Isaac Da Costa 1798-1860
Da Costa was born in Amsterdam. His father, an aristocratic Sephardic Portuguese J, Daniel da Costa, was a prominent merchant; his mother, Rebecca Ricardo, was a near relative of the English political economist David Ricardo. Daniel da Costa, soon recognizing his son’s love for study, destined him for the bar, and sent him to the Latin school from 1806 to 1811. Here Isaac wrote his first verses. Through his Hebrew teacher, the mathematician and Hebraist Moses Lemans, he became acquainted with the great Dutch poet Bilderdijk, who, at the request of Isaac’s father, agreed to supervise the boy’s further education. Bilderdijk taught him Roman law, and a familiar intercourse sprang up between them, which afterward developed into an intimate friendship.
Isaac later wrote of how Bilderdijk influenced his life:
“He was a remarkable man in all respects, and one whose political and religious convictions, and originality of mind and character, had armed all this present age, at least in his own country, against. him. Miunderstood, persecuted, banished in 1795 and harassed by all sorts of misfortunes, he had found from his youth, strength and consolation in the Gospel of Christ.
Attached in heart to the truths of the confession of the Reformed Churches, he had besides early perceived the glorious future, announced by the prophets to the ancient people of God, and how their conversion to teh Messiah, crucified by them, would be one day to the nations at large like life from the dead. From thence arose a particular attachment to Israel for their fathers’ sake, and for the love of Christ, who sprung from Israel according to the flesh.
Very naturally, I felt strongly drawn towards this extraordinary man. I became his disciple, and also his intimate friend for eighteen years to the day of his death. It is to him, under the hand of God, and through His adorable grace, that I saw the light which led me to the Christian religion, and to the faith in Jesus, my Saviour, and my God. Not that Bilderdyk ever sought to make a proselyte of his young disciple. With a wisdom which I can attribute to nothing but the direction fo the Almighty, he rather endeavoured not to sway my mind by the influence which his superior intelligence gave him over me. he only endeavoured to render me more of an Israelite than is consistent with the wisdom of the present age. He spoke to me of the Old Testament; he directed my attention to the prophecies, to the promises given to the fathers, to the portions of revealed truth, preserved even in the traditions of the rabbis (Messiah ben David and Messiah ben Joseph, etc.).
Especially he tried to make me feel that the true Christian shares in the hopes of Israel in regard to a glorious reign of Messiah upon the throne of David; and that on the other hand (it is thus that he expressed himself in a piece of poetry which he addressed to me in 1819), the sincere Jew is a Christian in hope.” (in Jewish Witnesses that Jesus is the Christ. ed. Herschell, Ridley Haim.)
Da Costa married his cousin, Hannah Belmonte, who had become a believer also, and soon after he was baptized with her at Leyden. At that time he was already well known as a poet. After Bilderdijk’s death Da Costa was generally recognized as his successor among Dutch poets. He was a faithful adherent of the religious views of his friend, was one of the leaders of the Orthodox Reformed party, and during the last years of his life was a teacher and a director of the seminary of the Independent Scotch Church. His character, no less than his genius, was respected by his contemporaries. He felt only reverence and love for his former coreligionists, was deeply interested in their past history, and often took their part.
Da Costa had the joy of seeing his closest friend, Abraham Capadose and all but one of his family, come to faith. His mother-in-law and sister-in-law, Esther, came to faith. Esther married the son of Pierre Chevalier, the pastor who had baptised her, but sadly, died young while expecting a child. Da Costa writes of another relative who had become a believer some time after he had, and had been about to become pastor of one of the Dutch churches when he died prematurely.
Aside from his fifty-three longer and shorter poems, Da Costa wrote largely on theological subjects. He also wrote “Israel en de Volken” (2d ed., Haarlem, 1848-49), a survey of the history of the Jews to the nineteenth century, written from the standpoint of the Church. The third volume, dealing with the history of the Spanish-Portuguese Jews, is especially noteworthy on account of the mass of new material used. The work was translated into English, under the title “Israel and the Gentiles,” by Ward Kennedy (London, 1850), and into German by “A Friend of God’s Word” (Miss Thumb), published by K. Mann (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1855).
Da Costa’s two papers, “The Jews in Spain and Portugal” and “The Jews from Spain and Portugal in the Netherlands,” which appeared in 1836 in the “Nedersche Stemmen over Godsdienst, Staat-Geschied-en Letterkunde,” may be considered as preliminary to the history. Of interest also are his works on the Von Schoonenberg (Belmonte) family (“Jahrb. für Holland,” 1851) and on “The Noble Families Among the Jews” (“Navorscher,” 1857, pp. 210 et seq., 269 et seq.; 1858, pp. 71 et seq.; 1859, pp. 110 et seq., 174 et seq., 242 et seq.). Da Costa possessed a valuable library which contained a large number of Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew manuscripts, as well as rare prints from the Spanish-Portuguese Jewish literature. It was sold at public auction a year after his death. A catalogue of the library, compiled by M. Roest, was published at Amsterdam in 1861.
Bernstein, A. Jewish Witnesses for Christ. Keren Ahvah Meschichit, new edition 1999.
Gartenhaus, Jacob. Famous Hebrew Christians. Baker Book House, 1979.
Herschell, Haim Ridley (ed.) Jewish Witnesses that Jesus is the Christ.