Cover Story

Timeline of notable Jewish Christians of the past five centuries

How many Jewish believers in Christ live in the United States?

Issue: "All in the family," March 2, 2002

Jim Sibley, Southern Baptist coordinator of Jewish ministries, and Arnold Fruchtenbaum, director of the evangelistic outreach Ariel Ministries, estimate a total of 100,000, but the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York says more than 100,000 have converted over the past 20 years alone. Susan Pearlman of Jews for Jesus says 60,000 to 75,000, but Jews for Judaism says 300,000, a very high figure. (Jewish groups tend to make higher estimates, perhaps because their definition of "Christian" is looser.) By comparison, the American Jewish Identity Survey estimated that 5.3 million adults identify themselves as Jewish, of which about 420,000 are Orthodox. Felix Posen of the Posen Foundation, which underwrote the study, concluded that its findings show that "Jews who do not identify with the main religious streams of Judaism [should no longer] be dismissed as if their numbers were insignificant." It's also time to stop dismissing Jewish converts to Christianity as having acted because of personal or family problems, a desire for excitement, or self-serving ambition. Clearly there have been times when material and professional advantages could follow voluntary conversion. That's clearly not the case in the United States today, and over the centuries the personal disadvantages often involved in conversion-leaving family, friends, and established livelihood, while undergoing harassment by Jewish community leaders-were generally far greater than any personal advantages obtained. In most cases only those convinced that they were leaving a partial truth for a greater truth were willing to exile themselves from the communities they knew. This timeline includes capsule biographical information on a few of the many notable Jewish Christians-Jewish by ethnicity, Christian by theology-of the past 500 years. This list is limited to those who personally chose Christianity, made a mark in their professions or publications, and were thereafter hailed as traitors by some and heroes by others. Bits and pieces of the information below are available in books and at websites, but either no overall listing has been published up to now, or it is buried in some place inaccessible by WORLD's research and inquiries over the past three months.

Alfonso de Zamora, a former rabbi, is baptized. Working with Paul Nunez Coronel and Alfonso d'Alcala, two other Jewish Christians, he uses his knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Chaldean, and other languages to help develop a six-volume multilingual work known as the Polyglot Bible. He also writes a Hebrew grammar, a Hebrew dictionary, a dictionary of the Old Testament, and a treatise on Hebrew spelling.

Johannes Pfefferkorn, converted two years before in Cologne, Germany, writes Der Judenspiegel, which condemns the persecution of Jews but also calls the Talmud and many Jewish customs anti-biblical.

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Antonius Margaritha, son of a German chief rabbi, converts to Christianity and soon writes Der ganz Judisch glaub (The Entire Jewish Faith), a critical examination of Jewish customs and community structures.

Johann Harzuge prints in Cracow, Poland, a New Testament with a Hebrew translation. In the next several years Paul Halicz, Paul Emulio, and Michael Adam also produce Hebrew and Yiddish translations of the New Testament.

Johannes and Stephan Isaac, father and son, convert to Lutheranism but have trouble afterwards deciding between it and Roman Catholicism. Both become Catholics, with Johannes becoming a professor of Hebrew at the University of Cologne and Stephan a priest, but in 1582-1583 Stephan delivers sermons opposing the worship of icons and saints and soon afterwards becomes a Protestant once again.

John Immanuel Tremellius, converted to Christianity around 1530, becomes Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge. A strong Calvinist, he is later Professor of Theology at Heidelberg, where he produces a Latin Old Testament that is published in Frankfurt in the 1570s and London in 1580. With Theodore Beza's Latin New Testament attached to it, the Tremellius Bible is the Protestant contender against the Vulgate issued by Pope Sixtus V in a Reformation vs. Counter Reformation battle of Latin bibles.

Christian Gerson, a German pawnbroker, reads out of "curiosity" a New Testament one of his customers was pawning. Seeing that the New Testament relies heavily on the Hebrew Bible, he repeatedly reads his new book "in secret so that my wife should not notice ... my heart was troubled and anxious for weeks, food or drink had no taste for me." Gerson feels he must convert and does so, but at a heavy cost: "My wife, with whom I had lived in marriage, with love and fidelity, and with whom I had two sons, I left at her request ... all my Jewish neighbors and acquaintances ... have become implacable enemies."


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