Thursday, July 30, 2009

Newton’s Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms: A Complete Chronology by Sir Isaac Newton, edited by Larry and Marion Pierce

Like reading sheaves of notes compiled as he worked, Newton's Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms demonstrates three things: his access to and comprehension of other histories; the thorough way in which he set about discovering, proving, and problem solving; and the scientific genius by which the chonologer keeps all in his head.

Drawing from such sources as Plato, Herodotus, and Josephus, Newton submits all histories and archaeology and even legends to the timeline of the world as found in the Bible. He spends much effort explaining which legendary figures are pseudonyms for the same great kings. A king was called one name at home, another in each conquered country, a few titles of royalty and accomplishment, and then a few by which he was worshiped at his death. Though in the text Newton is not consistent in referring always to a single name for a person to which he compares other names, there is an extensive Alias Appendix and Exhaustive Index to help follow the associations. Upholding the authority and accuracy of the Scripture, Newton criticizes the priests and ancient historians of each country for inflating the age of their civilization, usually done by inserting names of kings in lists with no mention of any accomplishments, or by making the reigns of kings unbelievably long: into the hundreds of years. However, Newton also refutes those Jewish historians who doubt all histories not recorded in the Old Testament, reducing and confusing the kings of Persia from the intertestamental times, though in truth the Bible does not mention them because they no longer dealt with the Jews.

For each point Newton made, and especially on those arguments where the consensus of history or usually-reliable chronologers is against him, he goes into overwhelming detail to establish his position. As I read, I would wonder why we were touring a small isle in the Mediterranean, debating the heritage of a prince – and suddenly, aha! Newton would say, “therefore,” and prove that the four generations of history we had endured proved that someone was the same age as someone else, and that his great grandson therefore could not have been as ancient as some believe. Many events are connected by degrees of association to the Trojan War, to the reign of King Solomon, or to Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem. From thence an ancient history spiders off into tales of a king whose fifty daughters married his brother’s fifty sons, then at their father’s command all murdered their husbands so as to defend against their uncle’s betrayal; to the way Philistia was overrun by exiles from Egypt, making the Philistines more powerful and land-desperate when they fought the Judges, Saul, and David. Apparently all the ancients ran around conquering each other, erecting pillars, kidnapping princesses, and stealing them back. A great king of one country would be worshiped by his colonies in other countries until no one remembered he was a king and everyone thought he’d always been a god.

Newton was rather fascinated with the study of astronomy, astrology, and geometry as he supposed it spread from Egypt to Babylon and thence to the rest of the world. He believed only one ethnicity originated human sacrifice, only one astrology, only one worship of the dead, and only one the building of temples. These idolatrous innovations were, he taught, spread to other peoples only through a chain of interactions with the first peoples who practiced them. He also makes the case that the original constellations were representations of those in the Argonaut Expedition or their fellows.

Being both a chronology and a sort of history, this book has amazing scope, covering about 2000 years of the Mediterranean World, describing kings and conquests, marriage and treachery. Chapters include Early Greek History, The Empire of Egypt, The Assyrian Empire, Empires of the Babylonians and the Medes, and The Persian Empire. Agreeing with Ussher on most dates, but venturing further into secular history seeking a general order and average sense of time, Newton lays out a sense of grand background. His book is written for those already acquainted with the peoples and countries he described, and so I found myself floundering in the long sections of the book about Egypt, Greece, and Assyria but more comfortable in the reaches of Babylon and Persia. One of the best illustrated sections of the book is the chapter on King Solomon’s temple, whose measurements Newton draws from a combination of Kings and Ezekiel (about which interpretation I remain skeptical). A companion book with a good timeline and charts would be recommended. You might use Ussher’s Annals of the World. I myself did not know that modern man was aware of such details of history as Newton records, though I believe the study of history has been mightily neglected in the past two centuries. This well-formatted, easy-to-use reference does well to excite curiosity and may be helpful in reviving consideration of those motives and affections that change the world.

Newton's Revised History of Ancient Kingdoms
To God be all glory.

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