Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Alexander, Michael Solomon

ALEXANDER, MICHAEL SOLOMON, D.D. (1799–1845), the first Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, was born of Jewish parents in May 1799 at Schönlanke, or Trzonka, a small manufacturing town in the grand-duchy of Posen. He was brought up from his infancy in the strictest principles of Talmudical Judaism, and at the age of sixteen became a teacher of the Talmud and of the German language among his brethren in Germany. In the year 1820 he repaired to London, and settled as private tutor in a country town. He soon began to study the New Testament in a polemical spirit; but the perusal, after more than four years' study, resulted in his conversion, and on Wednesday, 22 June 1825, he was baptised, in the presence of over a thousand people, at St. Andrew's Church, Plymouth, in which town he had settled as reader or officiating rabbi to the Jewish congregation, after one or two changes, including a residence at Norwich in the same capacity. Soon afterwards Alexander removed to Dublin, where he became a teacher of Hebrew, and was ordained by the archbishop of the diocese, Dr. William Magee, to a small charge in Dublin on 10 June 1827. On 8 July following he delivered his first discourse at the Episcopal Jews' Chapel, Palestine Place, London, with which he was afterwards to be long connected.

Alexander soon entered into engagements with the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, and in December 1827 received priest's orders from the Bishop of Kildare, and proceeded to Danzig, as his fixed station and head-quarters from which to evangelise the Jews of West Prussia and Posen. In May 1830 he returned to England, where for nearly twelve years he acted as a home missionary of the society. He also took a lively interest in the affairs of the Operative Jewish Converts' Association. In 1832 Mr. Alexander was appointed professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature in King's College, London, and entered upon his duties on 17 Nov. of that year. He resigned his chair on 1 Nov. 1841. He was associated with the late Dr. Alexander McCaul and two others in the preparation of the revised edition of the New Testament in Hebrew, which was completed in November 1835 and accepted as the standard edition; in like manner he took a prominent part in the translation of the Anglican liturgy into the sacred tongue. In August 1840 Professor Alexander, with some sixty leading converts from Judaism, issued a formal ‘protest of Christian Jews in England’ against the charge of using human blood, at that time revived to the discredit of their brethren.

In June 1841 the King of Prussia, who had ‘from early youth cherished the idea of amending the condition of Christians in the Holy Land’ (Bunsen, Letter to Frederick Perthes, 12 Oct. 1841), commissioned Chevalier (afterwards Baron) Bunsen as envoy extraordinary to this country to seek the co-operation of the British government in endeavouring to obtain for the protestant christians in the Turkish dominions privileges similar to those enjoyed by the Latin, Greek, and Armenian churches, and by the Jews. The mission led to the appointment of a ‘bishop of the united church of England and Ireland in Jerusalem.’ Professor Alexander was selected, and consecrated on Sunday, 7 Nov. 1841. The duty of the new bishop was defined to be the superintendence of the English clergy and congregations in Syria, Chaldæa, Egypt, and Abyssinia, and of such other protestant bodies as might wish to place themselves under his episcopal care and to be admitted into communion with his church. The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a letter written 15 Jan. 1846, less than two months after Dr. Alexander's death, spoke of him as ‘the late lamented and excellent bishop, who, being placed in a situation surrounded with difficulties, conducted the affairs of his church with so much discretion and prudence as to give no cause of complaint to the heads of other communities residing in the same city, and to win their respect and esteem by his piety and beneficence, and by his persevering yet temperate zeal in prosecuting the objects of his mission.’ The appointment met with much opposition from entirely different quarters. The most specious objection was that of the ‘catholic’ party in the church of England, who regarded Bishop Alexander as a latitudinarian intruder into existing jurisdictions. The disgust occasioned to this party by the establishment of a bishopric which excluded any sympathy or concurrence with the church of Rome, whilst it ‘actually was courting an intercommunion with protestant Prussia and the heresy of the Orientals’ (Newman's Apologia), is measurable in the terms of the Rev. W. Palmer's ‘Aids to Reflection,’ 8vo, Oxford, 1841; but receives its chief illustration from the circumstance that Cardinal Newman records that the creation of this bishopric ‘was the third blow which finally shattered his faith in the Anglican church,’ and ‘brought him on to the beginning of the end.’ ‘The Anglican church might have the apostolic succession, as had the Monophysites; but such acts led him to the gravest suspicion, not that it would soon cease to be a church, but that, since the sixteenth century, it had never been a church all along’ (Apologia pro Vita sua).

