Bernstein gives only a brief note of Nathan Davis:
Davis, Rev. Nathan, was one of the first missionaries of the Free Church of Scotland. He was sent to Tunis in 1830, where he raised a spirit of enquiry amongst the Jews, and baptized some of them. In 1848 he was transferred to Gibraltar.
Such a short note for a well-known archaeologist and explorer should not surprise us when we discover that his reputation was damaged by others in the London Society because of differences in strategy. Michael Darby gives details, summarised here and here:
By his late 20s Davis was working for the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews (LSPCJ). The association with the Society eventually damaged his reputation, according to Moses Margoliouth. Davis chose to side with Margoliouth and Alexander M’Caul in his approach to missionary work, rather than with the alternative views of Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna and Stanislaus Hoga.
Davis spent a number of years in Northern Africa, at Tunis, as missionary to the Jews. From 1838 to 1843 he was there for the LSPCJ. He lived first at Douar el Chott (Dawwar ash Shatt) near Tunis. In his Voice from North Africa (1844), Davis attacked some British supposed philo-Semites, and that cost him his position with the LSPCJ.
In 1844 Davis travelled to Scotland, returning to Tunis as a missionary for the Church of Scotland. He held that position to 1848. He was struggling with the work, however, and having caused offence to the local Jewish community was transferred to missionary work in Gibraltar, in 1849. That mission was closed in 1850, and Davis was moved back to London.
In 1852 Davis, still employed by the Church of Scotland as a missionary to London Jews, edited the Hebrew Christian Magazine. He became a nonconformist Christian minister.
Prayer and reflection: It seems that differences in strategy, perhaps even personal rivalry, prevented Davis from having greater impact within the Hebrew Christian movement and Alliance in the United Kingdom – further research is needed. But his contribution to exploration and research was widely recognized. I have not found evidence of his personal journey nor the nature of his faith and sense of Jewish and Christian identity. As one recent scholar says: “an eccentric man of the cloth”.
Lord, you know us better than we know ourselves, or present ourselves to others. Thank you for the gift of faith that you gave to Nathan Davis, and the use he put to it in his travels, writings and explorations. May his legacy not be forgotten, and may we too, as fellow travellers and explorers on the journey of faith, live out our lives and callings to your praise and glory. In our Messiah’s name we pray. Amen.
Details of his archaeological work is given in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 14
DAVIS, NATHAN (1812–1882), traveller and excavator, was born in 1812. He spent many years of his life in Northern Africa, and published his experiences in:
- ‘Tunis, or Selections from a Journal during a Residence in that Regency,’ Malta, 1841, 8vo.
- ‘A Voice from North Africa, or a Narrative illustrative of the … Manners of the Inhabitants of that Part of the World,’ Edinburgh [1844?], 8vo; another ed. 16mo, dated 1844, Edinburgh.
- ‘Evenings in my Tent, or Wanderings in Balad, Ejjareed, illustrating the … Conditions of various Arab Tribes of the African Sahara,’ 2 vols., London, 1854, 8vo.
- ‘Ruined Cities within Numidian and Carthaginian Territories,’ London, 1862, 8vo.
For many years he lived in an old Moorish palace, ten miles from Tunis, where he extended his hospitality to various travellers. In 1852 he edited the ‘Hebrew Christian Magazine,’ and afterwards became a nonconformist minister. From 1856 to 1858 he was engaged on behalf of the British Museum in excavations at Carthage and Utica. At the end of 1858 fifty-one cases of antiquities sent home by him were received at the museum. Other cases arrived in 1857 and 1860. The chief antiquities discovered were Roman mosaic pavements (now in the British Museum; see B. M. Guide to the Græco-Roman Sculptures, pt. ii.) and Phœnician inscriptions (see the Inscriptions in the Phœnician Character discovered … by Nathan Davis, published by the trustees of the British Museum, London, 1863, fol.) Davis describes his explorations in ‘Carthage and her Remains,’ London, 1861, 8vo. He also published ‘Israel’s true Emancipator’ (two letters to Dr. Adler), London, 1852, 8vo, and (in conjunction with Benjamin Davidson) ‘Arabic Reading Lessons,’ London , 8vo. Shortly before his death Davis revisited Tunis, but the journey tried his strength, and he died at Florence on 6 Jan. 1882 of congestion of the lungs.
[Brit. Mus. Cat.; Martin’s Handbook of Contemporary Biog. 1870; Times, 14 Jan. 1882, p. 6, col. 5; Athenæum, 1882 (i.) 65; Men of the Time, 9th ed.; Meyer’s Conversations-Lexikon, v.; (Parliamentary) Accounts, Estimates, &c., of the Brit. Mus., 16 May 1860, pp. 13, 14, and 6 May 1861, p. 14; Edwards’s Lives of the Founders of the Brit. Mus. pp. 666–8.]
The Emergence of the Hebrew Christian Movement in Nineteenth-Century Britain
Written by Michael R. Darbyp 145-149
DAVIS, NATHAN: jewish encyclopedia
Traveler and archeologist; born 1812; died at Florence Jan. 6, 1882. He spent many years of his life in northern Africa, and for some years lived in an old Moorish palace about ten miles from Tunis. Early in life he became converted to Christianity, and in 1852 he edited the “Hebrew Christian Magazine,” becoming afterward a non-conformist minister. From 1856 to 1858 he was engaged on behalf of the British Museum in excavations at Carthage and Utica. He discovered numerous antiquities, including Roman mosaic pavements and Phenician inscriptions.
His publications are: “Tunis, or Selections from a Journal During a Residence in That Regency,” Malta, 1841; “A Voice from North Africa,” 1844; “Evenings in My Tent,” 1854; “Ruined Cities Within Numidian and Carthaginian Territories”; “Carthage and Her Remains,” 1861. He also published “Israel’s True Emancipator,” 1852, and “Arabic Reading Lessons,” 1854.
- The Times, London, Jan. 14, 1882;
- Athenœum, London, Jan., 1882;
- Martin, Handbook of Contemporary Biography.