Chapter Ten

The Anglican Church in Jerusalem

 In the era of its first Bishop, Michael Solomon Alexander

(1842 – 2845)






Bishop Michael Solomon Alexander led the Jerusalem Anglican Bishopric in the early years of its foundation, namely, the four years from 1842-1845.  He found his way in the midst of difficulties and hardships created by the political and social situation prevailing in Palestine under Ottoman rule. The bishop was sometimes alone, without any aid or friend to help him translate into reality the contents of the principles, recommendations and agreements between Prussia and Britain. So he organized the scattered British and Prussian religious efforts in Palestine through societies and missionaries under an episcopal  system, which is the legitimate framework enforced in the Eastern Churches acceptable to the Ottoman authorities, although these authorities did not recognize Protestantism as a millet. On the political level, the bishopric served the British influence in the East. It also allowed Prussia to have a foothold in the Ottoman arena by joining the bishopric. Alexander managed to convert a few Jews, but the effort made for doing so was enormous, in comparison to the meagre result. Meanwhile, the bishopric drew the attention of the Jews in Europe to immigrate to Palestine and revive the old Jewish dream of the Promised Land. In both cases, the conversion of the Jews or their insistence to uphold their Judaism has served the British influence in the East. Therefore, Britain granted them a unique position in its eastern policy.

 1- The life of Bishop Michael Solomon Alexander:

Alexander was born in 1799 in Schonlanke town in Poznam, Prussia. He was of a religious Jewish family. His father was a rabbi. Alexander grew up in his family according to the Mosaic laws and traditions. At the age of 16, he became a teacher. He taught Talmudic disciplines and German. When he became 20 years old, he traveled to Britain. “At that time he had not the slightest acquaintance with Christianity, and did not even know of the existence of the New Testament. His knowledge of the Lord Jesus was limited to strong impressions and prejudice against the Holy Name.”[1] In Britain, he worked as a rabbi in Norwich and then in Plymouth. In 1821, he married Miss Deborah Levi, a devout Jewish girl.

Alexander came in touch with the missionaries of the London Jewish Society, which operated in the Jewish environment in which he served as a rabbi. He taught Hebrew to Pastor B. B. Holding, who helped Alexander discover Christianity.         “Alexander, after much inward conflict, almost came to the conviction of the truth of Christianity.”[2] So he began going to church, and was suspended from his duties as a rabbi. He was baptized in 1825. His wife and six children followed suit after a short while and were baptized. The baptism of Alexander was the talk of the hour at the London Jewish Society, which accorded the new convert every care and attention.

Alexander’s conversion to Christianity was not restricted to the role of pious believer in the Anglican Church and the faithful sons of the London Jewish Society. His religious background could be traced back to the time when he was a rabbi. After working in teaching Hebrew before he was ordained as deacon in 1827 in Dublin and then a pastor in 1830, he was committed to work for the London Jewish Society. He participated in the production of the Hebrew translation of the Anglican prayer book. He was appointed an executive director of an institute undertaking to care for converted Jews, called the Operative Jewish Converts Institution. He taught Hebrew and Talmudic literature in King’s College. Thus Pastor Alexander became one of the most prominent figures in Jewish-Christian circles.

In 1841, Alexander was elected as bishop of Jerusalem. He was consecrated on Sunday 11 November 1841 at Lambeth Palace, headquarters of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Howley, consecrated him. The Bishop of London, Bloomfield, and other bishops participated in the ceremony. The envoy of the King of Prussia, Bunsen, British Ambassador to the Sublime Porte, Sir Stradford Canning, many friends of the Jerusalem Anglican Bishopric, the dignitaries of the London Jewish Society, and figures of the Jewish-Christian community attended the event. The ceremony was moving. Those attending were of the view that the Jerusalem Bishopric would be a source of good. They pinned hopes on it to guide the Jews to Christianity. “It was a solemn service. Dr. McCaul preached the sermon from Isaiah iii: 7. The reading by Bishop Selwyn of the passage, ‘Now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there’…etc. (Acts xx: 22-24), moved the Bishop of London to tears.”[3] It is probably appropriate to point out that the verse that preceded the foregoing verses says: “Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews” (Acts XX: 19). Alexander the Jew undertook to evangelize his kinsmen. He will suffer trouble and will be hurt as was contained in Acts XX: 19. As for Bunsen, he offered luncheon for the guests in honor of the new bishop. On the next day, the bishop held prayer in Hebrew at the church of the London Jewish Society. His sermon focused on the foregoing verses.

2 – The travel of Bishop Alexander to Palestine and his entry into Jerusalem:

On 7 December 1841, the British warship Devastation sailed en route to Palestine with Bishop Alexander aboard. He had already been awarded British citizenship. His wife and children, his confidant, pastor Georges Williams, and some friends and companions accompanied him. The ship anchored in Beirut on 14 January 1842. Colonel Hugh Rose, the British General Consul in Beirut joined the bishop, because the Jerusalem consulate was under his jurisdiction after it was detached from Alexandria during the Egyptian rule of Palestine.

