3 April 1821 Levi Parsons in Jerusalem #otdimjh

3 April 1821 Levi Parsons, American Pioneer, visits Jerusalem Synagogue

parsons1

In November 1819, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent Levi Parsons (1792-1822) and Pliny Fisk (1792-1825) to the Middle East in order to establish a Palestine mission, based in Jerusalem if possible. The first object of the mission was the restoration of the Jews. [writes Charlotte van der Leest]

Pliny Fisk

From the instructions the Board gave to Fisk and Parsons, however, it becomes clear that the ABCFM did not want to restrict its activities to the Jews. The instructions stated that the missionaries had to try to reach “those who are ‘Christians in name’ and the Jews”. The missionaries were urged to have “two grand inquiries” ever present in their minds:

“What good can be done, and by what means? What can be done for the Jews? What forthe Pagans? What for Mohammedans? What for Christians?”

david-roberts-holy-land-deluxe-1840-s-hc-print.-bethany-palestine-[2]-102593-p

Moreover, the instructions ended with the prayer that the mission might be accepted by both Jews and Gentiles. Fisk and Parsons were also instructed to learn several languages. First of all they were to learn Arabic, but also Turkish, Hebrew, Greek, French and Italian. After they had left Boston, Fisk and Parsons travelled via Malta to Smyrna, where they arrived in January 1820. At the end of the same year, Parsons left Smyrna in order to visit Jerusalem. During his stay there Parsons distributed Bibles and tracts, and met people of various religious groups and denominations. When he left the city after a couple of months he was optimistic about Jerusalem as a place to establish a mission station. However, he died on 10 February 1822 when he was in Alexandria together with Fisk.

David-Roberts-The-mosque-of-Omar-at-Jerusalem-from-Mount-Moriah-Jerusalem-1839

  1. Ethan Genauer adds in “American Christian Evangelical Patronage of

Jews and their Restoration in Palestine, 1800 – 1916″:

…..

America’s first two missionaries each left behind a notable legacy that, despite its rapid early growth, ASMCJ could not match. ASCMJ, after all, produced no martyrs, while Levi Parsons died abroad in 1822. After leaving Boston, Parsons and Fisk stayed together at Smyrna for almost one year, where they distributed Bibles and religious tracts and studied Oriental languages. In December 1820, Parsons left Smyrna in a Greek vessel, “expecting to land at Jaffa and from thence take a direct course to Jerusalem,”” while Fisk remained there. (68) Before he arrived in Jerusalem, he contemplated the spiritual state of the Jews:

With respect to the Jews, it has not been in our power as yet to extend to them the hand of benevolence … From information received, we are led to believe that the veil is still upon their hearts. They seem to be awake to the movement of Christians and are fortifying themselves in their infidelity. But when Jehovah speaks, they will hear … (69)

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 09.17.31

The journal notes that Parsons took during his stay in Jerusalem, however, show that he did not actually make a special effort to evangelize Jews. He arrived in Jerusalem on February 17, 1821, but did not visit the city’s Jewish synagogues until April 3 [April 7? See Levi Parsons’ Journal]. He tried to sell some Hebrew New Testaments to the Jews who he found there, but they “dared not purchase it without the consent of the Rabbis.” (70) Parsons seems to have spent most of his time distributing over 3,000 Bibles and tracts to Christians, including “priests, bishops, schoolmasters, and inquisitive pilgrims,” within Jerusalem and touring the sites of city and its surroundings. This reflects, perhaps, the disjunction between American Christian perception of Jerusalem as a uniquely Jewish location and the 19th-century reality that far greater numbers of non-Jews inhabited in and visited the city. When Parsons asked some Jews how many lived in Jerusalem, they answered that there was no more than 3,000 — fewer people than Parsons had tracts to distribute. Parsons then left Palestine in May and retired to a Greek island for the summer, rejoined Fisk in Smyrna in December, and contracted a sickness in Egypt, where he died in Alexandria in February with Fisk at his side. News about Parsons’ death did not reach America until July, but was then reported widely in Christian publications. At least three different commemorative poems were written and published in response to Parsons’ death. Although Parsons had resided in Jerusalem for only a few months of his two years abroad, each remembered him primarily for his mission work in Palestine, one as a “mission martyr” and a “harbinger of Judah’s rest.” (71) The most outstanding poem was first published in Christian Spectator, then delivered by a member of Middlebury College’s 1822 annual commencement in Parsons’ home state Vermont, and finally republished in a 431 page biography and collection of his memoirs that his brother-in-law authored in 1825, which ABCFM’s The Missionary Herald reviewed. It lauded Parsons as “virtue’s friend” and asked:

david-roberts-holy-land-deluxe-1840-s-hc-lg-folio-print.-hebron-palestine-[2]-102557-p

Who now like him shall toil for Judah’s race?
And who like him destroy Mohammed’s sway?

