The Temple of Jerusalem in Newton’s Thought

  • Matt Goldish
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 157)


While the man was standing beside me, I heard one speaking to me out of the temple; and he said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the people of Israel for ever.” (Ezekiel 43:6–7)


Classical Antiquity Jewish Study Unknown Design Jewish Source Jewish Literature 
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  1. 1.
    See Helen Rosenau, Vision of the Temple: The Image of the Temple of Jerusalem in Judaism and Christianity (London, 1979), Ch. 4–5 and bibliography cited in notes.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Yohanan Alemanno, Sha’ar Ha-Heshek (Hebrew; Livorno, 1790); Arthur Michael Lesley, Jr., The Song of Solomon’s Ascents by Yohanan Alemanno: Love and Human Perfection According to a Jewish Colleague of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (Ph.D dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1976), including an English translation of Sha’ar Ha-Heshek,which is itself only the introduction to a much larger work. On the connection to Renaissanceprisca theologia and Hermetic ideas, particularly about the properties of temples, see Moshe Idel, “Magic Temples and Cities in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance: A Passage of Mas’udi as a Possible Source for Yohanan Alemanno,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam,vol. 3 (1981–2), pp. 185–9 and idem, “The Magical and Neoplatonic Interpretations of the Kabbalah in the Renaissance,” B. D. Cooperman (ed), Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, MA, 1983), pp. 186–242, esp. pp. 203–5.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Moses Isserles, Torat Ha-Olah (3 vols; Prague, 1659). See also Yonah Ben Sasson, The Philosophical System of R. Moses Isserles ( Hebrew; Jerusalem, 1984 ).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Abraham Portaleone, Shilte Ha-Giborim (Mantua, 1612). On Portaleone and his discussion of music in the Temple, see Daniel Sandler, The Music Chapters of’ShilteyhaGiborim“byAvrahamPortaleone: Critical Edition, unpublished Ph.D dissertation, Tel-Aviv University, June 1980.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    This was In Ezechielem explanationes (2 volumes; Rome, 1594–1605). On Villalpando and his influence, see René Taylor, “Architecture and Magic: Considerations on the Idea of the Escorial,” D. Fraser, H. Hibbard and M. Lewine (eds.), Essays in the History of Architecture Presented to Rudolf Wittkower (London, 1967), pp. 89–94; idem, “Hermeticism and Mystical Architecture in the Society of Jesus,” R. Wittkower and I. B. Jaffe (eds.), Baroque Art: The Jesuit Contribution (New York, 1972), pp. 63–97; and Wolfgang Herrmann, “Unknown Designs for the ”Temple of Jerusalem’ by Claude Perrault,“ D. Fraser et al. (eds.), Essays in the History of Architecture,pp. 143–58. Herrmann’s article additionally serves as a concise guide to the whole issue of Temple studies in the Baroque, not only in art but also in intellectual issues as well. He deals explicitly with the problem of using Jewish sources for reconstructions of the Temple. These three articles will be the basis for much of the following discussion. For another recent contribution to the discussion, stressing Villalpando’s Hermetic goal of symmetrical perfection in the Temple, see Robert Jan Van Pelt, ”The Utopian Exit of the Hermetic Temple; or, A Curious Transition in the Tradition of the Cosmic Sanctuary,“ I. Merkel and A. G. Debus (eds.), Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe (Washington, D.C., 1988), pp. 400–23.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Herrmann, “Unknown designs,” p. 143 and see n. 4 there for the sources in VillalpandoGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Herrmann, “Unknown Designs,” p. 145.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Herrmann, “Unknown Designs,” pp. 144–6.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Herrmann, “Unknown Designs,” p. 146 and Taylor, “Architecture and Magic,” p. 90 (whence the quotation)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism (London, 1967), pp. 121–3.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Taylor, “Architecture and Magic,” pp. 91–3. On the concept of a magical temple arranged in a somewhat similar structure in Hermetic thought, see Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (Chicago, 1979; orig. published 1964), pp. 54–6, 232.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Frances A. Yates writes about Inigo Jones’ thoughts on temple architecture, particularly in connection with theater construction and the ruins at Stonehenge. See Yates, Theatre of the World (London, 1969), pp. 177–185, 212., esp. p. 182 n.24. Newton, too, spoke of Stonehenge (Yahuda, MS. 41, p. 3r); for him it was evidence of Vestal worship in England.