The National Library of Israel digitized over 7,500 pages of Newton’s theological writings this past week, and many have marveled at the depth and breadth of the scientist’s knowledge of the Hebrew texts. From the Talmud to Kabbalah, Hebrew to the Bible, Newton explored and analyzed materials in very much the same way contemporary rabbis might survey their religious texts. A devout Christian, Newton offered opinions and views which were ahead of his time and not infrequently clashed with those of his contemporaries.
While Newton’s prediction the world would end in 2060 has received much attention, his writings also demonstrate a rare instance of positive Christian views on the Jews and Israel from an enlightenment-era scholar. Writing in the 17th and 18th centuries, Newton emerged in a Zeitgeist which did not necessarily present the Jewish nation in a very favorable light. Nevertheless, reviewers of his writings contend anti-Semitic notions are startlingly absent.
“He took a great interest in the Jews, and we found no negative expressions toward Jews in his writing,” said Milka Levy-Rubin. “He said the Jews would ultimately return to their land.”
The curator of the National Library’s humanities collection stressed the importance of the materials in terms of how they clarify one of history’s most illustrious personalities.
“Today, we tend to make a distinction between science and faith, but to Newton it was all part of the same world,” Levy-Rubin explained. “He believed that careful study of holy texts was a type of science, which if analyzed correctly could predict what was to come.”
“As far as Newton was concerned, his approach was that history was as much a science as physics,” the curator continued. “His world view was that his ‘lab’ for understanding history was the holy books. His faith was no less important to him than his science.”