God had guided Parsons to Palestine, the poet said:

‘Twas he who summoned Parsons’ holy soul
From foreign lands to its eternal home.
He will remember Israel’s fallen race,
He will restore them to their fathers land.

7135513-L

Parsons was thus memorialized in association with the prophesied restoration of the Jews, despite the fact that they were not truly the focus of his missionary work in Jerusalem. Just as Parsons’ pre-departure sermon did in 1819, this points to the incredible consistency with which American Christians regarded Palestine and the restoration of the Jews as interrelated subjects in the 1820s.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for this early American pioneer, and his brief ministry in Israel. May their example of faith, hope and courage inspire us as we share today in bringing news of the Prince of Peace to a Land, nations and peoples who greatly need to know the reconciling love of our Messiah Yeshua. In his name we pray. Amen.

http://nmyoungfarmers.wikidot.com/evangelists

Charlotte van der Leest writes in

Conversion and Conflict in Palestine Conversion and Conflict in Palestine The Missions of the Church Missionary Society and the Protestant Bishop Samuel Gobat Protestant Bishop Samuel Gobat [46]

Levi Parsons Journal http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&id=hsEEAAAAYAAJ&dq=levi+parsons&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=HzJzAAXLxC&sig=BKXsMEQtWAp3rf74E1OM6_QOx50&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

More here from

  1. Ethan Genauer: “American Christian Evangelical Patronage of

Jews and their Restoration in Palestine, 1800 – 1916″:

While the idea of restoring Jews to Palestine was thus already beginning to gain increased currency in America in the 1810s, a decisive factor that spurred premillenialism’s rise to the forefront of the imagination of many American Christians as the establishment of a mission in Palestine by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in the 1820s. In 1818, the ABCFM designated Levi Parsons and Pliny Fish, two graduates of new Haven’s Congregationalist Andover Theological Seminary, as America’s first missionaries to Jerusalem. On November 7, The Christian Herald declared it “most proper that such a mission should be begun by the American people,” because ‘we alone, of all the nations of the earth … have never been engaged in persecuting the Jews.” (39) One month later, it published a page and a half of verse that celebrated the nomination of Parsons and Fish to “lift devotion’s eye” over “desolation’s realm” in Palestine, a land where “once the flowers of Eden flung their sweets” but that now lay in gloom as God’s favor had moved “far to the west.” (40) The poem, in a fashion similar to the questions that del Occidente posed in the New York Times thirty-five years later, inquired why a golden age could not again flourish in the East: “Shall no second Paradise here rise? Nor second choir angels wing the air? Nor second Star announce the rising Sun?” Like del Occidente, and in accord with the narrative of America as a redeeming nation that dominated the 19th century, (41) this poet envisioned a providential role for America’s missionaries. But, whereas del Occidente juxtaposed America’s “free” version of Protestantism against decrepit Islam and the rival “hierarchical” churches of the East, this poem mythologized the enterprise of missionaries Parsons and Fish as a special calling to the jews, delcaring that Providence was shining:

Some rays of bursting splendor midst the gloom:
She sees two youth, of glowing, fearless soul,
Gird on the burnished panoply of heaven,
The destined pioneers to Israel’s tribes
To call them from their wide dispersions home.

After this appeal for Jewish restoration, the poem concluded with a vision of a transfromed Orient no less enthusiastic and insistent than del Occidente’s that sacralized Parsons’ and Fisk’s mission as a step towards the inauguration of a glorious new reality in the East:

Despair, away! Though dark the moral night,
And chill the blast, where milk and honey flowed,
And where the glory subterranean lies: —
Soon Palestine shall hear the potent voice;
Let there be light: from chaos shall emerge
A fairer, holier, more enchanting scene
Then ever smiled beneath an Eastern sky.

