Dating creation is the attempt to provide an estimate of the age of the Earth or the age of the universe as understood by various religious traditions. Varieties of traditional beliefs held that the Earth, or the entire Universe, was brought into being in a grand Creation event by one or more gods. Once these cultures developed calendars, many began to ponder the question of precisely how long ago this event happened.
- 1 Greek and Roman
- 2 Egyptian
- 3 Sumerian and Babylonian
- 4 Zoroastrianism
- 5 Hinduism
- 6 Chinese
- 7 Maya
- 8 Abrahamic religions
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 Further reading
- 12 External links
Greek and Roman
Most ancient Greek and Roman chroniclers, poets, grammarians and scholars (Eratosthenes, Varro, Apollodorus of Athens, Ovid, Censorinus, Catullus, and Castor of Rhodes) believed in a threefold division of history: ádelon (obscure), mythikón (mythical) and historikón (historical) periods. According to the Roman grammarian Censorinus the first period, the ádelon (obscure), was calculated by Varro as follows:
The primordial ádelon (obscure) period ended with the flood of Ogyges and what followed was the beginning of the mythikón (mythical) period. Varro dated this flood to 2137 BC but Censorinus wrote in his De Die Natali ch.xxi that the Ogyges’ diluvium occurred 1600 years before the first Olympiad (776 BC) meaning 2376 BC. Castor of Rhodes also provided another date for the start of the mythikón (mythical) period, 2123 BC. Censorinus recorded that the second period, the mythikón, stretched from the flood of Ogyges to the first Olympiad:
The second stretches from the first cataclysm to the first Olympiad; because many myths are recorded in it, it is called “mythical”.
According to Censorinus (quoting Varro), the second period (mythikón) lasted from 2137 to 776 BC, or if Censorinus' own dates are used: 2376 BC to 776 BC, or finally if Castor's: 2123 BC to 776 BC. Ovid, however, dated the start of the (mythikón) period to the reign of Inachus, who he dated 400 or so years after the flood of Ogyges, meaning around 1900–1700 BC, but agreed with Varro that the mythikón ended during the first Olympiad (776 BC). See Ages of Man for more details about Ovid's chronology. Another ancient date for the start of the mythikón (mythical) period is found preserved in Augustine's City of God xviii.3, which dates it to 2050 BC. The final period according to Censorinus and Varro, the historikón (historical) era, began from 776 BC (the first Olympiad) to their own time:
The third stretches from the first Olympiad to us. Because the events in it are contained in true histories, he calls it “historical.”
Very few ancient Greeks or Romans attempted to date the creation, or beginning of the ádelon (obscure) period. While all ancient sources (excluding Ovid) dated the end of this period and start of the mythical (mythikón) period to 2376–2050 BC, most did not claim to know when the creation (ádelon period) exactly began. As Censorinus admitted:
If the origin of the world had been known to man, I would have begun there.
Varro and Castor of Rhodes also wrote something very similar; however, some ancient Greek and Romans attempted to calculate the date for the creation by using ancient sources or records of mythological figures. Since Inachus was dated 400 years after the flood of Ogyges and that Ogyges himself was considered a Titan or a primordial Autochthon "from earliest ages", some ancient Greek or Romans dated the creation (beginning with Chaos or Gaia) only a few hundred years before Ogyges (2376–2050 BC). Most ancient Greeks, however, did not subscribe to such a literalist view of using mythology to attempt to date the creation; Hecataeus of Miletus was an early ancient Greek logographer who strongly criticised this method, while Ptolemy wrote of such an "immense period" of time before the historical period (776 BC), and thus believed in a much greater age for the creation.
Among the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers there were different opinions and traditions pertaining to the date of the creation. Some philosophers believed the Universe was eternal, and actually had no date of creation.
