11 May 1879 Death of Samuel Gobat, Bishop of Jerusalem #otdimjh

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Samuel Gobat (26 January 1799 – 11 May 1879), was a Swiss Lutheran who became an Anglican missionary in Africa and was the Protestant Bishop of Jerusalem from 1846 until his death.

Born to a Lutheran family in Crémine, Bern, Switzerland, Gobat studied at the Basel Mission Institute, the Missionary Institute in Paris, and the CMS training institution in Islington (London), England. Ordained in the Lutheran church, he nevertheless volunteered for service with the CMS. During six years of service in Abyssinia (Ethiopia), broken by a short stint in Europe from 1833 to 1834, during which he married Maria Zellerin, Gobat worked energetically and to some degree successfully at building rapport with the Orthodox Coptic Church.

EhepaarGobat

In 1836 he was forced by poor health to return to Europe. He was subsequently sent to Malta, where, between 1839 and 1845, he supervised the translation of the Bible into Arabic and served as vice-president of the Malta Protestant College. In 1846 he was nominated by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to succeed the recently deceased bishop of Jerusalem. Until his death (in Jerusalem), Gobat was notable for the energetic practicality and consummate Christian diplomacy that marked his fulfillment of this difficult and frequently exasperating role. In addition to his several publications cited below, and the Arabic translation of the Bible mentioned above, Gobat left behind thirty-seven Palestinian schools with a combined enrollment of 1,400 students, and twelve indigenous churches. A nephew of Bishop Gobat, Charles Albert Gobat, received the Nobel Peace Prize 1902.

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Gobat’s policy in Jerusalem was to focus on the indigenous Arab Christians, as mission to Jews and Muslims became problematic. Charlotte van der Leest explains in her doctoral thesis on Gobat:

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[p.110, footnotes omitted] In his missionary work Gobat soon ran into difficulties concerning the conversion of the Jews. Jews who converted to Christianity lost their jobs and became the target of the mockery and disdain of their families and friends. This was a problem, as the majority was very poor and would become dependent on alms.53 From Gobat’s annual letter for 1848 it appears that he tried to ‘solve’ this difficulty by changing the mission’s policy regarding the conversion of Jewish people. He now formulated the condition that all Jews who were serious about their conversion and wanted to be baptised should be willing to learn a trade, if they were able to work. As a true Evangelical, Gobat linked to baptisms a “true conversion of the heart”; people’s readiness to learn a craft would be proof of their sincerity. Furthermore, it was a pragmatic solution, making Jewish converts self-supporting and less dependent on alms. For this reason Gobat was glad that the House of Industry was reopened after a period of closure.

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Because of his stance on the issue of Jewish converts, Gobat was reproached more than once in LJS circles with having no heart for the Jews because he did not share the millenarian “poetical hopes”, as he himself called it, for a rapid conversion of the people of Israel. He dissociated himself from all efforts especially directed at the Jews without proclaiming the Gospel to them. He did not agree with the underlying idea that the [111] return of the Jews in Palestine, their establishment, and the restoration of the temple would happen before they would recognize Jesus as their Messiah.

It comes as no surprise that the cooperation between the bishopric and the LJS was not as close during the Gobat years as it was during his predecessor’s episcopate, in which the mission of the LJS and the bishopric seemed to be united. As the memorandum in favour of the LJS church in Jerusalem in 1845 made clear, the mission to the Jews was important to many people in Britain. Consequently, Gobat’s attitude towards the LJS and its mission to the Jews, together with the fact that he did not share the millenarian expectations of many regarding the restoration of the Jews in Palestine, evoked much criticism from LJS members and supporters in Britain.

Gobat’s distancing himself from the mission among the Jews was linked to his focus on other Christians. Although the “Statement of Proceedings” prohibited the Protestant bishop from interfering in the affairs of Christian denominations, Gobat’s autobiography and his (annual) letters demonstrate that his missionary activities were mainly directed towards these denominations. He believed that it was not God’s will to restrict the mission to Jews only. With an appeal to the apostle Paul he said that he considered it his duty to direct his energies not only towards the Jews, but also towards the Greeks, Barbarians, ‘Papists’, Armenians, the Turks etcetera.

Moreover, he realised that the conversion of the Jews was not the real mission object of his Prussian patrons. This extension of the focus of the bishopric is already reflected in Gobat’s (first) annual re- port for 1847. From this account it appears that Gobat had appointed three Bible readers, who were required to read the Bible to people from various religious and denominational backgrounds. One of them was a Greek Catholic who had not yet for- mally separated from his church, but, according to Gobat, knew and loved the ‘truth’. The other was a former Roman Catholic, and the third a converted Jew trained in Hebrew College. They read the Bible not only to Jewish people, but also to Muslims and Christians of various denominations.

