Chapter 6: 'The Long-Lost Truth.'

Peering in to the earliest records of post-diluvian history, early modern scholars were largely agreed that ancient Egypt was the oldest civilization in the world and the very fount of philosophy, astronomy geometry and mathematics. 'It is evident, from the universal Testimony of History,' wrote Thomas Sprat in his History of the Royal-Society, 'that all Learning and Civility were deriv'd down to us, from the Eastern parts of the World'.[1] Newton wrote that 'The first great kingdom in the world on this side of the Indies seems to have been yt of Egypt', whilst in 1727 Stukeley told Samuel Gale that he was studying 'the old sages & prophets of Egypt that first disseminated wisdom through the world'.[2]. The considered, biblical argument was that Egypt had been settled after the Flood by Noah's son Ham, who was subsequently venerated by the Egyptians as their god Ammon. The Israelite's slavery there meant that Egypt was of obvious importance to biblical historians. The scholar and MP Sir John Marsham (1602-1685) made some headway in untangling the complexities of Old Testament and Egyptian chronology in two books, Diatriba Chronologica (1649) and Chronicus Canon Ægypticus, Ebraicus, Grëcus (1672), but there remained many puzzles to penetrate before ancient history could even be partially unravelled. Speculation and simple confusion over the earliest history of the world remained rife. The Oxford mathematician and astronomer John Greaves travelled to Egypt in the late 1630s, and he wrote that if he were to attempt to examine all the arguments of just how long Egyptian history was 'we shall finde our selves intangled in a Labyrinth, and a Maze of Times, out of which we cannot, without much perplexitie, unwinde our selves.'[3]

The sources of authority for Egypt's ancient pre-eminence in science, philosophy and religion came from the ancient world itself. As we now know, the Greeks had had commercial contacts with Egypt from as early as the seventh century BC, and Greek mercenaries were employed by the pharaohs from the XXXVIth Dynasty till the liberation of Egypt from the Persian rule by Alexander the Great in 332/1 BC. Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that from an early stage Egypt had an important and early influence on the development of Greek art and science, and that even the ancient Greeks were impressed by what they considered to be the great age and wisdom of Egyptian civilization.[4] Most importantly, as early as the fifth century BC the Greek traveller-historian Herodotus had recorded in remarks of considerable subsequent authority that according to the priests at Memphis with whom he conversed, it was the Egyptians who 'first brought into use the names of the twelve gods, which the Greeks adopted from them; and first erected altars, images, and temples to the gods; and also first engraved upon stone the figures of animals.' Herodotus added that 'In most of these cases they proved to me that what they said was true.'[5] The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote in his first-century BC History that many Greek artists and scholars had visited Egypt to study, and the Greek writer Plutarch (c.50-120) included Pythagoras amongst these. In his Moralia Plutarch, who was personally concerned with reconciling Platonist monotheism with pagan polytheism, emphasized Pythagoras's admiration of the 'symbolic and occult teachings' of the Egyptians.[6] Even in the ancient world and the early Christian period, therefore, Egypt was respected as the major centre of science, religion and civilization itself.

One of the major works attributed to the ancient Egyptians was the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of age-old texts supposedly written by Hermes Trismagistus, the 'thrice-majestic' philosopher, priest and king. Hermes was the Greek name for Thoth, the Egyptian god of science and letters, who was equated by the Romans with their own god Mercury. Hermes or Mercurius Trismagistus was considered by the early Christian Church Fathers to have been a contemporary of Moses, and thus very close to the earliest fount of true theological wisdom. Lactantius, Augustine, Eusebius and Origen all believed the Hermetic texts to be evidence that Egyptian religion had anticipated Christianity, and gave them an orthodox historical and religious respectability and authenticity that survived for well over a thousand years. It was believed that the learning of Moses and Hermes Trismagistus had influenced Platonist philosophy, and this early patristic viewpoint was summed up in an oft-quoted remark of Numenius of Apamea from the second century AD, who asked rhetorically, 'What is Plato but Moses Atticus?'[7] Which is to say, Plato merely reproduced for Greek philosophy what Moses had already established in the Scriptures. Added weight was given to the importance of Hermes and the Egyptians by the biblical book of Acts 7:22, which recorded that 'Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.'

With the revival of Neoplatonic philosophy in Renaissance Italy the astrological and occult works of Hermes Trismagistus once again came to be respected as important documents containing divine truths which had been passed on to Greek philosophers such as Orpheus, Pythagoras and Plato. And these truths, despite their antiquity, were not divorced from Christianity. As the Florentine humanist Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) wrote in De Christiana Religione in 1474, 'Every religion has something good in it; as long as it is directed towards God, the creator of all things, it is a true Christian religion.'[8] Ficino's Latin translations of Hermetic and Platonic texts had a widespread influence in early modern Europe, and in England can be found in the works of the mathematician and astrologer John Dee (1527-1608) and the chemist and physician Robert Fludd (1574-1637), as well as the 'Cambridge Platonists' Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688) and Henry More (1614-1687), who we will look at in further detail below. Dee has often been dismissed as a 'magician', and he spent his last years fruitlessly petitioning James I to clear his name of this accusation, but when in 1756 Stukeley suggested that it would be useful for the Royal Society 'to preserve the memory of persons eminent for learning & science' he gave himself the task of writing the life of 'a very great man[,] Dr John Dee'.[9] Now it must be noted that as early as 1614 the Genevan scholar Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614), who was employed by the court of James I, had argued that the Hermetic texts were not in fact the remote antique Egyptian fountains of knowledge which the Christian Fathers had taken them to be. Rather, they actually dated to the first three centuries of the Christian era, and reflected the fusion of a wide range of influences upon Greaco-Egyptian religion in general, including the writings of Gnostics, Platonists, Pythagoreans, Orphics, Mithraists, Chaldeans, Jews and Christians.[10] This, however, had not spell the end for Hermes Trismagistus's authority. Cudworth and More circumvented Casaubon's redating by arguing that the Hermetic works, whilst not wholly original, were nevertheless based on an older wisdom that their authors would have had access to, and hence they still manifested the true vestiges of that older wisdom (which is actually possibly closer to the truth[11]). Newton, who knew Cudworth and More well, does not appear to have been concerned with the dating problem at all, and in the early 1680s wrote a Commentarium on the Hermetic text the Emerald Tablet, an alchemical work apparently containing information on the creation of the world.[12] Moses, Hermes, Pythagoras, Plato and Ficino were all links, therefore, in a chain which, it was argued, passed down the divinely-taught secrets of the world from ancient to modern times. This was, crudely speaking, the prisca theologia, the pristine ancient theology, and, as we shall see, pristine theology carried with it pristine natural philosophy. To believers, the two were synonymous.

The key-word to understanding the seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century interest in the history of religion is 'corruption'. For whilst Sprat had attributed the invention of astronomy, geometry and government to the Eastern nations, so, he explained, 'from them proceeded the first Corruption of Knowledge.'[13] Newton and his contemporaries believed this corruption of ancient religious truth had developed through a two-fold or 'exoteric' and 'esoteric' philosophy. The clear pools of the prisca theologia had, over passage of time, been clouded. This argument was partly based on the belief that the ancient priest-philosophers who had been the guardians of the true knowledge of the Divine and the Universe had, either in order to safe-guard this knowledge or for their own self-aggrandizement, supplied the uninitiated with a simplified philosophy.[14] Sprat wrote that it had been the custom of the Chaldean and Egyptian 'Wise Men, to wrap up their observations on Nature … in the dark shadows of Hieroglyphicks, and to conceal them, as sacred Mysteries from the apprehensions of the Vulgar.'[15] As Toland described it in 1720, 'the Exoteric and Esoteric Philosophy' was 'the External and Internal Doctrine of the antients: the one open and public, accommodated to popular Prejudices and the establish'd Religions; the other private and secret, wherein, to the few capable and discrete, was taught the real TRUTH stript of all disguises.'[16] This argument was utilized by Thomas Burnet, who claimed Moses had only given an account of Creation in Genesis that would be understood by the ignorant masses, whilst retaining the 'true' account for himself. But the fact that this earlier account was true is the fundamental point.

