© Marcus Roberts (2012)


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Michael Joseph was mortified and shamed by his son's actions. This lead to him leaving Bedford by May 1830, at the age of 70. He went to Liverpool, via London, no doubt to dissuade his son of his folly. There he died, apparently broken hearted, a few months later. The Jewish community forbade Nathan to attend his father's burial.

Patricia Bell attributes Nathan's conversion in part to millennial excitement emanating from America at that time. Bedford had been influenced by the Primitive Episcopal Church from America and lead by the religious charlatan the Rev. George Montgomery West. Certainly Nathan was not the only rabbi to convert in the immediate period and he did go on to found a messianic Jewish congregation - the Hebrew Church of Christian Israelites - in Liverpool and was almost certainly ordained a minister of his branch of the Primitive Episcopal Church by West himself.

Lissack, in his book of 1851, ungraciously impugned the motives of all Jewish converts to Christianity as insincerity and the desire to profit financially from gullible Christians. In other polemical writings to the press, Nathan Joseph was treated as a particular bete noir.

Nathan Joseph's subsequent life certainly contradicts such a blithe and unkind generalization. His conversion brought him a life of hardship, misery and eventually ill-health, which he bore with considerable fortitude and faith. He wrote of his experiences as a convert in 1830 that he entered "...the wide world as an outcast, to encounter the unkind treatment of my Jewish brethren, and the suspicions of Christians." Margoliouth himself defending his friend, attacked Lissack, saying, "A Mr. Lissack is now there [in Bedford], who seems active and zealous for the Jewish religion; but his energy and ardour and chiefly spent in Calumniating Jewish converts."

Nathan worked for a few years at his Hebrew chapel but divested himself of his dubious religious associations with West before too long and became a minister of the Anglican Church in 1836. In 1831-2 he was imprisoned for debt though he also managed to attract other members of his family to live in Liverpool.

In 1836 he baptized the young Moses Margoliouth, later the noted Jewish historian and clergyman. Nathan was also responsible for organising the first provincial Jewish mission station - a "Home for inquiring and converted Jews" for the London Society. He apparently had some considerable success in his missionary work

Later on he became a roving emissary for the London Society, even visiting the Low Countries and Germany, on their behalf. He had to give up this well paid position due to ill-health. He subsequently held a variety of largely chaplaincy positions, including workhouse and prison chaplaincies. He was married twice, his first wife died of cancer and the second was rapidly annulled. Nathan had no children. He continued to suffer badly from debt and was declared to be in debt by "1066, in 1855 - a very large sum indeed. While fraud was alleged for part of the debt, the court declared it due only to inexcusable and gross negligence on Nathan's part.

This seems to have led his to fleeing abroad after 1856. On the way he stopped at Chester, Northampton and Bedford. Lissack accused him, in the Bedfordshire Times, (some years after his death) of undisclosed "disgraceful conduct in Chester and Northampton" and wondered how a man of his kind could be allowed to preach in the pulpit of St Cuthbert's, Bedford, that had previously been graced only by men of "piety and unimpeached character".

Lissack conscientiously reported to the paper the year before in 1875, that a Jewish traveler and rabbi had found Nathan sunk very low with disease, in a hotel where he was chaplain. He is claimed to have made what seemed to have been a death-bed reversion to Judaism in a hotel in France and a request for Jewish burial. The visiting rabbi and professor claimed that he discovered that Nathan had been an insincere convert. In all events he died at some point after the visit by Rabbi Professor Marks of UCL. His death was recorded in 1864 at "Rue de Tennieers 22", Strasburg, though whether he did revert, or receive a Jewish burial, is not known, though his death appears to have been reported by two Jews.

What ever the truth of Nathan's end, there is little doubt that his conversion and zealous work for Jewish conversion, caused serious long term resentment and fear in the Jewish community, nowhere less than at Bedford, and encouraged powerful partisanship that made objectivity about him impossible in his era. Certainly the vitriol to which Lissack subjected the unfortunate Nathan Joseph (even after death) may be a measure of the pressure that the Jewish community felt under from the work of well organised and funded Jewish missions.

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