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.

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

A University of Michigan Professor Exposes the Full Implications of Academic Boycotts of Israel

Sept. 26 2018

A few weeks ago, Professor John Cheney-Lippold of the University of Michigan told an undergraduate student he would write a letter of recommendation for her to participate in a study-abroad program. But upon examining her application more carefully and realizing that she wished to spend a semester in Israel, he sent her a polite email declining to follow through. His explanation: “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel in support of Palestinians living in Palestine,” and “for reasons of these politics” he would no longer write the letter. Jonathan Marks comments:

We are routinely told . . . that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study-abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. . . .

Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the [Michigan] student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights [and] freedom and to prevent violations of international law.”

Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney-Lippold could have found out by using Google. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent “resistance” but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.

That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an international day of solidarity with the “new generation of Palestinians” who were then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis—all civilians—dead.

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More about: Academia, Academic Boycotts, BDS, Israel & Zionism, Knife intifada