A set of burnt notes by Isaac Newton, in which the English scientist sought to calculate the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple, fetched £378,000 (nearly $500,000) at an auction last week.
In the previously unpublished notes, which were dated to the 1680s, Newton examined the dimensions of the Great Pyramid at Giza to calculate the royal cubit, an ancient Egyptian unit of measurement.
By doing so, he was hoping to discover other ancient units of measurement, “crucially the sacred cubit of the Hebrews, and so be able to reconstruct with precision a building that was, to Newton, of much greater import even than the Great Pyramid: the Temple of Solomon,” according to Sotheby’s.
Newton’s interest in the Temple of Solomon was linked to his heterodox religious beliefs, which included a rejection of the Trinity and interest in alchemy and eschatology. Thus, by calculating the measurements of the Great Pyramid, Newton hoped to determine the size of the First Temple, giving him insight into what he believed were hidden codes in the Bible and the timing of the Apocalypse.
“Just as Biblical chronology had a hidden significance, so the dimensions of objects described in the Bible had a figurative meaning, and no object was of greater import than the Temple of Solomon, described in detail by Ezekiel and the setting of the Apocalypse. An exact knowledge of the Temple’s architecture and dimensions was therefore needed to correctly interpret the Bible’s deep and hidden meanings,” Sotheby’s said.
Through uncovering ancient systems of measurement, Newton also sought to calculate the circumference of the earth, which could help support his theory of gravity.
— New York Post (@nypost) December 10, 2020
During his lifetime, Newton didn’t publicize his religious beliefs and interest in alchemy, fearing they could sink his career.
The auction house said the notes were related to a larger treatise, “A Dissertation upon the Sacred Cubit of the Jews and the Cubits of the several Nations,” which was one of the rare non-scientific papers by Newton published in the years after his death.
The papers, which Sotheby’s described as “exceptionally rare,” are believed to have been damaged after Newton’s dog jumped on a table, knocking over a candle.