Isaac Newton and Solomon`s Temple: A Fifty

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Copyright © 2013
Avello Publishing Journal
ISSN: 2049 - 498X
Issue 1 Volume 3:
Principia Mathematica
Isaac Newton and Solomon's Temple: A Fifty Year Study
Tessa Morrison
University of Newcastle, Australia.
For over 50 years Isaac Newton studied the Temple of Solomon. It is often intimated
that his study of the Temple was the work of his old age. In fact the converse proves to be the
case. His study began in the late 1670s and continued to his death in 1727. He had a clear
knowledge of architecture and architectural norms as prescribed by the Roman theorist
Vitruvius. He reconstructed the Temple, in the manuscript Babson Ms 434, from biblical
sources, mainly the text of the Book of Ezekiel, using mathematics, ancient sources,
contemporary reconstructions of the Temple and architectural theory to justify his
reconstruction. However, over his 50 years of study his work on the Temple did not become
more informed and erudite; instead, by 1727 his work on the Temple had become a small
chapter in his book on chronology. This chapter consists of mainly quotes on the description
of the Temple from the Book of Ezekiel. From this text of this final work it is impossible to
reconstruct the Temple without the plans that were supplied by the editor, which were not by
Newton. In addition, the editor’s plans are only ground plans, there is no three-dimensional
description of the Temple in the text. This paper examines Newton’s 50 year study on the
Temple, up to his final description of the Temple in Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms
Amended, posthumously published in 1728, and it places his study of the Temple into context
with contemporary academic and public opinion.
Background
It is close to 300 years since Newton’s death, yet his reputation as a scientist still
looms today as one of the greatest scientists we have ever produced. Considering the rapidly
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changing technology and evolving scientific philosophy in this period, this is testament to his
great achievements. Yet he published very little in his lifetime. Apart from Reports as Master
of the Mint, which were published between 1701 and 1725, Newton published only scientific
manuscripts in his lifetime. The Principia was first published in 1687, Newton added
material and revised the Principia in 1713 and 1726. His second significant contribution to
science was Opticks, which was published in 1704. These two books established Newton’s
reputation as a remarkable scientist. However, science was not his only interest and in fact
Newton’s library consisted of only 52 volumes, or 3% of the whole library, on mathematics,
physics and optics (Harrison: 1974). This was reflected in his writing, with science being a
small component of his literary output.
The majority of his work was in unpublished manuscripts, some of which date back to
his arrival at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661. The bulk of his manuscripts were on
theology, particularly in the 1680s and early 1690s, which was his most productive period in
chronology, alchemy, natural philosophy, and theology (Morrison: 2011, Table 3). His heirs
invited Thomas Pellett to examine the manuscripts and report on their suitability for
publication. After just three days of examining these hundreds of manuscripts, Pellett, a
qualified physician and member of the Royal Society, dismissed the majority of the
manuscripts as being ‘not fit to be printed’, ‘of no scientific value’ and ‘loose and foul papers’
(Manuel; 1974, 14).
These manuscripts remained in the Portsmouth Collection until 1936, when they were
auctioned and dispersed into collections all around the world.The auction was held in July in
1936 at Sotheby’s. The manuscripts were divided up into three-hundred and thirty lots and
sold to thirty-three buyers. Thus Newton’s manuscripts were scattered all over the world. It is
surprising that these manuscripts were allowed to leave England. Josè Faur considered that
the reason for this was because of the contents of the manuscripts. Manuscripts on prophecy,
alchemy and Newton’s unorthodox theology did shock some scholars of the time. It was “to
protect Newton’s ‘good name,’ [that] the importance of the manuscripts were denied” (Faur:
2003, 229).
One of the buyers of these works was the imminent economist John Maynard
Keynes. In the paper entitled ‘Newton the Man’ Keynes exclaimed the famous quote
“Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians (Keynes:
1972, 363).” As more and more of Newton’s papers became available to scholars, Keynes’
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words seem increasingly insightful and revealing. Keynes considered that there were two
sides to Newton’s character, “Copernicus and Faustus in one (Keynes: 1972, 374)”. They
were the same man working to one purpose and whose achievements were seemingly beyond
his era but at the same time founded in the knowledge of the ancients.
Later biographies assumed that there were two Newtons; the Copernicus – the great
scientist of his youth and the Faustus – the ageing Newton who had lost his taste and ability
for science and turned to the study of chronology, prophecy and religion as a result of the
nervous breakdown he suffered in 1693 (Gjertsen: 1986, 88-90; Manuel: 1968, 213-225;
White: 1998, 222-253). However, these two separate and diverse personas are not supported
or divided by any such date and Newton did continue to research and continued to add to the
science of his day as well as being Master of the Mint and overseeing the recoinage of
Britain. Furthermore, his papers and interest in chronology and prophecy date back to his
earliest days in Cambridge in the 1660s. Two of the earliest purchases Newton made on
arriving at Cambridge University in 1661 were Hall’s Chronicles and Johann Sleidan’s Four
Monarchies (Newton, c1659, fol. V) which remained in his library for the rest of his life
(Harrison:1978). Chronology, particularly associated with prophecies, remained a life-long
interest and in his chronology of kings was the Temple of Solomon.
The Temple of Solomon
Newton’s interest in the Temple was not an isolated one. Reconstructions of the
Temple of Solomon were ubiquitous by the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the
18th century. There had been major reconstructions of the Temple; for example, the 12th
century Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moses Maimonides (Lewittes: 1957) and 13th century
theologian Nicholas of Lyra (Smith et al: 2012). However, the first significant reconstruction
that stimulated the imagination of theologians, architects and the general public was architect
and Jesuit priest Juan Battista Villalpando’s In Ezechielem Explanationes et Apparatus Vrbis
Templi Hierosolymitani published in 1604 (Villalpando: 1604). It was a three volume
Scriptural exegesis of the Book of Ezekiel. The entire second volume was a reconstruction of
Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple of Jerusalem, which Villalpando claimed was a vision of the
Temple of Solomon. Ezechielem Explanationes is elaborately illustrated with some of the
engravings folding out to over a metre in width. The plan of the Temple was square,
symmetrical and was laid out to a celestial plan and built to musical, therefore divine,
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proportions (see Figure 1 and 2) – the plan was the microcosm of the macrocosm (Morrison:
2008).
With the notoriety of Villalpando’s work came both support and criticism for his
reconstruction. There were six main points of debate stimulated by Ezechielem
Explanationes. First, the Divine origins of the Temple were questioned: was God the architect
of the Temple? If it was a God-given plan, did the Temple constitute the origins of
architecture?
Second, Villalpando’s reconstruction had no historic basis. It was far too
elaborate for the tenth century BC and it would not have been built in the classical style.
Third, the Temple’s architecture was not the pinnacle of architecture and the design would be
surpassed by subsequent designs, in particular Herod’s Temple which was larger and grander
than Solomon’s Temple. Fourth, the interpretation of the Biblical measurements, the sacred
cubit, by Villalpando was wrong and the result of this was that Villalpando’s plan exceeded
the site of the Temple at Mount Morion. Fifth, there was a lack of Jewish sources in
Villalpando’s work, such as the Torah and the works of Maimonides. Finally Ezekiel’s vision
of the Temple was not the same as the Temple of Solomon. It was the last two points
regarding the sources of the Temple that generated the most criticism and generated a large
number of reconstructions in response. The sources of the reconstructions were the Book of
Ezekiel, the Book of Kings or Torah. Many of these reconstructions were published,i some
were built as scale models and some remained unpublished.
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Figure 1: Villalpando’s plan of the Temple as microcosm of the universe (Drawn by the
author from (Villalpando and Prado: 1604, 470)).
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Figure 2: Villalpando’s floor plan of the Temple of Solomon (Drawn by the author from
(Villalpando and Prado: 1604, unpaginated)).
There was a great deal of diversity in the reconstructions of the Temple of Solomon in
the seventeenth and eighteenth century which derived from the debate on the plan of the
Temple. At first the debate appears to be a continental European debate. However, there were
English reconstructions. Non-conformist minister and natural philosopher, Samuel Lee
published Orbis miraculum, or, The temple of Solomon pourtraied by Scripture-light in 1659
with a second edition in 1665. There were also unpublished reconstructions such as Newton’s
Prolegomena ad Lexici Propretici partem Secundam: De Forma Sanctuary Judaici (Babson
Ms 434), and William Stukeley’s manuscript entitled The Creation, Music of the Spheres
K[ing] S[olomon’s] Temple Microco[sm] - and Macrocosm Compared &C written between
1721-24.