On 18 January, Nicolayson and Bergheim welcomed the bishop in Jaffa. The bishop entered Jerusalem on Friday, 21 January. The bishop describes the reception accorded to him in Jerusalem in the following words:[4] We arrived in Jerusalem, the city of our forefathers on Friday evening. We were warmly welcomed, appreciated and received with honor. We formed a venerated cavalcade; the General Consul, Colonel Rose together with seven or eight of his men, and Captain Gordon together with six or seven of his officers of the warship Devastation. Nicolayson and Bergheim, who received us in Jaffa, accompanied us. As for Mr. John and the American missionaries, they came to welcome us three miles away from the road to Jerusalem. Finally, there was the senior officer, who was dispatched by the Pasha. The Pasha came later to welcome us. There was a troupe of soldiers singing Arabic style music, which resembled the noise produced from beating tin. Thus we entered Jerusalem from Jaffa Gate. Soldiers were firing shots in the air to welcome us. Tibawi comments on the Alexander story and interprets it differently:

“Alexander was still new to the ways of the Turkish Pasha. If the Porte had refused to recognize him, and had made strong protests against his mission, it is inconceivable that the Governor of Jerusalem would have braved the wet weather of a January afternoon to come out to welcome him. As a matter of courtesy to the Consul-General, however, the utmost that the Governor might have done was to send a polite message containing a similar excuse to the one given in Alexander’s report. Again Alexander was still new to Jerusalem. He did not know as yet that the Jaffa Gate, through which he entered the city, was so close to the citadel, the headquarters of the garrison. The 21 January was the eve of the Id Al-Adha (the Sacrifice Feast) of the year 1257 A.H., and Muslim soldiers were most probably celebrating the occasion with music and firing, not saluting a foreign dignitary unrecognized and unwelcome to their Government.”[5]

The Times of London reported the following about the bishop’s arrival in Jerusalem: “The mission is sure of the firm support of the British government and the British ambassador at the Porte.”[6] The British stands were contradictory. The promises and the commitments, which the government makes to those concerned with the bishopric, were contrasting. There was a major difference between what was said to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the instructions issued to the consul of Jerusalem, and the press reports published by newspapers. Perhaps this is a feature of British politics. Gidney concludes the description of the entry of the bishop to Jerusalem with this phrase, which is not without of exaggeration: “In conformity with the instructions received from Constantinople, a proclamation was made in the mosques, that he who touches the Anglican Bishop will be regarded as touching the apple of the Pasha’s eye.”[7]

Bishop Alexander and his family were guests of Nicolayson, who gave them his own home as a temporary residence. After a short period of time, the bishop moved to the home of the British Consul. He then rented a house of his own. In that house, a baby girl was born to Alexander, but she died one month after she was born. “Her baptism and burial were the first ritual which the bishop presided over.”[8]  After the baby died, he moved on to a third home. The most prominent achievements he completed for the bishopric in 1842 were as follows:[9] On 17 March, he ordained one of the members of the Church Missionary Society and baptized the members of a Jewish family. On 9 October, he baptized and confirmed eight Jews. the following week he blessed the marriage of two Jews. On 30 October, he ordained a Jew, E. M. Tartakover, “the first Hebrew Christian ordained at Jerusalem since apostolic days. There were now a bishop, a priest, and a deacon, all Hebrews of the Hebrews ministering on Mount Sion.”[10] In 1842, three rabbis began to study Christianity in preparation for accepting baptism; Rabbi Abraham stopped studying under pressure from his family; as for Rabbis Benjamin and Eliezer, they continued their studies and joined the London Jewish Society.

3-Reaction to the establishment of the Anglican Bishopric in Jerusalem:

The case of the Anglican Bishopric was not closed down after it was established. Those concerned continued to give advice and to criticize the bishopric. The British government did not apply to Istanbul before the travel of the bishop to Jerusalem, asking to recognize him, out of fear that its request might be turned down. In fact, the Sublime Porte refused to recognize the bishop. The bid to recognize the bishop was made by the British chargé d’affaires to the Sublime Porte. The religious duties of the bishop were not restricted to the British residing in the Ottoman Sultanate, but included Ottoman citizens of the sultanate. The sultanate meanwhile, did not want to increase the number of the religious institutions it had, particularly since these institutions were quarreling with one another. But in reality British diplomacy did not want a full recognition of the bishop, so that a British-supported bishopric would not become a reason for the European Powers to interfere more in Ottoman affairs. Therefore, the minimum that Britain sought to achieve was that “no peculiar privileges were asked for the bishop other than those that all British subjects, of whatever status or profession they might be, were entitled to enjoy in the dominions of the sultan.”[11] The truth of the matter is that Turkey allowed the establishment of the Protestant mission and ignored the fact that it was there. However, it did not recognize it officially, “The existence of the mission was tolerated, but not officially recognized.”[12]

The Ottoman position was soft while the British position was cautious. British Foreign Minister Aberdeen asserted to the Turkish chargé d’affaires (in a foreign office draft dated 3 may 1842) that “no special protection or privileges were asked for the bishop.”[13] The instructions of Aberdeen (3 May 1842) to Canning, British Ambassador to the Porte say that the bishop was  “strictly enjoined by his ecclesiastical superiors in this country (UK) not to interfere into the religious concerns either of the Mohammedan, or the Christian subjects of the Porte, and not to attempt to make proselytes to the Church of England from either of these classes. Under the limitations thus stated, Her Majesty’s government desire that you shall extend your official protection to Bishop Alexander to the utmost of your ability, but you will carefully abstain from identifying yourself in any degree with the mission.”[14] Thus, Britain appeased the apprehensions of the Eastern Churches and the Muslims. The Alexander mission was targeting the Jews only. Even the Jews in Palestine were Ottoman subjects. Jewish immigrants from Russia who were not given Ottoman citizenship enjoyed the protection of the Russian consulate. Thus the position of Alexander was difficult and complicated and he had only one way out, namely, to take the initiative on his own responsibility to outmaneuver the Ottoman laws without the explicit protection of his government.

