Samuel Lyde

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Samuel Lyde (1825–1860) was an English writer and Church of England missionary who worked in Syria in the 1850s and wrote a pioneering book on the Alawite sect. In 1856, he sparked months of anti-Christian rioting in Ottoman Palestine when, during a visit there, he killed a beggar.

Life and missionary work

Modern Syria, showing the region near Latakia where Lyde was a missionary.

Lyde was born in 1825.[1] He obtained a degree in 1848 after studying at Jesus College, Cambridge and in 1851 he was awarded an M.A, took holy orders as a clergyman of the Church of England and became employed as a fellow of Jesus College.[2] Poor health, according to Lyde, prevented him from "exercising the duties of his profession in England, at least during the winter months" and, therefore, in the winter of 1850/1851 he made "the usual tour" of Egypt and Syria.[3] While on the "tour", he decided, because of his health, to settle permanently in Syria, then a part of the Ottoman Empire.[3] The British consul in Beirut suggested to him that he could occupy his time by working as a missionary to the Alawites,[3] also known as Nusayris, a secretive mountain sect who later provided two of modern Syria's leaders: Bashar al-Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad.[4]

Lyde was persuaded by the idea. From 1853 to 1859, he lived among the Alawite community of the Kalbiyya district, and established a mission and school in Bhamra,[5][6] a village overlooking the Mediterranean port of Latakia.[7] However, he later wrote that living among them convinced him that the Alawites fulfilled St Paul's description of the heathen: "filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness".[4]

Nablus at the end of the 19th century

Lyde travelled to Palestine in 1856, and as he rode on his horse into Nablus he shot and killed a beggar who was trying to steal his coat.[8][9][10] It was either an accidental discharge of the gun or Lyde had lost his nerve and fired.[8] An anti-Christian riot ensued during which Christian houses were burned and several Greeks and Prussians were killed.[9][10] Lyde took refuge in the town governor's house but was eventually put on trial for murder.[9] The only witnesses were three women who accused him of attacking and deliberately killing the beggar.[9] However, the testimony of women was inadmissible in Ottoman courts and he was acquitted of murder, although he was ordered to pay compensation to the man's family.[9] The violent rioting continued for several months and even spread to Gaza.[9]

Lyde developed a deranged mental state and had delusions that he was John the Baptist, Jesus Christ or God himself.[8][9] However, he subsequently recovered sufficiently to write a book on the Alawites, which he completed shortly before his death. He died in Alexandria in Egypt in April 1860.[1][11] He was 35 years old.[4] He bequeathed his mission at Bhamra to two American missionaries, R. J. Dodds and J. Beattie[note 1] of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.[12]

Publications and influence

Alawites dancing the Dabke folk dance, 1880

Lyde wrote two books on the Alawites: The Anseyreeh and Ismaeleeh: A Visit to the Secret Sects of Northern Syria with a View to the Establishment of Schools (1853) and The Asian Mystery Illustrated in the History, Religion and Present State of the Ansaireeh or Nusairis of Syria (1860).[13] The latter is considered to be a pioneering work, and was the first monograph to be written on the Alawite-Nusayri religion.[14][15] It remained the only Western book on the subject until 1900, when René Dussaud published his Histoire et religion des Nosairîs.[15]

His description of Alawite doctrines was based on a document called Kitab al-mashyakha ("The Manual of the Shaykhs"),[16] which he said he had bought from a Christian merchant from Latakia.[15] This document appears to have differed in certain respects from other sources on Alawite doctrine.[16] For many years it was thought to have been lost and only available through the extracts quoted in translation by Lyde.[16] In 2013, it was announced that the document Lyde had used had been discovered in the archives of the Old Library of Jesus College, Cambridge.[17] Lyde had bequeathed it to his old college, and, apparently, had sent it to Cambridge shortly before his death.[17]

His writing reveals a negative view of the Alawites and, in particular, he was critical of what he saw as their brigandage, feuds, lying and divorce.[4] He went as far as saying that "the state of [Alawi] society was a perfect hell upon earth".[18] The Asian Mystery became a popular book and has been described as "colourful" but "unreliable" in some respects.[4] Nevertheless, Lyde's account remains an influential source on Alawites, and, for instance, is widely quoted on the internet.[4]


  1. Robert James Dodds and Joseph Beattie had begun their missionary work in Syria in 1856 on behalf of a Reformed Presbyterian denomination known as the Reformed Presbyterian Church Old Light Synod. See Glasgow, William Melancthon (2007). History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America. pp. 484–487. ISBN 1601780192.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  1. 1.0 1.1 Lindemann, Gerhard (2011). Für Frömmigkeit in Freiheit: Die Geschichte der Evangelischen Allianz im Zeitalter des Liberalismus (1846-1879). p. 869. ISBN 978-3825889203.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Lyde, Samuel (1853). The Anseyreeh and Ismaeleeh: A Visit to the Secret Sects of Northern Syria with a View to the Establishment of Schools. pp. i, iii–iv.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 "Secretive sect of the rulers of Syria". The Telegraph. 5 August 2011. Retrieved 4 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Moosa, Matti (1987). Extremist Shi'ites: The Ghulat Sects. p. 277. ISBN 978-0815624110.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Douwes, Dick (1993). "Knowledge and Oppression: The Nusayriyya in the Late Ottoman Period". Convegno sul tema La Shia nell’impero ottomano. Accademia nazionale dei Lincei, Fondazione Leone Caetani. pp. 149–169, (p.158). ISBN 978-8821804373. Retrieved 9 January 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Joffe, Lawrence (18 October 2005). "Major-General Ghazi Kanaan". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Figes, Orlando (2011). Crimea. pp. 429–430. ISBN 978-0141013503.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Idinopulos, Thomas A. (1998). Weathered by miracles: a history of Palestine from Bonaparte and Muhammad Ali to Ben-Gurion and the mufti. p. 102. ISBN 978-1566631891.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Lyde, Samuel (1860). The Asian Mystery Illustrated in the History, Religion and Present State of the Ansaireeh or Nusairis of Syria. p. viii.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  13. Denney, John Patrick (1996). Paschal Beverly Randolph: A Nineteenth-century Black American Spiritualist, Rosicrucian and Sex Magician. p. 486. ISBN 978-0791431191.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Bar-Asher, M. M. (2003). "The Iranian Component of the Nusayri Religion". Iran: journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies. 41: 223.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Seale, Patrick (1992). Asad: The Struggle for the Middle East. p. 10. ISBN 978-0520069763.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Friedman, Yaron (2009). The Nusayri-Alawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria. pp. 68, 220, 271. ISBN 978-9004178922.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. 17.0 17.1 Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  18. Pipes, Daniel (1992). Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition. p. 165. ISBN 978-0195060225.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Full texts of Lyde's works via Google books: