Issac Newton's Studies of the Temple of Solomon
Isaac Newton's diagram of part
of the Temple of Solomon, taken from Plate 1 of The Chronology of Ancient
Kingdoms. Published London, 1728.
Newton studied and wrote extensively upon the
Temple of Solomon, dedicating an entire chapter of "The Chronology of Ancient
Kingdoms" to his observations regarding the temple. Newton's primary source
for information was the description of the structure given within 1 Kings of
the Hebrew Bible, which he translated himself from the original Hebrew.
In addition to scripture, Newton also relied
upon various ancient and contemporary sources while studying the temple. He
believed that many ancient sources were endowed with sacred wisdom and that
the proportions of many of their temples were in themselves sacred. This
belief would lead Newton to examine many architectural works of Hellenistic
Greece, as well as Roman sources such as Vitruvius, in a search for their
occult knowledge. This concept, often termed "prisca sapientia" (sacred
wisdom), was a common belief of many scholars during Newton's lifetime.
A more contemporary source for Newton's studies
of the temple was Juan Bautista Villalpando, who just a few decades earlier
had published an influential manuscript entitled, "Ezechielem Explanationes",
in which Villalpando comments on the visions of the biblical prophet Ezekiel,
including within this work his own interpretations and elaborate
reconstructions of Solomon's Temple. In its time, Villalpando's work on the
temple produced a great deal of interest throughout Europe and had a
significant impact upon later architects and scholars.
As a Bible scholar, Newton was initially
interested in the sacred geometry of Solomon's Temple, such as golden
sections, conic sections, spirals, orthographic projection, and other
harmonious constructions, but he also believed that the dimensions and
proportions represented more. He noted that the temple's measurements given in
the Bible are mathematical problems, related to solutions for Pi
and the volume of a hemisphere,
, and in a larger sense
that they were references to the size of the Earth and man's place and
proportion to it.
Newton believed that the temple was designed by
King Solomon with privileged eyes and divine guidance. To Newton, the geometry
of the temple represented more than a mathematical blueprint, it also provided
a time-frame chronology of Hebrew history.
It was for this reason that he included a chapter devoted to
the temple within "The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms", a section which
initially may seem unrelated to the historical nature of the book as a whole.
Newton felt that just as the writings of
ancient philosophers, scholars, and Biblical figures contained within them
unknown sacred wisdom, the same was true of their architecture. He believed
that these men had hidden their knowledge in a complex code of symbolic and
mathematical language that, when deciphered, would reveal an unknown knowledge
of how nature works.
In 1675 Newton annotated a copy of "Manna -
a disquisition of the nature of alchemy", an anonymous treatise which had
been given to him by his fellow scholar Ezekiel Foxcroft. In his annotation
Newton reflected upon his reasons for examining Solomon's Temple by writing:
This philosophy, both speculative and active,
is not only to be found in the volume of nature, but also in the sacred
scriptures, as in Genesis, Job, Psalms, Isaiah and others. In the
knowledge of this philosophy, God made Solomon the greatest philosopher in
During Newton's lifetime, there was great
interest in the Temple of Solomon in Europe, due to the success of
Villalpando's publications, and augmented by a vogue for detailed engravings
and physical models presented in various galleries for public viewing. In
1628, Judah Leon Templo produced a model of the temple and surrounding
Jerusalem, which was popular in its day. Around 1692, Gerhard Schott produced
a highly detailed model of the temple for use in an opera in Hamburg composed
by Christian Heinrich Postel. This immense 13-foot-high (4.0 m) and
80-foot-around (24 m) model was later sold in 1725 and was exhibited in London
as early as 1723, and then later temporarily installed at the London Royal
Exchange from 1729–1730, where it could be viewed for half-a-crown. Sir Isaac
Newton's most comprehensive work on the temple, found within "The Chronology
of Ancient Kingdoms", was published posthumously in 1728, only adding to the
public interest in the temple.