Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Newton and 2060

Sir Isaac Newton
January 4th, 1643 to March 31st, 1727

Last night the local PBS affiliate offered for the third time, as part of their "gimme your bucks" drive and stacked in programing not far from those wonderful "how to" and "infomercial" programs, "Newton's Dark Secrets" [first aired November 15th, 2005] offering some insight into Newton via a glaring tabloid style of a "hook"..."end of the world in 2060". It appeared that it was dictated that virtually all aspects of Newton were to be briefly covered: His cloistered lifestyle, introduction of calculus, rivalry with Robert Hooke, discovery of "universal" gravitational forces, planetary motion, analysis of the spectrum of light, invention of the reflecting telescope, alchemy, and theology. [Rather weak on the latter.] Nevertheless, the "hook" was finally brought into perspective and poorly discussed. Here is a more detailed analysis.

In March 2003 Stephen D. Snobelen [Canadian academic and involved the the BBC documentary "Newton: the Dark Heretic" (aka "Newton's Dark Secrets"?) ] wrote:

On 22 February 2003, the Daily Telegraph (London, England) published a front-page story announcing Isaac Newton's prediction that the world would end in 2060. The story was based on interviews with myself and Malcolm Neaum, the producer of the BBC 2 documentary "Newton: the dark heretic" (first shown on 1 March 2003). I was asked to make myself available to the media because some of my academic research on Newton's prophecy and heretical theology was used in the documentary and since I was not only interviewed for the documentary both in Jerusalem and Cambridge, but am also shown with the manuscript containing the 2060 date in Jerusalem. Although the 2060 date was not news to the small community of scholars who study Newton's theology, this was the first time the wider public became aware of Newton's prophetic views. Over the next few days, the news spread around the globe and was covered in newspapers (making the front pages in Israel and Canada on 23 and 24 February respectively), on the radio, on TV and on a plethora of Internet news sites. The story was covered on the Internet in all the major European languages from English, French and Spanish to Hungarian, Romanian and Russian. Websites in South America, South Africa, Australia, China, Vietnam and India also covered the story. Many of these websites picked up the story second and third hand, and several of them treated the story as a bit of a lark, with one site including a picture of a mushroom cloud (an image more readily associated with Einstein) with the caption "Party like it's 2060". For almost a week, I received a barrage of requests for interviews from the media. CBC Radio and TV, Global TV in the Maritimes, Agent France Presse, the largest radio talk show in Chicago and even the Russian section of Radio Free Europe, which aired the interview in Russian translation. I tried to use this unexpected opportunity to fill in more details about Newton's theological and prophetic thought, and to point out that Newton's apocalyptic thought was not just doom and destruction. Although there was a sensational element in the way the news was covered by many media organizations, the story has performed a very important role in alerting the public to the fact that Isaac Newton was not merely a "scientist", but also a theologian and a prophetic exegete (not to mention an alchemist). The public was therefore challenged to re-conceptualize Newton in all his complexity. The BBC 2 documentary, with its visual impact and much greater detail, challenged its viewers in an even more profound way.

Why did Newton's prediction for 2060 become such a big news story?

One reason why Newton's heresy, apocalyptic thought and prediction about the 2060 date became news in February 2003 is because most members of the media and the public had no idea that Newton was anything other than a "scientist". For many, the revelation that Newton was a passionate believer who took biblical prophecy seriously came as something of a shock. It seems that both the media and the general public have a notion of Newton as a "rational" scientist that makes it difficult to absorb the knowledge that Newton was practising both alchemy and prophetic exegesis—studies many see as antithetical to the enterprise of science. The media has perpetuated a myth that science and religion are inherently in conflict (the fact is, sometimes they are; but religion has also often stimulated the development of science). The story about Newton predicting the Apocalypse in 2060 is the sort of thing that one would expect to see on the covers of the tabloids. In this case, however, the story is true. Ironically, the tabloids did not cover the story (perhaps because this story, although counter-intuitive to many people, is authentic).
There is likely another reason why so many found the story about Newton and 2060 so compelling. When the story broke, storm clouds of war were on the horizon. Concern about the predicted war in Iraq (now a "fulfilled" prophecy) probably heightened the public's interest in Newton's date for the end of the world, particularly because the pending war involved the nation who occupies the land of ancient Babylon—a land that figures prominently in biblical prophecy and in Newton's own prophetic writings. The head of the Department in charge of the Newton collection in Jerusalem, in a TV interview pointed directly to the threat of war in Iraq as one reason for the interest in the story. Reviewing footage of two Canadian television news items on the 2060 story, I was struck by its placement in the midst of images of U.S. troops and helicopters arriving in Kuwait, along with statements about the pending war from presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer. It is clear that whether we are religious or secular, we are living in "apocalyptic" times. India, Pakistan and North Korea are rattling nuclear sabres. Jetliners fly into skyscrapers laden with kerosene and human bodies. Terrorists strike around the world. Also beginning around the time the documentary aired was the SARS outbreak, appearing seemingly out of nowhere like a biblical plague. And then there are concerns about the degradation of our environment and fears of a coming eco-apocalypse. In the context of these troubling realities, a dramatic story about the greatest scientist of all time predicting "the end of the world" carried with it added potency and poignancy. Curiously a couple months after the 2060 story broke, Sir Martin Reese, one of today's leading scientists, published a book entitled Our final hour (Our final century in the UK) in which he argues that the human race has only a fifty-fifty chance of surviving the 21st century. Apocalypticism is not the exclusive domain of the lunatic fringe. It is a broader phenomenon that reflects humanity's insecurity about the apparent fragility and tenuousness of our existence on planet earth.

Why is news of Newton's prophetic studies only coming out now?