Samuel Gobat, of the Church Missionary Society in Malta, commented on the bitter realities engulfing Alexander and the proposed plans and solutions by saying they were unrealistic.[15] As for the King of Prussia, who arrived on a visit to Britain at the beginning of 1842, he repeated his old ideas on Protestant unity and Eastern Churches without taking into considerations the facts engulfing the bishopric in Palestine.  As for the French Ambassador in Istanbul, Bourqueney, he described the establishment of the bishopric in Jerusalem in a letter he sent to French Foreign Minister Guizot on 4 March 1842. The letter said that the bishopric was simultaneously a religious and political project and that the Catholic authorities in Istanbul were indifferent to the new Protestant presence, provided that this presence would provide the Christians with more religious freedom.[16]

The Ottoman Sultanate acquiesced to the policy of fait accompli which Britain and Prussia worked on. Thus the King of Prussia was optimistic. However, a strong opposition came from a body, which the bishop did not expect. As soon as the Prussian Religious Affairs Minister issued an order to collect contributions from the Prussian Churches for the bishopric, many German clerics resisted the idea and denounced the bishopric project. Foremost among these was Karl Bernhard Hundeshagen, who published a statement in December 1842 under the title: ‘Das Anglo-Preussiche Bisthum zu Sankt Jacob in Jerusalem und was daran hängt.’ The statement said the following:[17]

- The bishopric is an attempt to spread Protestantism among the followers of the Eastern Churches.

- The situation arising in Palestine as a result of the Egyptian rule encouraged the King of Prussia to work for improving the conditions of the Christians in the East and to establish German settlements in Palestine.

- The Protestant Church of Jerusalem, which is the ‘rock of Saint Jacob’, is a competitor of the Catholic Church, which is the ‘rock of Saint Peter.’

- The future of the bishopric and its Bishop Alexander will remind us one day of the future of the Latin Kingdom in Jerusalem.

The reply to these and other criticisms came from Bunsen, the theoretician of the Bishopric project and the hero of the Prussian-British agreement. Bunsen published in the summer of 1842 a memorandum under the title: ‘Das Evangelische Bisthum in Jerusalem. Geschichtliche Darlegung mit urkunden’ in which he defended the viability of establishing the bishopric and the benefits of the English – Prussian agreement.[18] Thus the criticism and the replies to the criticism by the supporters and the opposition to the bishopric project in Prussia recurred. In Britain, the parliament devoted several sessions to hear the objections and the replies on the viability of the establishment of the bishopric. The press also participated in sponsoring the diversified viewpoints.

English and Prussian diplomats and clerics sold the idea of establishing a bishopric in the Promised Land during parliament sessions and the meetings held at Lambeth Palace. This was not an impossible mission. Bishop Alexander was entrusted with implementing the contents of the agreements and theories. This was a difficult mission for which he would not be envied. Historians Tibawi and Hajjar confirmed this. The first historian described him as “ a bishop without a church and a mere handful of Jewish converts as a congregation; a bishop unrecognized by the government within whose territory he resided, a bishop, moreover, unprotected in the main field of his mission by the government that sanctioned his appointment.”[19] The second historian Hajjar said that Protestantism in Europe was eager to establish a bishopric in Jerusalem and the role of the bishop was to work for making the eastern world absorb this bishopric and accept its presence.[20]

4-The bodies and persons with which Bishop Alexander did business:

In 1842, the positive signs of the missionary activities of the bishop in Jerusalem began to appear. However, pastoral work in Palestine is difficult and complex, not only for him, but also for all the Christian denominations. The pastor and priest had to take several things into consideration and to keep in mind the interests of many groups of people, which could be harmed by the religious activities. Palestinian society was not homogenous in its ethnic, religious or political origins. Bishop Alexander had to deal with several individuals and bodies so as to execute his projects. He had to do business, for example, with the representatives of the Ottoman Sultanate, the Muslim Sheikhs and their leaders, the Jewish community, the Christian denominations, the British missionaries who were directly attached to him or to the London Jewish Society, the British consul and the Prussian missionaries. Each of the foregoing individuals or groups represented diverse interests and goals. In order for the bishop to achieve his set goals, he had to do business with these bodies while keeping in mind their interests and religious and political sensitivities. This produced a set of contradictory interests around the bishop, which the bishop tried to understand and to curb.

Meanwhile, the young diocese lacked the solid and stable base of established parishes, who, throughout the ages, were given privileges, rights and endowments and for whom establishments were built and continued to grow in number. The new diocese therefore, failed to provide the missionaries with vast and diversified prospects, such as the Custody of the Holy Land or the Orthodox Patriarchate. The new diocese had to build the necessary infrastructure for each missionary work. Among the requirements of the infrastructure in Palestine were privileges and rights and the setting up of a recognized legal framework as well as a popular framework that welcomed the initiatives of the new missionaries coming from the West. The most important bodies, which Alexander did business with, and the urgent topics, which he had to tackle, were the following:

A-    Building the Anglican church in Jerusalem:

Work on the building of the church began in 1840 under the supervision of Nicolayson without the permission of the Ottoman authorities. The Governor of Jerusalem stopped the work on the church. However, Alexander continued the work, but the Ottoman authorities stopped him once again. Alexander began to build a house for himself, which could be used as a temporary church. However, work on the construction of the house was also stopped. “In official eyes he was not recognized as the head of a religious community (millet) in the legal sense of the word.”[21] The church was in fact, built in the era of Bishop Gobat, the successor of Alexander.