There was not a theological divide between Protestant and Catholic; it was
architectural criticism. In fact Villalpando was praised. Lee claimed that Villalpando was “the
learned and worth publishers of the splendid work” and he was “the most learned and
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laborious student, that ever proceeded into public light”, who has unravelled “the profound
and mysterious visions of the Prophet Ezekiel (Lee: 1659, unpaginated)”. In Newton’s
unpublished manuscripts he mixed praise and criticism and he claimed that “Villalpando,
although the best [and] the most eminent commentator on Ezekiel’s Temple: yet [he is] out in
many things (Newton: undated, 32v).” He also claimed that the Villalpanda’s reconstruction
was a “fantasy” that was “lacking in reason (Newton: 2011, 155).” While Stukeley claimed
that Villalpando was
the learned Spaniard… we can never illustrate architecture so well as by strictly
considering this completest work & most perfect example of all others, of whose
measures & forms throughout description in very different places of the holy scripture
we can never illustrate architecture so well as by strictly considering this completest
work & most perfect example of all others, of whose measures & forms throughout
description in very different places of the holy scripture (Stukeley: 1721 – 24, 73).
Despite his praise, Stukeley believed that Villalpando had not “hit the white” and he
reconstructed the Temple to a far more modest design.
There was also a public face to this debate in England, which outweighed the
theological and academic debate. Two exhibitions of architectural models of the Temple were
displayed in London in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to great acclaim
(anonymous: 1724a, 1724b & 1725). The first was created by Rabbi Jacob Judah Leon from
Amsterdam whose model came to London between 1675 and 1680, and reappeared in 1778.
The second was a model that was commissioned by Gerhard Schott from Hamburg and was
exhibited in London between 1724 and 1731. The Schott model was built to the plan of
Villalpando’s interpretation of the Book of Ezekiel while the Leon model was built to the
plans preserved in Jewish sacred texts. The Schott model remained in London over the seven
years with exhibition, and although it is not known exactly how long the Leon model
remained in London contemporary reports claim that it was “commonly to be seen in London
(Shane: 1983).”
These two architectural models drew large crowds who paid to see the models, when
the Schott model exhibition first opened it cost a staggering half guinea entrance fee
(Anonymous: 1724a, 2). In addition, guidebooks of the Temple were sold at both the Leon
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and Schott exhibitions (Leon: 1675; Anonymous: 1725). Broadsheets of the Temple were also
sold at the Leon exhibition. (Offenberg: 1994). Some surviving guide-books have images of
other reconstructions bound up with them,ii revealing that the viewer was not just satisfied
with the one reconstruction. Their amazing popularity was a phenomenon of the time.
It was in the late 1670s when the Leon model was in London that Newton’s interest in
Solomon’s Temple begun. Newton does not mention Leon or his Temple; however, there was
a heightened awareness and interest in the Temple of Solomon at this time at all levels of
society.
When the Schott model arrived in London in 1724 Newton lived in central London.
Both the Leon and Schott models could have stimulated Newton’s interest in the Temple, but
he would not have agreed with either one. The Schott model was built to the plan of
Villalpando, a plan that Newton disagreed with. He pointed out that, although Villalpando’s
main source was the Book of Ezekiel, his gridded-plan contradicted some of the main
features that Ezekiel described. At the same time Newton strongly agreed with Villalpando’s
rational and theological underpinnings, which saw the Temple as the microcosm of the
macrocosm. At Christmas time 1725, Stukeley and Newton discussed their respective plans
of the Temple of Solomon (Stukeley: 1936, 18), and it does seem inconceivable that they did
not discuss the Schott model, given the fanfare that it had received in the year when it had
arrived in London, and its ongoing exhibition.
Within twenty months of the Schott model arriving in London, William Whiston,
former pupil and successor to Newton as Lucasian Professor at Cambridge, “has made a
model of the Temple to show in opposition to that in the Haymarket (Anonymous: 1726, 2).”
How detailed, or how large, the model was is unknown, since neither the model nor any plans
or drawings have survived. However, the reporter seems to find the challenge to the Schott
model exasperating, since he claimed that both models “pretended to be true models, yet are
different. If our virtuosos can’t agree upon corporeals, no wonder there is such a different in
speculative matters (Anonymous: 1726, 2).”
The Leon and the Schott exhibitions were not the only exhibitions on the Temple of
Solomon. A later model was built by Christoph Semler in 1718, this model never left Halle,
Germany as it was housed in a school and was used as a teaching aid (Whitmer: 2010). While
it was viewed by the community and was a significant part of that community, it did not have
any impact outside of Halle. However, the Leon and Schott models travelled and were on
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exhibition for a relatively long time, and both were housed in public exhibition spaces for
maximum exposure. These exhibitions were unique and were viewed by Royalty, the gentry,
the scientific community and the general public.
Newton’s Temple of Solomon
Newton’s study of prophecy begins in the early 1670s and with many of these
manuscripts he continued to work on them for over 10 and sometimes up to 20 years (for
instance, Newton: c 1675s – 1685s; Newton: c 1670s – 1680s), making it very difficult to
date the work within the manuscript with any precision. His main interest was in the prophets
of Ezekiel, Daniel and the Book of Revelation. In these prophecies the Temple of Jerusalem
was the stage in which the prophecies were acted out. At times his use of the expression the
‘Temple of Solomon’ seems interchangeable with the ‘Temple of Jerusalem.’ Although
Newton’s study was of the Temple of Solomon, he examined the Temple in all its later stages,
ie the Temple of Zerubbabel and Herod, which he used to derive his plan of Solomon’s
Temple.
His work on Solomon’s Temple began in the late 1670s in his study of the Book of
Revelation (Newton: c 1670s – 1690s). In this manuscript he discussed the measurements of
the Temple from the pagan writer Hecataeus, Maimonides, Philo, the works of Josephus and
the Book of King and Ezekiel in both the Vulgate and the Septuaginta, the Talmud and the
work of Villalpando. An appendix also discusses the measurement of the sacred Hebrew
Cubit of the Temple and is entitled ‘De magnitudine cubiti sacri’. This is a comprehensive
study of the unknown length of this sacred Hebrew Cubit. This study included a wide range
of ancient and modern sources including John Greaves, Polybius, Suetonius, Pertius
Vicentiniss, Philandrier, Donatus, Vitruvius, Villalpando and many others. A refinement of
this appendix was posthumously reprinted as “A Dissertation Upon the Sacred Cubit of the
Jews” in 1737. However, this refinement does not survive in manuscript form. It is a complex
and an ingenious paper which uses ancient measurements, as well as measurements taken
from the Egyptian pyramids by Greaves in the early 17th century (Greaves: 1646). The paper
uses a system of limits of all of these ancient measurements for different cubits of the time
i.e. Memphis, Arabian, Mesopotamian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman Cubit, until
he derives a measurement for the Sacred Hebrew cubit of 2.068 English feet. However, at the
end of the paper Newton had to discard some of his measurements to keep it consistent with
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the measurements from Biblical sources and since the ones he discarded was his original
standard for the cubit, the paper is fundamentally flawed (Morrison: 2011, 63 – 72).
These earlier works on the Temple did not include any drawings nor did they consider
the three-dimensional aspect of the building to any great extent. Although Vitruvius’
interpretation of the Roman and Greek cubit are mentioned in the appendix, his architectural
norms are not mentioned in the description of the Temple from this manuscript. This
description of Solomon’s Temple was repeated and developed in several other manuscripts;
however, the study of the cubit was reduced only to a commentary on Josephus’
measurements of the Temple (Newton: c 1690) in these later manuscripts and the study of the
cubit was never revisited.
Newton’s study on Solomon’s Temple, culminated in a work entitled Prolegomena ad
Lexici Propretici partem Secundam: De Forma Sanctuary Judaici (Babson Ms 434)
(Introduction to the Lexicon of the Prophets, Part Two: About the Appearance of the Jewish
Temple). The curious title is more or less in isolation although it is possibly the larger study
begun by Newton and never brought to fruition. In a manuscript, Treatise on Revelation dated
mid-1680s, a table of contents is given for a proposed structure for The First Book
Concerning the Language of the Prophets consisting of five books but omitting Book Two.
