Alexander Neibaur (8 January 1808 – 15 December 1883)
From Fred E. Woods: A Mormon and Still A Jew:
Alexander Neibaur was a man of many talents. An educated man and gifted poet, he was fluent in seven languages. One account describes Neibaur as “a small thin man, with a round ruddy face, [with] sharp eyes.” He was also unusual inasmuch as he was Utah’s first dentist and matchmaker, and the first known male Jewish convert to Mormonism; and he left the only known contemporary diary account of Joseph Smith’s first vision experience. Neibaur was also a good family man, honest and loyal, and a kind friend and trusted neighbor, not only to fellow Church members but also to those who did not share his religious beliefs, especially Utah’s few Jewish migrants.
Alexander Neibaur [other family members are named “Neubauer”] was born on January 8, 1808, into a well-educated home in Ehrenbreitstein, Germany, located on the Rhine River in what is currently a suburb of the city of Koblentz. He immigrated to Preston, England, in 1830. His mother, Rebecca Peretz, was a French Jewess, and his father, Joseph Nathan Neibaur, an educated Polish Jew, was a physician and served for a time as an interpreter and linguist to Napoleon Bonaparte. He had hopes that his son would become a rabbi; however, at age fourteen, Alexander chose dentistry. After graduating from the University of Berlin, Alexander traveled Europe as a dentist and embraced Christianity. [I have not been able to locate more details about his initial coming to faith]. It was in Preston where he met his future wife, Ellen Breakel, described as “a nice, trim-looking English (Christian) woman” whom he married on September 15, 1834.
Mormon missionaries traveled from the USA back to the UK in 1837 and began preaching in Preston. One day Alexander overheard a neighbor ask his wife Ellen if she had heard about the new preachers from America who claimed to have seen an angel. On hearing the discussion, Alexander asked from his window where he could find them. Neibaur had received spiritual manifestations concerning a record, and he hurried to the missionaries’ place of residence and received a Book of Mormon. Forgoing food or sleep, he devoured the book in only three days, then returned to the missionaries, requesting baptism. They counseled him to postpone his baptism until the following spring, when he would be more prepared for the ordinance. Reluctantly consenting, he was baptized April 9, 1838, becoming the first-known male Jew to convert to Mormonism.
Niebaur and his wife travelled to Utah. You can read his journal here. There he established himself as a dentist, and became a friend, disciple and teacher of Joseph Smith, teaching him Hebrew and introducing him to the Kabbalah.
Neibaur was familiar with Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, and Hebrew. In his autobiographical sketch, Neibaur wrote: “In the fall of 1843, had the honor of instructing the Prophet Joseph Smith, until he went to Carthage, in German and Hebrew, from which text he preached several times to large congregations.” On May 23, 1844, Joseph noted, “Read Hebrew with Neibaur.”
He had a large family, fathering fourteen children, and left a legacy of eighty-three grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren. In his autobiographical sketch, Neibaur recalled how he had “Embraced the Truth in Opposition to all my Friends. Passed in Consequence through hardships & Trials, yet my trust was in the God of Abraham.” In reflecting on his descendants, he wrote: “I do not pen these lines, but for the Gratification of my Posterity. Bearing to them, and unto all who may Read these few lines, my Testimony, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the Lord, the things spoken of in the Bible, Book of Mormon, sealed with the Blood of the martyrs at Carthage jail, all are true. My Prayer is that my Posterity might walk in the way of Righteousness. Amen.”
Reflection: One reason for this blog is to discover some of the lesser known Jewish believers in Yeshua from the past, and learn from their stories. I was most surprised to discover how Alexander Neibaur was not only a Jewish believer in Jesus but an influential voice in the development of the Mormons, a deviation from the Scriptures and the faith of Yeshua. Yet here he is, bringing with him his gifts and character from a typical 19th century Jewish environment, into a new faith community in the New World. His character, industry and scholarship shine out, as does his influence on those who knew little of Jews, Judaism, Hebrew or the Jewish mystical tradition. It is no surprise then that his connection with Joseph Smith and the development of Mormonism resulted. But how do we pray and give thanks for his contribution to a group that is deviant from both Judaism and Christianity in affirming the prophetic status of Joseph Smith and the authority of the Book of Mormon? Perhaps like this:
Prayer: Lord, we recognize the great gifts you have given to your people Israel. Not only the covenants and promises, but gifts of character, industry, scholarship, influence and survival. We see in this man Alexander Neibaur such qualities as loyalty and faithfulness, both to his family, to you, but also to a false prophet and a false path. May we have the wisdom and discernment to avoid such an error, and may our lives be taught and instructed by your Word, by good teachers and guides, and by the leading of Your Holy Spirit into the ways of truth and righteousness. We pray this in the name of Yeshua, the only true Messiah, Amen.
http://gnosis.org/jskabb3.htm Joseph Smith and Kabbalah: The Occult Connection by Lance S. Owens
http://mormonhistoricsites.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/4-MHS_2006_Alexander-Neibaur.pdf “A Mormon and Still a Jew”: The Life of Alexander Neibaur – Fred E. Woods