, at face-value. So Ussher, Kepler, and Newton (and we at CMI) would accept that there is no reasonable evidence for huge ‘gaps’ within these chronogenealogies as you suggest.

Biblical chronogenealogies as derived from the Masoretic Text.

You state: “In the Bible, ‘begat’ doesn’t necessarily mean an immediate son.” However, you don’t give any examples of this to back-up your statement though. What must be recognized is that the Genesis 5 and 11 chronogenealogies give the date of the father’s first son and the death of the father. So if you insist there are gaps, then you have to demonstrate them, and from the internal evidence of Scripture, there are no gaps. I also suspect you are favouring the longer Septuagint (LXX) chronologies that add a further c.1,400 years onto the date of creation to make it 5,400 BC, but quite how you favour a 11,000 BC date is not specified. CMI has demonstrated, from textual evidence, why the MT time-scale is to be favoured over that of the LXX, or the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP).

Your argument from Luke 3:35-36 to insist that “begat” does not refer to the immediate father-son relationship is an argument built on one single exception, that is best explained by a later copyist error in the Luke passage. Here, an extra ‘Cainan’ is inserted in between: “Shem—Arphaxad—Cainan—Shelah”. The relationship, however, is clear from Genesis 11:12 which states: “Shem—Arphaxad—Shelah”. So, your argument turns out to be circular, based on a later copying mistake.

You may also be basing your old Egyptian dates on carbon-14 dating, but accepting these dates uncritically, is fraught with difficulties, as even the experts disagree. For instance, even accepting the dates of the LXX for Noah’s Flood of 3,168 BC does not solve the dating of some of the oldest Egyptian remains.

For instance, secular archaeologists consider Paleolithic dwelling remains in Wadi Halfa are dated to 100,000 BC. Tool making, known as the Aterian industry is dated to 40,000 BC. The Khormusan tool industry is dated to 32,000 BC. The Nabta Playa archaeological site, is considered one of the earliest from the Egyptian Neolithic Period, and dated to c. 7,500 BC. Neolithic settlements appear all over Egypt and are dated to 6,000 BC. A small settlement near Cairo, known as the The El Omari culture is dated to the Archaic period at 4,000 BC. I could go on… For a setting of these Egyptian eras and archaeological remains within a biblical framework see this article, and CMI’s brand new Egyptian tour guide.

So in the end, the issue is based on a correct understanding of biblical chronology. Unless you start out with a correct understanding of the biblical dates, then errors will follow and be multiplied. We come from the position that Scripture provides the only reliable historical framework for understanding world history, including Egyptian history, which must have sprung up after the Babel event, which itself was around 100 years after the Flood, c. 2,250 BC.

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $20.00
Kindle (.mobi)
The Puzzle of Ancient Man
by Donald Chittick
US $15.00
Soft Cover
Tour Egypt
by Gary Bates, Robert Carter, Gavin Cox, Keaton Halley
US $12.00
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Jim B.
· The Creation of Adam was “in the beginning” (Mark 10:6). This means then, that the beginning of Genesis 1:1 is referring to the onset of the week – and all six days are included in the Beginning.
· We add up the years in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 – these begin with Adam. This takes us to the birth of Abraham with great precision. The years given are meant to accurate to the closest year – seen in the way Jacob’s age is stated (Gen. 47:8-9, 28). Stephen and Paul took the numbers as accurate (Acts 7:2-6; Rom. 4:19; Gal. 3:17). Jude took the names as real people in real succession (Jude 1:14). They accepted the numbers too.
· The years “since creation” are linked to years “Before Christ” by data derived from 1 Kings 6:1 with Gen. 15:13; Exodus 12:40-41. The time of David was about 1000 BC, and so Solomon was about 960 BC. We cannot do all that “MATH” here – but it is possible – and calculations can be made with precision to within a year or two.
· Some scholars allow for some possible gaps that might allow a few more years to be added. Others use alternate readings that have a few larger numbers – resulting in about 10,000 years since the “Beginning.” But no matter how imprecise you choose – still the earth is only a few thousand years old, according to the Bible – and certainly not millions and billions of years old as the secularists propose.

