Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

"A Time and Times and the Dividing of Time": Isaac Newton, the Apocalypse, and 2060 A.D

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

"A Time and Times and the Dividing of Time": Isaac Newton, the Apocalypse, and 2060 A.D

Article excerpt

   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 hem up his right hand and his left hand unto
   heaven, and sware by hint that liveth for ever that it shall be for
   a time, times, and an half. Daniel 12:6-7

I. 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 seemingly 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 some of the nuances of the biblical faith, prophetic culture, and apocalyptic chronologies within which Newton's "prediction" about 2060 appears a lot less paradoxical. (1)

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. (2) I suppose it is possible that the media-savvy people working 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

BY JONATHAN PETRE RELIGION CORRESPONDENT 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 thinker Newton was," Malcolm Neaum, the producer, said. …

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