Newton's theological and alchemical papers were kept from public scrutiny by the Portsmouth family until 1936, when they were sold at Sotheby's in London. The largest single collection of the theological papers was acquired by the Jewish scholar Abraham Shalom Ezekiel Yahuda. When he died in 1951, he left them to the newly-founded State of Israel. His will was contested and thus the manuscripts did not arrive in Israel until 1969, when they were brought to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. It was only after this point that scholars had access to this particular collection of papers. But the manuscripts were only conveniently accessible to scholars after the majority of Newton's scientific, administrative, theological and alchemical manuscripts were released on microfilm in 1991. Since 1991, there has been a revolution in Newton scholarship as the theological manuscripts began to be assessed in earnest by a small group of specialist scholars. A significant element of this revolution was the founding in 1998 of the Newton Project, based at Imperial College, London and the University of Cambridge. This project has already begun the process of transcribing Newton's unpublished theological manuscripts in order to make them accessible to the world. The BBC 2 documentary revealed to the wider public for the first time and in dramatic fashion the results of this recent revolution in the understanding of Newton's life works. The announcement about the 2060 date must be seen in this context.
Although the initial Daily Telegraph article did not make this claim, some subsequent media reports mistakenly attributed the discovery of the 2060 date in Newton's writings to me. However, other media reports (which were based on direct interviews with me) correctly stated that the 2060 date has been known for some time, but only amongst Newton scholars (and academic publications, unlike television documentaries, generally do not make news). In fact, at least three important Newton scholars, David Castillejo, Frank Manuel and Richard Westfall, examined the Yahuda manuscripts (either in the original copies or, in the case of Westfall, in microfilm reproductions) shortly after their arrival in Jerusalem in 1969. Castillejo was likely the first to encounter the 2060 date, as he was the first scholar to examine the Yahuda collection. He published the 2060 date in his 1981 work The expanding force in Newton's cosmos (p. 55). Westfall published the date in his 1980 biography of Newton, Never at rest (pages 816-817). I first came across the date in my own research (as opposed to reading it in Castillejo or Westfall) when I was studying Yahuda MS 7 on microfilm while a PhD student at the University of Cambridge in 1997. I published the date in my 1999 British Journal for the History of Science paper "Isaac Newton, heretic: the strategies of a Nicodemite", pages 391-2. The real story is not the discovery of the 2060 date, but that Newton's non-scientific work is being made known to the public in a spectacular manner.

How important was biblical prophecy for Newton?

Extremely important. For Newton, biblical prophecy forecast the divinely-ordained events of the future. He believed the interpretation of biblical prophecy was "no matter of indifferency but a duty of the greatest moment". Prophecy allowed Newton to see history in advance. It also identified an evil, apostate system (Babylon) that pure Christians must flee to avoid destruction and the wrath of God.

How does biblical prophecy work for Newton?

Newton believed both in God and that the Bible was a revelation from God. He also believed that God was not bound by time as are humans, allowing Him to see the "end from the beginning". Thus, to use Newton's own words, he was convinced that "the holy Prophecies" of the Scripture are nothing else than "histories of things to come" (Yahuda MS 1.1, folio 16 recto). At the same time, biblical prophecy is written in highly symbolic language that requires skilled interpretation. Newton rose to this challenge as he attempted to discover the future of the world in the words of the prophets.

Why did Newton only rarely add up the prophetic numbers?

Because he was wary of prophetic date-setting. Newton was worried that the failure of fallible human predictions based on divine prophecy would bring the Bible into disrepute. Ironically, in one of the two times Newton wrote down the 2060 date, he railed against date-setters (see below). Newton may have been aghast if he had known his prediction would be broadcast around the world in the twenty-first century. His calculations about the 2060 date were private musings made on a scrap of paper not meant for the public. Ironically, the media coverage of the 2060 date has made Newton look like a date-setter.

The logic of Newton's apocalyptic calculations

Newton, like many historicist prophetic commentators of his age, believed that the prophetic time periods 1260, 1290, 1335 and 2300 days actually represent 1260, 1290, 1335 and 2300 years using the "day-for-a-year principle".
For Newton these time periods (especially the 1260 years) represent the time span of the apostasy of the Church (for Newton this means the Trinitarian Church, chiefly the Catholics). Thus, he looked in history for the likely date when the apostasy formally began (one sign of this for him was the date when the papal church obtained temporal power). From there it was a simple matter of adding the time period to the beginning date. However, things are rarely so simple with Newton. As already mentioned, Newton looked askance at "date-setting", and for this reason he rarely wrote out the end date for a time period once he had settled on a beginning date. There is a small number of exceptions, and the date 2060, found twice in the Yahuda MSS at Jerusalem, is one of them. The date 2060 is also significant because in addition to the rarity of end dates in Newton's writings, the calculation giving the 2060 date comes from fairly late in his life and is asserted with uncharacteristic vigour. Finding the commencement date was of great importance to Newton, since once he added the prophetic time periods to this date, he was able to determine when the great apocalyptic events of the end of the world were going to occur. Although Newton believed there would be wars and cataclysms around the time of the end, for him this period was also the storm before the calm. Newton's prophetic faith therefore has a positive element.

The prophetic time periods

*The time period 1260 days appears in Daniel 7:25 (as "a time and times and the dividing of time" [=a year, two years and a half year]), Daniel 12:7 (as "a time, times, and an half" [=a year, two years and a half year]), Revelation 11:3 (1260 days), Revelation 12:6 (1260 days) and Revelation 13:5 (42 months)

* The time period 1290 days appears in Daniel 12:11.

* The time period 1335 days appears in Daniel 12:12.

* The time period 2300 days occurs in Daniel 8:14.

