Marcus Lichtenstein was the first Jewish convert to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Marcus B. Lichtenstein was born in Poland in the 1840s or 1850s, the precise date uncertain. His parents were Orthodox Jews, and he was reared in that tradition. After the “January Uprising” from 1863-1865 and the subsequent unrest, Lichtenstein immigrated from Poland to the United States in the late 1860s.
It is unclear how, but Lichtenstein arrived in Battle Creek, Michigan, in February 1871. At the time the Midwestern town was the headquarters and center of the fledgling Seventh-day Adventist Church (established in 1863), home to church founders James and Ellen White, as well as the brothers of the cereal fame Will and John Harvey Kellogg. Lichtenstein was converted to Adventism shortly after his arrival. Although there are great similarities between Judaism and Adventism, such a conversion was a lifechanging move, as it spelled for Lichtenstein a break from his family and heritage.
Lichtenstein was a member of the charter faculty of Battle Creek College (now Andrews University), when it opened in December 1874, Adventism’s first institution of higher learning, teaching courses in the Hebrew language. He also worked as a proofreader at Adventism’s sole press, the Review and Herald Publishing Office, and wrote for church periodicals, including several articles for the official church paper, Adventist Review. In the articles Lichtenstein deftly explained difficult Hebrew words and concepts to his American Adventist readers, who were largely ignorant of the ancient language.
Ellen G. White took a personal interest in Lichtenstein, talking with him on several occasions and listening to his lectures. She believed that Lichtenstein’s conversion to Christianity was of singular divine providence, and saw great potential in the young man, what with his knowledge of the Hebrew language and culture and access to the Jewish people. On several occasions she commended personal piety, in juxtaposition to some of his coworkers, who at times mocked Lichtenstein’s accent and broken English.
Apparently due to ill treatment and the unserious behavior of some Adventists in Battle Creek, Lichtenstein left the town and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1875. Details on the remainder of his life are unknown.
Sources: Battle Creek College Bulletin, 1871-1872;
Ellen G. White Estate Files, Silver Spring, Maryland;
M.B. Lichtenstein, Review and Herald articles, 1871-1877.
Benjamin Baker, PhD, teaches writing at the University of Maryland.