The Enduring Legacy of Michael Solomon Alexander

January 21 is the anniversary of Bishop Alexander entering Jerusalem in 1842. Alexander was the first Protestant bishop ever in the Holy City, and the first Jewish bishop since the 130s.

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On January 21, 1842, the first Anglican Bishop entered Jerusalem. Michael Solomon Alexander was a German Jew who came to England as a young man to teach Hebrew and was later was ordained a rabbi.  He become a follower of Jesus in 1825 after meeting an Anglican clergyman who encouraged him to read the New Testament. Although he was ordained as an Anglican clergyman Alexander retained a strong Jewish identity as a follower of the Jewish Messiah.

He was a lecturer in Hebrew and Rabbinic literature at Kings College London when he was chosen to be the first Anglican bishop in the Middle East.  Amongst other things, he assisted in the translation of the Book of Common Prayer and the New Testament into Hebrew. He was an early advocate of the need for Christians to learn Hebrew and ancient Jewish sources in order to better understand their faith. He was also convinced that the people of Israel would return to the land of their forefathers, at which time God would not only pour out the Holy Spirit upon them but upon all of mankind.

When he arrived in Jerusalem there was no Anglican church building and not much of a congregation.  He set to work building Christ Church, the founding church of the diocese. This modest cleric is best remembered for his compassion for all the residents of Jerusalem. The city at that time was a filthy decaying town in a forgotten corner of the Ottoman Empire.  Responding to the poverty and unsanitary conditions, Alexander established the first modern hospital in the Holy Land. 

Bishop Alexander enters Jerusalem in 1842

The small Jewish community was extremely poor and ill-treated, and he was quick to help them, especially the Jews who lost their livelihood after confessing faith in Jesus as Messiah. At his enthronement, the Archbishop of Canterbury charged Alexander to open a college for the education of Jewish and Gentile believers.  After only three years in office, he died unexpectedly in 1845 and did not live to see the completion of Christ Church in 1849. 

The church that Alexander never saw is a simple Gothic building, and its exterior may not look much different from many other Anglican churches.  However, once inside you will find Jewish symbols and Hebrew script on the communion table and in the stained glass windows. On the eastern wall of the church, you find the words of Jesus and the Apostles Creed engraved in Hebrew.  So Jewish in appearance was the church that it never had a cross until 1948 when it was necessary to prove to roving gangs bent on destroying Jewish property that this building was actually a Christian house of worship.

When Christ Church was completed (after many delays), it became one of the most unique churches in Jerusalem. Despite being relatively new by Jerusalem standards, it is the only church in the city that fully acknowledges the Jewish roots of Christianity.  Not surprisingly, Christ Church Jerusalem became known as the “Jewish Protestant Church.”

This article first appeared at ChristChurchJerusalem.org.

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Article published on 01/21/2022