There are ten titles of chapters in the first book and the tenth chapter is entitled ‘Of the parts
of the Temple’ (Newton: mid – 1680s, 4r). However, there is no surviving Book Two; after
‘Of the parts of the Temple,’ is the list of chapters for the third book. This leaves the question
‘was Book Two going to be the reconstruction of the Temple’? The Treatise on Revelation
manuscript is dated around the same date as Babson Ms 434, so it does make this a
possibility.
Babson Ms 434 is a unique manuscript. It is Newton’s only surviving architectural
manuscript and possibly his only architectural manuscript. In this manuscript he attempted to
reconstruct the Temple of Solomon. Like many of these manuscripts it appears to have been
worked over time. There are two attempts to reconstruct the Temple, the second one being far
more detailed than the first. It is an exceptional manuscript which attempts to uncover the
architectural of the Temple of Solomon and he mathematically justifies the ground plan of
Ezekiel.
The sources of Babson Ms 434 are exceptionally wide and show an intense study
using ancient and contemporary sources. Babson Ms 434 was written in four languages, the
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primary language being Latin, with some quotations in Greek, a few small expressions in
Hebrew and one paragraph in English, which is written as marginalia in the main floor plan.
He cited a wide range of Biblical texts, the Greek text Septuaginta, texts in Hebrew and
Vulgate Latin, the Alexandrian Codex and the Arabian version. In addition he references:
Flavius Josephus Antiquitates Judaicae (Antiquity of the Jews), Bellum Judaicum (The
Jewish Wars) and Contra Apionem (Against Apion); Philo, Upon the Monarchy;
Maimonides, De Apparatu Templi (Apparatus Temple) and Tratado Sobre el culto Divino
(Treaty upon the divine worship); Constantino L’Empereur, Talmudis Babylonici Codex
Middoth sive De Mensuris Templi; Arias Montano, De mensuris (Upon them Measured);
Johannes Buxtorf, Lexicon Talmud; and Walton, Bible Polyglotta. He also mentioned
Villalpando’s reconstruction of the Temple of Solomon and Cappel’s commentary on
Villalpando in Trisagion sive Templi delineatio triplex Hierosolimitani, in Brian Walton’s,
Biblia Sacra Polyglotta. Cappel and Drusius are mentioned together without any reference,
and finally Vitruvius and his norms and proportions of architecture are mentioned.
Newton’s referencing of traditional Hebrew texts does bring into question his
knowledge of Hebrew. Westfall claimed that Newton “learnt Hebrew in order to read Ezekiel
in the original (Westfall: 1980, 346)”. José Faur suggested that eminent Jewish scholar Isaac
Abendana was Newton’s Hebrew teacher (Faur : 2004, 218) and that Abendana instilled into
Newton his interest for Maimonides and Jewish measurements (Faur : 2004, 219). Frank E.
Manuel believed that Newton could only use Hebrew with the aid of a dictionary (Manuel:
1974, 84), and Mat Goldish claimed that Newton read only ‘some’ Hebrew (Goldish: 1998,
18). Although he possessed five Hebrew texts in his library (Harrison: 1978, 74) he does not
quote verses or passages in Hebrew from the Jewish scholar Maimonides or the Talmud. He
only quoted small expressions in Hebrew of no more than four words, but mostly he was
only emphasizing an individual word. This indicates that his understanding of Hebrew was
limited and he required the aid of dictionaries and lexicons which were evident in his library
(Harrison: 1978, catalogue numbers 321and 322). On the other hand he used the Yiddish
expression ‘Talmudists (Newton: 1737, 421)’ for Talmud and the Hebraized spelling ‘Noach’
for Noah (Goldish: 1998, 43). It would appear that although Newton was familiar with
Hebrew, he was never truly confident with it.
In the seventeenth century, Maimonides was the most translated and respected Jewish
scholar. Christian Hebraism had become a developing interest in the sixteenth and
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seventeenth centuries. Hebrew learning was only for the highest academic circles and there
were a large number of lexicons, grammars, dictionaries and Bibles available to these elite
scholars. Newton had a wide range of Jewish literature available to him in Latin and Greek,
and the Maimonides in his library are translations into Latin by L. de Compiègne de Viel
(Harrison: 1978, Catalogue numbers 1018 and 1020). Furthermore he used the Latin titles in
his references to these books. His knowledge of the Jewish text the Middothiii appears to have
come from Constantinus L’Empereur whom he referenced (Newton: 2011, 124 & 133);
however, this is not in his library.