B-    Anglican ecclesiastical activity among the Jews:

In the mid-nineteenth century, the number of Jews in Jerusalem, according to the figures released by Anthimos, secretary of the Orthodox Patriarchate, reached 5,000. According to the Ottoman census, there were 4,500 Jews, Meanwhile, the Schultz census said that there were 7,120 Jews in Jerusalem.[22] However, William Hechler gave exaggerated figures. According to him, there were 10,000 Jews in Jerusalem in 1840 and the figure reached a total of 13,500 people in 1871.[23]

The Jews in Palestine were divided into three categories: The Sephardim, who were the oriental Jews or the Jews of Spain and they were the larger in number. The second was the Ashkenazim, who were the Western Jews or the Jews of Germany. The third was the Karaite Jews. The Karaite Jews differ from other Jews in their rejection of the oral Torah of rabbinic tradition, and their efforts to live according to the authority of the Hebrew Bible alone. The Karaites started in Baghdad in the eighth century. To these Jews of the three categories, the bishop addressed his call and the London Jewish Society devoted its efforts to convert them. Only a few Jews were converted before the era of the bishopric. However, in the age of the bishopric, some 40 Jews occasionally attended mass on one single Sunday.

The Jewish community did not welcome the invitation made by Alexander for the Jews to embrace Christianity. In fact, they excommunicated the members of the Jewish community dealing with him. An excommunicated person did not enjoy the protection of his community (millet).  Affiliation with a new group as such the Protestants did not offset the loss of affiliation with the old Jewish millet, as Protestantism did not then enjoy this characteristic, to be a recognized millet. The Jewish reply was violent and radical:

 “The reaction of the religious leaders of the Jewish community, who always considered the missionaries as disruptive, was swift and uncompromising. They issued another of their periodic excommunications. All members of the Jewish community were ordered to keep away from the members of Alexander’s mission, to avoid at all costs using the facilities of the missionary medical service, to destroy any missionary literature that might have been received by the unheedy among them, and to accept no employment by missionaries or to supply food to them. The penalty for disobedience was total ostracism, religious, social and legal. Offending members were, for example, threatened with denial of religious burial in a Jewish cemetery, and social boycott by their neighbours; worst of all, they were liable to the withdrawal of the legal and political protection of the head of their community as constituted under Ottoman law. The breach with the Jews was thus complete.”[24]

C-    The ties of bishop Alexander with the local Christians:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Howley, gave bishop Alexander a letter of recommendation addressed to the Eastern prelates. The letter was dated 13 November 1841. At that time, the Patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox was residing in Jerusalem. As for the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox, he was spending his time in Istanbul. The Franciscans were overseeing the affairs of the Latins. The post of the Latin Patriarch became an honorary post and its title was given to some ecclesiastical figures residing in the West. The Anglican Church earnestly wished to establish friendly relations with the Eastern Churches. This assignment was given to Alexander, who was a member of the London Jewish Society, and who sought to evangelize the Jews, not to integrate the Oriental Christians with his Church. This was the declared policy of his society. The contents of the letter of recommendation asserted the goodwill of the Anglican Church:[25]

1-      The letter was addressed to the prelates and bishops of the Eastern Apostolic Churches.

2-      The Archbishop of Canterbury recommended to the Eastern prelates to take good care of Bishop Alexander.

3-      Bishop Alexander was ordained according to the apostolic traditions of the Anglican Church.

4-      A royal decree appointed the bishop in Jerusalem.

5-      The duty of the bishop was to care for the Anglicans residing within the limits of the Anglican Bishopric.

6-      Bishop Alexander was advised not to interfere in the spiritual powers of the eastern prelates. He was also advised that he should forge relations of amity and respect with them, promote the spirit of ecumenism and understanding, urge the eastern prelates to accept the new bishop as one of their brethren and to offer every possible assistance to him.

7-      The Archbishop of Canterbury wished that the ties of amity and unity would be restored between the Anglican Church and the Eastern Churches. These ties were broken off centuries ago. Everyone should work for averting disunity and dismemberment of the one Church of Christ.

It seems from the text of the letter that Lambeth Palace assigned two duties to Alexander. The first was to care for the Anglicans, and the second was to represent the Anglican Church to the Eastern Churches as an accredited ambassador seeking to promote the ties of amity and brotherhood between his Church and the Eastern Churches, whose apostolic roots the letter recognized and presents the Anglican Church as a partner in these roots.

Alexander visited the Armenian Patriarchate, but avoided visiting the Latins.[26] It was said that the eastern prelates refused to receive the letter of recommendation and did not recognize its bearer or sender, but ignored the Anglican presence to the point of rejecting to recognize the baptisms done by the Anglicans pastors.[27] The Latins and Orthodox “had no reason to be cordial.”[28] Each of the Latins and Orthodox was proud of its past and privileges in the Holy Land and its relationship with the Great Powers. “Both the Orthodox and the Latins, clerical and lay, seem to have formed the impression that Alexander’s installation in Jerusalem was one more move by Britain to create an ‘English party’ in the Holy Land.”[29]

As for Alexander, he continued to be committed to the principles declared in the Letter of Recommendation and did not seek to form an Anglican denomination from the parishioners of the Eastern Churches. He forged good relations with the Armenians. A few years earlier and during the Egyptian rule, an Armenian helped Nicolayson to buy land for the mission. Meanwhile, the Armenians did not have denominational political ties with the Great Powers similar to the ties, which the Latins and the Orthodox had. Therefore, the Armenian Patriarchate did not fear the establishment of cordial relations with the Anglican Bishopric.