The King of Prussia, with whom and the British government lay the right of alternate presentation to the revived see of St. James, contributed the sum of 15,000l. as the moiety of its endowment, and the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews furnished 3,000l. towards the same object, leaving the balance of 12,000l. to be made up by voluntary contributions. The episcopal progress from England to Jerusalem was an affair of state. The government placed the steamship Devastation at the service of Bishop Alexander, who, with his wife and family, two clergymen, and a physician, sailed from Portsmouth on Tuesday, 7 Dec., and, having arrived, via Beyrout, at Jaffa two days previously, made his entry into Jerusalem on Friday, 21 Jan. 1842, with so much pomp as to draw down from uncandid opponents the charge of personal ostentation upon the bishop, who is, however, certified to have ‘wished to enter with humility, on foot and unobserved.’ After nearly four years, in the course of which he made partial tours of his extensive diocese, Dr. Alexander found it expedient in November 1845 to pay a visit to England. This he determined to do by way of Cairo, but near Balbeis, within a few hours' distance from Cairo, ‘in the wilderness between Canaan and Egypt,’ he died from disease of the heart at two o'clock in the morning of Sunday, 23 Nov. 1845. His remains were next day conveyed to Cairo, from which they were removed to Jerusalem, and were at once interred in the burial-ground of the mission on Mount Zion. Mr. Kinglake feelingly alludes in ‘Eothen’ to the value of the ‘pretty English nursemaids’ as ‘propagandists of Christianity in Palestine’ who attended ‘the numerous young family’ of Bishop Alexander, who at the time of his death was the father of eight children, then living, all under sixteen years of age. A committee was formed to provide for his family, of which the Earl of Shaftesbury, then Lord Ashley, was chairman.

Bishop Alexander published:

  1. ‘The Hope of Israel, a Lecture,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1831.
  2. ‘The Glory of Mount Zion, a Sermon,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1839.
  3. ‘Farewell Sermon,’ &c., 8vo, London, 1841, all of which were delivered at the Episcopal Jews' Chapel, Palestine Place, respectively on Sunday evening, 2 Oct. 1831; on the first Sunday of Advent, 1838; and on Monday evening, 8 Nov. 1841, being the day after the preacher's consecration.
  4. ‘An Introductory Lecture delivered publicly in King's College, London, 17 Nov. 1832.’
  5. ‘The Flower fadeth (Is. xl. 7), Memoir of Sarah Alexander,’ 18mo, London, 2nd edition, 1841.

[Jewish Expositor, and Friend of Israel, Aug. 1825 and passim; Autobiographical Statement in an Appendix to the Rev. John Hatchard's Sermon preached on the Baptism of Mr. Michael Solomon Alexander, 1825; Statement of Proceedings relating to the Establishment of the United Church of England and Ireland in Jerusalem, published by Authority, 1841; Das evangelische Bisthum in Jerusalem, 1842; Consecration Sermon by Rev. Dr. McCaul, 1841; McCaul's Jerusalem Bishopric, 1844; Rev. W. D. Veitch's Sermon preached at Cairo, &c., on Sunday, 30 Nov. 1845, 1846; Letter from the Cairo correspondent of the Times, dated 5 and 6 Dec. and published 26 Dec. 1845; Articles and Correspondence in Jewish Intelligence and Monthly Account of the Proceedings of the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, passim, 1835–46, and Reports of the same Society; Funeral Sermons, &c., by Rev. J. B. Cartwright, 1846; Rev. T. D. Halsted's Our Missions, 1866; Rev W. H. Hechler's The Jerusalem Bishopric, 1883.]

A. H. G.