Newton made extensive use of Josephus’ description of the Temple. In many
commentaries and reproductions these same passages are used to confirm various
reproductions, but Newton’s examination of Josephus is far more extensive than most. The
measurements are considered in great detail and he compared them with the Talmud and
equated them to Ezekiel’s measurements. Newton also commented on Josephus and noted
that Josephus and Philo had both seen the Temple of Herod and had days of worship there,
which gave them a better understanding of the building and the rituals, while the experts of
the Talmud had not seen it, which sometimes lead them into error (Newton: 2011, 120 – 121)
.
Several references are made to Villalpando’s reconstruction of Solomon’s Temple.
From the text it appears that Newton’s knowledge of Villalpando came from the criticism by
Louis Cappel in Brian Walton’s Prolegomena of the Biblia Polyglotta, which was to be found
in Newton’s library (Harrison: 1974, catalogue number 216). In the first part of Cappel’s
treatise he included abstracts from Villalpando’s reconstruction in Ezechielem Explanationes
and he also included small scale engravings of his design by Wenceslaus Hollar. Ezechielem
Explanationes was an extremely expensive three volume set with large fold-out engraving of
very high quality. Villalpando’s reproduction of the Temple of Solomon became widely
known through Cappel’s treatise rather than the original text (Herrmann: 1969, Note.24).
Newton was clearly familiar with Book III chapter III ‘The Proportions of
Intercolumniations and of Column’ in De Architectura by Vitruvius. Yet there was no
Vitruvius in his library or any other commentary on Vitruvius. Thus it is difficult to know
whether his comments on and relating to the Vitruvian proportions are directly from Vitruvius
or from one of the commentators on Vitruvius, such as Leon Battista Alberti, Sebastiano
Serlio, Daniele Barbaro or any other commentary that was available in the later seventeenth
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century. However, he does quote Vitruvius’ Book Three De Architectura on measurement in
A Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews using these proportions but at the same time
constructing his own ‘Vitruvian’ man from ancient Jewish sources so that instead of the
human figure inside a circle and a square the Newtonian man is in an oval and a rectangle
(Morrison: 2010).
To complete his plan, he first executes a scriptural exegesis of the verses of Ezekiel
40:5 – 42:15 and 46:19. Verse by verse he scrutinized the dimensions of the gates and the
interior and exterior atriums with their colonnades. From this he maps out the floor plan of
the Temple. He integrated the rituals performed in the Temple as another way of justifying the
floor plan of the Temple. He examines the ancient accounts of all the temples of Jerusalem,
not only Solomon’s. He integrates all and refutes contemporary accounts of the Temple. After
describing the ancient descriptions of Temple of Zerubbabel and Herod strips away what he
considers to be additions to derive a three-dimensional plan of Solomon’s Temple. The
manuscript remained incomplete as he continued with discussing the rituals and use of the
Temple. However, he does complete his reconstruction of the Temple (see Figure 3 for
Newton’s sketch of the ground plan of the Temple in Babson Ms 434 and Figures 8, 9 & 10
for an architectural model constructed by the author from the description in Babson Ms 434).
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Figure 3: Image of the ground plan from Babson Ms 0434 (with kind permission of The
Huntington Library)
The dating of this Babson Ms 434 cannot be precise. The dating of his manuscripts is
made very difficult by Newton’s recycling of receipts and letters as paper; he appears to have
kept paper for decades so the dates of the letters or watermarks can give no indication of the
date of the manuscript (Manuel: 1963, 17). However, it has been dated circa 1685 by Richard
Westfall and 1690, and possibly much later by Ciriaca Morano (Ixviii). Both dates are
possible, although the two reconstructions do indicate that the manuscript was written over
time. so that 1690s date might be the more possible completion date but it is unlikely that this
manuscript is much later, since there is a significant change in Newton’s writing and attitude
to the Temple, and Babson Ms 434 is closely related to the earlier manuscripts. The main
change in Babson Ms 434 from the earlier manuscripts is the addition of the study of the
architecture and the reconstruction. Like the study on the cubit he did not revisit his
architectural studies.
