I watched the programme "Newton:the Dark Heretic" on BBC2 with great interest as Newton's rejection of the trinity must be the most scholarly analysis of the teaching and its origins I have ever read. His protege and successor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, one William Whiston, was less secretive about his beliefs than Newton and was subsequently expelled from the University. Had he lived a hundred years earlier he would have been burned at the stake.
Anyway, about the programme. It was advertised as :
For centuries the true character of Sir Isaac Newton was expunged from history. This film reveals that the founder of modern science was a religious zealot who spent years decoding the Bible.
There is a fuller description at http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/tv_radio/miscprogs/newton.shtml.
In 1999 when Stephen Snobelen was on a doctoral fellowship to Cambridge (from the University of King's College, Halifax, Nova Scotia) he wrote an article, "Isaac Newton, heretic: the strategies of a Nicodemite", in the British Journal for the History of Science (1999, 32, pp.381-419, http://members.aol.com/stevesnobelen/heretic.pdf) and this programme is really a follow-up on his research.
The programme did not actually reveal anything previously unknown although the general public image of Isaac Newton is inaccurate. The background to the programme is that after Newton died most of his papers went to his niece, Catherine Conduitt, and ended up with the Portsmouth family who gave them to Cambridge University Library in the late nineteenth century. In an act of sacrilege the library sold many of these papers by auction at Sotheby's in 1936. So most of his papers are now divided amongst several collections including the Keynes Collection at King's College, Cambridge; the Yahuda Collection at the Jewish National and University Library; the Public Record Office, London and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. In the United States the Grace K. Babson Collection at Babson College, Massachusetts and the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Los Angeles hold a number of papers.
The programme made it seem that Stephen Snobelen has just discovered that Isaac Newton was a man of his times. That he was not "the first of the age of reason", but "the last of the magicians". This is because of his great interest in alchemy to the extent that he was one of Europe's leading alchemists albeit in secret. He spent nearly thirty years studying alchemy and wrote more than a million words about it. The programme suggested that Newton's interest in the "philosopher's stone" which turned metal into gold was not greed but to understand the secrets of God's creation, how he created everything from nothing. From what I know of Newton I think that is probably accurate.
There was also quite a lot on Newton's religious beliefs, his rejection of the trinity and of the Catholic Church as Babylon the Great, and his interest in chronology and the end of the world. Interestingly, Dr. Simon Schaffer, who is reader in history and philosophy of science and a fellow of Darwin College at Cambridge University, tells [in the programme] of an early manuscript where Newton made anagrams of his Latin name - Isaacus Newtonus - to form the words "Jehovah Sanctus Unus" which Schaffer translated as "One Holy God" but is in fact a form of the shemah "Jehovah our God is One Jehovah" - an early Newtonian rejection of the trinity.
Now what about this 2060? It really was a gross misrepresentation as any Newton scholar would know. Professor Snobelen (and the BBC) ought to be ashamed. Let me tell you what happened and then tell you the truth. Right at the end of the programme after Newton had died they went back to the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem. For thirteen seconds it showed Stephen Snobelen handling a single page but didn't allow viewers to see what was written and didn't provide any identification, but said :
This [the page Prof. Snobelen was handling] shows that late in life Newton decoded from the Bible the date he believed would see the beginning of the end of the world - the Apocalypse!
and then identified the year as 2060 with great fanfare and the world ablaze.
The truth of the matter is that Newton's papers on the prophecies, on which he wrote a great deal, contain a number of calculations on the Day of Judgement. In his biography on Newton - "Never At Rest" - Richard Westfall writes regarding this particular "prophecy" (C.U.P., 1996 reprint, p.816) :
One of [the papers on the prophecies], apparently from the 1720s, concluded that it could not come before 2060 and that it might be later yet. [He then quotes from the page that Prof. Snobelen was waving about (Yahuda MS 7.3g, f. 13) :]
I mention this period [he continued] not to assert it, but only to shew that there is little reason to expect it earlier, & thereby to put a stop to the rash conjectures of Interpreters who are frequently assigning the time of the end, & thereby bringing the sacred Prophecies into discredit as often as their conjectures do not come to pass. It is not for us to know the times & seasons which God has put in his own breast.