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    On Temple models, see F. J. Hoogewoud (ed), De Tempel van Jeruzalem: beeldvorming door de eeuwen heen (Haarlem, 1990 ).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    On Leon Tempio see A. L. Shane, “Rabbi Jacob Judah Leon (Tempio) of Amsterdam (1603–1675) and his Connections with England,” Jewish Historical Society of England Transactions,vol. 25 (1973–5), pp. 120–36; Rosenau, Vision of the Temple,pp. 133–5; and Henk Stellingwerf, “’Enen kostelyck ende konstigh model des tempels’ 1641–1989: een zeventiende-eeuws model herleeft,” Hoogewoud (ed), De Tempel van Jeruzalem,pp. 41–58; A. K. Offenberg, “Jacob Jehuda Leon (1602–1675) and his Model of the Temple,” Jewish-Christian Relations,pp. 95–115. Offenberg makes the following important comment (p. 101):Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    See J. E. Force, “Newton, The Lord God of Israel and Knowledge of Nature,” R.H. Popkin and G. M. Weiner (eds.), Jewish Christians and Christian Jews (Dordrecht, 1994), p. 152, n. 8.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Rosenau, Vision of the Temple,pp. 97–8, 124–7.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    The placement of a discussion of the Temple in the Chronology is particularly perplexing if one is not aware ofNewton’s full design in his Temple studies. Following a large chapter on the Babylonians and Medes, this chapter opens with the rather lame explanation, “The temple of Solomon being destroyed by the Babylonians, it may not be amiss here to give a description of that edifice.”Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    See Goldish, “Newton on Kabbalah,” p. 100, n. 3. These authors have correctly stated the essential facts, but only Castillejo (Expanding Force,Ch. 2) has gone much further than an incidental comment.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Newton mentions the Polyglot explicitly in MS. Babson 434, pp. 45v, 47v (notes to recto).Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    There is a 38 page essay by Cappellus in which he discusses Villalpando’s views, criticizes them, and cites material from Josephus, Maimonides, the Mishnah, and the Talmud. This is accompanied by plates of the Temple which reflect Cappellus’ criticisms. He was a leader of those who thought many of Villalpando’s errors were do to his ignorance or neglect of Jewish sources.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Montano’s Exemplar sive de sacrisfabricis liber was printed in vol. VIII of the 1572 polyglot Bible, and later separately under the title Antiquitatum Iudaicarum libri ix,which Newton owned (Harrison, 41100.) For Montano, see Rosenau, Vision of the Temple,p. 94. For Newton’s use of Montano, see MS. Babson 434, pp. 11r, 16r and MS. Yahuda 2.4, pp. 2r, 37r.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    These are preserved in MS. Yahuda 28.1, pp. 1r-2v, “Ex annotationibus Capelli in Villalpandum cujus libri titulus estTempli Hierosolymitani delineatio per L. Capellum ex Villalpando” (from the London Polyglot). For use of Cappellus, see MS. Babson 434, ibid and MS. Yahuda 2.4, p. 2r. These refer to Johannes Drusius’ opinions as well.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Quoted in translation from the Latin by Castillejo, Expanding Force,p. 38. Newton expressly states (MS. Bodmer, Ch. 9/10, p. 5r) that the second Temple was greater.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    In Yahuda 2.4 and Babson 434 Newton utilizes the Wars of the Jews, Antiquities of the Jews,and Against Apion of Josephus very heavily. Newton used the Latin Josephus, but his student, William Whiston (1667–1752), translated the whole into English (1737), with his own notes appended. His edition is still among the most widely available. I myself have used the one-volume reprint of Whiston’s translation from Hendrickson Publishers (Lynn, MA; 1982).Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    His notes on Philo can be found in MS. Yahuda 28.1, pp. 3r-v, “Ex Philone.” For use of Philo, see, e.g., MS. Babson 434, p. 67r.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Both in MS. Yahuda 13.2 (pp. 19r–22v) and more extensively in MS. Andrews University ASC N47 HER (p. 35ff.) are preserved Newton’s notes on Talmud. The former MS. contains notes on Tractate Yoma,on the ceremonial of the Day of Expiation from the Jerusalem Talmud, and the notes of its editor, whose identity has thus far escaped me (he makes reference to this material, e.g., in MS. Babson 434, p. 16r.). The latter MS. consists of notes on Tractate Middoth (measurements of the Temple), apparently prepared for the present use, from the Dutch Hebraist Constantijn L’Empereur’s translation and commentary. Newton used these quite heavily in Yahuda 2.4 and Babson 434, trying to reconcile the rabbis’ dimensions with those of Ezekiel, Josephus, and various Mediterranean peoples. In the middle of his notes on Middoth he makes a reference to the translation of Tractate Sanhedrin of Johann Coch (Coccejus), but it is somewhat unclear whether he consulted the original or merely learned from L’Empereur (see also ibid, p. 67r.) Once he cites “Misnaioth, tract de Ghaburim,” which I have been unable to identify. In some drafts on the Apocalypse in MS. Yahuda 2.5, discussing the “Hosannas” (hosh’anot) of the Sukkoth festival (which, as will be seen, are important in the understanding of the action in Revelation), Newton cites “Talmud tractat de festo Tabemac. cap: 5 5n,” to which is added, “Vide Tremel. Joh. 7.37” (MS. Yahuda 2.5, p. 6r.) Newton presumably did not have to go further than John Tremellius’ bible commentary, which he owned, to find this information. A citation from tractate Taanith (MS. Yahuda 9.2, p. 128r) also appears to be from a secondary source. Newton was, then, adept at finding rabbinical sources bearing on his studies both directly and through secondary sources.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Note the deep interest not only of Stukeley, but also of his circle in the Royal Society, in Temple studies. As mentioned above, William Whiston was another scientist with deep interest in the Temple.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    William Stukeley, Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life (ed. A. H. White; London, 1936), pp. 17–8. My attention was first drawn to this passage by Force, “Newton, The Lord God of Israel and Knowledge of Nature,” p. 152, n. 8 (and see in general notes 7 and 8 there), who does not, however, quote the second paragraph about Greek and Roman architecture.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Vitruvius explains that Doric orders are appropriate for temples of Minerva, Mars, and Hercules, “since the virile strength of these gods makes daintiness entirely inappropriate to their houses.” The more finely formed Ionic order is appropriate for Juno, Diana, and Bacchus, while the delicate Corinthian order is fitting for temples to Venus, Flora, Proserpine, Spring-Water, and the Nymphs. (Vitruvius, The Ten Books on Architecture [trans. M.H. Morgan; New York, 1914], p. 15.) Newton’s response to Stukeley sounds as if it was somewhat ad hoc. Nevertheless, Newton clearly perceives the Jewish Temple as a proper classical structure, and that the Greeks and Romans learned their principles from it; but the Hebrews had only the less refined classical conceptions, which were much polished by the Greeks and Romans. It is doubtful that this attitude would have satisfied Villalpando, yet it is close to his position. On the principles of classical architecture concerning temples, which were revived in the Renaissance, see Vitruvius, Ten Books, Books III, I V.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Newton’s relationship with the prisca theologia tradition was first raised in any detail in J. E. McGuire and P. Rattansi, “Newton and the Pipes of Pan,” Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London,vol. 21(1966), pp. 108–43. Their views have been modified in the highly important article of Paulo Casini,’Newton: The Classical Scholia,“ History ofScience,vol. 22 (1984), pp. 1–58, who points out, among other things, the great influence of Macrobius and of Natale Conti on Newton.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    See Yates, Giordano Bruno,p. 54.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    See I. Bernard Cohen, The Newtonian Revolution (Cambridge, 1980), Ch. 5.6, “From Kepler’s laws to universal gravitation,” pp. 258–271.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Found in MS. Yahuda 1.4, pp. 18r-19r quoted below in the context of Newton’s Temple studies in their relationship with the Book of Revelation. Michael Heyd has suggested to me that the four figures also represent the four Apostles.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Taylor, “Architecture and Magic,” p. 92.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Quoted in Yates, Giordano Bruno,p. 54Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Like so many other matters in Newton’s theology, a great part of this conception is found in the published Observations; however, the key sentence or phrase explaining his underlying understanding is missing, so that the reader is left confused as to his full intent.