Penn Press at AHA 2021

Missionaries, Converts, and Rabbis

Missionaries, Converts, and Rabbis

The Evangelical Alexander McCaul and Jewish-Christian Debate in the Nineteenth Century

by David B. Ruderman

7 illus.

  • Hardcover
  • 9780812252149
  • Published: May 2020



An examination of the life and work of Alexander McCaul and his impact on Jewish-Christian relations

In Missionaries, Converts, and Rabbis, David B. Ruderman considers the life and works of prominent evangelical missionary Alexander McCaul (1799-1863), who was sent to Warsaw by the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity Amongst the Jews. He and his family resided there for nearly a decade, which afforded him the opportunity to become a scholar of Hebrew and rabbinic texts. Returning to England, he quickly rose up through the ranks of missionaries to become a leading figure and educator in the organization and eventually a professor of post-biblical studies at Kings College, London. In 1837, McCaul published The Old Paths, a powerful critique of rabbinic Judaism that, once translated into Hebrew and other languages, provoked controversy among Jews and Christians alike.

Ruderman first examines McCaul in his complexity as a Hebraist affectionately supportive of Jews while opposing the rabbis. He then focuses his attention on a larger network of his associates, both allies and foes, who interacted with him and his ideas: two converts who came under his influence but eventually broke from him; two evangelical colleagues who challenged his aggressive proselytizing among the Jews; and, lastly, three Jewish thinkers—two well-known scholars from Eastern Europe and a rabbi from Syria—who refuted his charges against the rabbis and constructed their own justifications for Judaism in the mid-nineteenth century.

Missionaries, Converts, and Rabbis reconstructs a broad transnational conversation between Christians, Jews, and those in between, opening a new vista for understanding Jewish and Christian thought and the entanglements between the two faith communities that persist in the modern era. Extending the geographical and chronological reach of his previous books, Ruderman continues his exploration of the impact of Jewish-Christian relations on Jewish self-reflection and the phenomenon of mingled identities in early modern and modern Europe.