In his Theologiae Christianae Principia Mathematica (1699) the Scottish mathematician, Newtonian and clergyman John Craig (c.1663-1731) went so far as to apply the theory of probabilities to show how historical or theological evidence is gradually weakened through its transmission through successive hands. By his mathematical calculations, Craig argued that by the year 3144 AD all evidence in favour of the truth of the Gospels would have diminished to zero, and he therefore inferred from this that the Messiah's second coming must occur before that date.[17] This use of modern methodology in pursuit of conventional or traditional ends harks back to the relationship between 'ancients' and 'moderns' we have encountered in previous chapters, which was not seen in the eighteenth century as particularly paradoxical. The situation is well expressed in the words of another Newtonian, Samuel Clarke, in his introduction to The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (1712). Clarke found that 'For, Matters of Speculation indeed, of Philosophy, or Art; things of humane invention, experience, or disquisition; improve generally from small beginnings, to greater and greater Certainty, and arrive at Perfection by degrees: But matters of Revelation and divine Testimony, are on the contrary complete at first; and Christian Religion, was most perfect at the Beginning'.[18] Clarke believed, like his Protestant contemporaries, that good Christian worship had declined through the centuries, from its original purity until the Reformation, at which point 'it began to recover',[19] although its recovery was by no means completed by the time he was writing. The relationship of the theory of corruption to Protestant theology is clear: ancient priests had practiced the same process of concealment, and thus of power, as the medieval Catholic Church. A glance at the Book of Common Prayer confirms the weight of this Anglican viewpoint: 'There was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised, or so sure established, which in continuance of time had not been corrupted.'[20] This was, of course, one of the appeals of recourse to the 'book of nature', and by extension to natural philosophy, natural history and mathematics, discussed in Part I. 'Written' by God and uncorrupted by Man, Nature spoke timeless, universal truths. But the reformation of corrupted true religion in the form of the 'book of God' -- Scripture -- remained an on-going task. Clarke's particular concern was with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which he, like his mentor Newton, was convinced was a corrupted addition to true, 'primitive' Christianity. I shall discuss this issue in depth and with specific relation to Stukeley in chapter eight. It is necessary at this point only to be aware that since at least the Reformation, religious practice at its most ancient was widely considered by Protestant theologians and apologists to have been 'more' true -- or at least less corrupt -- than modern religious practice, and that by examining ancient texts and chronologies, this true state of worship could be rediscovered, modern corruptions and adhesions removed, and true Christian worship re-established. To understand the importance of this to Stukeley's work, the scholarly study of the histories of religion in this period requires still closer scrutiny.

The Prisca Theologia

Firstly, this general agreement over the corruption of religion and knowledge was not solely confined to Protestant Britain. There were also European scholars of the pricsca theologia who followed in the footsteps of Marsilio Ficino, the most important of whom was Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680). From 1635 to the end of his life the German-born Kircher taught and worked at the Roman College in Rome, the very hub of the Jesuit Order. From there he corresponded with many of the leading scholars of his day, and wrote numerous popular, proto-encyclopaedic works on a wide range of subjects, including the Oedipus Ægyptiacus (3 volumes, Rome 1652-54), China Monumentis (Amsterdam 1667) and Turris Babel (Amsterdam 1679).[21] Through his studies and his correspondences with Jesuit missionaries in China and America, Kircher drew together the theory of the prisca theologia. In Oedipus Ægyptiacus he showed that the ancient theosophical systems of Zoroaster, Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, and Proclus, the Chaldeans and the Hebrew cabala, had all been derived from Egyptian wisdom, representing a timeless emanation of divine truth which, in the Renaissance tradition, Kircher believed to have been handed down from the Hermetic writings.[22] He identified Noah's rebellious son Ham as the colonizer of Egypt, and it was in Egypt, he wrote, that idolatry and polytheism had originated, and from there that it had spread across the globe, as far as China, India, and the Americas.[23] As Erik Iversen has succinctly put it in his study of the hieroglyphs in European tradition,

The supreme and final manifestation of this truth was in Kircher's opinion the revelations of Christianity, but it was immanent in all existing religions and philosophic systems as well, and the philosophy of the Egyptians, such as it had inspired a Plato and a Pythagoras, was its highest pre-Christian manifestation. As such this esoteric knowledge of the Egyptians was of eminent importance as part of the living tradition and its study was in itself a Christian preparation and initiation. To prove the timeless universality of the underlying truth [of the Christian message] was Kircher's principal aim. The direct connections and the general theoretical conformity of the religious and philosophic ideas of Greece and Egypt were to Kircher proved beyond discussion by Plato's self-avowed dependence on Egyptian wisdom, and by the fact that the classics were unanimous in their statements that Zeus was Osiris, that Horus was Apollo, and Isis [was] Cybele.[24]

Though considered by some to be an eccentric, Kircher's encyclopedic works had an important place in ancient historical studies which continued through into the early part of the eighteenth century.

Another eminent European scholar making similar detailed researches in this field was Gerard Vossius (0000-0000), one-time professor of theology at the Protestant University of Leiden in the Dutch Republic. In De Theologia Gentili et Physiologia Christiana (Amsterdam, 1641), a popular book which had already reached an eighth edition by 1700, Vossius undertook an extensive taxonomy of pagan religious beliefs in an attempt to show that there too could be found traces of the original religion which had been given to Mankind by God and contained in the Scriptures. In the same way that the Romans had simply identified the Greek god Hermes as the same deity as their Mercury, so Vossius aimed to show that the gods and heroes of pagan texts were simply Biblical characters by another name. Pagan religion would thus be identified as the corrupted, vestigial remains of the one true religion.[25] God had given religion to Man, and once all Men had worshipped one and the same God. This divine knowledge had been adulterated over time through the selfish intervention of kings and priests, and had thence led to erroneous, idolatrous, pagan practices. Another Dutch scholar, the humanist Hugo Grotius (1583-1643), also took an interest in unravelling the survival of ancient religious practices and the peopling of the world within a Christian context. In De Origine Gentium Americarnum (1625) Grotius presented a theory on the populating of the New World based on etymological evidence and comparison of customs and religion. He maintained that the human race had been diffused across the world following either the Flood or the destruction of the Tower of Babel. He suggested Scandinavians had peopled North America, whilst the people of Yucatan in central America had derived from Christian Africans, which explained their practice of circumcision. He argued that the South Americans originated from South-East Asia, with the exception of the Peruvians, whose sun worship and more advanced civilization suggested, he believed, a Chinese origin.[26] Grotius wrote another popular work in this field, which was first translated into English in 1680 as The Truth of the Christian Religion. In six 'books' (contained in the one volume) Grotius aimed 'to prove the Truth of the Christian Religion in General, against Atheists, Deists, Jews, or Mahometans'.[27] A particularly extensive chapter in the first 'book' showed how the ancient writings of the Phoenicians, Indians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans were all 'exactly agreeable to the Relations of Moses … And it is very remarkable concerning the Deluge, that the Memory of almost all Nations ends [i.e. begins] in the History of it, even those Nations which were unknown till our Fathers discovered them.'[28] These arguments were popularized around Europe by the Genevan scholar Jean LeClerc (1657-1736), professor of philosophy at the Remonstrant Seminary in Amsterdam. He published a lengthy series of translated and annotated extracts from Cudworth's True Intellectual System in his journal Bibliothèque choisie, and published annotated and updated editions of Grotius's The Truth of the Christian Religion.[29] In his 1711 translation of the book, he wrote of 'The general Acceptance this piece of Grotius has met with in the World'.[30] Indeed, the book had reached a sixth English edition by 1756, appearing yet again as late as 1814.

