A rare, handwritten, working manuscript by Sir Isaac Newton for the last book he ever wrote is for auction at Bonhams
, as part of the sale of the Roy Davids Collection of Papers and Portraits in London on 29 March. It is estimated at between £40,000-50,000.
Newtons world famous reputation as a mathematician and scientist has tended to obscure his deep interest in - and knowledge of - theology. His immersion in religious thought and, in particular, biblical study only emerged comparatively recently in 1991 when the bulk of his papers on theology, held at the University of Jerusalem, became widely available. He has been described both as perhaps the greatest biblical scholar of his age, and as an original Hebraic scholar.
The document in the Roy Davids sale headed, The Question stated about abstaining from blood is, according to Dr Noel Malcolm, Senior Research fellow at All Souls, Oxford, the most important theological manuscript by Newton to have appeared at auction for many years. It represents a crucial part of Newtons reasoning on the seven precepts of the sons of Noah which he regarded as the bases of religion and morality. Among the seven precepts, which he identified through studying both Scripture itself and rabbinical tradition, were prohibitions on blasphemy, idolatry, homicide and theft and - the main subject of this document - abstaining from eating blood. As Newton puts it, ..in that ancient law of the sons of Noah, the life forbidden to be eaten with the flesh is the blood or in the blood. He traces this injunction from before the flood to the instructions given to early Christians in the Acts of the Apostles where, he reasoned, the law was not because blood defileth him that eateth it, but because the prohibition is a check to savageness and cruelty. He ends by posing the question Whether the law be still in force?
Newton himself appears to have abstained from eating black pudding (otherwise knows as blood pudding) and rabbits which were usually strangled to death and therefore retained their blood. His niece, who inherited this and other papers, always maintained that he was motivated by a wish to avoid suffering to animals and a belief that eating blood made men cruel.