D-   The missionaries working under Bishop Alexander:

The Anglican clergy was formed of the various missionary societies, which were established in Palestine before the foundation of the bishopric, and the missionaries brought in by Bishop Alexander or those who joined him later on. The missionaries of the London Jewish Society placed themselves at the disposal of the bishop and their leader was Nicolayson. As for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, it withdrew from Palestine and focused its efforts on Syria and Lebanon, particularly during the era of Bishop Gobat. “An agreement was concluded between the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions and the Church Missionary Society of the Church of England. The agreement stipulated that the work of the Board’s missionaries be restricted to Syria and Lebanon while the Church Missionary Society would operate in the southern part, namely, Palestine.”[30] All the more so because the Church Missionary Society began its work in Palestine in the era of Bishop Gobat.

In 1839, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland sent a mission to Palestine to examine the religious conditions and to open a mission for the Jews. Its report said that southern Palestine was an area of concession for the London Jewish Society.  As for Galilee, which was inhabited by a large Jewish community centered in Safad, it was a virgin area in which the missionaries had not worked earlier. British Prime Minister Palmerston instructed the British civil servants in Palestine in 1840 to help the mission of the Church of Scotland. When the Anglican Bishopric was established, the bishop acted on the assumption that the whole of Palestine was under his sphere of influence and did not accept the idea of the presence of the Scottish in Safad. Thus, the two parties quarreled and competed to establish their presence in Safad. This prompted Rose, British General Consul in Beirut, to intervene to resolve the dispute. “Rose interfered by tactfully asking Alexander to check a spirit of intolerance among some of his companions towards the Scots. In reporting to Aberdeen he says that strife among missions made a mockery of their criticism of the strife among the followers of the old Churches in Jerusalem.”[31]

The London talks particularly, the official statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 9 December 1841,  spelled out the nature of relations between the bishop, the pastors and the German subjects in Palestine. The agreement was bitterly criticized in Germany as the opposition to the bishopric project saw it as being unfair to the Germany pastors joining the bishop. However, Bunsen defended the agreement. Several contacts were made between the Prussians and Canterbury to explain several points about the German pastors joining the bishopric. The truth of the matter was that there was a doctrinal and liturgical difference between the Church of England and the German pastors joining it. Thus the two parties exchanged several letters, including a letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the King of Prussia dated 18 June 1842 and a letter from the King to the Minister of Ecclesiastical Affairs in Prussia on 28 June 1842 reviewing the letter of the archbishop. The two letters dealt with matters related to regulating the joining of the German pastors to the Bishop and their acceptance of the Anglican ordinations that were referred to in the declaration of 9 September 1842.[32] The number of the German pastors remained limited and their relation with the bishop was good. “Bishop Alexander established good relations with the German congregation and clergy. The fact that he knew German well and that the German element existed among the members of his mission played a major role in creating the harmony and peace in the ranks of his mission.”[33] The Prussian King expressed his extreme interest in the German presence in Palestine by sending the first Prussian consul to the Holy City in 1843. His crown prince made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land that year. Alexander oversaw these societies, coordinated them, and melted them in to one pot, the Jerusalem Anglican Bishopric.

E-    Bishop Alexander and the British consuls:

The areas of work of the bishop and the consul were different. The first represented the Anglican Church and the second oversaw the interests of the British kingdom. However, there were in fact, questions, which the two sides were eager to look into together, such as building a church for the bishop, and conversion to Anglicanism by the Jews. The Ottomans had frequently stopped the plan for building the church, and this prompted the bishop to go to Consul Young, but the consul was not cooperative. So he referred the case to the general consul in Beirut, Colonel Rose. Alexander, accompanied by Nicolayson, sailed to Beirut with two goals to achieve one year after he held his post in Jerusalem. The first was to obtain an Ottoman firman to build the church. The second was to recognize Protestantism as an official millet and this would enable him to legally purchase real estate in the name of the millet and to accept whoever wished to join his Church. Rose warned the bishop against the danger and difficulty of achieving his goals as he may provoke the Jewish community and the Russian consulate in Jerusalem, which was the protector of Jews who were of Russian origin and which may demand that these Jews should join the Orthodox Church, not the Anglican Church. Raising such thorny questions in the Ottoman arena may lead to harming the Anglican mission. However, Alexander insisted on following up the case in front of the British parliament in the spring of 1843. Palmerston and Peel sponsored the position of the bishop. But finally, he lost the round as instructions were issued to the consul in Jerusalem saying: “You will most carefully abstain from affording to persons who may associate themselves to Bishop Alexander’s congregation protection as British dependents.”[34] Both the bishop and the consuls sponsored contradictory stands. The first was based on his ecclesiastical mission and the intentions of the London Jewish Society, and the second was based on the policy of the British government which at that time sought not to draw the attention to the Anglican ecclesiastical presence in the East or to cause conflict with the Ottomans and the Great Powers over the millet and capitulation systems.

