What do we know about Newton’s texts on theology and alchemy?
Newton’s papers on theology and alchemy were hidden from the public by the Portsmouth family until 1936. It was sold at Sotheby’s auction in London on this date. The most comprehensive collection of theological documents was purchased by the Jewish scholar Abraham Shalom Ezekiel Judah. When Judah died in 1951, he left these documents to the newly established State of Israel. Since his will was objected to and became the subject of a lawsuit, the manuscripts were not given to Israel until 1969. At that time, the manuscripts were opened to the public by being included in the inventory of the Jewish National Library and University Library in Jerusalem. However, it would be possible to access all of Newton’s scientific, theological and alchemical manuscripts when they were recorded on microfilm and made available to the public in 1991. Since 1991, theological manuscripts began to be evaluated by a small group of expert scholars, and subsequently a revolution in Newtonian studies took place. An important step in this revolution was the launch of the Newton Project at Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge in 1998. The project had actually already begun with the process of opening up and reading Newton’s unpublished theological manuscripts to the world. The documentary, broadcast on BBC 2, announced to the public for the first time and in a dramatic way the recent revolutionary results of Newton’s work during his lifetime.
Some subsequent media reports incorrectly attributed the discovery of the date 2060 in Newton’s papers to me, although it was not included in the original Daily Telegraph article. Other media reports, based directly on interviews with me, accurately reflected that the date 2060 had been known for some time by scientists studying Newton (and in academic publications, as opposed to television documentaries, which generally did not make the news). At least three prominent Newton scholars, David Castillejo, Frank Manuel, and Richard Westfall, examined the Judah manuscripts (either in original copies or, as Westfall did, in a microfilmed version) shortly after their arrival in Jerusalem in 1969. Castillejo was most likely the first to encounter the date 2060. Because he is the first scientist to examine the Judas collection. He mentioned the date 2060 in his book The Expanding Force in Newton’s Cosmos, published in 1981. Westfall noted this date in his 1980 biography of Newton, Never at Rest (pp. 816-817). I came across this history during my doctoral studies at Cambridge University in 1997, and at that time I had not yet read the works of Castillejo and Westfall. I covered the subject in my article titled “Isaac Newton, heretic: The Strategies of a Nicodemite” published in the British Journal for the History of Science in 1999 (pp. 391-392). The real story is not the discovery of the date 2060, but the remarkable presentation of this non-scientific work of Newton to the public.
How important is biblical prophecy to Newton?
Very very important. For Newton, biblical prophecy foretells events that divine destiny foresees to happen in the future. The interpretation of biblical prophecy is “not a trivial matter, but the most important task of the time.” These prophecies enabled Newton to foresee history. These prophecies also described a catastrophe, a system of apostasy in which pure Christians would inevitably escape destruction and God’s curse.