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The ancient Turin King List lists a mythical predynastic "reign of the gods" which first occurred 36,620 years before Menes (3050 BC), therefore dating the creation to around 39,670 BC. One fragment from Manetho also dates the reign of the first Egyptian God (Ptah) 36,525 years before Menes (FGrH, #610 F2) and so dates the creation to about 39,575 BC. Other fragments from Manetho (Eusebius, George Syncellus and preserved in Felix Jacoby's FGrH), however, list different dates. Eusebius in his Chronicle recorded that:
...These were the first to hold sway in Egypt. Thereafter, the kingship passed from one to another in unbroken succession ... through 13,900 years — ... After the Gods, Demigods reigned for 1,255 years; and again another line of kings held sway for 1,817 years; then came thirty more kings, reigning for 1,790 years; and then again ten kings ruling for 350 years. There followed the rule of the Spirits of the Dead ... for 5,813 years ...
So 13,900 + 1,255 + 1,817 + 1,790 + 350 + 5,813 = 24,950 years, and counting back from Menes (3050 BC) fixes the creation at 28,000 BC. George Syncellus preserved yet another set of figures for the predynastic "reign of the gods", 11,984 years for Gods and 2,646 for demigods producing 14,630 years, thus dating the creation to 17,680 BC. The Book of Sothis also provides another similar figure for the creation.
The ancient Greeks reported similar figures on ancient Egyptian chronology. Diogenes Laertius recorded that the ancient Egyptians dated their creation to their first god Hephaestus, who by interpretatio graeca was Ptah. According to Laeretius, Hephaestus (Ptah) lived 48,863 years before Alexander the Great (b. 356 BC), dating the creation to 49,219 BC. Herodotus wrote that the ancient Egyptians had gods who ruled over them before the first dynasty of Egypt, but did not attempt to precisely date their creation by using their chronology:
...Thus far went the record given by the Egyptians and their priests; and they showed me that the time from the first king to that priest of Hephaestus, who was the last, covered three hundred and forty-one generations, and that in this time this also had been the number of their kings, and of their high priests. Now three hundred generations are ten thousand years, three generations being equal to a hundred. And over and above the three hundred, the remaining forty-one cover thirteen hundred and forty years. Thus the whole period is eleven thousand three hundred and forty years; in all of which time (they said) they had had no king who was a god in human form, nor had there been any such either before or after those years among the rest of the kings of Egypt...Among the Greeks, Heracles, Dionysus, and Pan are held to be the youngest of the gods. But in Egypt, Pan1 is the most ancient of these and is one of the eight gods who are said to be the earliest of all; Heracles belongs to the second dynasty (that of the so-called twelve gods); and Dionysus to the third, which came after the twelve. How many years there were between Heracles and the reign of Amasis, I have already shown; Pan is said to be earlier still; the years between Dionysus and Amasis are the fewest, and they are reckoned by the Egyptians at fifteen thousand. The Egyptians claim to be sure of all this, since they have reckoned the years and chronicled them in writing.
According to Herodotus the ancient Egyptian demigods began 11,340 years before the reign of Seti I (1290 BC), so 11,340 + 1290 = 12,630 BC, while he listed earlier figures, 15,000 and 17,000, for the reign of the gods. These figures were discussed by Isaac Newton in his The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms (1728) but were dismissed as fabrications. The mathematician and esotericist R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz, however, in his work Sacred Science, reconstructed these dates to conclude that the ancient Egyptians dated their creation to an astronomical (stellar) event some 30,000 years before Herodotus' own time. Martianus Capella, a pagan writer, wrote in his De nuptiis in the 5th century AD that the ancient Egyptians had archives of astronomy which started 40,000 years before his own era. The ancient Greek writer Diodorus Siculus wrote that the ancient Egyptians dated their creation (or start of their reign of Gods) "a little less than eighteen thousand years" from Ptolemy XII Auletes (117–51 BC).
Sumerian and Babylonian
The standard ancient Sumerian King List (WB 444) lists various mythical antediluvian kings and gives them reigns of several tens of thousands of years. The first Sumerian king Alulim, at Eridu, is described as reigning for 28,800 years, followed by several later kings of similar periods. In total these antediluvian kings ruled for 241,200 years from the time when "the kingship was lowered from heaven" to the time when "the flood" swept over the land. Excavations in Iraq have revealed evidence of localized flooding at Shuruppak (modern Tell Fara, Iraq) and various other Sumerian cities—all dated to the same time. A layer of riverine sediments, radiocarbon dated to ca. 2900 BC, interrupts the continuity of settlement, extending as far north as the city of Kish. Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (3000–2900 BC) was discovered immediately below the Shuruppak flood stratum. The "flood" described in the Sumerian King List, is believed to have a historical basis, and has been dated 2900 BC. Adding 241,200 years to 2900 gives the date 244,100 BC; however, most modern scholars do not believe the ancient Sumerians or Babylonians believed in a chronology of their own this old. Instead they believe that these figures were either fabrications, or were based on not literal solar years (365.2425 days) but instead lunar months (29.53059 days).
Cicero, reacting to the chronologies of such authors as Berossos (who composed a Greek-language history of Babylonia, known as the Babyloniaca, during the 3rd century BC) strongly criticised the claim that the Babylonians had kings going back hundreds of thousands of years:
...Let us scorn the Babylonians...the men whose records, as they themselves assert, cover a period of four hundred and seventy thousand years.
Diodorus Siculus also wrote something similar about how he believed the Babylonians fabricated their chronology:
...A man can scarcely believe them (Babylonians) for they reckon that, down to Alexander's crossing over into Asia, it has been four hundred and seventy-three thousand years, since they began in early times to make their observations of the stars.
Despite these criticisms, some ancient Greeks, including most notably Alexander Polyhistor and Proclus, believed the Babylonian kings were hundreds of thousands of years old, and that the Babylonians dated their creation 400,000–200,000 years before their own time.
Zoroastrianism involves a 12,000-year cosmogony and chronology, often divided into four ages as outlined in the Bundahishn. The first age lasted for 3000 years and included the spiritual creation by Ahura Mazda, followed by the physical creation of 3000 years when evil entered the world (see Angra Mainyu). During the 6000th year, Zoroaster's Fravashi was created, followed by the prophet Zoroaster himself at the end of the 9th millennium. The 9000th year marked the start of the fourth and last age. Modern Zoroastrians believe they are living currently in the final age. Since evil first entered the physical creation after the spiritual creation was complete, Zoroastrians maintain that for 9000 years the world continues to be a battlefield between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu, which will end during the 12,000th year, when the Saoshyants brings about the final renovation of the world to defeat evil.
Dating precisely the beginning of the start of the 12000th year cosmogony rests solely on the date Zoroaster is estimated to have been born. Since Zoroaster was born himself at the end of the 9th millennium (just before the 9000th year), the date of creation can be calculated by counting back 8900 – 9000 years. The Persian Zoroastrian tradition places Zoroaster around the 7th or 6th century BC, since the Bundahishn (34. 1-9) and the Book of Arda Viraf dates Zoroaster 258 years before the era of Alexander the Great (356 - 323 BC) which dates Zoroaster from 614 - 581 BC. The 11th century Persian Muslim scholar Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī also dated Zoroaster 258 years before the era of Alexander (The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries, p. 17, l. 10, transl. Sachau). This date is also found in the historical account The Meadows of Gold (iv. 107) written by the 9th-century Arab historian Al-Masudi. Other Arabic, Persian and Muslim sources place Zoroaster around the same date (600 BC). Therefore if 8900/9000 years are added to about 600 BC the date of creation comes to 9600 - 9500 BC. A 12,000 year chronology places the end date at around 2400 - 2500 AD, which is why modern Zoroastrians believe they are living in the end few hundred years of the final era. Other dates for Zoroaster, however, differ and dates proposed for Zoroaster's birth range from 1750 to 500 BC.
The Hindu cosmology and timeline is the closest to modern scientific timelines and even more which might indicate that the Big Bang is not the beginning of everything, but just the start of the present cycle preceded by an infinite number of universes and to be followed by another infinite number of universes.
The Rig Veda questions the origin of the cosmos in: "Neither being (sat) nor non-being was as yet. What was concealed? And where? And in whose protection?…Who really knows? Who can declare it? Whence was it born, and whence came this creation? The devas were born later than this world's creation, so who knows from where it came into existence? None can know from where creation has arisen, and whether he has or has not produced it. He who surveys it in the highest heavens, he alone knows-or perhaps does not know." (Rig Veda 10. 129)
"Twenty-four centuries before Isaac Newton, the Hindu Rig-Veda asserted that gravitation held the universe together. The Sanskrit speaking Aryans subscribed to the idea of a spherical earth in an era when the Greeks believed in a flat one. The Indians of the fifth century A.D. calculated the age of the earth as 4.3 billion years; scientists in 19th century England were convinced it was 100 million years."
