William Whiston (1667-1752)
9 December 1667|
Norton-juxta-Twycross, Leicestershire, England
|Died||22 August 1752
Lyndon, Rutland, England
|Residence||Kingdom of Great Britain|
|Institutions||University of Cambridge|
|Alma mater||Clare College, University of Cambridge|
|Academic advisors||Isaac Newton
|Notable students||James Jurin|
|Known for||Translating the works of Josephus, catastrophism, isoclinic maps|
William Whiston (9 December 1667 – 22 August 1752) was an English theologian, historian, and mathematician. He is probably best known for his translation of the Antiquities of the Jews and other works by Josephus, his A New Theory of the Earth, and his Arianism. He succeeded his mentor Isaac Newton as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge.
Early life and career 
Whiston was born to Josiah Whiston and Katherine Rosse at Norton-juxta-Twycross, in Leicestershire, where his father was rector. He was educated privately, for his health, and so that he could act as amanuensis to his blind father. He studied at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Tamworth. After his father's death, he entered Clare College, Cambridge as a sizar on June 30, 1686. He applied himself to mathematical study, was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) (1690), and A.M. (1693), and was elected Fellow in 1691 and probationary senior Fellow in 1693.
William Lloyd ordained Whiston at Lichfield in 1693. In 1694, claiming ill health, he resigned his tutorship at Clare to Richard Laughton, chaplain to John Moore, the bishop of Norwich, and swapped positions with him. He now divided his time between Norwich, Cambridge and London. In 1698 Bishop More awarded him the living of Lowestoft where he became Rector. In 1699 he resigned his Fellowship of Clare College and left in order to marry Ruth, daughter of George Antrobus, Whiston's headmaster at Tamworth school.
In 1701 Whiston resigned his Rectorship to become Isaac Newton's substitute as Lucasian lecturer at Cambridge, whom he succeeded in 1702. Here he engaged in joint research with his junior colleague Roger Cotes, appointed with Whiston's patronage to the Plumian professorship in 1706.
Arianism and later career 
In 1707 he was Boyle lecturer. For several years Whiston continued to write and preach both on mathematical and theological subjects; but his study of the Apostolic Constitutions had convinced him that Arianism was the creed of the early church. His heterodoxy soon became notorious, and in 1710 he was deprived of his professorship and expelled from the university after a well-publicized hearing. The rest of his life was spent in incessant controversy — theological, mathematical, chronological, and miscellaneous. Because of his Arianism, Whiston was never invited to be a member of the Royal Society, due probably to Newton's feelings about him after he published his unorthodox views. Whiston was permitted, however, to lecture to the Society frequently.
Whiston founded a society for promoting primitive Christianity, lecturing in support of his theories in halls and coffee-houses at London, Bath, and Royal Tunbridge Wells. In 1714, Whiston was instrumental in the establishment of the Board of Longitude and for the next forty years made persevering efforts to solve the longitude problem. He gave courses of demonstration lectures on astronomical and physical phenomena and engaged in many religious controversies. Whiston produced one of the first isoclinic maps of southern England in 1719 and 1721.
While considered heretical on many points, he was a firm believer in supernatural Christianity, and frequently took the field in defense of prophecy and miracle, including anointing the sick and touching for the king's evil. His dislike of rationalism in religion also made him one of the numerous opponents of Benjamin Hoadly's Plain Account of the Nature and End of the Sacrament. He held that Song of Solomon was apocryphal and that the Book of Baruch was not. He was fervent in his views of ecclesiastical government and discipline, derived from the Apostolical Constitutions, on the ecclesiastical authorities. He challenged the teachings of Athanasius. He challenged Sir Isaac Newton's Biblical chronological system with success; but he himself lost not only time but money in an endeavour to solve the problem of longitude. In 1736 he caused widespread anxiety among London's citizens when he predicted the world would end on October 16 of that year because a comet would hit the earth; the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake, had to officially deny this prediction to ease the public.
Of all his singular opinions the best known is his advocacy of clerical monogamy, immortalized in The Vicar of Wakefield. His last "famous discovery, or rather revival of Dr Giles Fletcher, the Elder's," which he mentions in his autobiography with infinite complacency, was the identification of the Tatars with the lost tribes of Israel. About 1747 he finally left the Anglican communion for the Baptists, leaving the church literally as well as figuratively by quitting it as the clergyman began to read the Athanasian Creed.
For Whiston, to form an opinion and to publish it were things almost simultaneous.
Whiston's A New Theory of the Earth from its Original to the Consummation of All Things (1696), an articulation of creationism and flood geology which held that the global flood of Noah had been caused by a comet, obtained the praise of both Newton and Locke, the latter of whom classed the author among those who, if not adding much to our knowledge, "At least bring some new things to our thoughts." He was an early advocate, along with Edmond Halley, of the periodicity of comets; he also held that comets were responsible for past catastrophes in earth's history.
He vindicated his estimate of the Apostolical Constitutions and the Arian views he had derived from them in his Primitive Christianity Revived (5 vols., 1711–1712). In 1713 he produced a reformed liturgy. One of the most valuable of his books, the Life of Samuel Clarke, appeared in 1730.
His translation of the works of Josephus (1737), with notes and dissertations, was often reprinted. In 1745 he published his Primitive New Testament (on the basis of Codex Bezae and Codex Claromontanus). Whiston left a memoir (3 vols., 1749–1750). It does not contain any account of the proceedings taken against him at Cambridge for his antitrinitarianism, these having been published separately at the time.
See also 
- Farrell, Maureen (1981). William Whiston. New York: Arno Press.
- Force, James E. (2002). William Whiston: Honest Newtonian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Rouse Ball, W. W. (1889, repr. 2009). A History of the Study of Mathematics at Cambridge University. Cambridge University Press. pp. 83–85. ISBN 978-1-108-00207-3.
- Biography of William Whiston at the LucasianChair.org, the homepage of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University
- Bibliography for William Whiston at the LucasianChair.org the homepage of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University
- Whiston's MacTutor Biography
- Works by William Whiston at Project Gutenberg
- Works and translations by Whiston, in the Internet Archive
- "Account of Newton", Collection of Authentick Records (1728), pp. 1070–1082
- "The Works of Flavius Josephus" translated by William Whiston
- "William Whiston and the Deluge" by Immanuel Velikovsky
- "Whiston's Flood"
- Whiston biography at Chambers' Book of Days
- Whiston biography at NNDB
- Some of Whiston's views on biblical prophecy
- "William Whiston, The Universal Deluge, and a Terrible Specracle" by Roomet Jakapi
- Collection of Authentick Records by Whiston at the Newton Project
- William Whiston, 1667-1752
- Collection of William Whiston portraits at England's National Portrait Gallery
- Primitive New Testament