Bernard Jean Bettelheim - Biography


Bettelheim was born into a noted Jewish family in Pressburg, Slovakia, in 1811. He studied, from a very early age, towards the goal of becoming a rabbi. It is said that by the age of ten he could read and write in French, German, and Hebrew, though if his biographies are to be believed, he left home at 12 to become a teacher and continued his studies at five different schools. Bettelheim earned a degree in medicine from a school in Padua, Italy in 1836, and is said to have gone on to file no fewer than 47 "scientific dissertations" within the following three years. He traveled much in these years, practicing medicine in a number of Italian cities, aboard an Egyptian naval vessel, and in a Turkish town called Magnesia, where, in 1840, he began studying Christianity. He converted to Christianity, and was baptized a short time later, in Smyrna.

During his time in Turkey, he held theological debates with local rabbis and published pamphlets on the matter in French; after facing salary disputes in Constantinople and resigning his post, Bettelheim made his way to London, where he hoped to gain authorization from the Church of England to preach to the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean. During this time, he became associated with a number of other prominent missionaries to the Far East, including Dr. Peter Parker, Karl G├╝tzlaff, and missionary to Africa David Livingstone. Following several months of disputes with the Church of England, who refused to recognize his European degrees, insisted he study at Oxford or Cambridge, and were in any case quite suspect of someone who had so recently converted from Judaism, Bettelheim abandoned that particular quest, though he remained in London.

Bettelheim became a naturalized British subject sometime later, married the daughter of a prominent thread producer, and, in 1844, his first child was born; she was named Victoria Rose. Following further disputes with various Christian organizations, including the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews (a Jewish Christian missionary society now known as the Church's Ministry Among Jewish People or CMJ), he accepted an appointment as medical missionary to Naha with the Loochoo Naval Mission. Leaving from Portsmouth on 9 September 1845, the Bettelheims arrived in Hong Kong in January the following year; their second child, Bernard James Gutzlaff Bettelheim, was born en route, at sea. After several months in Hong Kong, studying Chinese and mingling with British missionary society there, Bettelheim departed for Okinawa with his family in April 1846.

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