Carl Sagan and Fritjof Capra have pointed out similarities between the latest scientific understanding of the age of the universe and the Hindu concept of a "day and night of Brahma", which is much closer to the current known age of the universe than other creation views. The days and nights of Brahma posit a view of the universe that is divinely created, and is not strictly evolutionary, but an ongoing cycle of birth, death, and rebirth of the universe. According to Sagan:
"The Hindu religion is the only one of the world's great faiths dedicated to the idea that the Cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed an infinite, number of deaths and rebirths. It is the only religion in which time scales correspond to those of modern scientific cosmology. Its cycles run from our ordinary day and night to a day and night of Brahma, 8.64 billion years long, longer than the age of the Earth or the Sun and about half the time since the Big Bang."
The ancient Chinese historian Xu Zheng (220–265 AD) in his Three Five Historic Records dated the creation of the world by Pangu 36,000 years (2 x 18,000) before the reign of the legendary Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. The date of the Three sovereigns is fixed at 3000–2700 BC and therefore dates the creation about 39,000 BC.
The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar dates the this creation of the world of human beings to 11 August 3114 BC (in the most commonly accepted correlation) according to the proleptic Gregorian calendar, or Monday, 6 September 3114 BC according to the proleptic Julian calendar. There was also a previous creation that did not have a beginning date, but a date on Stela F from Quirigua refers to a date possibly 24 trillion years in the past.
Creation according to the Bible
Within the Biblical framework and chronology, various dates have been proposed for the date of creation since ancient times, to more recent periods. The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis, in which God creates the Earth, the rest of the Universe, and the Earth's plants and animals, including the first humans, in six days. A second narrative begins with the first human pair, Adam and Eve, and goes on to list many of their descendants, in many cases giving the ages at which they had children and died. If these events and ages are interpreted literally throughout and the genealogies are considered closed, it is possible to build up a chronology in which many of the events of the Old Testament are dated to an estimated number of years after creation. Some scholars have gone further, and have attempted to tie in this Biblical chronology with that of recorded history, thus establishing a date for creation in a modern calendar. Since there are periods in the Biblical story where dates are not given, the chronology has been subject to interpretation in many different ways, resulting in a variety of estimates of the date of creation.
Numerous efforts have been made to determine the Biblical date of creation, yielding varying results. Besides differences in interpretation, which version of the Bible is being referenced also impacts on the result. Two dominant dates for creation using such models exist, about 5500 BC and about 4000 BC. These were calculated from the genealogies in two versions of the Bible, with most of the difference arising from two versions of Genesis. The older dates are based on the Greek Septuagint. The later dates are based on the Hebrew Masoretic text. The patriarchs from Adam to Terah, the father of Abraham, were often 100 years older when they begat their named son in the Septuagint than they were in the Hebrew or the Vulgate (Genesis 5, 11). The net difference between the two genealogies of Genesis was 1466 years (ignoring the "second year after the flood" ambiguity), which is virtually all of the 1500-year difference between 5500 BC and 4000 BC. For example, the period of creation to the Flood is derived using the genealogical table of the ten patriarchs listed in Genesis 5, and 7:6, called the generations of Adam. According to the Masoretic Text, this period consists of 1,656 years, and this dating is also followed by Western Christian Bibles derived from the Latin Vulgate. However, according to the Samaritan texts the period is 1,307 years, and according to the Septuagint (Codex Alexandrinus, Elizabeth Bible) it is 2,262 years. J. Ussher agrees with the dating until the birth of Abraham, which he argues took place when Terah was 130, and not 70 as is the direct reading of Genesis 11:26, thus adding 60 years to his chronology for events postdating Abraham.
Early Jewish estimations
The earliest post-exilic Jewish chronicle preserved in the Hebrew language, the Seder Olam Rabbah, compiled by Jose ben Halafta in 160 AD, dates the creation of the world to 3761 BC while the later Seder Olam Zutta to 4339 BC. The Hebrew Calendar has traditionally, since the 4th century AD by Hillel II, dated the creation to 3761 BC.