How did Newton arrive at the date 2060?

This did not involve the use of anything as complicated as calculus, which he invented, but rather simple arithmetic that could be performed by a child. Beginning in the 1670s and continuing to the end of his life in 1727, Newton considered several commencement dates for the formal institution of the apostate, imperial Church. Earlier commencement dates include 607 and 609 A.D. As Newton grew older, he pushed the time of the end further and further into the future. In Yahuda MS 7 Newton twice gives 800 A.D. for the beginning of "the Pope's supremacy". The year 800 is a significant one in history, as it is the year Charlemagne was crowned emperor of Rome in the west by Pope Leo III at St. Peter's in Rome. Since Newton believed that the 1260 years corresponded to the duration of the corruption of the Church, he added 1260 to 800 A.D. and arrived at the date 2060 for the "fall of Babylon" or cessation of the apostate Church. It seems that Newton believed the fall could perhaps begin somewhat before the end of the 1260-year period and continue for a short time afterward. Whatever the precise chronology, Newton believed that sometime shortly after the fall of the corrupt (Trinitarian, Catholic) Church, Christ would return and set up a 1000-year Kingdom of God on earth. On page 144 of his Observations (1733), Newton cited Daniel 7:26-27 as evidence of this:

But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion to consume and to destroy it unto the end. And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.

Newton espoused a premillenarian eschatology and thus held that Christ would return to earth to establish the Millennium. Two examples of the date 2060 in Yahuda MS 7.3 (Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem) 7.3g, folio 13 verso:

So then the time times & half a time are 42 months or 1260 days or three years & an half, recconing twelve months to a yeare & 30 days to a month as was done in the Calendar of the primitive year. And the days of short lived Beasts being put for the years of lived [sic] kingdoms, the period of 1260 days, if dated from the complete conquest of the three kings A.C. 800, will end A.C. 2060. It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fancifull men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail. Christ comes as a thief in the night, & it is not for us to know the times & seasons wch God hath put into his own breast.


This excerpt demonstrates that Newton was not only reluctant to set dates, but that he was convinced the end would not come in his lifetime. He took seriously biblical passages that assert that no-one except God knows the time of the end. Nevertheless, this excerpt shows that even Newton was fascinated with the prophetic conundrum of the date for the return of Christ and the beginning of the Millennium. Finally, although Newton's statement was meant to demonstrate that the time of the end was several centuries away from his perspective, history has now caught up with his predictions, which helps explain the current interest in his apocalyptic calculations.
7.3o, folio 8r:

Prop. 1: The 2300 prophetick days did not commence before the rise of the little horn of the He Goat.

Prop 2: Those day [sic] did not commence a[f]ter the destruction of Jerusalem & ye Temple by the Romans A.[D.] 70.

Prop 3: The time times & half a time did not commence before the year 800 in wch the Popes supremacy commenced

Prop 4: They did not commence after the re[ig]ne of Gregory the 7th. 1084

Prop 5: The 1290 days did not commence b[e]fore the year 842.

Prop 6: They did not commence after the reigne of Pope Greg. 7th. 1084

Prop 7: The diffence [sic] between the 1290 & 1335 days are a parts of the seven weeks.
Therefore the 2300 years do not end before ye year 2132 nor after 2370. The time times & half time do n[o]t end before 2060 nor after [2344] The 1290 days do not begin [this should read: end] before 2090 [Newton might mean: 2132] nor after 1374 [sic; Newton probably means 2374]


These calculations are written on a letter-slip addressed to "Sir Isaac Newton", and thus dating from after 1705, when Newton was knighted. In fact, the shaky handwriting suggests a date of composition late in Newton's life. The manuscript fragment contains a number of interesting features, including the remnants of the red wax seal and a series of mathematical calculations. Thus, this sheet exhibits both mathematical calculations and calculations for the end of the world. It is this manuscript fragment that is shown at the end of the BBC 2 documentary Newton: the dark heretic. When viewing the Yahuda manuscripts in Jerusalem on 9 December 2002, the day before the Jerusalem footage was shot for the documentary, I selected this manuscript as one of a series of worthy candidates to film. My reasons were as follows: not only does this letter slip show a date in Newton's hand that is relevant to us today, but it is also visually interesting with its red wax seals, mathematical calculations and prophetic chronology, all of which helps provide an insight into the range of Newton's thought. Of course, only one thing emerged from this manuscript in the documentary: the date 2060 A.D.

Did Newton believe the world would end in 2060?

No, not in a literal sense. For Newton, 2060 A.D. would be more like a new beginning. It would be the end of an old age, and the beginning of a new era—the era Jews refer to the Messianic age and the era premillenarian Christians term the Millennium or Kingdom of God.

What did Newton believe would happen around the time of 2060?

Newton was convinced that Christ would return around this date and establish a global Kingdom of peace. "Babylon" (the corrupt Trinitarian Church) would also fall and the true Gospel would be preached openly. Before the Second Coming, the Jews would return to Israel according to the predictions made in biblical prophecy. The Temple would be rebuilt as well. Slightly before, or around the time of Christ's return, the great battle of Armageddon would take place when a series of nations (the "Gog and Magog" confederacy of Ezekiel's prophecy) invade Israel. Christ and the saints would then intervene to establish a worldwide 1000-year Kingdom of God on earth. Citing the prophet Micah Newton believed this Kingdom would usher in a time of peace and prosperity, a time when people would "beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks" and when "nations shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Micah 4:3). Although the documentary chose not to focus on this message of hope, Newton did believe that there would be a positive outcome to the war and destruction that would take place at the end of time. Newton took seriously the prophetic vision of world peace found in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4—a vision that sees Jerusalem as the beginning of peace. It is thus perhaps appropriate that the largest collection of Newton's prophetic papers now resides in Jerusalem.

