Posted by on Dec 19, 2012 in Blog, History | 4 comments

James Ussher (1581-1656)

Your name is Ussher – James Ussher – and you are the Archbishop of all of Ireland.

You are living in the 1600s and are OCD (“obsessive-compulsive disordered”) when it comes to studying all things scholarly – especially speculative ideas. You are convinced that you alone have the intellect to figure out when all the major events in the Bible actually occurred. Your critics whisper to each other that your ego is bigger than your credentials.

However, for just a moment imagine that you are declaring out loud and waiting for all the world to gasp in astonishment – that you, and you alone – know the exact day and time of Adam’s creation!

Nightfall preceding Sunday, 23 October 4004 B.C.

Is that specific enough for all of you non-geniuses? If not, then let “Colonel Matthew Harrison Brady” explain it to you:

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[“Inherit the Wind” (1960) – Stanley Kramer Productions]

You – James Ussher – become Professor of Theological Controversies at Trinity College and a Bachelor of Divinity in 1607. A whole string of degrees follow your name. You speak so many languages it is difficult for even you to keep count. You live in very turbulent times – both politically and religiously – and yet your crowning achievement and eventual fame will be the result of your years spent studying CHRONOLOGY as it relates to the Old Testament and the writings of Early Church fathers.

As a “Young Earth Creationist” living 200 years before Charles Darwin, you encounter little in the way of intellectual opposition to your premises. After all, no less a scientist and genius than Sir Isaac Newton (1648-1727) would himself attempt a similar effort.

Your computations for actual fixed dates in secular history during the eras of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar would serve as your references toward other events to be dated in scripture. (As we shall see, 300 years later Frederick Franz – a far less distinguished “scholar” than Bishop Ussher – would use the same methodology for his own eccentric chronology).

What was the biggest problem you faced, Bishop Ussher?  Perhaps it was the fact that available ancient texts were in complete disagreement about the length of time between events in the Bible!

So, eeny, meeny, miney, moe!  You, Professor Ussher, chose to depend exclusively on the Masoretic texts and ignored everything else. How did you balance all that you knew about ancient history, including the rise of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans, as well as your expertise in the Bible, biblical languages, astronomy, ancient calendars and chronology?  How indeed?

You simply claimed success!  And that was that. With your reputation for such brilliance–who could criticize you or nay-say your pronouncements?

The most important thing to a genius with OCD who thinks he has the intellect to pin down the impossible, is to not leave anything out. At age 75, as you lay on your deathbed suffering from internal bleeding, what would become your last words?

“O Lord forgive me, especially my sins of omission.”

Most men want forgiveness for the errors they have made. Most, but no – not you!

Frederick William Franz (1893-1992)

During a speech in Australia in 1975 the Watchtower Society’s vice-president, Frederick Franz, went so far as to name a precise date—September 5, 1975—as the date of the “end of the present wicked system.”   [George D. Chryssides, Historical Dictionary of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scarecrow Press, 2008, pg lx.]

Fred Franz declared that Adam was created sometime in the fall of 4026 B.C.E.

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Nothing of any major significance happened on that date in the early fall of 1975. The following year (1976), The Watchtower advised those Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been “disappointed” by the failure of the predictions for 1975 to adjust their viewpoint – because their understanding had been “based on wrong premises.” [“A Solid Basis for Confidence,” Watchtower, July 15, 1976, page 441.]

What exactly were those “WRONG PREMISES”?

Precisely like Archbishop James Ussher, Fred Franz slavishly followed his own unique line of reasoning and methodology. The operative word to describe Franz is HUBRIS!

“Hubris= pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.” – Wikipedia

It is difficult, if not impossible, to get active Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider disproof pointed at their leaders because they have “mental tripwires” programmed in their brains. For Witnesses, the Watchtower’s Governing Body is sacrosanct as a sacred cow. To even suggest the Governing Body’s pronouncements are awry will trigger a psychological chain-reaction in Jehovah’s Witnesses that starts with them identifying YOU as their enemy.

Frederick Franz got away with so much nonsense because nobody in the organization was allowed to think a critical thought about him. “Free thought” is possible only if you are aware and assured that you will not be condemned.

One day I met a member of what was once called the “International Bible Students Association.” He and his son lived in a trailer park. He used his own funds to pay for cable access so that he could tell about the “Divine Plan of the Ages” on TV.

I sat at his kitchen table as he stood before a giant “Dispensation Chart” – the very same  one once used by Charles Taze Russell. He used it to explain “Jehovah’s plan” for me and all mankind. I remember thinking it seemed odd that all the dates on that chart had been figured out with such precision and confidence without anybody ever going to college, passing a seminary examination, or earning a degree!

Now I realize they had been using the very same chronology conceived by Bishop James Ussher. I’m sure that the Anglican scholar would have considered their use of his handiwork as being quite devilish and diabolical.

Ussher and Franz: The Fallacies Behind Their Calculations

We now know that Frederick Franz recreated that same chart and simply changed whatever details that didn’t match his own ideas. All to little effect, that is, other than to turn the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ world upside down in the 1970s with his false predictions and embarrassing nonsense!