The works of Kircher, Vossius and Grotius had an important influence upon most English students of the history of religion, but one seventeenth-century name stands out in particular: Edward Herbert, first Lord Cherbury (1582-1648). Cherbury has generally been considered the first of the English deists, though this is really a misinterpretation of his beliefs.[31] Educated at University College, Oxford, Cherbury became the king's ambassador to France in 1619, during which time he wrote De Veritate, published at Paris in 1724. Whilst in France he met and made friends with Vossius, and Cherbury's most famous work, De Religione Gentilium (Amsterdam, 1663), bares the clear stamp of Vossius's influence. This book had its first English translation in 1705 as The Antient Religion of the Gentiles, and Causes of their Errors Consider'd, with the self-explanatory subtitle: 'The Mistakes and Failures of the Heathen Priests and Wise-Men, in their Notions of the Deity, and Matters of Divine Worship, are Examin'd; With regard to their being altogether destitute of Divine Revelation.' Cherbury's intention was not to set out to deny or undermine the Christian Revelation. Rather, as he explained, he found the Church Fathers' attitude to the pagans -- that is, all those who had lived before Christ, as well as those who had not subsequently been converted -- meant that 'the far greatest part of Mankind must be inevitably sentenced to Eternal Punishment'. This seemed 'to me too rigid and severe to be consistent with the Attributes of the Most Great and Good GOD.'[32] Cherbury therefore proposed 'Five undeniable Propositions … which not only we, but all Mankind in general must needs acknowledge:

I. That there is one Supreme God.

II. That he ought to be worshipped.

III. That Vertue and Piety are the Chief Parts of Divine Worship.

IV. That we ought to be sorry for our Sins, and repent of them.

V. That Divine Goodness doth dispense Rewards and Punishments both in this Life, and after it.

These were universal truths, common to all Mankind at all times and in all places. Those who believed and practiced these five undeniable truths would be saved, for Cherbury was unable to accept that a truly just God would have damned all people from Adam to the coming of Christ 'without their knowledge, and against their will'.[33] Noting some earlier Christian theologians had argued this same point, he suggested instead that 'some of the best among the heathens through the infinite Mercy of God' might have been 'capable of Eternal Salvation.'[34] He went on to explain:

my Design is to make it evident, That an Universal Providence is extended to all Mankind. Now forasmuch as the Heathens (as the Holy Scriptures Testifie, and Learned Divines acknowledge) worshipped the same God as we do; had the same abhorrence of Sin; believed Rewards and Punishments after this Life; I cannot but think, that after they had led a Good Life, they were made Partakers of the Fulness of that Divine Grace; especially in regard they knew the most rational and perspicuous Parts of the True Divine Worship.

I pretend not to defend the Gross of the Heathen Religion, which I always esteemed foolish, incongruous and absurd; but only propose those Truths which shined in the midst of their greatest Obscurity.[35]

This is effectively another version, from a slightly different standpoint, of the prisca theologia tradition, and we can clearly recognize its appeal to the natural religion subsequently propounded by deist writers. For this 'universal' religion did not require the Revelation which was of such importance to most defenders of the Christian faith: in Cherbury's view, God had 'manifested himself' to Man in ancient times 'by the most excellent Fabrick of this World.'[36] The examination of the eternal rather than the transitory had led the heathens to the worship of stars, the sun and the moon, and the planets. And of course it was the Egyptians who, in Cherbury's history, had 'had the first knowledge of the GODS or Stars, built Temples, and order'd solemn Assemblies to meet in Groves.'[37] However, Cherbury still considered himself to be a Christian, for even Justin Martyr had suggested in his Second Apology that Christ 'was partially known even by Socrates, for He was and is the Word who is in every man'.[38] Indeed, authority for such an opinion could be pushed further back, to the Bible itself and St Paul's letter to the Romans: 'Ever since the creation of the world [God's] invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.' That is, Paul appears to suggest God could be known without Revelation. But St Paul added that the Gentiles in their divine worship, 'Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible mortal man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.'[39] Which is to say, at some point in the past men had replaced the worship of God with the worship of idols; this was the sin into which the people of Israel had fallen when, under Aaron's direction, they had made a golden calf and worshipped it, as recounted in Exodus 32. For Cherbury, the heathens' worship of multiple gods -- of the sun, the moon, planets and dead heroes -- and the introduction of idolatry, had been the work of 'Crafty Priests' who had sought to increase their own power and that of their rulers. As he stated in The Antient Religion of the Gentiles, 'I suppose none will deny but that Priests have introduced Superstition and Idolatry, as well as sown Quarrels and Dissentions where-ever they came.'[40]

It was this aspect of Cherbury's work that attracted the deist writer Charles Blount (1654-1693), son of the traveller Sir Henry Blount, who disseminated Cherbury's views on religion and priestcraft in his Oracles of Reason. Blount promoted his ideas on natural religion in two other books, Anima Mundi: Or an Historical Narration of the Ancients Concerning Man's Soul after this Life, According to Unenlightened Nature (1679) and Great is Diana of the Ephesians, Or the Original of Idolatry (1680). In these tracts he made a survey of ancient pagan thought and argued that they provided clear evidence for a 'natural religion' free from the specifics of Christian Revelation; their deistical viewpoint showed a natural, ethical way of life had formed the basic, original religion of mankind.[41] This twisted the work of Grotius and Vossius, who both used pagan texts to the prove the Christian message: for Blount, natural religion was merely a universal, whilst Judeo-Christianity was an offshoot rather than the original of human belief in the divine. In order to undermine arguments for the exclusiveness of the Christian Revelation, Blount and other deistical writers such as Henry Stubbe and Toland also examined the proximities of belief between Islam and Christianity. By using the evidence of an original natural religion they were able to show how the dual processes of 'corruption' and priestcraft had led to the divisiveness of sects in all religions whose fundamental beliefs were actually largely the same.

Cherbury is, I believe, an important figure in our understanding of Stukeley. In Cherbury we see the idea clearly expressed that Man could have achieved salvation before the divine mission of Jesus Christ. Stukeley read Cherbury's work, owning at his death no less than three copies of his works, in Latin and English translation.[42] And he reached a number of identical opinions, observing in 1732 that he doubted God would have wholly deprived all those heathens who had 'ardently thirsted after better light … it is not suitable to gods goodness, to confine it to the jewish nation.'[43] And as he recorded in an undated manuscript, possibly notes for a sermon in the 1730s, 'It appears to me, who have long considered the matter, that all the idolatry & polytheism of the heathen world arose from the corruption of true religion: of that knowledg of spiritual things, which was communicated to the old world by divine revelation'.[44] That Stukeley believed this truth came originally from Revelation is equally important. To think otherwise -- that God was knowable solely through the natural world -- would have been smacked of deism. For Stukeley, the cause of this corruption had been 'the malice of the devil' with 'the folly & wickedness of mankind co-operating.'[45] Unlike Blount, therefore, Stukeley used Cherbury in defence of his own largely orthodox Christian beliefs. As we shall see, much of the historical and theological material which I am examining could be utilized and interpreted in a number of varying ways, and in support of quite alternate positions. Thus Stukeley's interest in Cherbury and natural religion is by no means anomalous or irregular. Later in the seventeenth century similar ideas to Cherbury's were conveyed by more orthodox figures of the Church of England, for natural and revealed religion formed an important subject for the Latitudinarians. As a young fellow of St John's College, Cambridge, Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699) impressed his clerical contemporaries with a similar scheme, laid out in Origines Sacrae: Or, A Rational Account of the Grounds of Natural and Reveal'd Religion (1662). Richard Bentley would later write of this popular work -- which had already reached an eighth edition by 1709 -- that it had 'always been justly esteemed one of the best Defences of Revealed Religion that ever was extant in our own or any other language'.[46] In Origines Sacrae Stillingfleet confirmed for the orthodox what Cherbury had already ventured: that there was once one universal religion delivered directly from God, that Christianity was the one true modern manifestation of this religion, but remains of it could be discovered in heathen religious practices and beliefs. The book impressed Stukeley, and its influence on his own research is quite apparent. But whilst Stillingfleet aimed both to counter atheism and defend the truth of Christianity, he was also concerned with disproving any veracity for heathen histories, other than those parts which were remains of the Mosaic 'truth'. Stillingfleet found that since in all religious accounts and practices

there being an universal agreement in some common principles, and a frequent resemblance in particular traditions, we must of necessity, for the clearing of truth from its corruption, have recourse to ancient History, to see if thereby we can find out where the Original tradition was best preserved, by what means it came to be corrupted, and whereby we may distinguish those corruptions from the Truths to which they are annexed.[47]