Why are his theological and prophetic beliefs important to our understanding of Newton?

Newton was not a "scientist" in the modem sense of that term. Instead, he was a "natural philosopher". Practised from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century, natural philosophy included not only the study of nature, but also the study of God's hand at work in nature. Newton was committed to a notion of natural philosophy that saw the discovery of God and His attributes as its chief end. For this reason, any serious study of Newton's natural philosophy must include an understanding of his theological views. For example, Newton's famous concepts of absolute space and time were fundamentally based on his notion of God's omnipresence and eternal duration. It is also clear from his private manuscripts that Newton believed the ideal natural philosopher would also be a priest of nature. For Newton, there was no impermeable barrier between religion and what we now call science. Throughout his long life, Newton laboured to discover God's truth - whether in Nature or Scripture. Although he recognized disciplinary distinctions, Newton believed that truth was one. Thus, Newton's study of Nature and Scripture were in a certain sense two halves of a whole: the discovery of the mind of God.

"A time and times and the dividing of time": Isaac Newton, the Apocalypse and 2060 A.D.


Stephen D. Snobelen

History of Science and Technology Programme

University of King’s College, Halifax

And one said to the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, ‘How long shall it be to the end of these wonders?’ And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times, and an half. Daniel 12:6-7

Isaac Newton and Apocalypse Now

Near the end of his long life, Isaac Newton reached for a scrap of paper and scrawled down the date 2060 A.D. as the possible year in which the most dramatic events of the Apocalypse would begin to take place. When he did this, it is safe to assume that he never thought this private prophetic musing would be revealed to the public, let alone that in 2003 A.D. millions around the world would learn about this date as his definitive prediction for the end of the world. Yet, this seemingly improbable turn of events did transpire in late February and early March 2003 when a newspaper story and a BBC 2 documentary brought to public attention the putatively paradoxical knowledge that Newton was more than a scientist. The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, I will reflect on the early 2003 media portrayal of Newton as doomsday prophet and what this says about public conceptions of the author of the Principia mathematica. Second, I will venture beyond the sound bytes, distortions, misunderstandings and misrepresentations that are a normal development of this sort of media event to explicate the nuances of details of the biblical faith, prophetic culture and apocalyptic chronologies within which Newton’s “prediction” about 2060 appears a lot less paradoxical.

Due to my involvement as one of the historical consultants for the BBC 2 documentary Newton: the dark heretic, I was asked to make myself available to the media about ten days before the scheduled airing of the documentary on 1 March 2003. I suppose it is possible that the media-savvy people with the British Broadcasting Corporation had a sense of what this could amount to; I certainly did not. On 21 February I was interviewed by the religion correspondent from the London Daily Telegraph regarding Newton’s predictions about the date 2060 A.D. This prediction features at the end of the documentary when I am shown at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem handling and commenting on the manuscript bearing the 2060 date. The reporter told me after the interview that he was not certain if the article would be published. It was my expectation that if it was, it would be buried deep in section D or E. In the event, it appeared on the front page the very next day. Someone at the Daily Telegraph saw a story in this.

"Here, for the record, is the story in its entirety:
Newton set 2060 for end of world"


Jonathan Petre

Religion Correspondent

Daily Telegraph

SIR Isaac Newton, Britain’s greatest scientist, predicted the date of the end of the world - and it is only 57 years away. His theories about Armageddon have been unearthed by academics from little known handwritten manuscripts in a library in Jerusalem. The thousands of pages show Newton’s attempts to decode the Bible, which he believed contained God’s secret laws for the universe. Newton, who was also a theologian and alchemist, predicted that the Second Coming of Christ would follow plagues and war and would precede a 1,000-year reign by the saints on earth - of which he would be one. The most definitive date he set for the apocalypse, which he scribbled on a scrap of paper, was 2060. Newton’s fascination with the end of the world, which has been researched by a Canadian academic, Stephen Snobelen, is to be explored in a documentary, Newton: the Dark Heretic, on BBC2 next Saturday. "What has been coming out over the past 10 years is what an apocalyptic thinkers Newton was," Malcolm Neaum, the producer, said. "He spent something like 50 years and wrote 4,500 pages trying to predict when the end of the world was coming. But until now it was not known that he ever wrote down a final figure. He was very reluctant to do so." Thousands of Newton’s papers, which had lain in a trunk in the house of the Earl of Portsmouth for 250 years, were sold by Sotheby’s in the late 1930s. John Maynard Keynes, the economist, ought many of the texts on alchemy and theology. But much of the material went to an eccentric collector, Abraham Yahuda, and was stored in the Hebrew National Library. It was among these documents that the date was found.

The BBC certainly got their free publicity.

But this is only the beginning of the story. On the same day, the Telegraph piece began to be picked up on Internet news sites. The next day two Hebrew language newspapers in Israel, Maariv and Yediot Aharonot, ran adapted versions of the story on their front pages. The headline in Maariv read: "The end of the world in 57 years!" Israelis were doubly interested in the story, as the manuscript containing the 2060 date is held along with the rest of the Yahuda collection at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. Sunday 23 February also saw for me the beginning of a five-day wave of interviews with the local, Canadian and international newspaper, radio and television media. On Monday 24 February, the story made the front pages of a series of Canadian newspapers, including the National Post. From this point, the story proliferated rapidly around the world, fanning out most quickly on Internet. Typing the terms "Isaac Newton 2060" into the search engine Google quickly revealed the full extent of this proliferation. Web coverage of the story existed in all the major European languages, including German, French, Hungarian, Romanian and Russian; it was even covered by the Slovakian Pravda. News of Newton’s prediction was also reported on Internet news sites in South America, South Africa, India, China, Japan and Vietnam. A colleague in Belgium told me that the story featured in the free newspapers handed out to subway travellers. The story was even reported in the sober British science journal Nature, which asserted that Newton predicted that "science, along with everything else, will stop when the world ends in 2060".