The use of math in the age of Jacob (130) when He arrived in Egypt - adding 17 years to the time of his death results in a simple mathematical answer - 147. The Bible affirms that the numbers of years in Genesis are meant to be taken in the ordinary mathematical sense with an accuracy to the closest year.
Robert H.
I apologize for the name mix-up. I didn't give you a specific example of a biblical genealogy that skips generations because I thought my post was getting too long. But Jesus' genealogy in Matt 1 clearly omits four kings of Judah: Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah, and Jehoiakim - and probably more because the post-Davidic part of Jesus' genealogy in Luke 3 is considerably longer. Also, look at 1 Chron 26:24. If Shubael was one of David's officials and he was literally Moses' grandson, then he must have been about 400 years old, which was not possible in the time of David. This genealogy has been abridged! Lastly, please compare the genealogical information in 1 Chron 6:1-3 with Num 3:27-28. If the genealogy in 1 Chron 6:1-3 is taken as a strict father to son relationship, we would have to conclude that Levi's son was Kohath, his grandson was Amram, and that Amram had three children: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. But according to Num 3:27-28, Amram and his three brothers actually had 8,600 descendants at the time of the Exodus. Clearly, it is not possible for four brothers to have 8,600 children between them. The only way to make sense of this data is to conclude that the genealogical information in 1 Chron 6:1-3 is abridged and that Amram was an ancestor of Aaron, Moses, and Miriam, not their father. These examples suffice to show that biblical genealogies often skip generations!
Gavin Cox
Hi Robert,
Thanks for your email. However, in your zeal to see the Genesis history stretched out, logically, you are comparing apples with oranges. The information in Genesis 5 and 11 are chronogenealogies, note the affixed 'chrono'. Jesus' genealogies are not chronogenealogies, but as you note are given as rounded figures for a balanced structure (14 generations: Abraham-David-Babylon-Christ). The genealogies do not give ages at death, or ages of the fathers for their first sons like the lists in Genesis 5 and 11. More importantly, they are given for theological reasons—to establish Jesus' connection to David (Matthew), as the promised Messiah, and to connect Him to Adam (Luke), in order to establish Jesus as the Last Adam—He is fully human. But how do we know Jesus' genealogies are rounded down? Because we can compare them to the information in I Chronicles 1. But when Genesis 5 and 11 is compared to I Chronicles 1 they agree. You even give a number of reasons why your comparisons are not sound "If Shubael was one of David's officials and he was literally Moses' grandson, then he must have been about 400 years old, which was not possible in the time of David." etc... So what are you missing? The Hebrew grammar will tell you. I will let Jonathan Sarfati explain:

The Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies say that X also ‘begat sons and daughters’, implying that Z is likewise a son of X in this specific context.

And even if we grant that Z is a descendant of X, Z is always preceded by the accusative particle את (’et), which is not translated but marks Z as the direct object of the verb ‘begat’ (ויולד wayyôled). This means that the begetting of Z by X still occurred when X was Y years old, regardless of whether Z was a son or a more distant descendant. The Hebrew grammar provides further support—wayyôled is the hiphil waw-consecutive imperfect form of the Hebrew verb yalad—the hiphil stem communicates the subject participating in action that causes an event, e.g. Seth as the begetter of Enosh. Hasel pointed out:

‘The repeated phrase “and he fathered PN [personal name]” (wayyôled ’et-PN) appears fifteen times in the OT—all of them in Genesis 5 and 11. In two additional instances the names of three sons are provided (Genesis 5:32; 11:26). The same verbal form as in this phrase (i.e. wayyôled) is employed another sixteen times in the phrase “and he fathered (other) sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:4,7,10, etc.; 11:11,13,17, etc.). Remaining usages of this verbal form in the Hiphil in the book of Genesis reveal that the expression “and he fathered” (wayyôled) is used in the sense of a direct physical offspring (Genesis 5:3; 6:10). A direct physical offspring is evident in each of the remaining usages of the Hiphil of wayyôled, “and he fathered”, in the OT (Judges 11:1; 1 Chronicles 8:9; 14:3; 2 Chronicles 11:21; 13:21; 24:3). The same expression reappears twice in the genealogies in 1 Chronicles where the wording “and Abraham fathered Isaac” (1 Chronicles 1:34; cf. 5:37 [6:11]) rules out that the named son is but a distant descendant of the patriarch instead of a direct physical offspring. Thus the phrase “and he fathered PN” in Genesis 5 and 11 cannot mean Adam “begat an ancestor of Seth.” The view that Seth and any named son in Genesis 5 and 11 is but a distant descendant falters in view of the evidence of the Hebrew language used.’"

