Yes, morning has broken, and today is the universe’s birthday – though technically it started last night at about 6 pm, Eden Standard Time. This, at any rate, is the 6016th anniversary of the first morning on Earth according to the best-known of the biblically derived chronologies, published by the brilliant and scholarly Anglo-Irish Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, James Ussher, in 1650. Coincidentally, it is also the 4360th anniversary of the beginning of the Postdiluvian world, marking the date when Noah removed the cover of the Ark to let the sunshine in.
Except, of course, it’s really not. Ussher was still using the Julian calendar, whereas we’re on the Gregorian. His actual kickoff point was the autumn equinox of 4004 BC, on the assumption that God would set his great full-scale orrery in motion on one of the cardinal dates of the year, either a solstice or an equinox. Autumn was selected because it corresponds roughly to the Jewish New Year, and also to the harvest – the fruits in the Garden of Eden had to be temptingly ripe during Adam and Eve’s brief window of opportunity.
Creation seems to have proceeded on an overnight schedule, like a courier service. That is, God started work in the evening and carried on till morning, the original night-owl. Ussher does not get tangled up much in the question of the two separate creation myths of Genesis; he sticks pretty closely to the one in the first chapter, whereby the vegetable kingdom (Day 3) precedes the sun and moon (Day 4), followed by fish and birds (Day 5), and then land creatures, including Man (Day 6). In fact, Ussher gives both God and Adam a pretty busy Friday. First God has to create all the land critters, and then poor newborn Adam has to think up names for them all–and when, justifiably tired, he falls asleep, God borrows a rib from Chapter Two, and creates Eve. On Saturday, they all take a well-earned rest.
Ussher rather glosses over Sunday the 30th and Monday the 31st – perhaps God was taking a long weekend? For Ussher is of the opinion that Adam and Eve were kicked out of Paradise on the same day they were put into it, specifically on Day 10 of the world, or Tuesday November 1st. Which did not give them long to enjoy the Garden, wonder about the forbidden tree, get seduced by the talking snake, succumb to temptation, get embarrassed by their naughty bits, sew together some fig leaves in the world’s first fashion statement, receive a stern lecture from God, get booted out of the Garden, and set up a defensive perimeter by nightfall, in a world where the lions were suddenly not vegetarian any more. It all seems a little hurried to me, but I suppose if you’re going to shoehorn the Paleolithic through Chalcolithic Ages into the next 1,656 years, you can’t just hang about.
The chronology goes on from there, of course, in breathtakingly meticulous detail, a triumph of loving scholarship, a masterpiece–and a monument to the sacred principle of Garbage In, Garbage Out, or GIGO. Now, you cannot laugh at Ussher, who was a very smart man and a world-class scholar of his time. But there have been a few advances since then, in physics, geology, biology, indeed every science you could name, not to mention the birth of scientific archaeology. Anyone who can still cling to the idea of a 6000-year-old creation can go and – well, throw a birthday party, with balloons and ice cream and clowns and a bouncy castle, and all manner of other childish things.