The Inner Workings of the Mind of Isaac Newton

By The National Library of Israel

Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the world-famous physicist and mathematician, was a central figure in the scientific revolution. Nearly 8,000 papers, written in Newton's own hand, are preserved in the collections of the National Library of Israel. These reveal an unknown side of Newton's personality.

Newton family geneaology Newton family geneaology by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Besides being a scientist, Newton was an avid (though unusual) Christian believer, who took a special interest in the Scriptures, believing that a deep understanding of the text would allow him to unravel the secrets of the End of Days and to compute the date of Christ's Second Coming and the Apocalypse. Of special importance is Newton's deep interest in Jewish sources, and his view regarding the role of the Jews in the process of salvation.

Newton family geneaology Newton family geneaology by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Newton's family tree (c. 1705)

This small manuscript leaf contains a simplified version of Newton's family tree in his own hand. The name given at the top is of that of John Newton of Westby, Lincolnshire, Newton's great-great-grandfather.  John Newton bought property in nearby Woolsthorpe for his son Richard. It was Richard's son Robert who added Woolsthorpe manor to the family holding in 1623. Robert's son Isaac, Newton's father, inherited Woolsthorpe manor. An Illiterate yeoman farmer, Isaac Newton Senior died two months before his only son's birth in Woolsthorpe manor on 25 December, Christmas Day. But Newton was born neither on Christmas Day nor in 1642 according to the Gregorian calendar. Because the British were still using the Julian calendar in Newton's lifetimes, his date of birth corresponds to 4 January 1643 on the Continent. 

Twelve Statements on God (1670/1670) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Newton the heretic

Newton's extensive study of Christian doctrine brought him to the conclusion that the doctrine of the Trinity was a corruption of the original Biblical doctrine. He believed that the Scriptures taught that God is one divine person and that this one divine person is the Father, while Christ is the literal Son of God, having no human father.Newton hid his beliefs. Had his contemporaries known of them he would have been considered a heretic. He however, believed that he held the true belief.Citations from the 'Twelve Statements on God', in the attached photographPar. 1 - "The [word] God is no where in the scriptures used to signify more than the three persons at once."Par. 3 - "When ever it is said in the scriptures that there is but one God, it is meant of the Father."

Fragments on the kingdoms of the European tribes, the Temple and the history of Jewish and Christian Churches (1670/1670) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Newton and the Jewish temple

believed that the temple described in the prophecy of Ezekiel would
materialize at the End of Days. He therefore invested much effort in
studying matters related to the Jewish Temple and its rituals.This
trilingual manuscript- written in Latin, Hebrew and Greek- shows that
Newton was familiar not only with the work of scholars of his time but
also with the ancient Jewish sources including the Mishna , the Zohar,
the Talmud, and many more.

On the third line from the top Newton copied, in meticulous Hebrew script, the words:ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד "Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity".

Map of the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets (1670/1680) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Map of the trumpets

Newton's preoccupation with the Apocalypse of John elicited this realistic map of the Near East which illustrates the geography of the region in which the Apocalyptic events will occur. According to Revelations 9, four angels will be released on the Euphrates River and will punish the sinners. Newton believed that the Fifth Trumpet is Islam, and the Sixth – the Ottoman Empire. He also identified the four angels as the Sultanates marked out on the map: Iconium, Damascus, Mosul and Miapharekin.

Drafts on the history of the Church (1710/1720) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Shrewd head of the royal mint

Besides being a brilliant scientist and theologian, Newton also displayed adroit skills as an administrator. In 1696, he was appointed Warden of the Royal Mint in London. In this capacity Newton wrote this letter to the tin mine owners, explaining to them through meticulous calculations that Her Majesty, Queen Anne, has already purchased from them much more tin than she can sell, leaving her with "dead stock" (surplus), which can only be sold at a loss.He therefore announces his decision to end the contract with them.

The Hieroglyphical figures of Nicholas Flammel explained (1680/1690) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Newton the alchemist (c. 1680)

Newton also took a deep interest in alchemy. Although most of the alchemical papers are in Cambridge, the NLI possesses some alchemical papers, amongst which there is one unique page. It is a part of Newton's copy of an English translation made in 1624 of The Exposition of the Hieroglyphical Figures, by the famous French Alchemist Nicholas Flamel. 