The division of the British policy in the East seemed undoubtedly clear from the following incidents: Bishop Alexander ordained as an Anglican clergyman a Jew named Tartakover. He was said to have been the “the first Hebrew Christian ordained at Jerusalem since apostolic days.”[35] Shortly afterwards Tartakover arrived in Beirut and applied to Colonel Rose demanding that he be granted a British passport. “He claimed that he was British, but when pressed by Rose to declare his place of birth he answered that he was a British subject by spirit. This answer was not as fantastic as it may sound. It seems to have been based on the impression, created by Alexander and his missionaries, that a foreigner ordained as an Anglican clergyman became entitled to British protection and citizenship. Even the native Christians, seem to have gained the impression that to become a member of the Church of England was to be made English.”[36] Alexander protested against the consul’s decision refusing to grant the British nationality to his ordained clergymen, so he wrote: “A clergyman ordained in the Church of England may not be a native of Great Britain, but he must be a subject of the British Crown, having in his ordination vow sworn allegiance to Her Majesty.”[37] Alexander himself was exempted from vow of allegiance on the strength of the Act of Jerusalem! 

In 1842, three Russian Jews went to the bishop demanding to join his Church, and he welcomed them. However, the Russian consul in Beirut ordered his deputy in Jerusalem, who was a Jewish rabbi, that the Jews should report to the Russian consular court. So Consul Young heeded the request of the Russian consul. The issue as he saw it was political, but to Alexander, it was religious and a question of conscience. His denunciation and condemnation of the attitude of the two consuls did not change their opinion. The British government upheld its policy and did not heed the desires of the bishop. Ordinations continued to constitute a religious affiliation to the Anglican Church, not a political affiliation to Britain. However, the rigid British stand started to gradually soften.

As for the building of the church, the British government sought in all seriousness to obtain a firman for its construction and to fulfill the wish of the bishop. The prestige of the British Crown was in the balance in the eyes of citizens in Palestine. Thus Britain, in September 1845, secured a firman allowing for a “place of worship.”[38] The Ottoman authority of Palestine interpreted a “place of worship” to mean a permit to build a place of worship attached to the consulate, as a consular chapel, not an official pastoral church like the one which the Anglicans started to build since the days of Nicolayson and the local Ottoman authority banned. Thus the British ambassador in Istanbul had to hold a new round of talks and to explain and interpret the phrase in question “a place of worship”. Finally, he secured a firman to build a church. But Bishop Alexander did not have the pleasure of holding mass in it as he died on 22 November 1845. Thus Alexander headed the Anglican Bishopric for four years during which he laid down the foundations of the Anglican institutions in Palestine, but without having an official church or having his congregation recognized as a millet.

5-The pastoral institutions of the Anglican Church:

The pastoral institutions with their various types and goals are the apparent and tangible façade of the Church. Through these institutions, the Church seeks to achieve its spiritual goals. Alexander started creating charitable and educational projects as other Churches did to achieve the goal of establishing the bishopric, i.e. inviting the Jews to embrace Christianity. Charity and education were the basic pillars in the policy of the Palestinian Churches. The first of these institutions was the parish, which consisted of a small number of Jewish converts to Christianity and members of the Protestant communities who had joined the bishopric, despite the variety of their original denominations. The bishop combined all this ethnic, linguistic and religious diaspora in a house for performing the Sunday service in anticipation of building a church. The London Jewish Society ran the most important institutions, which existed in the diocese to serve the Jews, and they were as follows:

A-   The House of the Converts, The Hebrew College:

The bishop opened this center on 19 May 1842. Four students joined the center and pastor George Williams was principal and chaplain of the center. One teacher assisted him. Douglas Veitch succeeded Williams. The languages, which the center taught to its students, were English, German and Hebrew. It also taught divinity, arithmetic, music and translation. The aim of establishing the center was to have the Jewish converts spread the Christian faith among their own race. A small number of Jewish missionaries graduated from the center, which was closed down in 1846 for lack of financial resources.[39]

B-   The School of Industry:

The School of Industry was opened in 1843 under Paul Hershon who received his education at the House of Converts. Study at the school was obstructed after it was inaugurated. However, it resumed its educational role by training its students in the professions of carpentry and traditional handicrafts. It was then turned into a house and refuge for the converts and enquirers among Jews who were looking for protection, care and food and were learning a trade to make their living after their Jewish community rejected them. The School of Industry was famous for bookbinding, works of olive wood and souvenirs, which were exported to Britain. At a later phase, the school was divided into two parts: School of Industry and Enquirer’s Home. “An Enquirers’ Home also was found useful in providing new enquirers with instruction previous to their admission into the House of Industry for permanent training.”[40]

The school was overseen and supervised by the London Jewish Society. Miss Jane Cook donated 10,000 pounds sterling as a bank deposit. The interest on the bank deposit would be given to the school. On another occasion, she donated 700 pounds sterling to purchase real estate for the school. Thus the School of Industry prospered. Figures published by the London Jewish Society at its centennial (1908) said that the school hosted 516 Jews of which 237 were baptized.[41]

C-   The Medical Center:

In 1839 in Jerusalem, two missionaries, Peterman and Bergheim, formed a simple medical center, which later on turned into a distinguished medical clinic under Doctor Macgowan, who came to Palestine in the company of Bishop Alexander in 1842. In 1844, the center was turned into a small hospital for the treatment of citizens, particularly the Jews. “On January 21st, 1845, a Greek Jew died, whereupon the chief rabbi refused to bury the body unless a promise was given to dismiss all the patients, and never again to receive any Hebrews. The body, therefore, was interred in the British cemetery. A Jewish anathema was proclaimed on January 22nd, and in twenty-four hours all eight patients had left as well as the Jewish servants.”[42]  After the tempest calmed down, the Jews returned to doing business with the hospital. “A second anathema, on March 1st, produced a very slight effect; and the truth of Dr. Macgowan’s forecast that the opposition was only an effort of bigotry which would soon exhaust itself, and in the end turn out to the advantage of the Gospel, was very soon apparent.”[43]

