NEWTON, Sir ISAAC (1642–1727, natural philosopher, mathematician and theologian)

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Lot 371
NEWTON, Sir ISAAC (1642–1727, natural philosopher, mathematician and theologian)

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NEWTON, Sir ISAAC (1642–1727, natural philosopher, mathematician and theologian)
IMPORTANT AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT IN ENGLISH, HEADED 'THE QUESTION STATED ABOUT ABSTAINING FROM BLOOD', complete in itself, being two drafts, each ending 'Quaere, Whether the law be still in force?', towards a passage in his The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended (published posthumously in 1728), with extensive autograph revisions, deletions and insertions, a four-line autograph endorsement on the verso of the second leaf ('Tis not any defilement by prohibited meats but the danger of idolatry & cruelty upon w[hi]ch the prohibition of eating them is founded, not the company of weomen, but the ill consequences in certain cases w[hi]ch occasioned the prohibition in those case.'), and some words in Hebraic script: Newton grapples with the precedence of Noahide and Mosaic Laws over those of Abraham, and their meaning and application, finding that an earlier law of God imposed on all nations, not only the sons of Abraham, the avoidance of eating of blood; he also touches on the questions of circumcision and the Gentiles, fornication ('...& from prohibited weomen because of the ill consequences, whether they were prohibited until marriage only or by reason of affinity, or of their being idolaters or during their menses...'), sacrifices, blasphemy, theft, idolatry, and the cruelty of man, 2½ pages (in excess of 1,500 words), large folio (12¼ x 7⅝ inches; 310 x 194 mm), a few small stains, one short worm-track and two small worm holes, [c. 1719]



    Substantial autograph literary manuscripts by Newton are rarely available to collectors, those in English especially so. The present one is arguably the most important English literary manuscript by him to have appeared at auction in the last thirty-five years and more -- most of the significant sales of Newton's papers in recent years have been negotiated by private treaty.

    Newton has been described as 'perhaps the greatest biblical scholar of his age' (T.G. Barnes, Science and Biblical Faith, 1993, p. 44). He was also 'an original Hebraic scholar' who 'used both Jewish history and Jewish sources heavily in his studies of the Book of Scripture' (M. Goldish, Judaism in the Theology of Sir Isaac Newton, 1998, p. 5). John Locke described his friend Newton as 'a very valuable man not only for his wonderful skill in Mathematicks but in divinity too and his great knowledg in the Scriptures where in I knew few his equals.' Newton himself wrote of his Principia to Richard Bentley: 'When I wrote my treatise about our Systeme I had an eye upon such Principles as might work with considering man for the beliefe of a Deity & nothing can rejoyce me more then to find it usefull for that purpose.'

    With the recent greater availability of Newton's non-scientific manuscripts, modern scholarship has reversed the view that Newton's theological interests were an aberration of his old age. In fact he pursued them throughout his life. He was committed to the tradition of the prisca sapientia, the Renaissance idea that the ancients had possessed true knowledge about God and the world, and his surveys of Christian and Jewish theology were carried out to retrieve pure doctrine -- ancient knowledge was valid as a key to Truth. He considered his theological pursuits to be 'a duty of the greatest moment' and was convinced that God revealed himself in Scripture as well as Nature and therefore that theology and science were two sides of the same coin, two parts of the same whole, interrelated, interconnected, each throwing light on the other; God's intentions were revealed equally through science and theology - through the 'books' of Nature and of Scripture. Indeed the bulk of Newton's writings and manuscripts were on theological and alchemical [also no longer considered an aberration] subjects. He owned more books on humanistic learning than on mathematics or science and about half of Newton's manuscripts were on religious and theological subjects (mostly still unpublished) including a 429-page ecclesiastical history entitled 'Of the Church'. (S.D. Snobelen, 'To Discourse of God: Isaac Newton's heterodox theology and his natural philosophy', Ashgate, 2004; R.J. Seeger, 'Newton, Biblical Creations', Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 1983; J. Force and R. Popkin, Essays on the context, nature and influence of Isaac Newton's theology, 1991 - 'Newton's thought is a seamless unity of theology, metaphysics, and natural science', p. 84; J. Force and R. Popkin, The Books of Nature and Scripture: Recent Essays on Natural Philosophy, Theology, and Biblical Criticism in the Netherlands of Spinoza's Time and the British Isles of Newton's Time, 1994). In his Principia Newton himself stated: 'this most beautiful system of the sun, planets & comets could only proceed from the counsel & dominion of an intelligent & powerful being', thus placing his scientific theories within his religious beliefs.

