1.3. The millennial week


The prospect of the imminent end was also confirmed through chronological computation. The early Christians showed a great interest in determining the exact age of the world and the establishment of a general precise chronology. Tatian of Antioch, Clement of Alexandria, Sextus Julius Africanus of Jerusalem, Eusebius, Irenaeus or Hippolytus tried to accurately date Adam’s creation, Noah’s Flood, the death of Moses, the Exodus from Egypt or the building of the Temple by Solomon.99 Some scholars researched the chronology of the world without any apocalyptic interest; they aimed in fact to confer legitimacy to Christianity by depicting a religious and historical frame to its emergence. This chronological system – which has as point of reference the moment of the Creation – was called Anno Mundi in the Latin West and Etos Kosmou (Έτος Κόσμου) in the Greek East. Both expressions can be translated as the “Age of the Universe.”

The age of the world was studied mainly in the East, especially after the change of the empire’s capital to Constantinople and the migration of the scholars. Western Christianity had knowledge about this system, but it has never officially adopted it. The earliest Christian study regarding the world’s age was that of Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, in the 2nd century in the work Apologia ad Autolycum (III:24-28). By using Septuaginta, Theophilus presented a detailed chronology which started with the creation of Adam in 5529 BC and ended with the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.100

Chronographiai of Sextus Julius Africanus covers the sacred and profane history beginning with the year 5499 BC, the creation of Adam, until the year 221 AD, the moment of the writing of the study. By correlating Chaldean and Egyptian chronologies and Greek mythology with Jewish and Christian history, Africanus calculated a temporal distance of 5,500 years between the Creation and the birth of Jesus, placing the First Coming or the Incarnation on the first day of the year 5501 (on March 25, 1 AD; at that time the 25th of March was believed to mark the spring equinox).101

Julius Hilarion, bishop in Africa, concluded that there were 5,530 years between the Creation and the crucifixion of Jesus. In Chronologia sive Libellus de Mundi Duratione from 397 he calculated, based on the writings of Africanus, that there were 2,237 years between the Creation and the Flood, 1,012 years between the Flood and the call of Abraham, and 430 years between Abraham and the Israelite Exodus from Egypt. Hilarion expressly mentioned that at the end of the 6,000 years, around 498 AD, the end of the world would come.102

Eusebius also used the work of Africanus to conceive a chronology in Chronicon. Initially, Eusebius used an era which began with the birth of Abraham in 2016 BC (1 AD = 2017 Anno Abrahami).103 Jerome adopted the chronology of Eusebius and translated it into Latin, adding an appendix that covered the years 325-379. Finally, both Eusebius and Jerome dated the Creation in 5199 BC.104

Panodoros of Alexandria set the date of the Creation in 5493 BC based on the Egyptian calendars, in which the years began on the 29th of August.105 Annianus of Alexandria rejected the computations of Panodoros because they were based too much on pagan sources to the detriment of the Christian ones and, in reaction, around the year 400 he designed his own chronological system. He placed the Creation on March 25, 5492 BC, and the birth of Jesus in the year 9 AD (in the Julian calendar). He also shifted the era of Panodoros with approximately six months and placed the Annunciation on the 25th of March and Christmas nine months later (the period of gestation), on the 25th of December, as they are known at the moment. Annianus, however, relied heavily on mysticism in his calculations; he believed, like many of his contemporaries, that there was a divine order in the flowing of time. This is why the creation of Adam, the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ were put on the same date of the 25th of March, while the first two events were separated by exactly 5,500 years.106

Mysticism helped Annianus’s chronological system become popular in Byzantium, where it was adopted by personalities such as Maximus the Confessor, Theophanes the Confessor and George Syncellus. A new version of the Creation was suggested in Chronicon Paschale, a chronicle of the world written around 630 by the scholars of Antioch. This dates the creation of Adam on March 21, 5507 BC.107 Instead, in Etymologiae Isidore of Seville placed the Creation in 5210 BC, but he also partitioned history in eras, with the birth of Jesus as starting point for the sixth era.108

The multitude of versions in establishing the date of the Creation was due to the lack of historical and chronological information, faulty computations intertwined with mysticism, the problem of the paschal computation and the placement of the great celebrations in accurate positions relative to each other. All general chronologies have faced problems that have generated further reactions and respectively new computations and new dates of the Creation. The official adoption of a chronological system or another was made, therefore, not on reasons of accuracy, but on political or mystical arguments. In any case, establishing an accurate date for the world’s age turned into an obsession that haunted the Christian Church until the advent of Darwinism.

Interestingly, the Jews were also interested in the world’s age, but they came to very different results. Until the 2nd century the Jews had had different dating systems in different historical times,109 the most commonly used being the year of the reign of the king: “And it came to pass in the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were come out of the land of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of Jehovah” (1 Kings 6:1). In Antiquitates Judaicae from 94 AD the Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus estimated the world’s age to be around 5,000 years.110 Instead, in Seder Olam Rabbah from 165 AD Rabbi Jose ben Halafta, relying on the Masoretic Text, argued that the world’s age was 3,925 years, with the creation of Adam in 3760 BC.111 Halafta’s conclusions have not been universally accepted within the Jewish communities, but they prove the fact that there was a discrepancy of almost 2,000 years between the Christian chronologies and the Jewish ones.

Hippolytus made a chronology of the world starting with the banishment of the first people from Paradise and ending with the year 234 AD. And, like Africanus, he placed between the creation of Adam and the birth of Christ exactly 5,500 years.112 The computations of Hippolytus had apocalyptic purpose; he believed that knowing the past is the key to unlock the future. Both Irenaeus and Hippolytus were guided in their eschatological investigations by a matrix that reflects the Creation and the existential aspects of the Israelite people ...

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