The Jewish Encylopedia summarises Alexander’s life and work:
First Anglican bishop of Jerusalem; born of Jewish parents at Schönlanke, in the grand duchy of Posen, May, 1799; died at Belbeis, Egypt, November 23, 1845. [Other accounts, 26 November]
His training was strictly orthodox, and at the age of sixteen he became a teacher of the Talmud and of the German language. In 1820 he removed to England and lived as a private tutor in various country towns, marrying, in 1821, a Miss Levy, of Plymouth. His study of the New Testament and the Prophets, and the suggestions of several Christian clergymen whom he met, resulted in his conversion to Christianity and his baptism, June 22, 1825, at St. Andrew’s Church, Plymouth, in which town he had been officiating as ḥazan to the Hebrew congregation. His wife followed his example six months later, and was baptized in Exeter.
Soon afterward, Alexander removed to Dublin, where he became a teacher of Hebrew, was ordained by the archbishop of the diocese, and appointed to a small charge in that city, June 10, 1827. He then became interested in the work of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity among the Jews, and subsequently proceeded to Danzig, establishing headquarters there, whence he undertook to evangelize the Jews of West Prussia and Posen. In May, 1830, he returned to England, where for nearly twelve years he acted as home missionary of the society.
In 1832 Alexander was appointed professor of Hebrew and rabbinical literature in King’s College, London, which position he retained till November, 1841. His inaugural address was upon the value of rabbinical literature. He was associated with Dr. Alexander McCaul in the translation into Hebrew of the revised edition of the New Testament, and also took a prominent part in the translation of the Anglican liturgy into the same language.
In 1841 Professor Alexander was ordained at Lambeth Palace as bishop of the United Church of England and Ireland at Jerusalem, that he might ameliorate the condition of the Christians in the Holy Land. Into his charge was given the superintendence of the English clergy and congregations in Syria, Chaldea, Egypt, and Abyssinia. He was the first to be appointed to this position, one which had been established by an arrangement between the German, Lutheran, and Anglican churches, and which caused no little embarrassment to the High-church party of the English Church, who would not recognize Lutheran orders. His appointment indeed provoked much opposition from entirely opposite quarters, but especially from the Catholic communion: and it was the first inciting cause of Newman’s secession to Rome.
The bishop’s progress to Jerusalem was conducted with much pomp and ceremony, and he overcame the difficulties of his position with much discretion and prudence. After nearly four years’ stay at Jerusalem, during which he made partial tours of his extensive diocese, Alexander found it expedient, in November, 1845, to pay a visit to England. This he arranged to do by way of Cairo, but near Belbeis, within a few hours’ journey of Cairo, he expired of heart disease.
He published “The Hope of Israel,” a lecture, 1831; “The Glory of Mount Zion,” 1839; “The Flower Fadeth”; “Memoir of Sarah Alexander,” 1841.
The account in Gidney reads:
A great blow fell upon the work in the autumn of 1845, in his sudden death, on Nov. 26, after the short episcopate of four years. The sad event occurred in the desert at Ras-el-Wady, on his way to visit Egypt, which formed a part of the diocese of Jerusalem. A pathetic interest attaches to the Bishop’s last annual letter, written before he started for Cairo, in which, speaking of his arrangements, he alluded to the “uncertainty of everything.”
As to the past he spoke with conscious satisfaction of the Divine blessing resting upon the work of Jewish converts baptized and confirmed, and amicable intercourse maintained with Jewish residents and strangers in Jerusalem, of opportunities at Jaffa, of his visit to Damascus, and of friendly relations maintained with the different churches. He thus concluded: “On the whole we have great reason to thank God and take courage, and to call upon our friends to join with us in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, on the memorable day, January 21, when we made our first entry into the Holy City. A day which is much to be remembered, even when the results, which have already followed in this short period, be alone taken into consideration; but a day which we trust will yet prove one of the most remarkable in the history of the Church, when the Lord ‘shall build up Zion, and appear in His glory,’ and when all, who now mourn for her, seeing her desolate and trodden down, shall rejoice for joy with her; and when God’s people shall be delighted with the abundance of her glory.”
Mrs. Alexander thus described the Bishop’s last days in the desert at Belveis, Nov. 3, 1845: “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, and sang the following hymns: ‘Children of the Heavenly King;’ ‘Long has the Harp of Judah hung;’ Psalm cxi.; ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken;’ all out of our own hymn-book; 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 that dear congregation;’ namely, that none of these trials had moved him. (Acts xx. 24-28.)”
His chaplain, the Rev. W. D. Veitch, reporting the death, said: “It was truly a heart-rending scene. In a tent, in the wild sandy desert, no medical help at hand, to see the widowed wife and fatherless daughter bending over the lowly pallet, on which were stretched the lifeless remains.”
“The immediate cause of death,” wrote Mrs. Leider, who formed one of the party, “was rupture of one of the largest bloodvessels 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 heard 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 mitre of Jerusalem, like the wreath of our blessed Lord, has been to him a crown of thorns.”
Alexander’s death took place after just four years as Bishop in Jerusalem. Yet the significance of his life, testimony and appointment to the Jerusalem Bishopric leave a significant legacy for Messianic Jews today. At the time the the re-establishment of the apostolate of St James in Jerusalem was seen as having historic and prophetic significance, just as the Messianic movement today is seen as an eschatological sign by many, of God’s ongoing faithfulness to His people, and his preservation of a faithful remnant of Yeshua-believers within Israel.
Prayer: Thank you Lord, for the life and ministry of Michael Solomon Alexander, and the strategic role he played in the restoration of the Jewish people. His life shows the fruit of one who came to know you as Messiah, and remained a Jew, faithful to his people, language, culture and Land, whilst affirming your identity as Messiah, Lord and Saviour. Help us to follow in that path. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
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