BOOK REVIEW: OBSERVATIONS UPON THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL, AND THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN by SIR ISAAC NEWTON

Most people only know Sir Isaac Newton as a great mathematician and physicist but there was another side of the man that only a few people have taken notice of. He dabbled with Bible chronology and alchemy and wrote two notable books on the subject – ‘The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended’ published in 1728 and ‘The Prophecies of Daniel, And The Apocalype of St. John’ published in 1733. All of his writings on these subjects were published after his death. In addition to these books he also wrote a number of unpublished papers on the literal and symbolic interpretation of the Bible.

In order to understand this peculiar tangent from his core business a cursory glance of the influences of Theology in his life is warranted. Newton was born into an England that was deeply entrenched in the doctrines of the Church of England so much that it was literally impossible for an academic in any field not to have a strong allegiance to the church. In fact one of the prerequisites of joining the ‘College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity’ was that one had to be an Anglican priest although they did not have to actively participate in the affairs of the church. All fellows of ‘the Trinity’ were also expected to take holy orders from the Church. Although Newton was a devout Christian he was unorthodox perhaps because he did not subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity. On admission to the Trinity College Isaac evaded this requirement by acquiring special exemption from King Charles II.

I always try to review a book without bias birthed by premature reading of reviews and comments of the said book. ‘OBSERVATIONS UPON THE PROPHECIES OF DANIEL, AND THE APOCALYPSE OF ST. JOHN’ is an innocent attempt at decoding the end-time prophecies of Daniel in Part I and John the Apostle in Part II. Newton begins by introducing the reader to the background of the two authors and explaining the prophetic language. Right from the first sentence the book is laden with the history of the entire Bible in reference to the contemporary context prevailing at the times of writing and compilation of the Scriptures. In most parts I agree with Newton’s logic but when reading the book it became apparent to me that his interpretation of the prophecies was heavily influenced by the belief that the end of the world was imminent; a belief that always plagues scholars of end-time prophecies to this day. It appears this sense of immediate doom will never be washed away from the reasoning of students of this subject matter. An example is Newton’s assertion that the end of the British Empire would coincide with the second coming of the Messiah.

I must admit I skipped some of the chapters because the whole feel of the book was that of a historical treatise rather than a spiritual decoding of visions of Daniel and John. In my humble opinion the book will be of more interest to non-Christians than to Christians. This paradox has convinced me that the interpretation of  end-times prophecies will forever be a daunting task…even to a genius who seemed to understand the laws of life more than any of us since Adam and Eve.

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