The early chapters of his book thus have titles such as 'The Obscurity and Defect of Ancient History' and 'The General Uncertainty of Heathen Chronology', followed by later chapters such as 'The Certainty of the Writings of Moses', and 'Moses's Fidelity and Integrity Proved.' It is clear where Stillingfleet's allegiances stood. His declared intention was to demonstrate 'that there was a certain original and general tradition preserved in the World concerning the eldest Ages of the World'; that this tradition had been corrupted by the heathens, but that 'there were sufficient remainders of it to evidence its true original'; and 'that the full account of this tradition is alone preserved in those Books we call Scriptures.'[48]

Having shown that the entire human race except for the passengers in the Ark had perished in the Flood (even if that Flood was not in fact necessarily universal), Stillingfleet proceeded to argue that the truth of God's word would have survived amongst all humans as they were all descendants of Noah's family, even if the casual observer might not immediately recognize those truths which had survived. As he explained,

we cannot conceive, that since we have manifested that all Mankind did come from the Posterity of Noah, that all those passages which concern'd the History of the World, should be presently obliterated and extinguished among them, but some kind of Tradition would be preserv'd, altho' by degrees it would be so much alter'd for want of certain Records to preserve it in, that it would be a hard matter to discover its original, without an exact comparing it with the true History it self from whence it was first taken. For it far'd with this Tradition of the first Ages of the World, as with a Person who hath a long time travell'd in Foreign Parts, who by the variety of Climes and Countries may be so far alter'd from what he was, that his own Relations may not know him upon his return, but only by some certain Marks which he hath in his Body, by which they are assur'd, that however his Complexion and Visage may be alter'd, yet the Person is the same still. Thus it was in this original Tradition of the World; thro' its continual passing from one Age to another, and the various humours, tempers, and designs of Men, it receiv'd strange disguises and alterations, as to its outward favour and complexion; but yet there are some such certain Marks remaining in it, by which we find out its true original.[49]

Hence in Stillingfleet's opinion -- as in Stukeley's -- it would be possible, indeed probable, to find amongst all nations of the world traces of the true religion and the history of Creation as it had been passed down from Noah to his progeny and thence around the world, even if these traces could not be immediately recognized. This caveat, of course, allowed room for speculative interpretation. In Stukeley's case (though he was by no means alone in this practice) this can be illustrated in his proposition, recorded in 1723, that the Druids' practice of 'crucifying a man at one of their great festivals in the temple, is a wonderful tho' horrid notion of the sacrifice of the Messiah.'[50]

There was further fuel to be added to this theological posturing. In 1675 Of the Principles and Duties of Natural Religion was published, a posthumous work by another key English seventeenth-century thinker, John Wilkins (1614-1672), bishop of Chester, who as Warden of Wadham College had established the Oxford Philosophical Society, one of the foundations of the Royal Society. Wilkins explained that by natural religion he meant that faith 'which men might know, and should be obliged unto, by the meer principles of Reason, improved by Consideration and Experience, without the help of Revelation', and suggested 'that the Notion of God is natural to the soul'.[51] In evidence for this he observed that whoever

shall traverse over all this habitable Earth, with all those remote corners of it, reserved for the discovery of these later Ages, may find some Nations without Cities, Schools, Houses, Garments, Coin; but none without their God. They may, and do vastly differ in their Manners, Institutions, Customs: But yet all of them agree in having some Deity to worship.[52]

Wilkins's book was amongst those Stukeley read as an undergraduate, and the reasonableness and naturalness of religion to all mankind became a notable tenet of the latitudinarians. It was propagated in the books and sermons of other leading Church figures, such as John Tillotson (1630-1694), Archbishop of Canterbury.[53] In his sermon at the Archbishop's funeral, Thomas Burnet stated that Tillotson judged 'that the best way to put a stop to growing Impiety, was first to establish the Principles of natural Religion, and from that to advance to the Proof of the Christian Religion, and of the Scriptures: which being once solidly done, would soon settle all other things.'[54] Burnet was himself no stranger to such studies. Author of the previously-mentioned New Theory of the Earth (1684), he described his Archaeologiae Philosophicae sive Doctrina Antiqua de Rerum Originibus (1692) as a 'Commentary, or Appendix' to the earlier work. Burnet wrote that 'it appears from the sacred Scriptures, that the Egyptian Wisdom was more ancient than [Moses's] and he was the Disciple rather than the Teacher of that learned Nation.'[55] But he argued that 'Barbaric Philosophy' could nevertheless be traced back to 'the Deluge, and Noah the common Father of Jews and Gentiles' who had 'delivered the Lamp of learning' from the ante- to the post-diluvian worlds.[56] Another of Burnet's Cambridge contemporaries with a similarly keen, scholarly interest in this subject was John Spencer (1630-1693) who -- perhaps significantly -- was from 1667 until his death the Master of Stukeley's almer mater, Corpus Christi. In his formative study of comparative religion De Legibus Hebraeorum Earum Rationibus (1685), Spencer proposed the argument that Jewish ritual was in fact derived in part from Egyptian rituals and customs, and not vice versa. Spencer noted, for example, that whilst the ancient Greeks had acknowledged their debt to Egyptian wisdom, they had said nothing about the Jewish origins of Egyptian culture.[57] That Moses and the Israelites had been imprisoned by the Pharaohs could also be had on the clear authority of the Bible, but the question of whether the Egyptians had learnt from the Jews or the Jews from the Egyptians became a matter of some dispute: the orthodox argument as stated by Theophilus Gale in The Court of the Gentiles (1669-77) was that the Egyptians had gained their religious knowledge from the Jews during the period when Joseph and the other patriarchs had lived in exile in Egypt. Spencer also argued that superstitious and idolatrous practices in religion had been encouraged by the priesthood in pursuit of their own ends. Although his book has been considered the founding text in the study of comparative religion, it was roundly criticized by the likes of John Edwards and John Woodward, and Spencer's orthodoxy was questioned.[58] Yet from Cherbury and Stillingfleet, from Burnet, Spencer and Wilkins to Stukeley, via the sticky waters of such freethinkers as Blount and Toland, it could be argued with strength and reason that a belief in God was a natural and necessary faculty of the human race.

