I knew of Isaac Newton as the pre-eminent scientist of his day, of course. However, I wasn't aware that he also devoted much time and energy to the study of Jewish mysticism and the occult 'sciences' of his day. The Daily Mail reports:
Israel's national library, which contains a vast trove of Newton's esoteric writings, has digitised his occult collection and posted it online.
Among the yellowed texts is Newton's famous prediction of the apocalypse in 2060.
The quintessential scientist, Newton revolutionised the approach to physics, maths and astronomy in the 17th and 18th century.
He laid the foundations for most of classical mechanics, including the the principal of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion which bear his name.
However, the curator of Israel's national library's humanities collection said Newton was also a devout Christian who believed that scripture provided a 'code' to the natural world.
'Today, we tend to make a distinction between science and faith, but to Newton it was all part of the same world,' said Milka Levy-Rubin.
'He believed that careful study of holy texts was a type of science, that if analysed correctly could predict what was to come.'
To further his understanding, Newton learned Hebrew and delved into the study of esoteric Jewish philosophy, the mysticism of Kabbala and the Talmud.
For instance, he based his calculation on the end of days on information gleaned from the Book of Daniel, which projected the apocalypse 1,260 years later.
Newton figured that this count began from the crowning of Charlemagne as Roman emperor in the year 800.
He also believed that the geometry of Solomon's temple encoded ancient wisdom about proportions in nature and man's place in Creation.
The papers cover topics such as interpretations of the Bible, theology, the history of ancient cultures, the Tabernacle and the geometry of Solomon's Temple.
The collection also contains maps that Newton sketched to assist him in his calculations and his attempts to reveal the secret knowledge he believed was encrypted within.
He attempted to project what the end of days would look like, and the role Jews would play when it happened.
Newton's objective curiosity in Judaism and the Holy Land contrasted with the anti-Jewish sentiment expressed by many leading Christian scholars of the era, Levy-Rubin said.
'He took a great interest in the Jews, and we found no negative expressions toward Jews in his writing,' said Levy-Rubin. 'He said the Jews would ultimately return to their land.'
. . .
The Israeli library says the manuscripts help illuminate Newton's science and well as his persona.
'As far as Newton was concerned, his approach was that history was as much a science as physics. His world view was that his "lab" for understanding history was the holy books,' said Levy-Rubin.
'His faith was no less important to him than his science.'
There's more at the link. The manuscripts may be viewed here.
Of course, in Newton's day, the 'scientific world view' was indistinguishable from that of faith. In some ways it made his work simpler; in other ways, it made it much more difficult for him and other scientists to discern objective truths among the thicket of theological, sectarian and cultural presuppositions that surrounded them. I wonder what he'd have made of our post-Christian world?