The different visions of these two anonymous 19th century American Christians epitomized alternative approaches to a similar objective of redeeming the degraded Orient through the agency of American missionaries. But if, as one possibility, the Christian Herald’s poet represented an isolated voice, and Parsons and Fish did not share the goal of calling “Israel’s tribes … from their wide dispersions home,” then the search for proximate causes of the ultimate preference of many American Christians in the 19th century for the vision of restoring Jews to their ancestral homeland in Palestine would need to probe elsewhere in America’s culture and history. If, however, the two missionaries held this view as their own, as conveyed it to their fellow Christians in America with any eloquence or regularity, then they may have contributed vitally to its transformation from one that was only sporadically represented in the America’s press in the 1810s to its gradual rise to a position of predominance in the premillennialist rhetoric of the late 1800s. What, then, were the attitudes of Parsons, Fisk, and the organization that commissioned them in relation to the restoration of Jews to Palestine?

On October 31, 1819, a few days before they embarked to their initial destination of Malta en route to Palestine, both Fish and Parsons preached sermons at churches in Boston that, the Boston Recorder reported, “were heard with the deepest interest by those who were present.” (42) In his sermon, Pliny Fish revealed no signs that he construed his journey to Palestine as a special mission to restore the Jews. He spoke at length about the “interesting classes of men” — Mahommedans and Jews, and Roman Catholic, Greek, Armenian and Syrian Christians — that inhabited Judea and detailed “the most vigorous efforts” he expected would have to be made to enlighten each of them “of the true spirit of the Gospel.” (43) In his discussion, Fisk actually devoted more attention to the Muslims and Christians of Palestine than to its Jews. Insofar as he spoke about Jews, he did so with the intention of converting them and never implied that their literal restoration to Palestine was a goal of the mission. After his sermon, over $300 was collected for the mission from those in attendance, and then the Secretary of the Prudential Committee of the ABCFM presented a set of “instructions” to the two missionaries. (44) In his speech, the Secretary warned Fisk and Parsons against the temptation of identifying too personally with the storied physical sites where patriarchs, prophets, apostles and martyrs had lived, labored and died, lest they lose sight of their spiritual obligations. If they found that the time was not opportune for the establishment of a mission in Jerusalem, he imparted, they could turn their attempt to “a place less infested with jealousies and of greater salubrity,” such as Bethlehem, or anyplace else to where Providence might direct them. In reference to the jews, the Secretary stated that they “have been for ages an awful sign to the world … but the period of their tremendous dereliction … is drawing to a close.” He declared that “they will return — but only to the mercy of God through their acceptance of Christ, not to the land of Palestine itself. (45) Whereas Christian evanglists throughout the 19th century frequently conflated the distinct ideas of the conversion of the Jews and their literal return to Palestine together, neither Fisk nor the ABCFM exhibited such premillennialism in these pre-departure communications. Rather, they relted an undesrstanding of the mission as being strictly limited to those, including the Jews but not specifically targeting them, who already inhabited Palestine.

The sermon that Levi Parsons delivered on the same day in a different church in Boston, however, was strikingly different. Unlike his partner and the Secretary of the organization that had commissioned him, who had not even addressed the possibility of Jewish restoration, Parsons devoted his entire sermon to the subject. He argued in his sermon, entitled “The Dereliction and Restoration of the Jews,” that Scripture prophesied the literal return of Jews to their Holy Land, whereupon they would “be again a peculiar people, a royal priesthood, a chosen generation.” (46) The Mohammedans of the region, he charged, had been “a tremendous scourge to the children of Israel.” They had filled their Koran with curses against them, armed their disciples to destroy them, “obliged parents to instill mortal enmity into the minds of the children, besieged their cities, demolished their synagogues, drove them into exile, and forbade them to return upon pain of death.” Yet despite these sufferings, plus the awful persecutions of Christians in Europe, the jews had retained their separate identity, “as a standing monument of the veracity of God.” Parsons vehemently objected to Christians who interpreted the langauge of the Bible’s promises of Jewish restoration as figurative — after all, he insisted, the prophecies relating to their dispersion and captivity as aliens in foreign lands had been literally fulfilled, so how could anyone selectively understand those regarding their return as merely metaphorical? Yet, he argued, the jews would not achieve their restoration to Palestine by themselves, for this material event was linked inextricably to their spiritual “restoration to the privileges of the sacred Gospel.” Thus, they needed “the benevolence of the Gentiles — their prayers and their charity — in order for their restoration to become reality. More specifically, they needed bo be “furnished with the word of God, and with the instruction of the Missionaries.” In this sacred transaction, Parsons delegated to himself and Fisk a special role:

