John Bentley (1757-1824),

mathematician and astronomer.

BENTLEY was one of a number of mathematicians fascinated – and in Bentley’s case, frustrated – by the newly translated works of Hindu astronomy, such as the Surya Siddhanta, made available by Sir William Jones, founder of the Asiatic Society. Jones’s decipering of Sanskrit opened up the vast extent of the Hindu cosmos, and evidence from ancient astronomical record-keeping challenged the Mosaic story of creation. Incensed by what he saw as a combination of cavalier mathematics and blasphemy, Bentley attempted to prove that the postulated age of these texts was a gross exaggeration, taking particular exception to Edinburgh reviewer John Playfair’s estimate that such texts dated back to 4300 BC: ‘By his [Playfair’s] attempt to uphold the antiquity of Hindu books against absolute facts, he thereby supports all those horrid abuses and impositions found in them, under the pretended sanction of antiquity. Nay, his aim goes still deeper, for by the same means he endeavours to overturn the Mosaic account, and sap the very foundation of our religion: for if we are to believe in the antiquity of Hindu books, as he would wish us, then the Mosaic account is all a fable, or a fiction’. The review of Bentley’s ‘On the Hindoo Systems of Astronomy, and their Connexion with History in Antient and Modern Times’ (ER 10:455-71) – not by Playfair as some assumed – was harsh. Bentley’s key work, A Historical View of the Hindu Astronomy, published posthumously in 1825, contains a preface challenging at length the Edinburgh’s reviews of his works.


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