The charitable and medical activity of these institutions was not the reason for the Jewish resistance of this activity. The reason for the resistance was that the Jews discovered that the activity was an instrument for familiarizing the beneficiaries from these institutions with the Christian teachings for the purpose of converting them. Doctor Aiton, who visited Jerusalem in 1845, confirmed this. “Both in the hospital and in the House of Industry plenty of New Testaments in the Hebrew tongue are laid on the tables. But while every facility is given to the reading of the Gospels, there is nothing like compulsion, or any indications that the conversion of inmates is the sole but disguised object of these institutions. On the contrary, everything is done, so far as the funds will admit of it, for the benefit of the whole body of the Jews in Palestine.”[44] The London Jewish Society established a Bible store early in 1844, for providing the foregoing institutions with copies of the Bible in Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Italian, French and Spanish at token prices or free of charge. Jewish leaders excommunicated those who frequented the store. The London Jewish Society employed a Jew, Judah Lyons, to read the Bible to the visitors of the store. Miss Jane Cook donated the man’s salary.[45]

D-  Projects of the bishopric outside Jerusalem:

The projects of the bishopric were not restricted to Jerusalem but extended to the other Jewish congregations in Palestine. The society established in Jaffa a store to distribute the Bible. “Jaffa has naturally ever been an important centre for work owing to its situation on the Mediterranean as the landing place for Jews coming from the west.”[46] The London Jewish Society assigned a Jewish convert the duty of distributing the Bible in Hebrew and Arabic. 

In Hebron, the attempts made by the bishop did not succeed, despite the society’s support for people to settle there. He visited it frequently and gave sermons to the Jews residing there.

The missionaries of the American Board and the London Jewish Society visited Safad in the early nineteenth century. The missionaries noted that the Safad Jews were the most fanatic among all other Jews. “Some of them told a former missionary of the society that if he succeeded in making a convert, he must dig a grave for him, as he would never be able to keep him alive there.”[47] However, the London Jewish Society did not lay down its arms; it continued its contacts with the Jews of Safad. Nicolayson bought a house in the town in 1843 and assigned the new site to two Jewish converts; P. H. Sternchuss and A. J. Behrens. At the end of 1844, P.H. Sternchuss moved to Baghdad. Dr. Kiel, who was baptized in 1843, succeeded him. The Jews of Safad warmly welcomed him for his long and fruitful services. “The Jews found his medical services acceptable, and many of them on that account prayed for the long life of the society. During the months of November and December 1844 sixty-nine Jews availed themselves to the doctor’s skills.”[48] However, the opposition was not patient with him, but continued to harass him. So Dr. Kiel left Safad to Jaffa, all the more so because the Ottoman ruler did not guarantee his safety. Many missionaries alternated for the service of Safad after Dr. Kiel. They all remained at the mercy of the Jewish opposition, which persecuted the Jews doing business with the mission. In 1846, the society appointed the Jewish missionary J. Cohen in Safad. He managed to distribute many copies of the New Testament. “It was said that there was scarcely a Jewish house in Safad, or its vicinity, where a copy of the New Testament was not to be found kept either in a cupboard or under the pillow of the bed, where it could readily be secreted.”[49]

As for the number of converted Jews, it remained small compared to the efforts, which the bishop and missionaries of the London Jewish Society made. The bishop and the missionaries had rare courage, which penetrated the stubbornness of Jewish resistance. However, the daring penetration and impregnable resistance created a reaction not only in Palestine, but also in Britain as the British Jews refused the harassment of Jews by the missionaries and their conversion to Christianity in Palestine. Jewish leaders in Britain were not content with an attitude of rejection and denunciation, but started to work and reply to the missionaries with the arms at their disposal, i.e. the use of charitable and educational institutions that were parallel to the Protestant institutions so as to forestall the penetration of the Jewish fortress and to confirm the Jews in their faith.

6- Jewish projects parallel to the projects of the bishopric and the London Jewish Society:

The goal sought by the London Jewish Society was to convert Jews and to establish the Jerusalem Bishopric, which was sponsored by this society. The evidence for this was the book ‘The Jerusalem Bishopric’ written by William Hechler, published in London in 1883. The first page of the book was decorated with the insignia of Bishop Alexander, and on it, there was Hebrew writing, which read: “peace, peace to Jerusalem.” The book linked and compared the last bishop of the circumcision in Jerusalem, Jude, in the year AD 133, and the election of Bishop Alexander. “More than 1700 years elapsed since Jude, the last of the sons of Abraham, mentioned by Eusebius, occupied the Episcopal See in the Holy City, when in 1841, it was filled by Bishop Alexander, also an Israelite, who has been called a Hebrew of the Hebrews.”[50]

Jewish leaders in the West resisted the declared policy of the bishopric and encouraged Jewish settlement versus Jewish-Christian settlement. This resistance was done in the form of establishing institutions parallel to the Protestant institutions to protect the Palestinian Jews from the generous temptations that were offered to them by the bishopric. The Jewish hospital was opened in Jerusalem in 1844 with a capital of 4,000 pounds sterling offered by the rich Rothschild family.[51]

