The Arabs and the Anglicans: Samuel Gobat and the Nineteenth Century Protestant Bishopric in Palestine
Gobat’s episcopacy lasted for nearly thirty years and proved relatively successful given nineteenth century Palestine’s cacophony of religious and racial groups. He maintained the support of British Evangelicals—the Earl of Shaftesbury wrote the preface to his biography—and managed to keep his diocese relatively unified despite the fractious nature of converts from various cultures and religions.
In the nineteenth century, British Protestants moved to Palestine for the purposes of missionary work among Arabs and Jews. One of most important early Protestant missionaries to Palestinian Arabs however hailed from Switzerland. Samuel Gobat, like most Swiss from Bern—he was born there in 1799—imbibed the throaty Calvinism downstream from the Genevan Reformation. Gobat received most of his education in Switzerland and later in Paris and London. In the latter two cities he began learning rudimentary Arabic and cultivated an interest for what was then called the Oriental languages. He learned Ge’ez, a language spoken in what is now Eritrea, and served as a missionary in Ethiopia in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Although Gobat was not British, he attached himself to the Anglican Church Missionary Society. His de-facto institutional affiliation remained with the Church on England for the rest of his life.
At the end of Gobat’s time in Ethiopia he moved to Malta in order to study Arabic intensively. From 1839 to 1842 her served as a sort of ad hoc missionary performing a variety of roles for the Church Missionary Society. In 1846 his life changed dramatically. The Church Missionary Society had been cultivating local parish work in the Ottoman province of Palestine.