The Cambridge Platonists and Newton's Origin of Theology

As we have seen, the majority of these English writers on the history of religion had been educated at Cambridge University, where an interest in Neoplatonism and the prisca theologia reached its apogée amongst the so-called 'Cambridge Platonists'. The most important of these scholars were Henry More of Christ's College and Ralph Cudworth of Emmanuel, both acquaintances of Newton. In An Account of Virtue (1690) More expressed the opinion

that Pythagoras drew his Knowledg from the Hebrew Fountains, is what all Writers, Sacred and Profane, do testifie and aver. That Plato took from him the principal part of that Knowledg, touching God, the Soul's Immortality, and the Conduct of Life and Good Manners, has been doubted by no Man. And that it went from him, into the Schools of Aristotle, and so deriv'd and diffus'd, almost into the whole World, is in like manner attested by all.[59]

At the same time Cudworth, in The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), attempted to demonstrate Man's universal and natural belief in God, uniting the authority of both natural and revealed religion in his argument. Following the taxonomical method of Vossius, Cudworth hoped to illustrate how most pagan religious views were derived from older, biblical ones, and that in spite of the apparent polytheism in the world, all world religions in fact derived from the original belief in the one, true, Judaeo-Christian Godhead, with their origin in the post-Diluvian world via Noah and his sons. These theories of the Cambridge Platonists have been of particular interest to a number of recent historians of science. Danton Sailor has argued that Newton's views on ancient authorities as expressed in his theological writings owed a substantial debt to his Cambridge contemporary Cudworth, whilst Stephen McKnight has suggested that the use of these Hermetic materials during the seventeenth century shows 'that the advocates of the Ancient Wisdom are also important proponents of the new science.'[60] Paolo Casini, though, has written that the prisca philosophia as expounded by the Cambridge Platonists 'cannot be separated from the context of the writings of Cudworth and More as a specific theme, nor could it have influenced Newton under such a form. It is rather a cultural stratum common to many writers of quite different tendencies.'[61] It must be noted that some late-seventeenth-century 'moderns' dismissed the belief in ancient wisdom altogether. In 1690 William Wotton, the clergyman scholar whose father Henry had studied under Meric Casaubon, made a clear and considered analysis of ancient knowledge in his Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, and found that the claimed extent of Egyptian and Chaldean wisdom did not stand up to critical scrutiny. Nevertheless, the pristine philosophy remained a strong influence on the intellectual environment that would not -- indeed, could not -- disappear overnight. For in order to understand the period of unrecorded history before the classical historians, seventeenth- and eighteenth- century scholars relied upon an euhemeristic interpretation of pagan mythology: that is, the belief (already elaborated) that pagan gods were derived from tribal heroes and other great men and women. In order to understand the darkest recesses of pre-recorded time, therefore, all mythology had to be utilized as history. Frank Manuel writes that Isaac Newton 'used this euhemeristic method constantly in his papers on world chronology to extract from myths a reasonable, conservative account of the early years of mankind before any records were kept'.[62] For Newton, then, the original pure monotheistical religion had been that of Noah and his three sons, but it had been corrupted by the onset of idolatry and polytheism, and this he believed had first occurred in Egypt.[63]

Newton made a close study of Burnet's Archaeologiae Philosophicae, and the two men may well have discussed matters of history and chronology together. Certainly, as John Gascoigne has explained, both Newton and Burnet 'regarded Noah, rather than Abraham or Moses, as the original source of true religion and learning; consequently, [Newton], too, argued that vestiges of truth could be found among the ancient Gentile peoples as well as that of the Jews since all were descendants of Noah and his sons.'[64] As Newton stated it in The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, the religion of Moses and the prophets was based on 'The precepts of the sons of Noah, which was the primitive religion of both Jews and Christians'.[65] Elsewhere Newton described this true religion of Noah's as being 'The religion of loving God and our neighbour', and suggested that this ethics taught by Noah and his sons was also subsequently taught to 'the heathens by Socrates, Confucius and other philosophers, the Israelites by Moses and the Prophets and the Christians more fully by Christ and his Apostles.'[66] Gascoigne regards the influence of John Spencer's work on Newton as 'manifest', and in his 'Theologiae Gentilis' manuscript Newton noted, via Spencer, 'that ye Mosaical religion concerning ye true God contains little else besides what was then in use among the Egyptians.'[67] Nevertheless, this religion was still only a corrupted version of the Noachian religion. For as Newton observed, 'it's certain that ye old religion of the Egyptians was ye true [Noachian] religion tho corrupted before the age of Moses by the mixture of fals Gods with that of ye true one.'[68]

In an important but unpublished manuscript composed in the 1670s, 'Theolgiae gentilis origines philosophicae' ('The philosophical origins of Gentile theology'), Newton laid down his thoughts on the origin of post-diluvian idolatry. Heavily indebted to Vossius's De Theologia Gentili,[69] Newton's essay attributed the 'first religion' to Noah, and it was 'the most rational of all others' before 'the nations corrupted it' by their idolatrous worship of images.[70] Newton argued that all ancient peoples had regressed from worshipping one God to worshipping the same twelve gods, though under different names (we may note here Herodotus's earlier remark on the twelve Egyptian deities). These twelve gods were in fact their divinized human ancestors, Noah and his sons and grandsons. It was argued that gradually even this identification had been corrupted, and the twelve 'gods' had become identified not with Noah and his sons, but instead with other heroes and ancestors: each tribe or people had come to worship its own images, turning their ancestors into deities and naming stars and constellations after them. They had worshipped what Newton tellingly referred to as 'hieroglyphical figures' as well as stones, statues and sculptures.[71] He thus observed how 'The Temples of Egypt are beautiful & large being built of costly stones but if you seek for God within you will find either an Ape or a Stork or a Swallow or a Cat … For the beasts wch the Egyptians honoured were nothing else than the symbols or hieroglyphs of their first fathers propagated down to their several tribes'.[72] The single exception from this idolatrous progression had been the Jews, who had remained closest to the truth as recorded in the Scriptures. But the common thread nevertheless remained that all peoples worshipped one superior god, whom they took to be the ancestor of all the rest, and Newton naturally identified this 'god' as Noah, the postdiluvian repopulator of the human race.[73] As the Oxford astronomer David Gregory observed after reading a copy of 'Theologiae Gentilis', Newton was clearly of the opinion that 'Moses began a reformation but retained the indifferent elements of the Egyptians … Christ reformed the religion of Moses'.[74]

Newton therefore remained committed throughout his life to the belief that all Mankind had originally worshipped one God and one fundamental law: 'For the moral law observed by all nations while they lived together in Chaldea under the government of Noah & his sons & afterwards by the Chaldeans, Canaanites & Hebrews & till they began to worship to their dead kings, required the worship of one supreme God'.[75] He also proposed that the religion 'most ancient & most generally received by the nations in the first ages [i.e. after Noah] was that of the Prytanea or Vestal Temples'.[76] These temples, he explained, were circular structures with a burning flame at their centre that represented the Sun. In De Revolutionibus, of course, Copernicus had radically relocated the sun at the centre of the solar system, 'this most beautiful of temples', whilst Vossius has considered the ancient cult of the Vestal fire as having represented the Sun.[77] Newton believed these Vestal temples proved the ancients had originally understood the heliocentric universe as 'rediscovered' by Copernicus, for it

was one designe of the first institution of the true religion in Egypt to propose to mankind by the frame of the ancient Temples, the study of the frame of the world as the true Temple of the great God they worshipped … And therefore that a Prytanaeum might deserve the name of his Temple they framed it so as in the fittest manner [to] represent the whole systeme of the heavens. A point of religion then which nothing can be more rational.[78]

Furthermore, from his reading of travel writers, Newton found that such vestal temples existed around the world, and examples had been reported in China, India, Africa and Ireland. As we have already observed, he also recorded that 'In England neare Salisbury there is a piece of antiquity called Stonehenge wch seems to be an ancient Prytaneum. For it is an area compassed circularly wth two rows of very great stones wth passages on all sides for people to go in and out at.' He continued, 'Tis said there are some pieces of antiquity of ye same form & structure in Denmark'.[79] He also believed that the Hebrews had espoused this same heliocentric belief in Solomon's Temple, 'placing ye fire in the common center … framing ye Tabernacle & Temple so as to make it a symbol of the world.'[80]