We know that stories found in the Bible were handed down from one generation to another verbally, making the aspect of accuracy for any ancient date an impossibility to calculate with any hope of reliability. My understanding is that there are significant disagreements between manuscript families. They all have inconsistencies involving the reigns of kings, critical intervals, and the order of events. I am more interested in finding out in what ways the biblical chronology (regarding events taken for granted by the good Bishop) actually vary from other ancient texts, but not the Masoretic?

Overriding all of those issues are the practical considerations of THE VARIOUS CALENDAR SYSTEMS used in each geographic and cultural region. Hundreds, if not thousands, of differing systems of counting dates are found through over long spans of time covered by the “Old Testament.”

Fred Franz tried to gimmick up his guesswork by announcing that he had determined absolute dates for the “Old” and “New Testaments.” We now know that it was all just “stuff and nonsense.”

Bishop Ussher & Brother Franz

You can read the opening chapters of Matthew and look at its proffered time intervals for its generation count. If you look close, you will find it doesn’t match the history of those generations given in the Old Testament. If a chronology is not scientific, historical – or even feasible to use for determining the exact time when something happened – then how can anyone use the Old Testament to calculate when something else (like “Armageddon”) is going to happen thousands of years later?

Yes, James Ussher and Fred Franz were befuddled old crackpots who somehow managed to fool generations of sincere Christians who looked to them for answers about the Bible.


  1. Richard E. Kelly

    Terry, thanks for sharing the connection between Franz and Ussher. That was new for me. What is not new is that most reputable Bible scholars freely acknowledge that more often than not the Bible is definitely not historically accurate, particularly with chronology. Those few who cling to the idea that biblical text is historically accurate, do so out of ideological necessity.
    Now when it comes to Freddy Franz, he had a master’s degree in Nonsense, perhaps a doctorate. When I was at Bethel from 1962 thru 1964, I could clearly see that the man’s mental state lacked a motor, crankshaft, both turn signals and linkage to a compassionate heart. I always thought that Knorr kept him around because he thought that God prefers to reveal new truths to odd-looking men with poor social skills. When given the floor, Franz could ramble on and on about stuff so silly, gibberish if you will, that I actually felt sorry for him. Okay, only for a few seconds, because I knew the man believed his pickled baloney, and that made him a dangerous man.

    • The Editor

      One interesting item that is not mentioned in the above article is how self-important Fred Franz was. Many former Bethelites who met him or knew him personally would describe him as appearing to be either a “humble and dedicated servant of Jehovah” who could be approachable and quite friendly – always willing to engage someone in conversation. Others describe him as being a “doddering old fool, walking around looking at his feet and often talking to himself.” I never met the man, so I can not judge him or relate any personal stories. But if you listen carefully to his speech as recorded live, you may not realize that he inadvertently uncovers one important fact about himself: dishonesty.

      Watch that second YouTube video again and pay close attention at the 06:00 mark.

      Why do I make such a strong statement against one of the most famous of Watchtower theologians? Listen as he quotes from the Watchtower book, “Life Everlasting in Freedom of the Sons of God,” pages 31-35. He quotes from that book as if it is an accepted authority on the subject. So? Where is the dishonesty? HE WROTE THE BOOK! He was quoting himself and referring to a chart that he created! But he references that information as if it came from a trusted expert third party. HE WAS THE EXPERT HE WAS REFERENCING!

      Even though he “wrote the book,” he states that the 7000 year “creative day” ends in “2075! another 1000 years!” He actually meant 2975, not 2075. Even he couldn’t keep his years straight.

      To me, that is the most egregious case of Watchtower dishonesty. The Watchtower never printed a clarification or retraction. They just let Franz get away with his little act.

      Also,has anyone ever asked the Watchtower Governing Body how Fred Franz came up with the year 4026 BCE as the creation of Adam? On what authority? Why 22 years different than Bishop Ussher’s calculations?

      To my knowledge, the Watchtower Society, nor its current Governing Body, has never come out and officially disavowed Fred Franz’s computations or any of his published work. They basically let the man run wild for over 40 years (we know he also wrote many of the books credited to Joseph Rutherford). And to this very day they have refused to admit that Franz, and Franz alone, was the primary translator of the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

    • 12-22-2012

      What should convince us that the Watchtower Society as a whole is intellectually dishonest? The very fact that Fred Franz was elevated to President AFTER the imbroglio over 1975. This
      is nothing short of contempt for due dilligence. Earlier in Watchtower history the very same claim had been made and had failed. Talk about recycling!

  2. 1-22-2013

    I came across the recording of Franz recently and was astounded to find that the society – since it supported Franz – was not just using Biblical chronology to support a specific year but pushed the lunacy further by suggesting they understood the actual day that marked the end of the 6,000 year period of humankind.

    I posted an entry rather recently over at exjw (Reddit) where I pondered this chicanery with another issue you’ve not captured above: that is, regardless of the methodology used there needs to be an assumption that all dates supplied (Adam was 130 years, X ruled 40 years, etc) were precise to the day; if we acknowledge that some months are involved and associated with each of those time periods then any real notion of achieving a specific day is complete nonsense. My real issue was why no one within the GB had pointed out the obvious fallacy in the approach since even the chronlogy listed in the Life Everlasting book includes multiple generations that, on average, would mean an additional decade (or more) if each stated period were to average the year + 6 months.

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