Many of the earliest Christians who followed the Septuagint calculated creation around 5500 BC, and Christians up to the Middle-Ages continued to use this rough estimate: Clement of Alexandria (5592 BC), Julius Africanus (5501 BC), Eusebius (5228 BC), Jerome (5199 BC) Hippolytus of Rome (5500 BC), Theophilus of Antioch (5529 BC), Sulpicius Severus (5469 BC), Isidore of Seville (5336 BC), Panodorus of Alexandria (5493 BC), Maximus the Confessor (5493 BC), George Syncellus (5492 BC) and Gregory of Tours (5500 BC). The Byzantine calendar has traditionally dated the creation of the world to September 1, 5509 BC.
Bede was one of the first to break away from the standard Septuagint date for the creation and in his work De Temporibus ("On Time") (completed in 703 AD) dated the creation to 18 March 3952 BC but was accused of heresy at the table of Bishop Wilfrid, because his chronology was contrary to accepted calculations of around 5500 BC.
After the Masoretic text was published, however, dating creation around 4000 BC became common, and was received with wide support. Proposed calculations of the date of creation using the Masoretic from the 10th century to the 18th century include: Marianus Scotus (4192 BC), Maimonides (4058 BC), Henri Spondanus (4051 BC), Benedict Pereira (4021 BC), Louis Cappel (4005 BC), James Ussher (4004 BC), Augustin Calmet (4002 BC), Isaac Newton (4000 BC), Johannes Kepler (April 27, 3977 BC) [based on his book Mysterium], Petavius (3984 BC), Theodore Bibliander (3980 BC), Christen Sørensen Longomontanus (3966 BC), Melanchthon (3964 BC), Martin Luther (3961 BC), John Lightfoot (3960 BC), Cornelius Cornelii a Lapide (3961 BC) Joseph Justus Scaliger (3949 BC), Christoph Helvig (3947 BC), Gerardus Mercator (3928 BC), Matthieu Brouard (3927 BC), Benito Arias Montano (3849 BC), Andreas Helwig (3836 BC), David Gans (3761 BC), Gershom ben Judah (3754 BC) and Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller (3616 BC).
Among the Masoretic creation estimates or calculations for the date of creation only Archbishop Ussher's specific chronology dating the creation to 4004 BC became the most accepted and popular, mainly because this specific date was attached to the King James Bible.
Early Christian chronicles
The Chronicon of Eusebius (early 4th century) dated creation to 5228 BC while Jerome (c. 380, Constantinople) dated creation to 5199 BC. Earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology for Christmas Day used this date, as did the Irish Annals of the Four Masters.
Alfonso X of Castile commissioned the Alfonsine tables, composed of astronomical data based on observation, from which the date of the creation has been calculated to be either 6984 BC or 6484 BC.
Other Biblical estimations
- Christian Charles Josias Bunsen in the 19th century dated the creation to 20,000 BC.
- Tarleton Perry Crawford dated the creation to 12,500 BC.
- Harold Camping dates the creation to 11,013 BC.
- Age of the universe
- Anno Mundi
- Sefer HaTemunah
- Timeline of the Bible
- Relationship between religion and science
- Young earth creationism
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- The Turin Papyrus (in the register listing the Reign of the Gods) the final two lines of the column sums up: "Venerables Shemsu-Hor, 13,420 years; Reigns before the Shemsu-Hor, 23,200 years; Total 36,620 years." (de Lubicz, 1988)
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- The "Era of Zoroaster", S. H. Taqizadeh, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1 (Apr., 1947), pp. 33-40.
- Jackson, p. 6.
- Jackson, p. 9.
- Jackson, p. 10.
- Jackson, pp.11-13
- The Persian chronicler Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari dated Zoroaster to 626 BC (Zotenberg Chronique de Tabari, i. 491-508, Paris, 1867.
- [dead link]
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- Septuagint, Genesis
- Genesis 5
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- Celestial treasury: from the music of the spheres to the conquest of space, Marc Lachièze-Rey, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp 26 & 76
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