Newton believed that these circular stone temples scattered across the globe -- from Stonehenge to more sophisticated structures such as Solomon's Temple -- were all evidence of the survival of the cult of the vestal flame, and the physical remains of the most ancient religion of all.[81] According to Newton, this religion was based upon the moral philosophy established by Noah, but which had been corrupted by later generations who turned to the worship of stars and 'hieroglyphical figures'. Over time, the meaning of the vestal fire representing the Sun which burnt at the centre of the prytanae had become confused, being taken instead to be a fire at the centre of the Earth. Hence the truth of the heliocentric universe had been lost.[82] The heathen's new system, which placed the world at the centre of the universe, had subsequently been elaborated in the geocentric system of the second-century AD Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy of Alexandria's Almagest, an erroneous system that had dominated Western astronomy until Copernicus's 'rediscovery'. As can be seen in his writings of monotheism and the rituals of worship practiced in Egypt, Babylonia, India and Chaldea after the Flood, Newton identified a close relationship between science and theology in the early years of the world. Monotheism had existed alongside a correct interpretation of the universe, as expressed in ancient temples representing the true form of the heliocentric universe. So it was that the onset of the corruption of religion through polytheism was intimately tied to the corruption of knowledge of the natural world.[83] As various recent scholars of Newton have shown, his natural philosophical and his theologico-historical studies shared the same ultimate goal. That is, to restore the true understanding of God's relations with humanity and the natural order that had been gradually lost by the growth of post-diluvian idolatry. Cambridge scholars such as Burnet, Whiston and Newton all believed that the recovery of true natural philosophy also implicitly involved a recovery of true (natural) religion.[84] Newton made this belief in the corruption of true religion and hence of true natural philosophy quite clear in a passage at the conclusion to Opticks in 1721:

And no doubt, if the Worship of false Gods had not blinded the Heathen, their moral Philosophy would have gone farther than to the four Cardinal Virtues; and instead of teaching the Transmigration of Souls, and to worship the Sun and Moon, and dead Heroes, they would have taught us to worship our true Author and Benefactor, as their Ancestors did under the Government of Noah and his Sons before they corrupted themselves.[85]

It is not surprising, therefore, that Stukeley -- who at the same as receiving a copy of this edition of the book from Newton himself was poring over his antiquarian fieldnotes -- should have first identified the two smaller stone circles at the centre of Avebury as temples to the sun and the moon, and that in his historical studies we discover an intimately linked concern with both natural philosophical and religious truths.

Solomon's Temple

As we have now established, Newton believed 'ye old religion of the Egyptians was ye true religion tho corrupted before the age of Moses by the mixture of fals Gods with that of ye true one.'[86] The question we must now ask is whether Stukeley's idea of the Druids as proto-Christians is no more than an extrapolation from this same perception of ancient religion shared by Newton and the Cambridge Platonists. In his biography of Newton, Stukeley observed how 'No man in England read the Bible more carefully than he did, nor study'd it more, as appears by his printed works, [and] by many pieces which he left which are not printed'.[87] The last part of this remark suggests Stukeley had seen at least some of Newton's manuscript papers on biblical subjects, either from Newton in person or after his death via Conduitt. This is important, because it would verify that Stukeley had a greater knowledge of Newton's work in history and chronology than simply from those pieces published, or from his conversations with the man himself. As we have seen, it is really in his manuscript writings that we come to understand the religious and chronological beliefs and ideas of Newton, the published remarks being merely the public tip of a veritable iceberg of private writings and research. The most detailed information Stukeley gives of his conversations with Newton on ancient history and religious buildings pertains to the Temple of Jerusalem built by Solomon, the son of David, according to divine instructions and measurements, and thus thought to hold the key to divine geometry. These conversations coincided with a period of revived interest in Solomon's Temple in London in the mid 1720s. Up to that point the major publication on the subject had been the three-volume In Ezechiel Explanationes, published in Rome at the beginning of the seventeenth century by two Spanish Jesuits, Hieronymo Prado and Juan Bautista Villalpando.[88] But in 1723 the English publication of the French priest Bernard Lamy's Apparatus Biblicus, which included detailed engravings of both the Tabernacle and Temple, was published. This offered a reconstruction differing significantly from Villalpando's.[89] The following year a grand model of the Temple, 'lately brought over from Hambourg', was put on display for the public in London, whilst in 1726 William Whiston advertised 'a small, but curious Course of Lectures' on astronomical subjects which also included 'Sacred Architecture past; or, Solomon's, Zorobabel's, and Herod's Temples', as well as 'Sacred Architecture Future; or, Ezekiel's Temple.'[90] It was also in this very same period that Freemasonry (which we shall discuss at length in the next chapter) was first taking off in London, with prominent Newtonians such as Desaguliers and Stukeley playing an active role. Stukeley's interest in Solomon's Temple as the model for all subsequent covered temples is therefore unsurprising He read Villalpando's book and studied the subject 'with attention, & made very many drawings about it'.[91]

In April 1726 Stukeley visited Newton and, as well as seeing a prepublication copy of the new, third edition of the Principia they 'had some discourse about Solomons temple of which he had formerly made the plan. he says it was older than any great heathen temples. that Sesostris from hence made his temples in Egypt[,] one in each Nomus[,] & that from thence the Greeks made theirs & borrowd their religion.'[92] As he told Conduitt in the summer of 1727, Newton

had formerly drawn it out & considerd it. we were not very particular, but both agreed in this, that it was nothing like any drawings or descriptions yet publick. he says it was older than any other great temple. that Sesostris from this model built his temples in Egypt, one in each nomos. & that from thence the Greeks borrowd their architecture, as they had their religious rites. I have likewise had some small conference with him about the first plantation of thes western parts of the world, after the flood & had the satisfaction to find I had fallen into the same notion as he.[93]

These remarks reveal how Newton and Stukeley were working independently upon this subject, but they also indicate their common field of interest. For example, in notes from the period 1722-4 Stukeley recorded how 'the first idea of temples was to make somewhat resembling the universe[,] the habitation of the deity[,] therefore round & open the best form'.[94] Newton had similarly written that 'Temples were anciently contrived to represent the frame of the Universe as the true Temple of the great God.'[95] This latter remark partly explains Newton's interest in Solomon's Temple, which he believed to have been the model first for Egyptian and then for Greek temples. He was interested in the building as a harmonic model for the order of the heliocentric universe. For Stukeley, however, Solomon's Temple was the original of the covered, rectangular temples which had superseded the earlier open air, circular temples such as Avebury and Stonehenge.[96] But despite this last difference in opinion, Stukeley shared Newton's views on the development of idolatry. Whilst believing all 'thinking persons' could discover the notion of religion through the light of reason or nature, Stukeley also postulated

in process of time it will receive vast alteration, as to its fashion & as to its object, especially among the vulgar who have not leisure or capacity to exert their facultys[.] they will presently be tempted to drop a spiritual form of adoration not enough touching & forcible to their apprehensions & from the invisible Creator fall down to the Creature who more manifestly & notoriously dos 'em good. this is the Spring of Idolatry, the Sun the Moon the Stars the earth the elements then become their Gods …[97]

He would later conclude that all these patriarchal temples, as he called them, 'were at length desecrated into idolatry. for wh[ich] reason God order'd the cover'd temple of the Mosaic Tabernacle, as a contradistinction to the original open temples.'[98] The first 'covered temple', therefore, had been Solomon's Temple, which was based upon the early tent-like structure or 'tabernacle' that had been used by the ancient Israelites to carry the Ark of the Covenant. His detailed architectural projections of the Temple, which reveal the distinct influence of Wren and Hawksmoor, showed that it 'was the Spring whence Architecture travelled over the Western World, from whose pattern all the Celebrated Temples & Building of the Antiquity were drawn'.[99] Stukeley recalled in his biography that he once told Newton in conversation that he could even 'demonstrate … that the architecture of Solomons temple was what we now call Doric. then says he [Newton], the greeks advanced it into the Ionic, & the Corinthian, as the Latins into the composite.'[100] In Stukeley's understanding in 1752, Newton 'rightly judged' that Solomon's Temple 'was older than any other of the great temples mentiond in history; & was indeed the original model wh[ich] they followed.'[101]