So to conclude, the Genesis Chronogenealogies use a specific Hebrew grammar to demonstrate direct son-father relationships, rather than disconnected lineages.

If you want to read the entire article, it is here and will answer any other queries you have. Please also see the linked articles beneath which also delve into the question of whether there are any gaps in the Genesis Chronogenealogies. The evidence is very clear, gaps cannot be found, because there are none. I hope that helps.
Joe W.
I am glad that there are those who are challenging the Creationist's general acceptance of the 4004 BC date. Early centuries Bible scholars placed it at 5200 BC and Lloyd Anderson's current draft of "The Hidden Beauty of Hebrew Genealogy" gives a time frame of 5600-6300 BC, that some have rejected outright on the basis it undermines their favorite supposition of chrono genealogy. I would like to see a detailed challenge, not a brush off.
Gavin Cox
Hi Joe,
If you are referring to building chronologies on the extended LXX compared to the MT text, then my article does not deal with these larger issues. However, if you want to read some very scholarly articles on our site that do deal with the thorny issues of which version do we trust, then I can recommend these articles:
Is the Septuagint a superior text for the Genesis genealogies? and Textual traditions and biblical chronology by Lita Cosner and Robert Carter.
Also The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth by Chris Hardy and Robert Carter.

You will also find many linking articles looking at LXX vs MT chronology. None of these in-depth, scholarly articles could be considered a "brush off", to borrow your phrase. You can also use the creation.com search bar to research the issue. Thanks.
William D.
Always appreciate CMI's analysis of Egyptian history. That timeline graphic is fantastic! Is there any way to get a poster sized version?
Gavin Cox
Hi William, thanks for your comment. The timeline can be downloaded for free, but is only on sale in the UK. There is another time line available for sale here. Thanks
E G.
Thanks for the article, and for the comprehensive chart. Do you have hardcopy of the chart for sale? It would be a valuable addition to my Bible study library. Unfortunately the one in my article is only on sale in the UK
Gavin Cox
Hi, there is a free version you can download, but, as you note, it is only available for sale in the UK. There is another style of timeline available in Canada that you can purchase. Hope that helps.
Seathrún M.
Dear Sir, while I agree with you on the age of the earth being c. 6,000 years, I am afraid that you too easily pour scorn on ... "young earth creationists" who[extend biblical chronology to 11,000 years].
If I remember correctly, the idea of an age of the earth of up to 10,000 years was considered as possible in no less an important creationist work than THE GENESIS FLOOD by Morris and Whitcomb (first published 1961: my copy was of the Sixth Printing). While things have moved on since 1961 - and much in THE GENESIS FLOOD has been rendered out of date by further creationist research - I think that you should acknowledge the fact that early on in the modern creationist movement such views on the elasticity of the Genesis genealogies were actually held by competent creationist scholars. Pioneer research is always in danger of being greatly revised later, but this does not take away from the credit due to the pioneers for boldly leading the way!
Gavin Cox
Hi Seathrún,
Henry Morris said in The Genesis Record "the Bible will not support a date for the creation of man earlier than about 10,000 BC", and the previous page he sided with Ussher's date of 4,004 BC (Morris, H. The Genesis Record, Baker Books, Michigan, pp. 44-45, 1999). So my dismissing the 11,000 BC date given by "anonymous" YECs cannot in any way be misconstrued as me having a swipe at Henry Morris, I can assure you it is not. However, unless we are willing to take the Genesis chronogenealogies seriously, then people will be free to support extended histories in support of their favoured chronological models.
Robert H.
On this one, I must kindly agree with Gavin Cox. Since biblical genealogies often skip generations, it seems quite clear that they were given, not to construct an exact chronology, but to trace a line of descent. As for creationists who have favored an earlier creation date, two of them were none other than Whitcomb and Morris, who pointed out in their book, "The Genesis Flood," that the genealogies in Gen 5 and 11 appear to be stylized around the number 10, much as the incomplete genealogy in Matt 1 is stylized around the number 14. Marvin Lubenow (author of "Bones of Contention") is another creationist who has favored an earlier creation date. As for the argument that Gen 5 and 11 provide "chronogenealogies" because the patriarch's age is given when the son or descendant is begotten, I fail to see the significance of that reasoning. The text is simply saying that at a particular age, the patriarch begot a son or a descendant. There's no reason that the begetting of a line leading up to a future descendant could not be in view. Personally, I have no problem reconciling a recent six day creation and a global flood with the traditional Egyptian chronology.
Gavin Cox
Hi Robert, do you mean "I must kindly [dis]agree with Gavin Cox."? You state "Since biblical genealogies often skip generations"—"often"? Your entire argument is based on the biblical genealogies "often" skipping generations, but then you don't give a single example, because there are none. There is only an extra Canaan in Luke 3:36 (compared to Genesis 11:12), this can be explained as a later New Testament era copyist's error, see this article that explains more.