Our assistance now is particularly solicited. Many of the Jews are willing to receive the New Testament. Conversions to Christianity are rapidly increasing. A general movement is taking place. Every eye is fixed upon Jerusalem. There they believe the Messiah will come … And if our Savior should revive his work within those consecrated walls, the good resulting would, probably, surpass all calculation. The dispersed abroad, fixing their attention upon this event, might renounce their fatal delusion, and receive him, was was crucified on the calvary, as the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world. (47)

Parsons, therefore, in a manner similar to The Christian Herald’s anonymous poet, considered the first American mission to Palestine as a special prject to recall the Jews from their Diaspora abroad to the Holy Land. He and Fisk were, in Parsons’ imagination, emissaries of Jewish restoration who, by preaching the word of Christ within “those consecrated walls” of Jerusalem, would shine a light that Jews abroad could not fail to notice and respond to. This understanding of the mission as the vanguard of Jewish restoration to Palestine would, however, prove to have a very different influence than the one Parsons expressed in his pre-departure sermon. Throughout the 1820s, letters and reports from the Palestine mission were widely reprinted in American media. As a result, the mission of Parsons and Fisk would ultimately have a much greater impact upon American Christisns than on either Jews living in Jerusalem or those “disopersed abroad.” In the 1820s, the ABCFM’s Palestine mission was one key cause of escalated American Christian speculation about Jewish restoration to Palestine.

……

…..

America’s first two missionaries each left behind a notable legacy that, despite its rapid early growth, ASMCJ could not match. ASCMJ, after all, produced no martyrs, while Levi Parsons died abroad in 1822. After leaving Boston, Parsons and Fisk stayed together at Smyrna for almost one year, where they distributed Bibles and religious tracts and studied Oriental languages. In December 1820, Parsons left Smyrna in a Greek vessel, “expecting to land at Jaffa and from thence take a direct course to Jerusalem,”” while Fisk remained there. (68) Before he arrived in Jerusalem, he contemplated the spiritual state of the Jews:

With respect to the Jews, it has not been in our power as yet to extend to them the hand of benevolence … From information received, we are led to believe that the veil is still upon their hearts. They seem to be awake to the movement of Christians and are fortifying themselves in their infidelity. But when Jehovah speaks, they will hear … (69)

The journal notes that Parsons took during his stay in Jerusalem, however, show that he did not actually make a special effort to evangelize Jews. He arrived in Jerusalem on February 17, 1821, but did not visit the city’s Jewish synagogues until April 3. He tried to sell some Hebrew New Testaments to the Jews who he found there, but they “dared not purchase it without the consent of the Rabbis.” (70) Parsons seems to have spent most of his time distributing over 3,000 Bibles and tracts to Christians, including “priests, bishops, schoolmasters, and inquisitive pilgrims,” within Jerusalem and touring the sites of city and its surroundings. This reflects, perhaps, the disjunction between American Christian perception of Jerusalem as a uniquely Jewish location and the 19th-century reality that far greater numbers of non-Jews inhabited in and visited the city. When Parsons asked some Jews how many lived in Jerusalem, they answered that there was no more than 3,000 — fewer people than Parsons had tracts to distribute. Parsons then left Palestine in May and retired to a Greek island for the summer, rejoined Fisk in Smyrna in December, and contracted a sickness in Egypt, where he died in Alexandria in February with Fisk at his side. News about Parsons’ death did not reach America until July, but was then reported widely in Christian publications. At least three different commemorative poems were written and published in response to Parsons’ death. Although Parsons had resided in Jerusalem for only a few months of his two years abroad, each remembered him primarily for his mission work in Palestine, one as a “mission martyr” and a “harbinger of Judah’s rest.” (71) The most outstanding poem was first published in Christian Spectator, then delivered by a member of Middlebury College’s 1822 annual commencement in Parsons’ home state Vermont, and finally republished in a 431 page biography and collection of his memoirs that his brother-in-law authored in 1825, which ABCFM’s The Missionary Herald reviewed. It lauded Parsons as “virtue’s friend” and asked:

Who now like him shall toil for Judah’s race?
And who like him destroy Mohammed’s sway?

God had guided Parsons to Palestine, the poet said:

‘Twas he who summoned Parsons’ holy soul
From foreign lands to its eternal home.
He will remember Israel’s fallen race,
He will restore them to their fathers land.

Parsons was thus memorialized in association with the prophesied restoration of the Jews, despite the fact that they were not truly the focus of his missionary work in Jerusalem. Just as Parsons’ pre-departure sermon did in 1819, this points to the incredible consistency with which American Christians regarded Palestine and the restoration of the Jews as interrelated subjects in the 1820s.

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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