Newton had also studied the structure and ground plan of Solomon's Temple in order to understand the prophecy of the vision of the Temple in the Book of Revelations. Some of his theories on this subject were published in the posthumous Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St John (1733). This work goes some way to explaining Newton's theological ideas, for he believed proof for the authenticity of the biblical message came from the fulfillment of prophecy. According to Manuel, the chronological accuracy sought by Newton in this book was necessary in order 'to establish absolute bench-marks against which to verify the fulfillment of prophecy.'[102] The ancient kingdom of Britain, for example, was identified by Newton as the seventh of the ten kingdoms which were successors to the Roman Empire, and which were represented in the Book of Daniel 'by the ten horns of the Fourth Beast.'[103] He named Constantine, a 'Roman Tyrant', as the third king of the Britons who was succeeded 'by his son Aurelius, Ambrosius, and Uther Pendraco, and his grandson Arthur … From the time of the revolt of these Tyrants Britain continued a distinct kingdom absolved from the subjection to the Empire'.[104] Newton explained in his Observations that God had given the prophecies of the Apocalypse of Daniel and St John, and other prophecies of the Old Testament,

not to gratify men's curiosities by enabling them to foreknow things, but that after they were fulfilled they might be interpreted by the event, and his own Providence, not the Interpreters, be then manifested to the world. For the event of things predicted many ages before, will then be a convincing argument that the world is governed by providence. For as the few and obscure Prophecies concerning Christ's first coming were for setting up the Christian religion, which all nations have since corrupted; so the many and clear Prophecies concerning the things to be done at Christ's second coming, are not only for predicting but also for effecting a recovery and re-establishment of the long-lost truth, and setting up the kingdom wherein dwells righteousness. The event will prove the Apocalypse; and this Prophecy, thus proved and understood, will open the old Prophets, and all together will make known the true religion, and establish it.[105]

Newton believed that the Apocalypse, the Second Coming and the restoration of 'the long-lost truth' were imminent, for, he wrote, 'There is so much of the Prophecy fulfilled'.[106] He observed that 'Amongst the interpreters of the last age, there is scarce one of note who hath not made some discovery worth knowing; and thence I seem to gather that God is opening these mysteries'.[107] Newton essentially believed that Christianity had been irredeemably corrupted in the fourth century, when Pope Gregory (whose letter to Augustine we quoted in the previous chapter) had facilitated the conversion of the pagans by replacing the festivals of their gods with 'annual festivals to the Saints and Martyrs … By the pleasures of these festivals the Christians increased much in number, and decreased as much in virtue'.[108] The corruption of the most ancient, true, Noachic religion was, therefore, later paralleled by the pattern of corruption of Christianity and its descent from the fourth century onwards into the idolatry of the worship of saints: this was essentially no different from the pagans' earlier adoration of dead kings and heroes.

Stukeley received copies of Newton's posthumous works on chronology and prophecies directly from their editor, John Conduitt. Having read them, he sought from amongst his friends their opinions of these last works, and there are various extant letters showing an exchange of opinions. Warburton, as we noted in the introduction, dismissed these ventures into ancient history by 'a man who spent all his days looking through a telescope.' Stukeley likewise was critical of them, though on a firmer ground of understanding the author than Warburton. In a letter to Roger Gale sent from Grantham on the 17 March 1728 Stukeley explained his opinion of The Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended:

Mr Conduitt has sent me Sir Isaac Newton's chronology; I don't admire his contracting the space of time; he has pursued that fancy too far. I am satisfied he has made severall names of different persons one, who really lived many ages assunder. He has come pretty near my ground plott of the temple of Solomon, but he gives us no uprights. He runs into the common error of making Sesac and Sesostris one person, with Marsham and many others, the consequence of which is, that the Aegyptians borrowed architecture from the Jews, when I am satisfied all architecture was originally invented by the Aegyptians.[109]

Roger Gale replied to Stukeley's letter on the 26 March: 'Sir I. Newton wishes he had let his chronology alone. You[r] observations appear to me very just. There are more mistakes than one [in] it.'[110]

But others were much more enthusiastic about Newton's work. A few years later, in the mid 1730s, Stukeley was in correspondence with David Hartley, a young scholar educated at Jesus College, Cambridge. Admitted as a Fellow of the College in 1727, he had abandoned plans to take holy orders and had become a physician instead, settling in London around 1735 and becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society. He continued to pursue his own researches in theological matters, however, reading the early Church Fathers and interesting himself particularly in biblical chronology, though he is now remembered chiefly for his philosophical writings, particularly the influential Observations on Man mentioned in Chapter 3.[111] Like Stukeley, Hartley was a committed Newtonian, and his Observations on Man concludes with a long disquisition on the truth of Christianity and the usefulness of his own philosophical theories to orthodox theology.[112] His first extant letter was written to Stukeley in April 1734 on the subject of Newton's Observations Upon the Prophecies of Daniel, which, he said, 'appeared to me worthy not only of him, but of the Religion itself; and I do not know that any one else had spoke so well of them before'.[113] In December of the following year Hartley inquired of Stukeley,

How go your Chronological affairs on? As far as I am a judge, you gentlemen who have abilities and inclination to defend Revelation ought not to be idle. There seems to be a general doubt at least of Christianity prevailing amongst all the moderately learned of the world; and some of good learning and abilities are quite Infidels. I have no fear but the History and Chronology of the Scriptures can never be too much studied, because the arguments of that kind, when once explained rightly, are level to all capacities, and yet so convincing, that I think nothing can resist them …[114]

In a final extant letter from Hartley to Stukeley from January 1736, Hartley affirmed his own religiousness, before observing, 'I have heard, since I came to town, that Sir Isaac used to say, that Infidelity would probably prevail till it had quite banished Superstition, but would then be swallowed up by the great Light and Evidence of true Religion'.[115] It is unfortunate that we do not have Stukeley's letters from this correspondence. But it appears that in the 1730s at least one intelligent observer placed Stukeley's work within the context of historical chronology, a field which he also identified with Newton, and which he considered to be an appropriate and timely response to the threat of the freethinkers.

In the last two chapters we have seen how historians and natural philosophers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries took a profound interest in the history of religion, and that Stukeley conversed extensively with, among others, Halley and Newton on subjects such as Stonehenge, Solomon's Temple and the history of the world. We have also seen in the previous chapter how he set about creating a typology of stone temples in the British Isles that would prove they had been built by the Celtic Druids. But what could his 'Chronological affairs', as Hartley termed them, tell Stukeley about history, about philosophy or about religion? Plenty: for if Stukeley could prove that the Druids were the builders of Stonehenge and Avebury, he could prove that the ancient Britons had possessed a far greater grasp of science than some sceptics accepted. Proof of the Druids' skill in building could in turn be taken as evidence for the their abilities in science which the classical sources clearly suggested they had possessed. (And remember, although these stone circles may appear crude to us, in Stukeley's day they were still being claimed as classical Roman works.) This proof in turn would be vital for Stukeley's interpretation of Druidic religion within the prisca theologica, and for his utilization of them as proof of the ancient presence of the true religion in Britain. To fully comprehend this relationship it is necessary to return again to the recesses of ancient history, and to uncover more about the Druids themselves, who Stukeley considered to be the 'offspring' of the Egyptian priesthood.[116]

[1] Sprat (1667) p. 5. By 'Eastern' he meant the Assyrians, Chaldeans and Egyptians, and this region is still considered by modern archaeologists to be the cradle of Mediterranean and European civilization.

[2] Newton, New College MS 361/2 f. 110; his alternative for the other 'side of the Indies' would be China; Stukeley to Samuel Gale, 25 October 1727, in Stukeley (1980) p. 140.

[3] Greaves (1646) p. 17.

[4] See Iversen (1993), esp. pp. 38-41.

[5] Herodotus, Histories Book II.4 (1996) p. 118.

[6] Speake (1994) p. 506; Iversen (1993) p. 45.

[7] Quoted in Patrides (1969) p. 7.