    A few days before Newton's death, Zachary Pearce, rector of Newton's home parish, St. Martins-in-the-Fields, visited him and found him 'writing over his Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms...He then told me that he was preparing his Chronology for the press, and that he had written the greatest part of it over for that purpose...' (Richard Westfall, Never At Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton, 1998, p. 869). A possible date for the manuscript, c. 1719, is suggested by a dated bill of May 1719 in the Yahuda Manuscripts in the Jewish National and University Library on the verso of which Newton made another draft of some of the same material as is in this manuscript (Westfall, op. cit., p. 821). In The Chronology Newton used taxonomic materials to argue for the greater antiquity of the Hebraic world than any of the pagan ones and for the original revelation having been given to the Hebrews, particularly Noah and his sons.

    During the great black-pudding controversies of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries it was rumoured that Newton abstained from black-pudding and rabbits (whose meat remained bloody because they were killed by strangulation) on account of the Old Testament prohibition against eating blood. After his death, Newton's niece, Catherine Conduitt, defended his reputation, stating that this was a matter of ethics rather than taste, as is apparent in the present manuscript: 'He said meats strangled were forbid because that was a painfull death & the letting out of blood the easiest & that animals should be put to as little pain as possible, that the reason why eating blood was forbid was because it was thought the eating blood inclined man to be cruel.'

    The matter of Newton's considerations in this manuscript is still the basis for Jewish kosher and Muslim halal methods of preparing food and for Jehovah's Witnesses' refusal to allow blood transfusions.

    THE TEXT OF THE MANUSCRIPT (the section underlined is crossed through in the manuscript by Newton and words in Hebrew are represented thus: (Hebrew)):

    'The Question stated about abstaining from blood.

    The Israelites are recconed to have had two sorts of Proselites, one to the law of Moses, the other only to the precepts of the sons of Noah. The first they circumcised the other not. Yet the Patriarchs were circumcised before the law of Moses though they lived only under the Precepts of the sons of Noach [the Hebraized spelling of Noah's name], circumcision being instituted upon a covenant w[i]th Abraham & his posterity. And therefore circumcision made men debtors to the law upon no other account then as it adopted them sons of Abraham Isaac & Jacob. For all the Israelites were obliged to the law of Moses.
    The Gentiles were called not to become sons of Abraham by adoption but to believe in Jesus Christ & therefore were not obliged to circumcision & ye law of Moses, but being sons of Noach they were obliged to the Precepts of the sons of Noach. The Gentiles who observed these Precepts were allowed to live among the people of Israel & are called Proselites of justice & Proselites of the Gate, & strangers sojourning in Israel & (in the fourth Commandment) strangers within the Gates of Israel. And it was sufficient for Xtians to become such Proselites.

    The Apostles therefore being consulted about obliging the Gentiles by circumcision to become the sons of Abraham & keep the law of Moses returned such an answer as imported that it was sufficient for them to observe the laws imposed upon the sons of Noah before the days of Abraham.

    Some of those laws were moral & sufficiently enforced by the Christian religion; as to abstain from idolatry blasphemy & theft: others were positive; as to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood & things strangled & from fornication: that is, from communicating with the heathen in their festivals upon things offered to idols because it tends to idolatry, from blood & things strangulated because it leads to cruelty, & from prohibited weomen because of the ill consequences, whether they were prohibited untill marriage only or by reason of affinity, or of their being idolaters or during their menses.

