McCaul, the son of Alexander McCaul (a cordwainer) was born to a Protestant family in Dublin, 16 May 1799. He was educated at a private school, and entering Trinity College, Dublin, 3 October 1814, graduated B.A. 1819, and proceeded M.A. 1831; he was created D.D. in 1837. He was for some time tutor to the Earl of Rosse, and then, was sent in 1821 to Poland as a missionary, by the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews.
McCaul studied Hebrew and German at Warsaw, and at the end of 1822 went to St. Petersburg, where he was received by Alexander I of Russia. Returning to England, he was ordained and served the curacy of Huntley, near Gloucester, where he became close to Samuel Roffey Maitland. In 1823 he married and returned to Poland, living at Warsaw as head of the mission to the Jews, and English chaplain, until 1830. He was supported by the Grand Duke Constantine, but had disputes with the Lutheran congregations. Moving to Berlin, where he was befriended by George Henry Rose, the English ambassador, and by the Crown Prince of Prussia, who had known him at Warsaw.
To improve his health McCaul visited Ireland, and returned for a short time to Poland in 1832. Deciding to settle in London, he took up residence in Palestine Place, Cambridge Road and actively supported the London Society. He assisted in founding the Jews’ Operatives Converts Institution, and in 1837 started the publication of Old Paths, a weekly pamphlet on Jewish ritual, which continued for sixty weeks.
In 1840 McCaul was appointed principal of the Hebrew college founded by the London Society; and in the summer of 1841, through Frederick William IV of Prussia, he was offered the bishopric of Jerusalem, but declined it because he thought it would be better held by one who had been a Jew. His friend Michael Solomon Alexander was appointed, and McCaul succeeded Alexander as professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature at King’s College, London. In 1846 he was also elected to the chair of divinity.
In 1843 McCaul was appointed rector of St James Duke’s Place, London. In 1845 he became prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral, and in 1847 declined Archbishop William Howley’s offer of one of the new colonial bishoprics. In 1850 he became rector of the united parish of St Magnus-the-Martyr. When the sittings of Convocation were revived in 1852, McCaul was elected proctor for the London clergy, and represented them for the rest of his life. At first strongly opposed to the revival of the ancient powers of convocation, he modified his views and worked with the High Church party, opposing the relaxation of the subscription to the 39 articles.
McCaul died at the rectory, St Magnus-the-Martyr, London Bridge, on 13 November 1863, and was buried at Ilford, Essex.
Reflection and Prayer: McCaul’s life and legacy loom large over the history of th London Society (CMJ), the Jerusalem Bishopric, and the development of apologetic literature. McCaul himself was welcomed wherever he went, and his scholarship and personal qualities won him friends everywhere. His approach and methods in the light of history seem now adversarial and unsympathetic, but his works were widely read, and challenged modern Orthodox Judaism to make appropriate responses, gave Reform Judaism a further support, and invite Messianic Jews to engage with the primary texts of Jewish tradition with warmth and sensitivity.
Thank you Lord, for this your servant. May we in our generation demonstrate similar commitment and love for your people Israel, your word revealed, and your living Word, our Messiah Yeshua. In His name we pray. Amen.
English Christian missionary and author; born at Dublin May 16, 1799; died at London Nov. 13, 1863. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin. Becoming interested in the Jews, he was sent as a missionary to Poland in 1821, where he studied Hebrew and German at Warsaw. In 1822 he went to interview the Czar in regard to the conversion of the Jews. He continued to live at Warsaw for ten years, interesting the grand duke Constantine, the crown prince of Prussia, and Sir Henry Rose in his work. In 1837 he produced an elaborate attack upon Jewish legalism under the title “Old Paths”; it was published weekly for over a year. This created considerable interest among Jews, and was translated into several languages, including Hebrew (“Netibot ‘Olam”). An answer in Hebrew (“Netibot Emet”), was published by Judah Middleman in 1847, a translation by Stanislaz Hoga having appeared in the preceding year. McCaul wrote vigorously against the blood accusation, and refused the Protestant bishopric of Jerusalem, on the ground that it should be held by a Jew by birth, recommending M. S. Alexander for that post. He became professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature at King’s College, London.
- The Guardian (London), Nov. 18, 1863;
- Nat. Biog.