[8] Quoted in Harrison (1990), p. 13.

[9] Stukeley Bod MS Eng. misc. e. 667/3 f. 43. This account, if it was ever written, has not survived.

[10] See Yates (1964) pp. 398-403.

[11] See Martin Bernal, 'Black Athena is the Ancient Model', Times Literary Supplement, 11 May 2001. The study of Coptic Gnostic texts since the 1970s has shown parrallels between them and the Hermetic corpus, again raising questions of their preceise dating.

[12] Dobbs (1991) p. 54.

[13] Sprat (1667) p. 5.

[14] See Turnbull (1959-1977) vol. 2, p. 331.

[15] see Waller (1705) p. 405, and Sprat (1667) p. 5.

[16] Toland 'Clidophorus' (1720) title page.

[17] DNB.

[18] Clarke (1712) p. viii.

[19] Ibid p. ix.

[20] 'Concerning the service of the church.'

[21] For the only full-length -- though still very brief -- biography of Kircher see Godwin (1979), and also the DSB.

[22] Iversen (1993) p. 94; Godwin (1979) p. 15.

[23] See Godwin (1979) p. 15.

[24] Iversen (1993) p. 94. Iversen writes that in spite of his subsequent reputation, 'From a humanistic as well as an intellectual point of view Egyptology may very well be proud of having Kircher as its founder.'

[25] Popkin (1990b) p. 10.

[26] See Grafton (1992) pp. 210-11, and Rubies (1991).

[27] Grotius (1711) 'Translator's Preface'.

[28] Ibid., Book I, section 16, 'From Foreign Testimonies': p. 25 and p. 44.

[29] See Rosa (1994), de Vet (1984), and Klauber (1991).

[30] Grotius (1711) 'Translator's Preface': the translator is named as John Clarke, presumably an anglicized form of Jean LeClerc.

[31] See Halyburton (1714); Leland (1745); Reventlow (1984) pp. 185-6; see Bedford (1979) for an intellectual biography of Herbert. For a contemporary definitiion of deism, see Clarke (1706), esp. p. 37

[32] Herbert (1705) pp. 1-2.

[33] Ibid. p. 5.

[34] Ibid. p. 6.

[35] Ibid. pp. 3-7.

[36] Ibid. p. 8.

[37] Ibid. p. 13.

[38] Quoted in Klaiber (1976) p. 508.

[39] Romans (1:22-23).

[40] Herbert (1705), p. 3.

[41] Popkin (1990a) p. 32.

[42] See Piggott (1974), pp. 433, 447, 452.

[43] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 650 f. 9, 'Disquisitio de Deo' (1732).

[44] Stukeley CCCC MS 615.

[45] Stukeley Wellcome MS 4722 f. 2.

[46] Richard Bentley, 'Life and Character of Bishop Stillingfleet', in Stillingfleet's Works (London 1710) I p. 5, quoted in Popkin (1971) p. 306.

[47] Stillingfleet (1709) p. 9.

[48] Ibid. p. 9.

[49] Ibid. pp. 360-1.

[50] Stukeley Cardiff MS 4.253 f. 111.

[51] Wilkins (1675) pp. 39, 61.

[52] Ibid. p. 43

[53] See Rivers (1991), esp. pp. 37-87.

[54] Thomas Burnet, Sermon Preached at the Funeral … of John Tillotson (1694) p. 30, quoted in Rivers (1991) p. 67.

[55] Quoted in Gascoigne (1991) p.182.

[56] Thomas Burnet, Archaeologiae Philosophicae sive Doctrina Antiqua de Rerum Originibus (1692) (English ed. London 1736) pp. 241-6, quoted in Gascoigne (1991) pp. 182-3.

[57] see Gascoigne (1991) pp. 175-8.

[58] DNB; Champion (1992) p. 155.

[59] More An Account of Virtue (1690) p. 267, originally published in Latin as Enchiridion ethicum (1668), translated by Edward Southwell, quoted in Patrides (1969) p.7.

[60] Sailor's assertion is based on his study of Newton's four folio page manuscript in the Clarke Library titled 'Out of Cudworth', Sailor (1988); McKnight (1991) p. 143.

[61] Casini (1984) p. 3.

[62] Manuel (1974) p. 95. Manuel likens Newton's interpretation of prophetic language as symbolical and hieroglyphic to a primary theme of Giambattista Vico's philosophy of history in his Scienza Nuova (1725): 'that the earliest peoples expressed themselves in symbols and poetic speech, not in ordinary prose.' Manuel (1974) pp. 95-6.

[63] See Gascoigne (1991), and Harrison (1990) p. 114.

[64] Gascoigne (1991) p. 185.

[65] Newton (1728).

[66] Newton in the unpublished Irenicum, quoted in McLachlan (1950) p. 28, and Newton in the unpublished manuscript 'A Short Scheme of the True Religion', quoted in McLachlan (1950) p. 52.

[67] Quoted in Gascoigne (1991) p. 190.

[68] Newton Yahuda MS 41 f. 5, quoted in Gascoigne (1991) p. 190.

[69] Popkin (1990b) p. 11.

[70] Trompf (1991) p. 216.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Newton New College MS 361/2 f.108v.

[73] Westfall (1980) pp. 351-2.

[74] Turnbull Vol. 3, p. 338.

[75] Newton New College MS II f. 160.

[76] Quoted in Iliffe (1989) p. 81, parentheses mine.

[77] Copernicus: On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, trans. A.M. Duncan (Newton Abbot 1976) p. 50; Walker (1972) p. 187.

[78] Newton Yahuda MS 41 f. 8r, quoted in Manuel (1974) pp. 44-5. The Prytaneion contained the representative hearth of the city of Athens: see Pausanias (I.18.3).

[79] Yahuda MS 41, ff. 3r--3v.

[80] Ibid. f. 6r.

[81] Gascoigne (1991) pp. 188.

[82] Westfall (1982) p. 26.

[83] See Manuel (1974) p. 43.

[84] See Gascoigne (1991) pp. 188-9, and Westfall (1982) p. 26.

[85] Newton (1721) p. 379.

[86] Newton Yahuda MS 41 f. 5.

[87] Stukeley (1936) p. 70.

[88] In Ezechielem Explanationes et Apparatus Urbis ac Templi Hierosolymitani (Rome 1596-1631). See Bennett and Madelbrote (1998) pp. 135-55.

[89] Lamy, Apparatus Biblicus (London 1723).

[90] Daily Courant Monday 20 June 1726.

[91] Stukeley FM MS 1130 Stu (1) f. 122.

[92] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 533 f. 41.

[93] Stukeley to John Conduitt, Grantham 26 June--22 July 1727, Keynes MS 136. Stukeley also discussed these matters with the Earl of Pembroke, Martin Folkes '& some more of my friends'. See Stukeley Roy. Soc. MS 142 f. 12

[94] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 f. 203.

[95] Quoted in Westfall (1980) p. 354.

[96] See Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 ff. 210, 229, 233.

[97] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 ff. 99-101.

[98] Stukeley FM MS 1130 Stu (5) ff. 4-6.

[99] Stukeley FM MS 1130 Stu (1) f. 122.

[100] Stukeley Roy. Soc. MS 142 f. 13.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Manuel (1974) p. 93.

[103] Newton (1733) chapter 6.

[104] Ibid. pp. 59-60. He cited his sources as Camden and Nennius.

[105] Ibid. pp. 251-2.

[106] Ibid. pp. 252-3.

[107] Ibid.

[108] Ibid. pp. 204-5.

[109] SS 2, p. 262.

[110] SS 1, p. 203.

[111] DNB.

[112] See Smith (1987) p. 124.

[113] Hartley to Stukeley, 5 April 1734, in Nichols (1817) p. 804.

[114] Hartley to Stukeley, 19 December 1735, in ibid. p. 805.

[115] Nichols (1817) p. 805.

[116] Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 f.240.

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