Newton sketched Flamel's symbolic figures, and described their alchemical role in the text below: "She is now like a Lion devouring all metallic nature and turning it to pure gold…".

Considerations about rectifying the Julian Kalendar. (1699/1699) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Isaac Newton and the Royal Society

In 1709, following a bitter dispute between Hans Sloan, Secretary of the Royal Society, and John Woodward, a member of Council and Professor of Physic at Gresham College – which housed the society – Newton decided to relocate the Society and consolidate his hold over the Institution by removing his opponents from Council. Toward the end Newton a "hit list" of those Fellows he wished to replace – marked in the documents displayed with an "x" following their name. Hardly surprising, none of the were re-elected to Council in November 1709. (part of the Drafts on the history of the Church, sec. 7)

Rectifying the Julian calendar

the determination of the Ratisbon Diet in 1699 to introduce the Gregorian
Calendar into German Protestant territories, it became necessary to establish a
certain method for reckoning Easter. Leibniz, who was consulted on the matter,
requested the judgment of the Royal Society, and Newton was solicited for his
opinion. Newton proved critical of both Julian and Gregorian reckonings and his
"considerations" offered his own alternative. As was his wont, Newton
began with an extended historical introduction:

were at first reckoned by returns of day & night, new & full moon,
simmer & winter. Whence the oldest years consisted of Lunar months &
where twelve months were found too short for thirteenth was added to make up
the year. These months began not at the conjunction of the Luminaries but at
the first appearance of the new moon, which used to be between 18 & 42
hours after the conjunction if the sky was clear. 

Notes taken from Moses Maimonides' Sefer Avodah (1680/1690) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

taken from Moses Maimonides' Sefer Avodah (c. 1680s)

The first of a series of folios of notes taken from the Medieval Jewish
philosopher and theologian Moses Maimonides, this folio is headed "Ex
Maimonide lib. de Cultu divino" [Out of Maimonides' Book of
Divine Service]. Newton owned Ludovici de Compiegne de Veil's De cultu
divino (Paris, 1678) and it is from this translation of Maimonides' Sefer
Avodah [ Book of Divine Service] that Newton took these notes.  The Sefer Avodah was of interest to
Newton due to its extensive treatment of the Temple and its ritual.

Newton owned other Latin translations from Maimonides' halachic works
(the Mishne Torah) that together represent the Sefer Korbanot
[Book of Sacrifices], the Hilchot Ovde Kochavim [Laws of Idolatry], the Hilchot
Kiddush Ha-Hodesh [Law of the Sanctification of the New Month] and the Hilchot
Shemittah Ve-Yovel [Laws of Sabbaticals and Jubilees]. 

Newton also owned a copy of Edward Pococke's Porta Mosis (1654-1655), which included translations from Maimonides's commentary on the Mishnah. On the other hand, Newton did not own a copy of Maimonides' Moreh Nevuchim [Guide to the Perplexed]. The evidence of Newton's library and his reading notes suggests that he was more interested in Jewish writings on Jewish law and the ritual than Jewish philosophy. Newton owned many works by Christian Hebraists that treat Jewish law and ritual. He also owned works that discussed the Kabbalah, although Newton was not as positively disposed toward the Kabbalah as he was towards other aspects of Judaic thought (nevertheless, it is possible that some of Newton's views on space and time owe something to Kabbalistic thought). While he was not known as such in his own lifetime, Newton's manuscripts show him to have been one of the most significant Christian Hebraists of his age.

Variant Readings of the Apocalypse (1693/1693) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Variant readings of the Apocalypse

This 105-page manuscript, entitled "Variants Lectiones Apocalypticae" ("Variant Readings of the Apocalypse"), contains Newton's careful collation of the textual variants of the Book of Revelation. Newton carried out this extensive work at the request of the textual critic John Mill (1645-1707), whose monumental critical edition of the Greek New Testament appeared in 1707. Newton's involvement in this project represents another dynamic of his wide-ranging study of the Apocalypse and demonstrates that he played a minor role in the history of New Testament textual criticism. The first folio displayed here shows variant readings for the first eleven verses of Revelation 1. On this folio Newton refers to the Codex Alexandrinus (a fifth-century Greek manuscript) and early modern critical editions (the Spanish Complutensian Polyglot and those of Erasmus and Stephanus). 