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Gobat’s grave, Mount Zion cemetery

Prayer: Thank you Lord for this significant figure in the life of the church in Israel in the 19th century, and for his legacy of institutions, buildings and the people whose life he touched. In the midst of challenging political and personal circumstances he consistently lived an example of faith and service. Help us to follow in his example, wherever we may be called to serve you, and in whatever capacity. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.

Conversion and Conflict in Palestine: The Missions of the Church Missionary Society and the Protestant Bishop Samuel Gobat Protestant Bishop Samuel Gobat Samuel GobatCharlotte van der Leest – 2008 ISBN 978-90-9023203-4  available here:

https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/12957/Thesis.pdf?sequence=1

https://archive.org/stream/samuelgobatbisho00goba#page/n7/mode/2up

http://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/g-h/gobat-samuel-1799-1879/

http://www.stfrancismagazine.info/ja/images/stories/DuaneMiller-oct2012.pdf

1879: Samuel Gobat, who had been serving as the Protestant Bishop of Jerusalem since 1846, passed away.  Unlike his predecessor, Gobat refrained from trying to convert Jews and Moslems and worked among Christians.  He and his wife who had also died while living in Jerusalem are buried in Mount Zion Cemetery.

Church Missionary Society (CMS) missionary to Abyssinia

Jonathan J. Bonk, “Gobat, Samuel,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 245.

This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Bibliography

DIGITAL TEXTS

Art. IV.—Gobat’s Three Years’ Residence in Abyssinia.” The Theological and Literary Journal 4 no. 1 (July 1851): 134-58.

Gobat, Samuel. Journal of Three Years’ Residence in Abyssinia. Accompanied with A Biographical Sketch of Bishop Gobat by Robert Baird. New York: M. W. Dodd, 1834.

Gobat, Samuel and L. Roehrich. Samuel Gobat: His Life and His Work. A Biographical Sketch Drawn Chiefly from His Own Journals. With Preface by the Right Hon. the Earl of Shaftesbury. With Portaits and Illustrations. London: J. Nisbet, 1884. [Originally written in French by Mme. L. Roehrich. English translation made from the German ed. of 1884.]

_____. Samuel Gobat: missionnaire en Abyssinie et évêque à Jérusalem, sa vie et son oeuvre. Bale: C. F. Spittler, 1885.

Gobat, Samuel, D.D.” In Men of the Reign: A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Persons of British and Colonial Birth Who Have Died During the Reign of Queen Victoria, edited by Thomas Humphry Ward, 355-6. London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1885.

Schäfer, Theodor. “Gobat, Samuel: Second Anglican-German Bishop in Jerusalem.” In The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, edited by Samuel Macauley Jackson, et al., 5:1. New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1908-1912.

Stock, EugeneThe History of the Church Missionary Society: Its Environment, Its Men, and Its Work. 4 vols. London: Church Missionary Society, 1899-1916.  Volume 1Volume 2Volume 3Volume 4.

SECONDARY

“Art. IV.—Gobat’s Three Years’ Residence in Abyssinia.” The Theological and Literary Journal 4 no. 1 (July 1851): 134-58.

Baird, Robert. “A Biographical Sketch of Bishop Gobat.” In Samuel Gobat, Journal of Three Years’ Residence in Abyssinia. New York: M. W. Dodd, 1834.

Conway, John S. “The Jerusalem Bishopric: A ‘Union of Foolscap and Blotting-paper.’” Studies in Religion 7 no. 3 (1978).

“Gobat, Samuel, D.D.” In Men of the Reign: A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Persons of British and Colonial Birth Who Have Died During the Reign of Queen Victoria, edited by Thomas Humphry Ward, 355-6. London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1885.

Kildani, Hanna. Modern Christianity in the Holy Land: Development of the Structure of Churches and the Growth of Christian Institutions in Jordan and Palestine: The Jerusalem Patriarchate in the Nineteenth Century in Light of the Ottoman Firmans and the International Relations of the Ottoman Sultanate. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2010, especially pages 522-65.

Payne, Eric. Ethiopian Jews: The Story of a Mission. London: Olive Press, 1972.

Schäfer, Theodor. “Gobat, Samuel: Second Anglican-German Bishop in Jerusalem.” In The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: Embracing Biblical, Historical, Doctrinal, and Practical Theology and Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Biography from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, edited by Samuel Macauley Jackson, et al., 5:1. New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1908-1912. Also Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1963-1967.

Stock, EugeneThe History of the Church Missionary Society: Its Environment, Its Men, and Its Work. 4 vols. London: Church Missionary Society, 1899-1916.

Stunt, Timothy C. F. From Awakening to Secession: Radical Evangelicals in Switzerland and Britain, 1815-35. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000, especially “Swiss missionary recruits in London,” pages 128-33.

Tibawi, Abdul Latif. British Interest in Palestine 1800-1901: A Study of Religious and Educational Enterprise. London: Oxford University Press, 1961, pp. 237-255.

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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