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Healthier living conditions contributed, or so it was believed, to the long life spans of the early generations of the Bible.Josephus, a Jewish theologian writing in the first century, explained it this way: “Their food was fitter for the prolongation of life…and besides, God afforded them a longer lifespan on account of their virtue.” To calculate the length of time since Creation, knowledge of more than the ages of death of the twenty-one generations was required; one also needed to know the ages of people of each generation at the time the next generation began.Ussher reasoned, therefore, that it must have been harvest time, which corresponded with the autumnal equinox: “I have observed that the Sunday, which in the year [4004 B.C.] aforesaid, came nearest the Autumnal Aequinox, by Astronomical Tables, happened upon the 23 day of the Julian October.” A London bookseller named Thomas Guy in 1675 began printing Bibles with Ussher’s dates printed in the margin of the work. “So that 4,200 years ago there was not a living thing on the earth, excepting the people of the ark and the animals of the ark and the fishes?If the Bible is to be believed, they were an exceptionally long-lived lot.

Bryan at first deflects the question of whether he believes that human history began in 4004 B. He testifies, “That has been the estimate of a man that is accepted today,” then adds, “I would not say that it is accurate.” (Years later, in their play based on the Scopes trial, , Robert Lee and Jerome Lawrence misleadingly suggested Bryan endorsed Ussher’s pinpointing of not only the date—but also the hour—of creation. “I think this does not give it.” Darrow assures him that Ussher’s date for the disaster is indeed in his Bible, and Bryan finally locates it. A member of the defense team, sensing that the great men are having difficulties with their calculations, hands Darrow a pencil.

He concluded that “the earth then produced mightier men” and that they reached puberty much later than did people of his own generation.

The Old Testament’s genealogy took Ussher up to the first destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem during the reign of Persian king Nebuchadnezzar.

He located and studied thousands of ancient books and manuscripts, written in many different languages.

By the time of his death, he had amassed a library of over 10,000 volumes. As paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould points out in an essay on Ussher, the bishop’s calculation of the date of Creation fueled much ridicule from scientists who pointed to him as “a symbol of ancient and benighted authoritarianism.” Few geology textbook writers resisted taking a satirical swing at Ussher in their introductions.

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