Joseph Wolff

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Joseph Wolff

Joseph Wolff (1795 – 2 May 1862), a Jewish Christian missionary, was born at Weilersbach, near Bamberg, Germany. He travelled widely, and was known as “the missionary to the world”.[1] He published several journals of his expeditions, especially Travels and Adventures of Joseph Wolff (2 vols, London, 1860).

Early life[edit]

Wolff's father David Wolff (b. 1760), by 1790 rabbi in Weilersbach, then in Kissingen, Halle upon Saale und Uehlfeld, served as rabbi in Jebenhausen, Württemberg between 1804 and 1807, and sent his son to the Lutheran lyceum at Stuttgart.[2] He was converted to Christianity through reading the books of Johann Michael von Sailer, bishop of Regensburg, and was baptized in 1812 by the Benedictine abbot of Emaus, near Prague. In his writings the following story is told of his early conviction that Jesus is the Messiah:

When only seven years old, he was boasting to an aged Christian neighbour of the future triumph of Israel at the advent of the Messiah, when the old man said kindly, “Dear boy, I will tell you who the real Messiah was: he was Jesus of Nazareth, whom your ancestors crucified, as they slew the prophets of old. Go home and read the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, and you will be convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Conviction at once fastened upon him. He went home and read the scripture, wondering to see how perfectly it had been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Were the words of the Christian true? The boy asked of his father an explanation of the prophecy, but was met with a silence so stern that he never again dared to refer to the subject. This however only increased his desire to know more of the Christian religion.[citation needed]

Wolff was a keen Oriental scholar and pursued his studies at Tübingen and at Rome, where he was expelled from the Collegio di Propaganda in 1818 for attacking the doctrine of infallibility and criticizing his tutors. After a short stay in the monastery of the Redemptorists at Val Sainte near Fribourg, Switzerland, he went to London, entered the Anglican Church, and resumed his Oriental and theological studies at Cambridge.

His travels[edit]

Joseph Wolff preaching in Palestine

In 1821 he began his missions work in the East by visiting Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula, Jerusalem, Aleppo, Mesopotamia, Persia, Georgia and the Crimea. He returned to England in 1826.

In 1828 Wolff set out to search for the Lost Tribes of Israel, travelling through Anatolia, Armenia, Turkestan and Afghanistan to Simla and Calcutta, suffering many hardships and nonetheless preaching with enthusiasm. He visited Madras, Pondicherry, Tinnevelly, Goa and Bombay, travelling home by Egypt and Malta.

In 1836 he found Samuel Gobat in Ethiopia, took him to Jeddah, and himself visited Yemen and Bombay, going on to the United States, where he was ordained deacon on 26 September 1837 at Newark, New Jersey. Trinity College Dublin awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Laws. He was ordained priest in 1838 by Richard Mant, Bishop of Down and Connor. In the same year he was given the rectory of Linthwaite in Yorkshire.

In his travels in Bukhara he found the doctrine of the Lord's soon coming held by a remote and isolated people. The Arabs of Yemen, he says, "are in possession of a book called 'Seera,' which gives notice of the coming of Christ and His reign in glory, and they expect great events to take place in the year 1840."[3] "In Yemen I spent six days with the Rechabites. They drink no wine, plant no vineyards, sow no seed, live in tents, and remember the words of Jonadab, the son of Rechab. With them were the children of Israel of the tribe of Dan, . . . who expect, in common with the children of Rechab, the speedy arrival of the Messiah in the clouds of heaven."[4][5]

In 1843 Wolff went to Bukhara (home of the Bukharan Jews) to seek two British officers, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Stoddart and Captain Arthur Conolly who had been captured by the Emir, Nasrullah Khan in June 1842. They had in fact been executed, and as Wolff later described, he was only spared death himself because the Emir laughed uncontrollably at Wolff's appearance in full canonical garb. His Narrative of this mission went through seven editions between 1845 and 1852. This trip was retraced in 1938 by Fitzroy Maclean, then a junior diplomat travelling incognito. He wrote of Wolff in his memoir Eastern Approaches and almost fifty years later contributed a foreword to a biography of the missionary.[citation needed]

Personal life and legacy[edit]

He met his first wife in 1826 through Edward Irving, who introduced him to Lady Georgiana Mary Walpole, a descendant of Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain; the couple were married on 26 February 1827.[6]

In 1845 he was presented to the vicarage of Isle Brewers, Somerset. After the death of his first wife on 16 January 1859,[7] in May 1861 he married Louisa Decima, daughter of James King, rector of St. Peter-le-Poer, London. He was planning another great missions tour when he died at Isle Brewers on 2 May 1862.

A patron when he was a young man was the eccentric politician, Henry Drummond, a member of the Catholic Apostolic Church. Wolff named his son Henry Drummond-Wolff; the boy grew up to be a noted diplomat and Conservative politician who founded the Primrose League.[6]



    • New York, Harper & Bros., 1845
    • Edinburgh and London, William Blackwood & Sons, 1848
    • New York, Arno Press, 1970 ISBN 0-405-03072-X
    • Elibron Classics, 2001, ISBN 1-4021-6116-6
    • A mission to Bokhara. Edited and abridged with an introduction by Guy Wint. London, Routledge & K. Paul, 1969. ISBN 0-7100-6456-X
  • Travels and adventures of the Rev. Joseph Wolff, D.D., LL. D: Vicar of Ile Brewers, near Taunton; and late missionary to the Jews and Muhammadans in Persia, Bokhara, Cashmeer, etc. [3] London, Saunders, Otley and Co., 1861.


  1. ^ Ellen White, The Great Controversy, pp. 358
  2. ^ "Verzeichnis der Rabbiner in jüdischen Gemeinden im Bereich Baden-Württembergs" (trl.: List of rabbins in Jewish congregations in the area of Baden-Württemberg), on: Alemannia Judaica: Arbeitsgemeinschaft für die Erforschung der Geschichte der Judenim süddeutschen und angrenzenden Raum, retrieved on 31 October 2011.
  3. ^ Journal of the Rev. Joseph Wolff, pp. 377
  4. ^ Journal of the Rev. Joseph Wolff, pp. 389
  5. ^ Ellen White, The Great Controversy, pp. 361
  6. ^ a b "WOLFF, JOSEPH". The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906. Retrieved 2016-01-18.
  7. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 814.


External links[edit]