Rabbi Marcus Hoch – later known as the Rev. John Neander (1812 – 1885)

Rabbi in Lehe in the German state of Bremen, 1830s.

“In the early period of my life as a teacher, I was zealous for the rabbinical Judaism that was still widely practiced at that time. I tormented and exhausted myself trying by the works of the Law to lead a pure and holy life before my God. From my earliest childhood I understood sin to be an abhorrence to God. The thunders of Sinai resounded in my conscience; the mighty word proceeding out of the mouth of an Almighty God, ‘cursed is he who does not keep My Law,’ pinning me to the ground at that early period of my life. As with flaming letters it was written in my heart: ‘God is a holy God! God is a righteous God who abhors sin, in whose presence, none but those who are pure, and free from sin, and who live for Him only, can abide.’ I found no peace, however, from all my toil. Far, far from me was the rest for which I so much longed.

“I plunged myself into the deep labyrinth of rabbinical subtleties and sophistry, entangled myself in a chain, composed of thousands of links of trivialities, exhausted myself in endeavouring to be enlightened on this or that matter, but I only got deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. Not a ray of light penetrated its dark recesses. At length this exercise became exceedingly disagreeable to me. The zeal that was so ardent in my youth – alas! it was a blind zeal – cooled more and more as it became clearer to me that the words of the rabbis, the earlier and later ones, are truly not agreeable to God’s most holy Word. I discovered, that the persuasion that their way leads to the truth, is a vain persuasion.

“I was about twenty-five when with a paining heart I perceived this. I had no sure foundation any more to rest upon, nothing to lay hold of. I stood as on broken ground, my heart torn, close to death with anguish. At this time I taught in a German town, where I had twenty or more pupils to educate, to raise as men and Israelites. On the Sabbath I delivered public lectures on portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. All this placed me in a terrible condition: I had to preach up and defend what my heart revolted against. To hide my disdain I would not, yea, I could not!

“I met with a few individuals who called themselves Christians – to discuss scientific subjects, but now and then to study the ‘Old Testament’. Some of them were students in theology, and others teachers. They attacked the revealed word of God most terribly. Through them I became acquainted with the criticisms of de Wette, Eichhorn, Dinter, and others. It was not long before I stood up a zealous proponent of modern Judaism: I became a Rationalist. ‘We are deceived!” I exclaimed to my community, ‘terribly deceived! The Talmud and the Poskim [rabbinic judicial pronouncements] are a tissue of errors,’ and so forth. Yet the storm in my heart did not subside. It continued to roar and to rage – I was not free. At first I was shackled by chains of superstition, now by those of unbelief – chains forged by profane hands, by such fools as say, ‘there is no God.’

“As I looked again on these [proposed] contradictions, and on this work of ungodly men, I trembled, and entered the field against these impudent deniers of God; but with what weapons, alas, I might prevail, I knew not at that time. And so I was in a terrible condition. I felt as if closed in by a wall. I panted after the breath of life. I longed after liberty, and hoped that the enigma would solve itself, but the hand which should lead me into the haven of peace seemed to me far off, and the light which I searched after in all the writings of men, proved only darkness – they were broken cisterns, and my soul, which was languishing and near to death, did not find in them the water of life.

“I lay at times the whole night on the hard floor, chastised my body, yearned and cried aloud. The old Jews, to whose knowledge these austerities came, held me for a saint, and the modern Jews said to me: “Don’t be a fool.” These were years of anguish and terror. I was often near to despair.

“The compassion and grace of God, whom I did not know at that time, alone held me up. The hand of the mighty covenanted God of my forefathers covered me, and it was His eternal love that kept me from sinking. I tore myself with force from the circle of those who surrounded me, and I was chiefly alone and secluded … The speculations of men had filled my head, while my heart remained empty …”.

“[In Bremen] I heard for the first time a powerful testimony to the Christian doctrine. My whole heart revolted against it, the ground burned under my feet and I hurried away purposing never to return to this proposition again. Still it stuck like a thorn in my heart. The 53rd chapter of Isaiah as well as other passages in the Law and Prophets to which my attention was drawn, were too strong for me to forget or ignore. Doubt raged in me, and the questions, “what if it be really true? What if the Christians are right?” allowed me no peace.