But, do the genealogies have gaps, or as you suggest "There's no reason that the begetting of a line leading up to a future descendant could not be in view."?

Jonathan Sarfati explains that: "James Barr, then regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford University, wrote in 1984:

‘ … probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: … the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story.’5

Barr, consistent with his neo-orthodox views, does not believe Genesis, but he understood what the Hebrew so clearly taught. It was only the perceived need to harmonize with the alleged age of the earth which led him and people like him to think anything different—it was nothing to do with the text itself.

Long-ager Davis Young points out:

‘The church fathers also suggested that the world was less than six thousand years old at the time of Christ because of the chronology of the genealogical accounts of Genesis 5 and 11 and other chronological information in Scripture.’

The Jewish historian Josephus (AD 37/38–c. 100), in his Antiquities of the Jews, also presents a chronology that has no hint of any gaps. This is significant since this indicates that the Jews of his time never saw any. The names and ages in his writings show that Josephus mostly used the LXX.

‘This calamity [Flood] began in the 600th year of Noah’s government [age] … Now he [Moses] says that this flood began on the 27th [17th] day of the forementioned month [Nisan]; and this was 2,656 [1,656]7 years from Adam, the first man; and the time is written down in our sacred books, those who then lived having noted down, with great accuracy, both the births and dates of illustrious men.

‘For indeed Seth was born when Adam was in his 230th year, who lived 930 years. Seth begat Enos in his 205th year, who, when he had lived 912 years, delivered the government to Cainan his son, whom he had in his 190th year; he lived 905 years. Cainan, when he lived 910 years, had his son Malaleel, who was born in his 170th year. This Malaleel, having lived 895 years, died, leaving his son Jared, whom he begat when he was in his 165th year. He lived 962 years; and then his son Enoch succeeded him, who was born when his father was 162 years old. Now he, when he had lived 365 years, departed, and went to God; whence it is that they have not written down his death. Now Methuselah, the son of Enoch, who was born to him when he was 165 years old, had Lamech for his son when he was 187 years of age, to whom he delivered the government, which he had retained for 969 years. Now Lamech, when he had governed 777 years, appointed Noah his son to be ruler of the people, who was born to Lamech when he was 182 years old, and retained the government for 950 years. These years collected together make up the sum before set down; but let no one enquire into the deaths of these men, for they extended their lives along together with their children and grandchildren, but let him have regard for their births only. …

‘I will now treat of the Hebrews. The son of Phaleg, whose father was Heber, was Ragau, whose son was Serug, to whom was born Nahor; his son was Terah, who was the father of Abraham, who accordingly was the tenth from Noah, and was born in the 290th year after the Deluge; for Terah begat Abram in his 70th year.9 Nahor begat Haran [sic—Terah?] when he was 120 years old; Nahor was born to Serug in his 132nd year; Ragau had Serug at 130; at the same age also Phaleg had Ragau; Heber begat Phaleg in his 134th year; he himself being begotten by Sala when he was 130 years old whom Arphaxad had for his son at the 135th year of his age, Arphaxad was the son of Shem, and born 12 years after the Deluge.’

This comes from ‘Book 1, containing the interval of 3,831 years: From the creation to the death of Isaac.’ Once more, this rules out any gaps or long creation days."

I can recommend you read the full article here.

You also state "Personally, I have no problem reconciling a recent six day creation and a global flood with the traditional Egyptian chronology." What do you mean by the "traditional Egyptian chronology"? Is there such a thing? Do you mean Manetho? His history only survived in scraps, and has been demonstrated to be wrong in many places. Furthermore there are many modern Egyptologists who are calling for a re-working of Egyptian chronology, because it doesn't line up with other chronologies of the ANE.

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