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Chronology, the Temple and Manuscript Corrections
Newton continually ‘refined’ his studies on prophecy and chronology, and both topics
included works on the Temple. As consequence of this manuscripts were copied out in full as
they were being refined. However, it is notable that many of his studies on prophecy and
chronology, were no longer attributed directly to ancient and contemporary sources, but were
a combination of Biblical sources, unreferenced history, myths and previous work that had
been summarised with notably fewer references (for example Newton:, c 1700; Newton: post
1700; Newton, c 1701 –2; Newton: after 1710). His study of the Temple and the cubit were
no longer an individual study for its mathematics, architecture and theological perspectives
that played a significant role in the prophecy of Daniel, Ezekiel and John the divine and the
chronology of Kings, but became the background of the prophecies and a small insignificant
chapter in his work on chronology. Solomon’s, Zerubbabel’s and Herod’s Temples are
discussed in theological and historical terms; however, the architecture becomes reduced to
the biblical measurements of the floor plans and contains no consideration of the buildings
(see Newton: c1699; Newton: 1701-2; Newton: after 1710).
After Newton’s death, John Conduitt edited and published The Chronology of Ancient
Kingdoms Amended, which Newton had been revising for publication at the time of his death.
Chapter 5 of the Chronology is entitled ‘A Description of the Temple’ and it is barely 3000
words long. The majority of the chapter quotes straight from Ezekiel, with very little added
by Newton. The bits that he does add are very strange, for instance “the cubit was about 21 ,
or almost 22 inches of the English foot (Newton: 1988, 332).” Considering that Newton was
one of the greatest mathematicians who ever lived, such imprecision appears contrary to his
nature. The little architectural detail that he does give does not make much sense. He claimed
that
The Porch of the Temple was 120 cubits high, and its length from south to north
equalled the breadth of the House: the House was three stories high, which made
the height of the Holy Place three times thirty cubits, and that of the Most Holy
three times twenty: the upper rooms were treasure-chambers (Newton: 1988, 342)
This strange and confused stepped structure appears to have no precedents, Biblically or
otherwise.
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There are three very detailed plans accompanying the chapter but the detail in the
plans is not backed up by description in the chapter. Although expertly drafted, the plans are a
mixture of the details of Solomon’s Temple and the Zerubbabel’s Temple as described in the
Bible.iv The final form of The Chronology, in Newton's best handwriting, with hardly any
deletions or emendations, can be seen in a manuscript held at Cambridge University Library,
Additional Ms 3988. However, the drawing that accompanies the text of this manuscript is a
mixture of the two Temples, Solomon’s and Zerubbabel’s Temples, and the plan lacks any
detail. It is the most minimal of plans, with no internal detail (See Figure 4). The crude
outline of this plan is similar to the plan of the Temple precinct in The Chronology but it is
extremely different to the one in Babson Ms 434.
The draftsman of the plans in the
Chronology may have had knowledge of this plan. But the three plans in The Chronology (see
Figures 5, 6 and 7) should not be considered the work of Newton. The details in these three
plans are a fabrication from an unknown hand.
In the Preface to a 1770 edition of The Chronology, which is in the form of a
correspondence between Dr Thomas Hunt, Hebrew Professor at Oxford University and Rev
Zachary Pearce, the Bishop of Rochester, Hunt claimed that after Newton’s death there had
been sixteen drafts of The Chronology in Newton’s papers. The Bishop expressed his
concerns about Newton’s methods of writing:
It is a pity, that he took so much of the same method in his chronology which
he took in his Principia &c: concealing his proofs and leaving it to the sagacity
of others to discover them. For want of these, in some instances what he says
on chronology does not sufficiently appear at present to rest upon anything but
his assertions;…But proofs he may have had, which he chose to conceal,
though what now stands in the Margin in those few places may have come
from another hand, and may not amount to a full proof, as it pretends to do
(Pearce, 1770, 7-8).
William Whiston, claimed that Newton wrote out eighteen copies of The Chronology, but that
they were not very different from each other (William:1749, 39). Only a couple of the later
versions, which Whiston would have known about, still exist.
Newton had worked on chronology since his earliest days in Cambridge; it was a
topic that he kept returning to. The final published version of The Chronology was a result of
16
many manuscripts, but instead of improving it and building on his research, Newton made it
blander and blander with each reworking, and his final drafts, which resulted in the published
work, had none of the scholarship, uniqueness or the content of his earlier works. This is
particularly demonstrated in his work on the Temple of Solomon. Manuscripts such as
Babson Ms 434 and his work on the cubits, were the work of the middle-aged Newton in his
most productive period of the 1680s and early 1690s that demonstrates the depth of his
research.