As for Moses Montefiore, one of the prominent Jewish leaders in Britain, he was striving to enable the Jews to maintain their Jewish creed and to protect them from the Protestant propaganda. Montefiore was no less influential in British circles than Lord Ashley, the champion of the evangelization of the Jews. “After a visit to Palestine before the Egyptian question was resolved, Montefiore pressured the British government, not just for the sake of the protection of some 7,000 Jews in Palestine, but for the British government to support the immigration of European Jews to Palestine, their purchase of land and settlement there.”[52] Jewish leaders realized the economic factor, which Protestant societies tried to utilize to evangelize the Jews. “The belief that the conversion of the Jews to Christianity was not due to religious motives but to economic, materialistic factors cannot be totally excluded, particularly when we know that all the Jews of Palestine were living in a state of abject poverty. The European influential Jewish leaders who opposed the conversion of the Jews, such as Montefiore and Rothschild, tried to improve the living standards of these Jews by opening charitable institutions and schools for them and by teaching trades to their children so as to develop an economic base that could make them resist the attempts to lure and convert them. However, no noticeable progress occurred in this respect until the seventies of the nineteenth century.”[53] The truth of the matter was that Moses Montefiore made seven visits to Palestine from 1827 to 1875 for this purpose.

Meanwhile, Lord Palmerston “viewed the immigration of the Jews to Palestine from the standpoint of British economic and political interests. He viewed the settlement of the European Jews in Palestine with their capital and expertise as conducive to economic prosperity in the region and stability in the Ottoman Empire. The result would be a consolidation of the British influence in the East where commerce would be strengthened and become prosperous. For this purpose, or for the consolidation of the imperial interests in the region through the support of the Jewish settlement projects, the English consulate in Jerusalem was established as the first European consulate there following the long insistence of the London Jewish Society.”[54]

Abdul Ra’ouf Senno concluded that there was a link between the presence of the bishopric and the Jewish infiltration of Palestine, because the goal of the bishopric was not achieved by the conversion of the Jews. Only 40 Jews were converted to Christianity during the era of Bishop Alexander. Meanwhile, in the era of his successor, Samuel Gobat, the work of the mission was diverted to the local Christian Arabs. Finally, the bishopric dropped for good from its plans the evangelization of the Jews. However, the Jewish reaction toward settlement was not finished. “As for the movement of the Jewish settlement in Palestine, the plan of the bishopric opened the eyes of Jewish figures to the importance of securing European support for its settlement projects in Palestine and for manipulating the European imperialist contradictions for the sake of this. This would later lead to the rise of the Zionist movement.”[55] Tibawi and Senno agree on this point.[56] The Jerusalem Bishopric and the societies that cooperated with it failed to evangelize the Jews, but succeeded in forming antibodies in the Jewish nation, which doubled their strength and impregnability. In any case, the role of the bishopric in the Jewish immigration to Palestine and the rise of Zionism should not be exaggerated. There are many other complex reasons, which are not the theme of this discussion. Needless to say, throughout their history, the Jews never needed anyone to remind them of Palestine.


Perhaps the responsibility assigned to Bishop Alexander by the political and ecclesiastical leaders in Britain and Prussia was beyond his capability. So he fell under the burden of this responsibility while he was at the height of his power. He faced death in the Ras el-Wady Egyptian desert away from his home and bishopric, to which he gave his life. Mrs. Leider who attended his death wrote the following:

“The immediate cause of the death was the rupture of one of the largest blood vessels near the heart; but the whole of the lungs, liver and heart were found in an exceedingly diseased state, and had been so for a length of time; the accelerating cause, doubtless, was great and continued anxiety, such as the Bishopric of Jerusalem and its cares can best account for. I hear it said on this occasion that had his lordship not come into the East, he might possibly have lived to a good old age; but the miter of Jerusalem, like the wreath of our blessed Lord, has been to him a crown of thorns.”[57]

On 7 November 1845, the bishop started an inspection tour of his bishopric and arrived in Egypt. He wanted to sail from Alexandria to England and he took with him his wife and daughter. Mrs. Alexander described the travel of the caravan in the desert of Ras el-Wady in Egypt:

“On setting out through the desert, each day my beloved husband and myself rode our own horses; we generally were in advance of the caravan, and we used regularly to chant some of our Hebrew chants…all out of our hymnbook. And never did his warm and tender heart overflow so fully, as when he spoke of Israel’s future restoration. When I spoke to him about his duties in England he answered, ‘I hope, if invited, to preach my first sermon in England at the Episcopal Jews’ Chapel’. And on my asking what subject he would take, he replied, ‘I shall resume the subject I adopted when I last left the dear congregation’, namely that none of these trials had moved him. (Acts XX. 24-28)”[58]

Death barred the realization of the dream of the bishop. Only one day away from Cairo in the desert, he suddenly died on the night of 22 – 23 November. Prayers were held over his body in Cairo and the body was then transported to Jerusalem on 6 December. The body arrived in Jerusalem on 20 December and was buried in the English cemetery.

A total of 31 Jewish converts, who were the sum total of his efforts and work among the Jews, sent a letter of condolence to his widow. They represented the entire community of Anglican Jews, which Alexander converted to Christianity. Hajjar notes that the outcome of the Alexander episcopate was that he granted 37 persons baptism, 26 persons confirmation, and that he ordained nine deacons and five pastors, including four Jews.[59]                                                                                       



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