“A few weeks passed, and I could no longer endure my trouble, I greatly desired to be enlightened, and that, by means of the common medium of all truth, holy writ alone. I began to read the New Testament, and to compare it with the Old, and it wonderfully unfolded itself to me. More and more I discovered the great mystery of redemption. In the Old Testament, in all God’s contrivances, a voice called to me, and I heard the voice of God, through Moses and the prophets, saying: ‘Jesus Christ the crucified, is the true Messiah, the true Saviour, whose name is Jehovah Tsidkenu,[1] the Lord our righteousness.’  I was roused especially by the 9th chapter of the Acts [the conversion of Saul of Tarsus].  I was convinced after much wrestling and fervent prayer, that Jesus is the source of salvation, and of eternal life to all, who, by the efficacy of his blood, are cleansed from the guilt and pollution of sin, and through Him can call God, ‘Abba, Father.’ I perceived that faith on the triune God is the victory which vanquishes the world.

“I could not remain silent about this – my heart was filled with it. I tasted the friendship of God, I rejoiced and was forced to exclaim, ‘my Redeemer lives’ – and this I announced to my pupils, talked of it in the circles of Jewish families, and publicly and aloud gloried in the ground of my hope in the rich promise made secure to me by the mouth of a Mighty Covenant God: ‘Be comforted, all your sins are forgiven, your debt is paid and annulled, through the great and only atoning sacrifice, through the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.’”

Marcus Hoch was born on 12 January 1812 in Neubruck, Posen, where his father served as rabbi.  While still very young his father sent him to study the Hebrew language, which he learnt by the age of eight. Later he studied Talmud, and in 1835 he moved to Lehe in Bremen, close to Bremerhaven, to serve as rabbi of the community. A burning thirst for truth and earnest enquiries into the Old and New Testaments eventually brought him to the knowledge of the Saviour. 

In 1838 he stepped openly into the Christian church and was baptised on 9 December 1839, by Ludwig Muller.[2]  His confession estranged him from his family and made bitter enemies of his former congregants. But the Saviour was more to him than father and mother, than brothers, sisters and friends. He worked earnestly and tirelessly to proclaim the Messiah to his own people, travelling throughout northern Germany preaching the Cross to his people, suffering many privations, hardships, dangers and persecutions.

In 1845 he migrated to America and served in New York and Philidelphia as a missionary to the Jews.  He was then known as John Neander, the name he took at baptism. [3]

In 1846 he was ordained as an evangelist by the Dutch Reformed Church and married Susanne Dobler of Baltimore in the same year. In 1853 he established the ‘First German Presbyterian Church’ in Brooklyn, which he faithfully served as pastor until he passed into eternal glory on 6 November 1885.

When Joseph Schereschewsky [4] travelled from Hamburg to New York in 1854 he was given letters of introduction to Neander. Neander was one of several Jewish believers who witnessed to Schereschewsky before his conversion in 1855.[5]

Neander was without doubt an exceptional man. He knew a large part of the Hebrew Scriptures entirely by memory and was thoroughly versed in the Talmud.  In every respect he was well acquainted with Jewish theology. As the apostle Paul he had a burning love for his brothers according to the flesh. He sincerely mourned the veil over the eyes of his people.

We do not know how many he brought to Messiah, but we do know that his brethren in America held him in high regard for his piety, his learning and his amiabilityHe was a skilful preacher with noble speech, a fiery intellect who captivated his listeners, convincing them of the truth and winning them for Christ. He was a shepherd and pastor to his congregation, sparing no effort or sacrifice necessary for their welfare.  He called them ‘my children,’ and in truth, he was their spiritual father.

In his personal conduct, he was mild-mannered and charitable towards the poor;  he had a child-like and devoted faith in God.

Over two thousand people attended his funeral on 10 November 1885. He followed his beloved wife of twenty-four years and two of the five children the Lord had given them.

Based on John G. Hehr’s short biography published in ‘Zions Freund’ in the October 1925 edition. This is an edited version of Rivkah Nessim’s English translation.

[1]  Jeremiah 23: 5-6.

[2]  The Jewish Chronicle, vol. 2 no. 1, July 1845, p.22.

[3]  Neander means ‘new man’.

[4]  Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, later Anglican Bishop of Shangai and translator of the Bible into Mandarin.

[5]  The Shepherd of Israel, vol. 3 no. 5, January 1923.

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