Clearly, both the media and the public were surprised by the revelation that Isaac Newton was an apocalyptic thinker. In the minds of many, it was something of a scandal. For a great number in both the academic world and in the public, apocalyptic thought is directly antithetical to the supposed sober and rational methodology of science. It was, above all, an embarrassment for science: the father of modern physics was an apocalyptic thinker. It was as if someone had discovered that Albert Einstein had attended seances-and had taken them seriously. Reporters repeatedly asked me how it could be that a great, rationalist scientist like Newton could have taken biblical prophecy seriously. Incredulity knew no bounds. While some news services relayed the story in a sober fashion, others refused to take it seriously, with one website running the story with a photograph of a mushroom cloud above the caption: "Party like it’s 2060". Yahoo! News in the UK and Ireland used an image of an asteroid striking the earth and the headline "The end of the world is nigh". After my 24 February 2003 interview on the Halifax CBC radio show Mainstreet, the engineer played the R.E.M. song "It’s the end of the world as we know (and I feel fine)", albeit in the version recorded by the Atlantic Canadian band Great Big Sea. The effect of these whimsical takes on the story was to create distance between irrational apocalyptic thought and the superior rationality of those behind the news media. This, they were saying, is not us.

Realising that this was a rare opportunity for an academic to reach a wider audience, but also concerned that the story had taken on a life of its own in a simplified and increasingly trivial way, I attempted to add nuances, qualifications and content during interviews that included CBC Radio, Global TV, CBC Newsworld, the Daily Mail, the Canadian National Post, Agent France Presse, a Toronto sports radio station, a Chicago radio talk show, the Moscow News and the Russian language programme on Radio Free Europe. In the limited time usually allotted to me, I tried to show that Newton was not predicting the destruction of the world in 2060, that he was not strictly speaking a date-setter, that prophetic interpretation was a high intellectual endeavour in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, that there were linkages between Newton's study of God and his study of Nature, and that he was not in any case a scientist in the modern sense. Nevertheless, for most the message that endured was that the great “scientist” Newton had predicted the end of the world. The problem of Newton’s prophecy, or, Why did the 2060 story take off?

In retrospect, it is easy to see why the editors of The Daily Telegraph chose to run the story on the front page. It is a great story. Both the headline and the article begin with Newton’s name, and it goes without saying that Newton is one of the best-known figures in history, let alone science. And, as both the headline and the first sentence of the article proclaim, this internationally-recognized scientist predicted nothing less than "the end of the world". The sense of drama is heightened by the reminder, at the close of the first sentence, that Newton’s date comes within our century. History has caught up with Newton’s eighteenth-century prediction. In addition to Newton, the article refers to John Maynard Keynes, a leading figure in twentieth-century British political and economic history; in other words, another individual with high name-recognition value. The colourful cast of this drama also includes an English Earl, an "eccentric" Jewish manuscript collector, a BBC producer and "a Canadian academic". A sense of revelation pervades the newspaper report. The article reveals that one of the most influential figures in the history of science was both a theologian and an alchemist. Because theology and alchemy are, in the minds of many, directly antithetical to the "rational" pursuit of science, the report also sets up a delightful paradox. This revelatory feel is combined with a cloak-and-dagger sub-theme given in the image of the dusty, centuries-old trunk in the house of a nobleman finally yielding its marvelous mysteries. These secrets, the article hints, were being teased out of a reluctant Newton. The article also resonates with several matters relevant to popular religious consciousness: the Bible code, Armageddon, the apocalypse, a date for the end of time. What is more, a sense of the exotic is reinforced not only through the naming of the aforementioned illustrious cast, but also in the mention of the prestigious Sotheby’s auction house and the location of the 2060 manuscript at the Hebrew University Library in the city of Jerusalem-a city of tremendous historical, religious and contemporary political significance. And, given that many of the events associated with the biblical apocalypse centre on Jerusalem, there is a sense of appropriateness in this location. In short, Jonathan Petre’s article is a brilliant piece of journalism.

But the article is also embedded with some unresolved tensions. In part, these tensions are created by the truncation of the data. The most dramatic truncation comes in the headline, for which the Daily Telegraph correspondent may not have been responsible. The seven short verbal units "Newton set 2060 for end of world", along with the declaration of the first sentence, when taken literally, imply that Newton was predicting the complete destruction of the planet we call home. This message is at odds with the details of the fourth sentence, which I insisted Mr Petre include in order to provide some positive content. As I will stress below, what Newton had in mind for 2060 A.D. was not the end of the physical world but a new beginning for the world (physical and human). A second tension is seen in the headlining of Newton's prediction of 2060 and the testimony of Malcolm Neaum that makes it plain that Newton was reticent to set dates. But this was lost in the subsequent media storm.

Now that this media storm has largely slipped into history, it is easier to stand back and reflect on what it tells us about the public perceptions of Sir Isaac Newton. First, there was genuine surprise at the juxtaposition of Newton's name with an apocalyptic prediction. For many this juxtaposition is counter-intuitive and difficult to grasp. Most people think of Newton as a "scientist" and nothing more. But this is partly because few people in the public or the media have an understanding of what an intellectual cross-road the early modern period was. In fact, we now know that Newton was in many ways a Renaissance man, working in theology, prophecy and alchemy, as well as mathematics, optics and physics. But the surprise was also the result of a popular reflex that disassociates religion from science-a reflex nourished and perpetuated in large part by the media itself. As for those who wanted to take Newton's prediction seriously, perhaps there was a sense with some that the man who revealed the workings of the world might also have some insight into its end.

It is also the case that the 2060 story broke at a particularly apocalyptic time for the world. It was striking how the television images of the interviews on Global TV and CBC Newsworld came in a mix of images that included dramatic footage of U.S. troops and helicopters arriving in Kuwait for the pending U.S. and British-led invasion of Iraq. In a T.V. interview shot in Israel, the JNUL archivist astutely suggested that the looming war in Iraq was helping to feed interest in the story about Newton’s apocalyptic prediction. It was thus ironic that Newton’s date was released at a time of international crisis centring on the nation now inhabiting the territory of ancient Babylon, which features so prominently in the Old and New Testament prophecies that Newton knew so well. Newton’s prediction became entangled in real history unfolding in early 2003. But the war in Iraq was not the only worrying development on the minds many people. Shortly before the story broke, both India and Pakistan test-fired nuclear-cable missiles. North Korea had for several months been rattling its nuclear sabres. And, of course, we live in an age when airplanes fly into buildings fully laden with kerosene and cargoes of human flesh. The apocalypse is not only associated with wars, but also plagues, and thus it is curious that the global epidemic of SARS appeared at roughly the same time the second Gulf War began. In the context of these times of jittery nerves, it is perhaps not surprising that the 2060 story resonated so well with the public. The apocalypse mentality: religious and secular
But Apocalypticism as a phenomenon is more widespread than the religious versions thereof. Biblical apocalyptic thought focuses on temporary social disintegration and moral chaos, which is in turn mirrored in the devastation of nature. Today one can note the phenomenon of eco-apocalypses, which focuses on such natural disasters as ozone depletion, the rapid deforestation of the Amazon jungle and, in the first Gulf War, the burning oil wells Kuwait. Hollywood has capitalized on worries about the potential devastation caused by NEOs striking the earth, as seen in the recent films Armageddon and Deep Impact. There are also plagues in abundance. Sub-Saharan Africa is being decimated by the modern-day plague of AIDs. HIV infection rates are escalating in the former Soviet Union and Asia. Malaria is on the rise, Ebola surfaced in the Congo at the beginning of 2003 and the West Nile Virus is a current concern in North America. Humans-religious and secular-have long manifested a sense of insecurity about the place of humanity in the cosmos and their potential future. Intellectuals and scientists have also produced their fair share of apocalyptic scenarios. The truth is, we have a lot to be insecure about. In short, one does not have to be religious to conclude that we live in an apocalyptic age. In part, Newton’s prediction spoke to these concerns. Behind the joking about 2060, there was an insecurity that made the apocalyptic thought of a great scientist relevant, and perhaps more than relevant. Of course, our jittery nerves about apocalyptic developments owe a lot to media sensationalization. Apocalyptic news, constructed or otherwise, sells newspapers. Although the media loves to ridicule and belittle fundamentalists and religious apocalyptic thinkers, it is worth noting that the world’s news services are clearly partly responsible for this by being the main source feeding religious apocalyptic thought.

While some of the media coverage distorted Newton’s relationship to prophetic interpretation and made him sound like a date-setter, there were also attempts to erect a cordon sanitaire around Newton and separate him from the "fanatical" prophetic interpreters of his age and ours. But this will not do. A scientist from a British-based NEO-watching group wrote to the Daily Telegraph complaining that the 22 February 2003 story made Newton sound like an apocalyptic thinker. The correspondent was at pains to present Newton as a rationalist and concluded his letter by writing: "Far from being a prophet of doom, Newton calculatingly established the foundations of the scientific age that turned terrifying comets into predictable objects and wild fear-mongering into dispassionate risk analysis". Although the correspondent was correct to argue that Newton was not straightforwardly a date-setter, attempts to disassociate Newton from apocalypticism will always end in failure. There is no escaping it: Newton was an apocalyptic thinker. Not only that, but after a decade of studying Newton’s prophetic and millenarian thought, there is no question in my mind that there is a continuum between Newton’s more intellectual prophetic project and that of the "enthusiasts" of his own age. Although many in science, the media and the public tend to think of rationality and irrationality as polar opposites, sociologists, historians and historians of science are of course often much less sanguine about such a construction. As many scholars of the early modern period know well, recent research has emphasized the positive impact of early modern religion, apocalypticism and even occult thought on the rise of modern science.

The 2060 story raises questions about how academics can and should present their findings to the public. The reality is that the research of an academic who, endlessly qualifying seeks accuracy and precision, will normally be reduced to potentially-misleading sound-bytes by the media. To be fair, it would take a full-length academic paper to fill out all the nuances of this story. And this is precisely the opportunity I now have in this forum. In the second half of this paper, I will attempt to resolve the two main tensions in Daily Telegraph article.
Newton’s interpretation of the prophetic time periods Newton was not only a passionate theist, but also a firm believer in the Bible and biblical predictive prophecy. Newton’s omnipotent and omniscient God knows the end from the beginning and is thus able to reveal the future to humanity. For Newton, "the holy Prophecies" of God’s Word contain "histories of things to come". But these "histories of things to come" are set out in symbolic and metaphorical language that demand exacting interpretative skills. This was a challenge that Newton took up with unflagging enthusiasm for the last fifty-five years of his life. Newton’s own prophetic exegesis can be placed firmly within the prophetic school established by the early seventeenth-century Cambridge polymath Joseph Mede. Like Mede, Newton was a historicist, interpreting the symbols of the Apocalypse as representing the broad sweep of history affecting Christians and Jews from the late first century to the second coming of Christ and the Millennium. Newton also followed Mede in his premillenarian eschatology, interpreting the one thousand years of Revelation 20 as referring to a literal Kingdom of the saints on the earth. Finally, like Mede and other historicist commentators, Newton takes the “time, times and half a time”, three and a half years or 1260 days of Daniel and Revelation as 1260 years, using the day for a year principle. Furthermore, Newton synchronizes all the 1260-day periods mentioned in the prophecies of Daniel and John.

