The Revd Dr Abraham Capadose or Capadoce (22 August 1795, Amsterdam – 16 December 1874, The Hague) was a Dutch physician and Calvinist writer. A Jewish convert to Christianity from 1822 onwards, he was part of the Dutch Réveil (Revival) circle that also included da Costa and Willem de Clercq.
Capadose came from a distinguished Sephardic Jewish family. While working as a physician in Amsterdam, he and his friend Isaac Da Costa (see previous post here)were baptized in 1822. Shortly thereafter, Capadose began to fiercely oppose any divergence from the strict Calvinist orthodoxy within the Dutch Reformed Church. From 1833 until his death, he lived as a citizen without office in The Hague, save for a longer stay in Switzerland (1836–1837). Having come under the influence of the Réveil (Revival) movement there
Capadoce was a ‘celebrity’ because of his family background, his circle of friends, his medical achievements, and the much-circulated account of his conversion. He was also an excellent speaker, and his story was translated in many languages and widely circulated. It hit the spot of contemporary concerns, challenging scepticism and secularism, bolstering the claims of Christianity by providing a forthright support for faith in Jesus on the basis of an appeal to the Hebrew scriptures and Capadoce’s yichus (his distinguished family background) and lived Jewish experience.
He then went on to denounce vaccination against smallpox as an attempt to thwart the will of God, and fought a campaign against it whose effect continued into the 19th century amongst Protestants in Holland.
The orthodox protestant opposition to vaccination dates back to the nineteenth century. In 1823, he published his objections to vaccination. Referring to the severe side-effects of smallpox vaccination at that time, he stated that man was not allowed to cause disease in a healthy body. According to Capadose, both health and disease were given by God and man should not interfere with divine providence. Although not all orthodox Protestants agreed with Capadose at the time, he nevertheless had many sympathizers. The introduction of compulsory smallpox vaccination for school entrance in 1872 and continuation of this to 1939 enhanced resistance to vaccination among orthodox Protestants.
Reflection: Capadose’s story is a magnificent account of a Dutch Sephardi Jew from a distinguished family becoming absorbed in his life, personality and faith with the Messiah of Israel. He takes on the strictest form of Calvinism, challenges the advance of medical science, and withdraws from fellowship with others. Often this has been the case with Jewish believers in Jesus, although not so publicly apparent. We need to learn from his example of faith but also avoid some of these mistakes. The fissiparous nature of Protestantism prevents us from seeing the unity of the Body of Messiah, and often the doctrinal positions we take blind us to the truth others have also received. Sometimes the story of our ‘conversion’ (what a terrible term, if wrongly understood!) becomes a marginalising phenomenon, a form of ‘double supersessionism’ (Carol Harris-Shapiro‘s concept) which boasts of a superiority over both Judaism and Christianity which Messianic Jews must be careful to avoid. There is also something in the rhetoric and poetics of such a ‘conversion narrative’, a genre of literature particular prone to self-justification, that we must be careful to avoid, lest it slip into arrogance and pride.
Prayer: Father, thank you for the faith experience and testimony of Abraham Capadose, and his strength of character and integrity. Have mercy when in our pursuit of truth we become unable to tolerate the differences of others, and when we find ourselves on the wrong side, in the judgment of history. Let us not judge one another harshly, but with the mercy, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation that you show to each one of us through the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of your beloved Son, our Messiah, Yeshua. In his name we pray. Amen.
Capadose A: Bestrijding der vaccine [Fight against vaccine]. Sulpke, Amsterdam; 1823.
ABRAHAM CAPADOSE: EEN ISRAËLIET IN WIE GEEN BEDROG IS ZIJN BEKERING EN ANDERE GESCHRIFTEN STICHTING DE GIHONBRON MIDDELBURG 2009
THE RHETORICS AND POLITICS OF THE CONVERSION OF ISAAC DA COSTA [Jan N. Bremmer, Wout J. van Bekkum & Arie L. Molendijk, eds, Cultures of Conversions, Leuven: Peeters, 2006, pp. 65-82] Arie L. Molendijk, Groningen