Figure 4: Copy of the sketch by Newton in Additional Ms 3988 drawn by author
17
Figure 5: The floor plan of the Temple precinct published in the Chronology in 1728 (Drawn
by author from (Newton: 1988, unpaginated).
18
Figure 6: The floor plan of the Temple and inner court published in the Chronology in 1728
(Drawn by author from (Newton: 1988, unpaginated).
Figure 7: Floor plan of the cloister under the chambers published in the Chronology in 1728
(Drawn by author from (Newton: 1988, unpaginated).
Conclusion
The study of Solomon’s Temple in the late 17th and early 18th century was not uncommon.
Theologians and architects were making academic studies of the Temple, particularly in the
wake of the Villalpando’s reconstruction. The public’s interest was frenetic in both Britain
and Europe. In Britain the newspapers reported that King George I was considering
purchasing the Schott model for £20,000 (Anonymous: 1724b, 2) the equivalent of $2
million. That sale did not go ahead but after the death of King George I it was reported that
“We hear his majesty (King George II) has purchased the famous model of the Temple of
Solomon brought from Hamburg in the last Reign, and shown at the Hay Market, to make a
present of it to one of the universities (Anonymous: 1724a, 2).” This sale also did not go
ahead and it continued to be displayed in London until it was purchased by Elector Friedrich
August of Saxony, who was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania in 1732.
William Whiston, also gave public lectures on the Temple. However, he stated that
19
Ezekiel’s vision was not of Solomon’s Temple.
As for Sir I.N’.[Isaac Newton’s] description of Solomon’s Temple; (I think he
should call it Ezekiel’s Temple; for he takes it principally from Ezekiel, who
describes neither Solomon’s, nor Zorebabels,’ nor Herod’s, but the Jews future
Temple) I reserve its examination till I publish my own plan of all those
Temples (Whiston: 1727, 1070).
Unfortunately he did not publish his plan but he continued to lecture on the Temples of
Jerusalem in clear opposition to the Schott model. However clearly he did not agree with his
old mentor. In his advertisement for his lecture he distinguished between the Temples.
Whiston lectured “upon sacred architecture past; of the models of the Tabernacle of Moses;
of the Temples of Solomon, Zorobabel and Herod: And upon the sacred architecture future, of
the model of Ezekiel’s Temple (Anonymous: 1724a, 2) stop” For Whiston, Ezekiel’s vision
was a prophesy of the future and had not been built. Whiston lectured at Grigsby’s Coffee
House, behind the Royal Exchange, on Wednesdays, and Button’s Coffee House in Covent
Garden on Friday. However, as public interest increased by this time Newton’s interest had
faded to a shadow of his early studies.
Newton’s study of the Temple is significant, Babson Ms 434 displays his
understanding of architecture and architectural theory of the Roman theorist Vitruvius, and a
wide range of ancient and contemporary sources. It was also a topic that was of contemporary
interest. However, why Newton ‘refined’ his study to what became bland and architecturally
nonsensical in Chapter 5 of the Chronology at the height of public interest in the Temple is
unknown.
20
Figure 8: Architectural model of Newton’s Temple of Solomon as described in
Babson Ms 434 the model is 2.2 m² and was built at the school of architecture and
engineering’s workshop, the University of Newcastle, Australia
21
Figure 9: view of the Temple from the East
22
Figure 10: view of the Temple from the North
23
Bibliography
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ANONYMOUS. 1724b. Advertisement. Saturday, August 29, issue CCLXVI Saturday,
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24
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25
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27
i
References for four-seven examples of these reconstructions are listed in (Herrmann: 1969).
ii
An example of this example can be seen in the Gale database ‘Eighteenth Century collection’ sourced
from the British Library.
iii
The ‘Tractate Middot’ is the part of the Talmud that deals with the architecture of the Temple.
iv
In the floor plan of the Temple precinct in The Chronology an external wall encloses the entire
precinct wall. This external wall has four gates on the Western side, which were the Gate of
Shallecheth, the Gate of Parbar, and the two Gates of Assupim. This wall and the gates belong
to the Second Temple (1 Chronicles 26:16–18).
28
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