In his writings on prophecy, Newton details the papacy’s gradual accumulation of power in the west. First, the ten kingdoms of Europe are converted to the Roman Church. This involved the extension of the Pope’s spiritual dominion. The next step involved the Pope securing a temporal dominion. It was at this point that the Pope obtained "a power above all human judicature, [and] he reigned with a look more stout than his fellows [Dan. vii. 20.], and times and laws were henceforward given into his hands, for a time times and half a time [Ver. 25.]". In other words, the 1260 years of Daniel begins with the formal acquisition of temporal power by the papacy. For Newton, this time period is represented in the Apocalypse as the 1260 days during which the woman (the Roman Catholic Whore) is nourished in the wilderness (Revelation 12:6), and during which she rides on the back of the Beast (Revelation 17:3), which Newton sees as a symbol of temporal power. The 1260 days in Revelation 11:2-3 likewise refer to the period of the greatest apostasy (the time when the outer court of the Temple is trodden under foot by the Gentiles), which is the same period during which the oppressed and persecuted saints would preach the true Gospel (represented by the period of the prophesying of the Two Witnesses). Eventually, the Beast of the bottomless pit kills the Two Witnesses (Revelation 11:7), but after laying dead for three and a half days, the Two Witnesses are resurrected. For Newton, the resurrection of the Two Witnesses and the recommencement of the preaching is coincident with the fall of Babylon. At the end of the 1260 years, the true Gospel would be preached, a turn of events that would quickly lead into the coming of Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. At this point, Newton believed, Christ “shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever & of his kingdom there shall be no end”. Thus for Newton the 1260 years represent the time in which the true, uncorrupt church would be oppressed by the false, corrupt Trinitarian church of the Great Whore. This is the period of deepest apostasy, a time when only a tiny remnant upheld pre-Trinitarian theology. Newton believed he was part of this remnant. Counting the prophetic days.

For Newton, therefore, the 1260-year period commenced when the Pope gained temporal power and dominion. Determining this commencement date was one of the most important elements to the decipherment of apocalyptic chronology, as the time of the end could be established by adding the 1260-year period to this commencement date. When was this date? In fact, there is no indication that Newton ever settled rigidly on a single date. Instead, he recorded in his prophetic manuscripts a series of commencement dates, beginning in the 1670s with the date 607 A.D. The general tendency of his studies of apocalyptic chronology was to push the commencement date further and further forward in history, resulting in conclusion dates as late as the twenty-third and twenty-fourth centuries. On a single folio at the end of an early eighteenth-century manuscript treatise on the Apocalypse, Newton considers four commencement dates: 609, 774, 788 and 841 A.D. The first date provides conclusion dates for the 1260, 1290 and 1335 years of 1869, 1899 and 1944. Newton appears to have been attracted to the 609 date because of the decree of Phocas in or around this year that granted Pope Boniface IV the right to "set up the Images of the Virgin Mary & all the Martyrs in the place of the Images of Cybele & all the heathen Gods in the Pantheon at Rome & in their honour instituted the annual feast of all saints." Image worship was a major litmus test of apostasy. The commencement date 774 relates to the acquisition of temporal power by the Pope. Newton writes that it was in 774 that "the Pope gained his temporal Estate dominion by the grant of Charles the great [Charlemagne] & thereby became a king & ye rest of ye horns". The commencement date 774 provides a conclusion date of 2034 A.D., arguably more dramatic than the one publicized in early 2003. In his posthumously-published Observations, which is based on prophetic manuscripts written in the early eighteenth-century, Newton also points to the Pope acquiring his dominion "in the latter half of the eighth century". Curiously, although Newton was one of the most accomplished mathematicians ever to have lived, in none of these examples does he write down the conclusion dates. As a child could have carried out the simple arithmetic it would have taken to produce these dates, something other than lack of mathematical ability must be at work here.

This brings us to the 2060 manuscript. When I was asked to select manuscripts from the Yahuda collection in Jerusalem the day before the documentary filming in the Jewish National University Library, I chose several that I thought might have televisual appeal. These included a theological manuscript with a chemical stain, the elaborate apocalyptic charts in Yahuda MS 7 and a small letter slip on which Newton had written both mathematical and prophetic calculations. I suggested to the producer that the ephemeral nature of this small manuscript, along with the still visible remnants of the red wax seal and the curious juxtaposition of mathematical and prophetic calculations might make a striking example for viewers. In particular, I was hoping that something could be said about the insight into the wide-ranging nature of Newton’s thought based on the presence on this manuscript of both mathematics and prophecy. I also thought viewers might find it striking to see in Newton’s hand a date from our own century. In the event, it was this final feature that the documentary producer, director and production team found most compelling. This is the manuscript that bears the now-famous 2060 date.
Here are the prophetic calculations of this manuscript, with lacunae inserted within square brackets:

Prop. 1: The 2300 prophetick days did not commence before the rise of the little horn of the He Goat.

Prop. 2: Those day [sic] did not commence a[f]ter the destruction of Jerusalem & ye Temple by the Romans A.[D.] 70.

Prop 3: The time times & half a time did not commence before the year 800 in wch the Popes supremacy commenced

Prop 4: They did not commence after the re[ig]ne of Gregory the 7th. 1084

Prop 5: The 1290 days did not commence b[e]fore the year 842.

