Sir Isaac Newton, the 17th century scientist who helped develop calculus and physics, was also interested in Biblical numbers. In manuscripts now being exhibited at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, Newton calculates the apolcalypse will arrive no sooner than 2060.
“He was obviously looking at these things in a very systematic way,” said Dr. Yemima Ben-Menaham, co-curator of the exhibit, “Newton’s Secret” and a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “He was putting great emphasis on dates and size and numbers.” “However,” she adds, “it wasn’t exactly mathematical work.”
“It may end later, but I see no reason for it ending sooner,” Newton wrote in his precise cramped style. “This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophecies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.”
The source of Newton’s calculation, as laid out in a manuscript from the early 1700s, was the book of the prophet Daniel. In Daniel 12:7, King James translation, Daniel says, “all these things shall be finished after a period of time, times and a half.” Newton interpreted “time” to be one year, “times” two years, and “half” to be half a year. Then he assumed Daniel was speaking in the prophetic mode in which each day in the prophetic year is really its own year; so a prophetic year is 360 calendar years (12 months of 30 days each). 3.5 such years is 1,260 years.
Newton differed from his peers in assuming that the 1,260 period commenced in the year 800, the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire by Charlemagne. “There isn’t an explicit answer in the text as to why he assumed that date,” Professor Ben-Menahem said.