    Noah was allowed to feed upon animals provided they were killed by bleeding to death. But he was not allowed to feed upon blood least he should thirst after the blood of animals & for the sake of it become cruel & kill more animals then was necessary for food, or cut them in pieces before they were quite dead by bleeding. He was not to eat things stranguled because that sort of death is painfull. He was not to eat a limb taken off from a living animal because of the cruelty. And so Moses commanded that the people of Israel should not seeth [?seize] a Kid in the mothers milk, nor take a bird w[i]th its young nor muzzel the mouth of an Ox w[hi]ch treadeth out the corn, because such actions incline men to cruelty & savour of unmercifulness.

    When Moses commanded to abstain from eating blood, & inforced his law with this reason: for the blood is the life or soul of the animal: did he not refer to an ancienter Law in use among the nations from the days of Noah, vizt, Flesh w[i]th ye life thereof thou shalt not eat Gen. 9.4, & interpret that Law by saying that the life,(Hebrew), anima, is the blood, or is in the blood. For is not this to tell us that by the life in that ancient law is to be understood the blodd? With the blood of the sacrifices you shall make an attonement for your lives or souls, but you shall not eat it because in that ancient law of the sons of Noah, the life forbidden to be eaten with the flesh, is the blood or is in the blood.

    When Moses commanded to abstain from eating blood & enforced his law with this reason: For the blood is the life of the flesh, did he not refer to an ancienter Law in use among the nations from the days of Noah, vizt flesh with the life thereof thou shalt not eat, Gen, ix.4, & did he not interpret this Law by saying that the life (Hebrew), anima is the blood or is in the blood?
    In the Wilderness the children of Israel & the strangers which sojourned among them were to kill all their sheep & Oxen & Goats at the door of the Tabernacle & pour out their blood because is the life of the flesh & the flesh [according the Law of Nations given to Noah] was not to be eathen with the life thereof Levit xvii. 3, 4 10, 11, 13, 14. But when the Lord thy God, saith Moses, shall enlarge thy border, & thou shall say I will eat flesh: if the place which the Lord thy God hath chosen to put his name there be too far from thee thou shall kill of thy herd & off thy flock & thou shall eat in thy gates whatsoever thy soul lusteth after – only be sure that thou eat not the blood. ffor the blood is life [mentioned in the law of nations given to Noah,] & [by that Law] thou mayst not eat the life with the flesh. Thou shall not eat it, Thou shall pour it upon the earth as water. Deut. xii. 15, 20, 21, 23, 24. This Law Moses imposed not only upon the people of Israel but also upon upon the stranger who sojourned among them, & therefore looked upon it as the law of nations; not as one of the new Laws given to Israel in Mount Sina, but as an old law given by the sons of Noah presently after the flood an old law w[hi]ch needed only to be explained & enforced. When therefore Moses saith, be sure that thou eat not the blood; for the blood is the life & thou mayst not eat the life with the blood: doth not Moses in saying thou mayst not eat the life with the blood recite that ancient law & thereby enforce his prohibiting the eating of blood? And in saying be sure that thou eat not the blood, for the blood is the life, doth he not explain what is meant by (Hebrew) anima, the soul or life in that ancient law? And when in relating the history of the flood, he recites that ancient law fflesh w[i]th the life thereof ye shall not eat, doth he not insist the blood by way of explication, fflesh w[i]th the life thereof [w[hi]ch is the blood thereof] shall ye not eat? The language used by Noah might be so far antiquated in the Moses as in reciting that ancient law to need an explication.

    Cain was a tiller of the ground & offered the fruit of the ground to the Lord & Abel was a keeper of sheep & offered of his flock. Sheep were therefore kept & sacrificed & eaten before the flood, & upon Noah sacrificing God renewed the license of eating it provided they eat it without (Hebrew) the blood: w[hi]ch makes it probable that blood was prohibited before the flood. Moses prohibited it & so did the Apostles to all the nations not because blood defileth him that eateth it but because the prohibition tendeth to mercy.
    Quaere, whether the law be still in force.