Prop 6: They did not commence after the reigne of Pope Greg. 7th. 1084

Prop 7: The diffence [sic] between the 1290 & 1335 days are a parts of the seven weeks.

Therefore the 2300 years do not end before ye year 2132 nor after 2370. The time times & half time do n[o]t end before 2060 nor after [2344] The 1290 days do not begin [this should read: end] before 2090 nor after 1374 [sic; Newton probably means 2374] The first observation that can be made about these jottings is that they are just that: ephemeral jottings on the back of a letter slip. Although the calculations are perfectly consistent with Newton’s prophetic hermeneutics, and while he no doubt took these calculations seriously, their presence as jottings on a letter slip, complete with errors, demonstrate that these lines were private musings. Clearly, this ephemeral text was never intended to be broadcast to the world. To add to this, the date 2060 is not given here as a secure date, but rather as one half of a set of temporal parameters.

At the same time, other indications suggest that the date 2060 was an important one for Newton. First of all, this document dates from the final years of Newton's life. Since the letter is addressed to Sir Isaac Newton, a terminus a quo of 1705 can be assumed for the writing of the annotations. The shaky handwriting suggests a date closer to the final decade of Newton’s life. Also, as already mentioned, the significance of the 2060 date is seen partly in the fact that Newton only rarely wrote down conclusion dates. Moreover, this is not the only place Newton records the 2060 date. On another folio apparently from the same period appears the following calculations and statements:

So then the time times & half a time are 42 months or 1260 days or three years & an half, recconing twelve months to a yeare & 30 days to a month as was done in the Calendar of the primitive year. And the days of short lived Beasts being put for the years of lived [sic for “long lived”] kingdoms, the period of 1260 days, if dated from the complete conquest of the three kings A.C. 800, will end A.C. 2060. It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner. This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fancifull men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, & by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail. Christ comes as a thief in the night, & it is not for us to know the times & seasons which God hath put into his own breast.

Thus, rather than confirming that Newton was a date-setter, which was something many of the 2003 media stories implied, this other passage mentioning the 2060 date demonstrates that Newton was most unhappy with date-setting. On this rare occasion when he writes down a conclusion date, he is careful to qualify it in two ways: first, the end many come later than 2060 and, second, this late date was also meant to quash the “rash conjectures” of those in his own time who were setting dates for his own age. This is not to say that Newton did not take the 2060 date or prophecy in general seriously, for he most definitely did. This passage also helps demonstrate why Newton only seldom committed a completion date to paper.

Finally, the last distortion of the media depiction of Newton's prediction for 2060 A.D. relates to the mistaken assumption that Newton was forecasting the destruction of this world in that year. Although the original Daily Telegraph article contained a preemptive rebuttal of this conclusion, as already mentioned, a great many media accounts missed the positive message in Newton's beliefs regarding the end of this age. The date 2060 did not represent for Newton the annihilation of the globe and its inhabitants, but a dramatic transition to a millennium of peace. In other words: the end of the secular world and the beginning of the Kingdom of God. Summarizing and paraphrasing Revelation 21 and 22, Newton outlines some of the events subsequent to the date 2060 (or thereabouts) in one of the apocalyptic charts now housed in Jerusalem:

A new heaven & new earth. New Jerusalem comes down from heaven prepared as a Bride adorned for her husband. The marriage supper. God dwells wth men wipes away all tears from their eyes, gives them of ye fountain of living water & creates all thin things new saying, It is done. The glory& felicity of the New Jerusalem is represented by a building of Gold & Gemms enlightened by the glory of God & ye Lamb & watered by ye river of Paradise on ye banks of wch grows the tree of life. Into this city the kings of the earth do bring their glory & that of the nations & the saints raign for ever & ever. Although for Newton the apocalypse would be accompanied by plagues and war, it would be the storm before the calm. Conclusion: Newton and 2060 A.D.

Although there are examples from Newton's period of prophetic exegetes who put the time of the end off until the year 2000, the trend was to place the end within or not long after one’s lifetime. Thus, one of the most striking aspects of Newton's prophetic chronology is the lateness of his commencement dates. Joseph Mede concluded that the 1260 years began in 476 with the fall of the Roman Empire and thus would come to a conclusion in 1736 (mere decades after his death, had he lived a full life). William Lloyd, the Bishop of Worcester, placed the end within his own lifetime, announcing in person to Queen Anne in 1712 that the Roman Church would fall and that papal city would be destroyed by a flame of fire from heaven in the year 1716-and that these dramatic events would be succeeded by the reign of Christ on earth for the thousand years. Newton’s own prophetic disciple William Whiston set 1736 as the end of the 1260 years and the year 1766 as the beginning of the Millennium. As Newton knew only too well, Whiston made a career of broadcasting these dates to the learned world. Whiston's openness in this regard is likely one of the reasons Newton eventually broke with his quondam disciple.
Newton’s apocalyptic chronology and late date for the fall of Roman Babylon also reveal his theological radicalism. As the Gospel was not to be preached until around the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Protestant Reformation is reduced almost to an irrelevancy in the history of the Church. In the date 2060 Newton’s heresy and apocalyptic thought come together.

One wonders what Newton would have thought about his prediction for 2060 spreading like wildfire around the world. Would he have been dismayed that what was for him a private musing was made public knowledge, to be alternatively belittled and wondered at? Would Newton, fiercely opposed as he was to those who publicly set dates for the time of the end, have been deeply chagrined that for many he would come to be known as a prophetic date-setter, precisely the sort of person he loathed? Or would he have been satisfied that now, as we are moving towards the age in which the true Gospel is to be preached, it is time to preach openly? We will have to wait until 2060 to ask him.

"Newton's Dark Secrets"--transcript

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