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Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. II:
City of God: Chapter 10

Early Church Fathers  Index     

Chapter 10.—Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past.

Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race.  For some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been.  Thus Apuleius says when he is describing our race, “Individually they are mortal, but collectively, and as a race, they are immortal.” 536   And when they are asked, how, if the human race has always been, they vindicate the truth of their history, which narrates who were the inventors, and what they invented, and who first instituted the liberal studies and the other arts, and who first inhabited this or that region, and this or that island? they reply, 537 that most, if not all lands, were so desolated at intervals by fire and flood, that men were greatly reduced in numbers, and from these, again, the population was restored to its former numbers, and that thus there was at intervals a new beginning made, and though those things which had been interrupted and checked by the severe devastations were only renewed, yet they seemed to be originated then; but that man could not exist at all save as produced by man.  But they say what they think, not what they know.

They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed. 538   And, not to spend many words in exposing the baselessness of these documents, in which so many thousands of years are accounted for, nor in proving that their authorities are totally inadequate, let me cite only that letter which Alexander the Great wrote to his mother Olympias, 539 giving her the narrative he had from an Egyptian priest, which he had extracted from their sacred archives, and which gave an account of kingdoms mentioned also by the Greek historians.  In this letter of Alexander’s a term of upwards of 5000 years is assigned to the kingdom of Assyria; while in the Greek history only 1300 years are reckoned from the reign of Bel himself, whom both Greek and Egyptian agree in counting the first king of Assyria.  Then to the empire of the Persians and Macedonians this Egyptian assigned more than 8000 years, counting to the time of Alexander, to whom he was speaking; while among the Greeks, 485 years are assigned to the Macedonians down to the death of Alexander, and to the Persians 233 years, reckoning to the termination of his conquests.  Thus these give a much smaller number of years than the Egyptians; and indeed, though multiplied three times, the Greek chronology would still be shorter.  For the Egyptians are said to have formerly reckoned only four months to their year; 540 so that one year, according to the fuller and truer computation now in use among them as well as among ourselves, would comprehend three of their old years.  But not even thus, as I said, does the Greek history correspond with the Egyptian in its chronology.  And therefore the former must receive the greater credit, because it does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given by our documents, which are truly sacred.  Further, if this letter of Alexander, which has become so famous, differs widely in this matter of chronology from the probable credible account, how much less can we believe these documents which, though full of fabu p. 233 lous and fictitious antiquities, they would fain oppose to the authority of our well-known and divine books, which predicted that the whole world would believe them, and which the whole world accordingly has believed; which proved, too, that it had truly narrated past events by its prediction of future events, which have so exactly come to pass!


Footnotes

232:536

De Deo Socrates.

232:537

Augustin no doubt refers to the interesting account given by Critias, near the beginning of the Timæus, of the conversation of Solon with the Egyptian priests.

232:538

Augustin here follows the chronology of Eusebius, who reckons 5611 years from the Creation to the taking of Rome by the Goths; adopting the Septuagint version of the Patriarchal ages.

232:539

See above, viii. 5.

232:540

It is not apparent to what Augustin refers.  The Arcadians, according to Macrobius (Saturn. i. 7), divided their year into three months, and the Egyptians divided theirs into three seasons:  each of these seasons having four months, it is possible that Augustin may have referred to this.  See Wilkinson’s excursus on the Egyptian year, in Rawlinson’s Herod. Book ii.


Next: Chapter 11

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