    In six or eight hundred years, languages alter very much, & the language in w[hi]ch this law was given to Noah. Flesh w[i[th the (Hebrew) thereof thou shall not eat, was given to Noah might be so allowed before the days of Moses that the word (Hebrew) Nepesh might need an explication. When therefore Moses commands both the Children of Israel & the strangers who sojourned amongst them that they should not eat the blood of animals with the flesh, & enforces his command with this reason ffor the blood is the (Hebrew) of the flesh & the fflesh w[i]th (Hebrew) thereof thou shall not eat (Levit xvii & Deut xii) & doth he not recite the ancient law of Noah: fflesh with the (Hebrew) thereof shall ye not eat, & doth he not interpret the word Nepesby saying that the blood is the (Hebrew) of the flesh? And when in relating the history of the flood he sets down that ancient law fflesh with the (Hebrew) thereof w[hi]ch is the b[l]ood thereof, shall ye not eat, Gen. ix. 4, doth he not insert the words blood thereof into the law for interpreting what is to here understood by the word (Hebrew)? ffor this word here must signify a corporeal substance w[hi]ch can be eaten & therefore not the life but ye blood in w[hi]ch the life is sealed or the blood of the life as it is called in the next words Gen ix.5.

    When therefore Moses inserts the word blood into this Law in this manner Flesh with ye (Hebrew) thereof that is the blood thereof, thou shall not eat was it not for explaining what the word (Hebrew) signifies? And when Moses [saith] These things were done for food & the distinction between beasts clean & unclean before the flood sheweth what beasts were then lawful to be sacrificied & eaten & what not: God said to Noah Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you even as the green herb have I given you all things he repe[a]ted & reestablished an old Law. And when he added: but flesh w[hi]ch the blood thereof shall ye not eat: it may be taken for a part of that old Law. This Law against eating blood was repeated by Moses to all nations & again by the Apostles; not because blood defileth him that eateth it, but because the prohibition is a check to savageness & cruelty.
    Quaere, Whether the Law be still in force?'

    THE PASSAGE IN 'THE CHRONOLOGY OF ANCIENT KINGDOMS AMENDED' (1728) for which the present manuscript contains two drafts is as follows (Echo Library, 2007, p. 67):

    '...This was the morality and religion of the first ages, still called by the Jews, The precepts of the sons of Noah: this was the religion of Moses and the Prophets, comprehended in the two great commandments, of loving the Lord our god with all our heart and soul and mind, and our neighbour as our selves: this was the religion enjoined by Moses to the uncircumcised stranger within the gates of Israel, as well as to the Israelites, and this is the primitive religion of both Jews and Christians, and ought to be the standing religion of all nations, it being for the honour of God, and good of mankind: and Moses adds the precept of being merciful even to brute beasts, as so not to suck out their blood, nor to cut off their flesh alive with the blood in it, nor to kill them for the sake of their blood, nor to strangle them; but in killing them for food, to let out their blood and spill it upon the ground, Gen. IX. 4, and Levit. XVII. 12, 13. This law was ancienter than the days of Moses, being given to Noah and his sons long before the days of Abraham: and therefore when the Apostles and elders in the Council at Jerusalem declared that the Gentiles were not obliged to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, they excepted this law of abstaining from blood, and things strangled as being an earlier law of God, imposed not on the sons of Abraham only, but on all nations, while they lived together in Shinar under the dominion of Noah: and of the same kind is the law of abstaining from meats offered to Idols or false Gods, and from fornication. So then, the believing that the world was framed by one supreme God, and is governed by him; and the loving and worshipping him, and honouring our parents, and loving our neighbor as our selves, and being merciful even to brute beasts, is the oldest of all religions...'

    PROVENANCE: Sir Isaac Newton to his niece, Catherine Conduitt and her husband John, whose daughter, also Catherine, married in 1740 John Wallop, Viscount Lymington, son of the Earl of Portsmouth; by descent in the Portsmouth family at Hurstbourne Park (surviving a fire in 1891); sold at Sotheby's London by the ninth Earl of Portsmouth (1898-1984) on 13 July 1936 ('The Newton Papers'), lot 232 ('BLOOD. "THE QUESTION STATED ABOUT ABSTAINING FROM BLOOD." about 1000 words, 3 pp., AUTOGRAPH, much corrected, folio'); sold at the sale to Emmanuel Fabius, a Paris dealer.
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