Maimonides, the Temple, and Isaac Newton

July 12 2018

In the 1930s, the economist John Maynard Keynes began studying the religious writings of Isaac Newton, many of which the great physicist had kept secret, and which had sat unread for over 200 years. Keynes would later proclaim Newton “the last of the magicians” because of his interest in alchemy, astrology, theology, and even mysticism. In his recent Priest of Nature, Rob Illife presents a comprehensive of view of Newton’s religious thought, based on careful reading of his nonscientific manuscripts, many of which were inaccessible to Keynes. Matt Goldish writes in his review:

[Newton] was a radical Christian who acknowledged Jesus as the son of God. He just insisted that the son could not be conflated with the father. In fact, he thought Jesus had been sent into the world to cleanse it of precisely such idolatrous suggestions, and he turned to the Hebrew Bible and Jewish sources to reconstruct the original monotheism of Noah and the Israelite religion that succeeded it—and to understand the conceptual errors of idolatry.

Newton’s obsession with the corruption of the early church by pagan metaphysics led him inexorably to the historical question of the origin of idolatry. Here it was Maimonides’ “Laws of Idolatry,” [a section of his monumental code of Jewish law], in the 1641 translation [into Latin] of Dionysius Vossius, that provided Newton and many others with a useful historical schema. Maimonides famously described how early people slipped from worship of the one true God to worship of His retinue—the sun, the moon, and stars—which led to the occlusion of the divine and the corruption of worship. . . .

Newton held that before the corruption of the original pristine religion, a scientific priesthood maintained both theological and natural truths, though these were largely hidden from the masses. In particular, the priests knew the sun and not the earth was the center of the universe; hence ancient temples from Stonehenge to the Temple in Jerusalem were organized around perpetual fires that represented the sun. The Temples stood for the solar system, a kind of “symbol of the world.” . . .

The tabernacle and the two Jerusalem Temples were of deep interest to Newton for another reason. He read the mysterious Revelation of St. John as being physically set in the Temple precinct. . . . He left several drawings of the Temple (with his own idiosyncratic Newtonian layout) as well as numerous written passages about its importance. Indeed, despite Keynes’s clever hunch [that Newton was a “Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides”], Newton’s notes on Maimonides mainly concern the laws of the Temple [in Maimonides’ code] rather than theology—he didn’t even own a Latin translation of [the theological magnum opus] the Guide of the Perplexed. [But] the Mishnah, Josephus, and Maimonides . . . were all grist for the mill of his unique Temple researches.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Christian Hebraists, Idolatry, Moses Maimonides, Science and Religion, Scientific Revolution, Temple

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria