Dr Edward Macgowan, a long-term pioneer physician in mid-nineteenth century Jerusalem was founder and director of the first modern hospital in the Holy Land. Despite opposition from rabbinic authorities, it became a popular and well-established centre, prompting Jewish philanthropists Lord Rothschild (1854) and Sir Moses Montefiore to develop indigenous free facilities also.
At the age of 46, Dr Edward Macgowan, by now a well-established physician, joined the ranks of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews with the aim of establishing the first modern hospital in Israel. For the first six months of 1842, Macgowan established his work among the Jerusalem population on a regular basis and managed to establish a close relationship with the Jewish community and some of its leaders in Jerusalem. On 12 December 1844, the Jews’ Hospital was opened in Jerusalem and became a source of great pride for the missionaries. Edward Macgowan died in Jerusalem after 18 years of service and was buried in the Protestant cemetery in his beloved city.
Gidney gives more details in his flowing prose:
We must now return to the society’s medical work. This house which had been secured on a long lease, having been altered and adapted, after many delays and difficulties, opened as a Hospital for Poor Sick Jews on December 12th, 1844, with Dr. Macgowan as chief medical missionary and Dr. Nichol as assistant.
The Society’s beneficent relieving of the sick had already become well known, for the dispensary had been open three years, and had been numerously resorted to by Jews of all classes, who manifested a great desire to be admitted as patients in the hospital.
The first who entered was a Bagdad Jewess, the second a German Jew. One of the early patients died under treatment, and this caused a difficulty about burial, which, however, did not lead to anything at that time.
On January 21st, 1845, a Greek Jew died, whereupon the chief rabbi refused to bury the body unless a promise was given to dismiss all the patients, and never again to receive any Hebrew. The body, therefore, was interred in the British burial ground. A Jewish anathema was proclaimed on January 22nd, and in twenty-four hours all the eight patients had left as well as the Jewish servants.
The Bishop traced the proceedings of the rabbis to the recent re-publication of the Chizzuk Emunah [“Faith Strengthened, an anti-missionary compendium by Isaak Troki] as a counterpoise against the growing influence of the mission. This inspired them with hatred and intolerance, but the panic caused by their opposition was of short duration.
Within a fortnight our Jewish patients had been admitted into the hospital and others soon followed. A second anathema, on March 1st, produced a very slight effect ; and the truth of Dr. Macgowan’s forecast that the opposition, was only an effort of bigotry which would soon exhaust itself, and in the end turn out to the advantage of the Gospel, was very soon apparent.
Fifty years later history was to repeat itself in an organised attempt to cripple the Society’s work in its new hospital.
A traveller in Jerusalem, in the year 1845, the Rev. Dr. Aiton, speaking of the Society’s institutions, said “Both in the Hospital and in the House of Industry plenty of New Testaments in the Hebrew tongue are laid on the tables. But while every facility is given to the reading of the Gospels, there is nothing like compulsion, or any indications that the conversion of the inmates is the sole but disguised object of these institutions. On the contrary, everything is done, so far as the funds will admit of it, for the benefit of the whole body of the Jews in Palestine.”
Reflection: The hospital undoubtedly fulfilled a great need, by providing free medical care to all. Whilst many received its benefits, it was strongly resisted by the Jewish community leaders, both negatively in their active opposition, and positively in that they were spurred on to form their own hospitals, still with us today.
Medical missions face the dilemma of creating dependency through serving the poor, and sharing the love of the Messiah, as he has commanded us to do in every way. Scholars of the formation of the modern State of Israel are generally most appreceative for what was achieved by pioneers such as Macgowan, respecting their integrity and contribution whilst not agreeing with their motives.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the motivation, ministry and vision of men like Macgowan, and their willingness to dedicate their lives to the service of others. Thank you for the understanding of your purposes and your love for your people Israel that led them to make such sacrifices. Help us to act with pure motives and good intentions, and to fulfil our calling in your service. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
The Impact of Early Missionary Enterprises on Landscape and Identity Formation in Palestine, 1820–1914 – RUTH KARK – Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations, Vol. 15, No. 2, 209–235, April 2004 http://geography.huji.ac.il/.upload/RuthPub/Num%2088%20The%20Impact%20of%20Early.pdf