A Synopsis of the Synchronisms of the Apocalypse (1690/1700) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

A Synopsis of the
Synchronisms of the Apocalypse

this chart Newton has schematized the symbols and events of the Apocalypse into
parallel columns. Like some other Protestant prophetic interpreters of the
early modern period, Newton believed that the Book of Revelation consisted of
two parallel divisions, with the second division beginning at Revelation 11:19.
The chart illustrates Newton's belief that the Trumpets and the Vials
symbolized a parallel sequence of events (seen in the second column from the
left in each half of the chart).

begins at the top of the chart and moves down to the bottom. The events of the
time of the end displayed at the bottom include the preaching of the true
Gospel, the fall of Babylon (the false Church), the Great Tribulation, the
return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and the beginning of the
Millennium. Newton sent a smaller and simpler apocalyptic chart to his friend
the philosopher John Locke in the early 1690s.

The Apocalypse for Newton was one of the greatest of all intellectual challenges. The thousands upon thousands of pages of careful writing Newton devoted to its deciphering are testaments to his devotion to the challenge.

Outline of the Basic parallels between the first four Trumpets and the first four Vials: 1. Trumpet War on the earth\Vial poured on the earth; 2. Trumpet War on the sea\Vial poured on the sea; 3. Trumpet War on the rivers\Vial poured on the rivers; 4. Trumpet War on the sun\Vial poured on the sun

The Kingdom of God: Peace on Earth (1680/1690) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Kingdom of God: Peace on Earth (1680s)

folio from a large treatise on the Book of Revelation Newton composed in the
same decade wrote the Principia mathematica (1687). In this selection,
Newton discusses passages from the Hebrew Prophets Isaiah and Micha that speak
about an age of peace between nations that Newton believed would be ushered in
by the return of Christ. The passage from Isaiah 2 speaks of o kingdom of God
centered in Jerusalem, a Kingdom of peace that Newton saw as coming several
decades beyond his own lifetime. This passage of Isaiah is visualised on the Ardon
stained glass artwork upstairs in this building. The evocative statement about
beating swords into plowshares inspired a statue that the Soviet Union donated
to United Nations building in New York during the Cold War. The text is written
in the hand of Humphrey Newton, who served as Isaac Newton's amanuensis (secretarial
assistant) during the 1680s. The men were not related, despite having the same

So in Isa. 11.6. Beasts are men where is said that wold shall lied down with the Lamb and the Leopard shall lie down with the kid and the Calf and they you Lyon and the Fatling together and a little child shall lead tem and the cow and the Bear shall feed, their young one shall lie down together, and the Lion shall eat like the ox, and the suckling child shall play on the hole of Asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice; they shall not hurt nor destroy in all my mountain For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord. These last words explain the rest and shew the peaceable state of Christ's Kingdom to be here spoken of … the Prophets in other places described more plainly saying that they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and nations neither shall they learn war any more Isa. 2.4. Micah. 4.3.

The Monarchy of Egypt at Thebes (1710/1720) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

Monarchy of Egypt at Thebes (post – 1710)

The first page of a chapter on the Egyptian monarchy at Thebes, this manuscript is a draft of material related to Newton's Chronolgy. This folio includes references to various rules of Egypt, as we as the Asiatic Hyksos (here referred to as "the sheperds"), whose period of domination in Egypt lasted from the thirteenth to the seventeenth dynasties (eighteenth to sixteenth centuries B.C.E). Several references are made in text to historians consulted by Newton, including Manetho, Sextus Julianus Africanus, Eusebius and the Hellenistic Jew Josephus Flavius, whose treatise Contra Apion is cited in the right hand-margin. A table at the bottom of the folio compares the variant renderings of the Egyptian ruler's names in Josephus, Africanus and the Greek and Latin versions of Eusebius

Apocalyptic calculations regarding the year 2060 (1700/1700) by Sir Isaac NewtonThe National Library of Israel

2060 – The end of days

In these notes, written on a letter bearing the remnants of its red seal wax, Newton calculated- based on the Book of Daniel 7:25- that the End of Days will arrive in the year 2060. Newton's calculations relied on his belief that the starting point for his calculations was the year 800 c.e, when Charlemagne founded the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope's supremacy commenced. Here, Newton believed, began the period of the "Apostate" Church's deepest corruption which will end in apocalyptic events such as plagues and fires, the terrible battle of Armageddon and eternal damnation of the wicked mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

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