Jonas King (born in Hawley, Massachusetts, 29 July 1792; died in Athens, Greece, 22 May 1869) was a Congregational clergyman from the United States who worked as a missionary, mainly in Greece. His activities in Greece were interrupted by a spell of religious persecution which was finally resolved through diplomatic negotiations between the United States' and Greek governments.
He graduated from Williams College in 1816, and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1819, and was ordained to the ministry of the Congregational Church in Charleston, South Carolina, on 17 December 1819. He then pursued missionary work in South Carolina for six months and returned to Andover for a year of graduate work. When Amherst College was founded in 1821, he was appointed professor of the oriental languages and literature, and held the chair until 1828, though he spent the years 1823-1825 working for the Palestine mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in Syria distributing Bibles and preaching. To prepare himself for his missionary duties outside the United States, he had gone to Paris and studied Arabic under De Sacy.
After a brief stay in the United States in 1827/8, he was invited to accompany one of the vessels sent with supplies to the Greeks. He married a Greek woman in 1829, resumed his connection with the American Board in December of that year, and in 1831 moved to Athens, where he spent the rest of his life as a missionary. In 1832 he had established five schools, and in 1835 began to instruct a class in theology. In 1839 a schoolhouse was finished.
King's teachings soon attracted the attention of the authorities of the Greek Orthodox Church, and in 1845 he was excommunicated by the synod of Athens. In 1846, and again in 1847, he was cited to appear before a criminal court. In 1847 a series of articles entitled “The Orgies of King” appeared in an Athens newspaper purporting to describe shameful ceremonies that had been enacted at the missionary's house. In consequence of a popular clamor, King fled to Italy, but in 1848 a friendly ministry came into power, and he returned to Athens.
In 1851 he was appointed U. S. consular agent in Athens, and on 23 March 1851 some Greeks, who had come to one of his services at his house for the purpose of making a disturbance, were dispersed only by his display of the American flag. After this a new prosecution was begun against him, and in March 1852 he was condemned to fifteen days' imprisonment and to exile. He had been accused of “reviling the God of the universe and the Greek religion,” though he had done no more than preach the ordinary Calvinistic doctrines, and though Greece enjoyed nominal religious freedom.
King appealed from his prison to the Areopagus, which refused to reverse the decision of the lower court, and he then formally protested against his sentence in the name of the U. S. government. King was then temporarily released, and in the following summer George P. Marsh, then minister to Turkey, was charged by the U. S. government with the special investigation of his case, and also to look into King's title to a lot of land, the use of which he had been deprived of by the Greek government for 20 years with no compensation.
The diplomatic correspondence, which fills 200 printed pages of executive documents, resulted in the issue of an order by the king of Greece in 1854, freeing him from the penalty that had been imposed. The action of the U. S. government in this case was of great service to the cause of religious liberty in Greece.
He revised and translated into modern Greek sixteen volumes, among which were Baxter's Saints' Rest and Lyman Beecher's Sermons on Intemperance. He published a “Farewell Letter” in Arabic to his friends in Syria (1825), which was translated into various European languages, put on the Index Expurgatorius at Rome, and produced a great effect in the Eastern Churches. Other work:
- The Defence of Jonas King, in Greek (Athens, 1845)
- Speech before the Areopagus, in Greek (New York, 1847)
- Exposition of an Apostolic Church, in Greek (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1851; French and Italian translations at Malta)
- Religious Rites of an Apostolical Church, in Greek (Athens, 1851)
- Hermeneutics of the Sacred Scriptures, in Greek (1857)
- Sermons, in Greek (2 vols., 1859)
- Synoptical View of Palestine and Syria, in French (Greek translation, Athens, 1859)
- Miscellaneous Works, in Greek, with the documents relating to his various trials (Athens, 1859-1860)
- The Oriental Church and the Latin, in English (1865)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "King, Jonas". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. This work in turn cites
- Life of Jonas King by F. E. H. H. (New York, 1879).