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"Abraham, Planter of Mathematics"

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Author Topic: "Abraham, Planter of Mathematics"  (Read 226 times)
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« Reply #15 on: October 14, 2008, 10:43:34 pm »

Through the seventeenth century the Pillars continued to play a central role in histories that located the origins of mathematics in the deep ancient world. In England, for example, Sir Walter Ralegh relied heavily on them in his 1614 History of the World. Ralegh followed Pico, discussing the history of magic within the setting of its postdiluvian corruption, but like Annius treated many of the mathematical arts—including alchemy and astrology—as predating Chaldean corruption.46 John Wallis's 1649 inaugural oration as Savilian Professor of Geometry relied heavily on the Pillars as evidence for the presence of intricate knowledge of mathematics in the ancient world. For Wallis, the astrological knowledge of the Chaldeans, corrupt as it was, proved beyond a doubt the widespread diffusion of mathematical learning.47 [End Page 104]

The Pillars thus served as crucial evidence for mathematics in the ancient world, and a history of mathematics that began almost from the Fall. To topple the Pillars was to topple this vision, a feat achieved in 1722 by William Whiston, Newton's successor as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. But the biblical antiquarian Whiston did not debunk the attribution of these Pillars to Seth to stake a claim regarding the history of mathematical learning. Rather, the Unitarian Whiston argued that second-century Jewish redactors had corrupted the true text of scripture by introducing Trinitarian fables. Whiston claimed that Josephus had been working with the authentic Scriptures—indeed, he thought, the Temple's copy of the Bible, which Josephus may have received directly from Titus. Whiston was thus forced to explain away any incongruities within Josephus's text, and he deemed the Pillars of Seth a "strange supposition," which needed to be dismissed.48 Josephus, Whiston claimed, was simply uninformed about Egyptian history, its pharaohs and obelisks, when he attributed the pillars to Seth instead of their rightful builder, the Pharoah "Seth-os, or Sethosis, or Sesotris the Great."49 While still dating the Pillars to almost 1200 BC—easily predating the high cultures of Greece and Rome—Whiston undermined the bedrock evidence for an Annian history of science.50
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Your mind understands what you have been taught; your heart what is true.
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