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Many of the prophetic meanings are stated explicitly by the prophet. Newton’s understanding of the apocalyptic events hinted at are often not given in the course of his line-by-line reading of the text, but in a later part of the treatise; see, e.g., Appendix F below.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    It would appear that the precedent for Christian preaching was the Jews’ reading of the Law, though Newton never seems to say so explicitly; see, e.g., Appendix F, p. 4r.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    This topic is not really appropriate to discuss here; it is largely the subject of the following chapter. Nevertheless, the overlap cannot be avoided, since there are important elements in this area which Newton raises here and not in his church histories. The nexus between the two works is very important as an example of the interconnections existing between all areas of Newton’s theology, which were mentioned in the introduction to this chapter.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Note also the following passage, which, though not directly concerned with the political continuity of Church and synagogue from Temple, is concerned with the ritual continuity:Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Quoted in translation by Castillejo, Expanding Force,p. 38.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    The sacred cubit is of course the subject of the published essay on the Sacred Cubit of the Jews. See Newton, The Sacred Cubit,p. 432, as well as MS. Yahuda 2.4, pp. 13v and 45r, and MS. Babson 434, p. 17r, for a chart comparing Josephus’ cubits, original and adjusted, with Talmudic and other cubits in reference to specific places in the Temple. The former manuscript, p. 25r ff., contains additional important discussion about the sacred cubit. One may note that Newton’s student, William Whiston, did not believe in the existence of two variant cubits. “Nor [[do I]] see room to believe the Jews ever had any other or larger cubit among them…” he declares. (Whiston [trans.], The Works of Josephus [London, 1737], Table of the Jewish Weights and Measures, p. 735).Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    On the placement of the buildings in the Temple court, see also Rosenau, Vision of the Temple,p. 97 et passim. It is particularly noteworthy that Newton makes heavy use of Vitruvius in these studies.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    See Margaret C. Jacob, Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe (Oxford, 1991) and idem, “Christianity and the Newtonian Woridview,” D. C. Lindberg and R. L. Numbers (eds.), God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science (Berkeley, 1986), pp. 238–55. Jacob does not emphasize the traditions concerning the wisdom of the Solomonic Temple, but it is clear that Laurence Dermott did dwell on the matter in his Ahiman Razon,which I have not been able to examine. See Jacob, Living the Enlightenment,pp. 35–7 on the Hermetic background; p. 60 on Temple traditions. Many thanks to my colleague, Dr. Francisco Moreno-Carvalho, for pointing out the possible connection to Freemasonry.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    See Lucien Wolf, “Anglo-Jewish Coats of Arms,” Jewish Historical Society of England Transactions,vol. 2 (1894–5), pp. 156–7; John M. Shaftesley, “Jews in English Regular Freemasonry, 1717–1860,” Jewish Historical Society of England Transactions,vol. 25 (1973–5), pp. 153–5, especially pp. 154–5, n. 17; and A. L. Shane, “Rabbi Jacob Judah Leon (Templo) of Amsterdam (1603–1675) and his Connections with England,” Jewish Historical Society of England Transactions,vol. 25,12 I-33, who gives the most plausible and well documented record of the adaptation of Leon’s work into the Freemasonic emblem. It is noteworthy that the symbolism which captured Dermott’s attention and took pride of place in the coat of anus is that of the four apocalyptic figures from Ezekiel: lion, ox, man,and eagle. Like Newton, Dermott states that he learned of the significance of these figures from rabbinic exegesis. See Shane, “Rabbi Jacob Judah Leon,” pp. 132–3. It appears to me that there is a very rough dialectic in early-modern views of the Temple: from Hermetic mythical outlooks in the sixteenth century, to concretized and precise knowledge in the seventeenth century, to re-mythization among the Freemasons in the eighteenth century. However, the more precise knowledge taught by the Hebraists remained a separate stream of knowledge alongside debased masonic symbolism ever after.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matt Goldish
    • 1
  1. 1.University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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