Monday, May 2, 2022

Read the Word of God

‘Luigi Assemani desired to argue with me again about faith in the Pope, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. But as he is very young, I thought it not fair to argue with him; I told him, therefore, that I advised him to read the Word of God diligently . . .’ This is from the journals of Joseph Wolff - Christian Missionary to the Jews of the world - who died 160 years ago today.

Wolff was born at Weilersbach, near Bamberg, Germany, in 1796 into a Jewish family. His father was a rabbi but he sent his son to the Protestant Lyceum at Stuttgart to learn German. Later he studied Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Interested in Christianity, he left home very young. After some years of travelling, he was baptised in 1812 by Leopold Zolda, abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Emmaus, near Prague. Four years later, he arrived in Rome, where he began training as a missionary at the seminary of the Collegio Romano. However, he was a subversive student, criticising his tutors, and was expelled in 1818. He moved on to England to stay with Henry Drummond, founder of the Catholic Apostolic Church, where he became friendly with Lewis Way. Wolff became a member of the Church of England, and was persuaded to train as a missionary at Cambridge University, with his expenses paid by The London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews.

Between 1821 and 1826, Wolff traveled as a missionary in Egypt and the Levant, and was the first modern missionary to preach to the Jews near Jerusalem. He sent Christian boys from Cyprus to England for education, and then continued his travels through Persia, Mesopotamia, Tiflis, and the Crimea. He married Lady Georgiana Mary Walpole in 1827. And, in 1828 set off east again, this time in search of the fabled Lost Ten Tribes (said to have been exiled from the Kingdom of Israel after its conquest in the 8th century). This journey lasted five years, taking Wolf to Armenia, Bokhara, India and Egypt among other countries.

Wolff travelled to the United States where he preached before Congress. He was ordained deacon by the Bishop of New Jersey, and in 1838 priest by the Bishop of Dromore. In 1843 he made another journey to Bokhara, to rescue two captured British officers. There he found they had been executed by the Emir, Nasrullah Khan; he only narrowly escaped the same fate. In 1845, he was presented with the vicarage of Isle Brewers, Somerset, where he raised funds to rebuild All Saints Church. When his wife died, he married Louisa Decima in 1861 but he himself died the following year, on 2 May 1862. Further information is available from Wikipedia, the Jewish Encyclopaedia, or

Wolff kept journals of his travels, and published them in various forms during his life - the earliest being articles in the Jewish Expositor. These were collected together and interspersed with letters, memoir material, and verbatim dialogues to form his first book, Missionary Journal and Memoir of the Rev. Joseph Wolf (published by E. Bliss and E. White in 1824; editor John Bayford) This is freely available at Googlebooks and Internet Archive. (Other volumes of his can also be found at Internet Archive, such as the two-volume Travels and Adventures.) Here are few extracts from the Missionary Journal.

21 December 1821
‘Pitched my tent in Abajilbana, where we saw the sea, called Bahar Almahl.’

22 December 1821
‘We pitched our tent in the plain of the village Arish, where there are an old castle, and some cannon. They asked me there whether the English Sultan is allied with that of Islam, I said. Yes; Hamd Lelah was the answer.’

26 December 1821
‘Arrived at Gaza. There came Samson, and it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither, and they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night, saying: In the morning, when it is day, we shall kill him: and Samson lay till midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of a hill that is before Hebron. 

It is now a little town inhabited by Mussulmen, and 100 Greek Christians, who have a very old church, which, by the account of the Greek priest on whom I called, was built in the time of Constantine the Great They are in possession of an old Arabic manuscript of the Gospel, which is kept sacred in the church. I asked them whether they would sell it to me, the priest replied, it would be an Haram Allah to sell any thing belonging to the church. All the Greeks throughout the East, are now in anxious expectation of the success of their brethren, fighting against their oppressors. Those at Gaza wept, and expected to hear from me good tidings, news of victory, on which I pointed them to the Lord, from whence their help will come. The chamack of the Grand Pasha of Acre, at the custom-house of Gaza, was very kind to me; he invited me to drink coffee with him, and procured me a room in the Han, which was not very handsome: he sent me some of his dates, and candles, and all this he did without reward, but I gave him before my departure, a present of three dollars. He was once in the service of the famous Djezzar, Pasha at Acre, and he knew Dr Clarke the traveller, and Mr. Smith, and he is the friend of Lady Esther Stanhope.’

3 January 1822
‘Peter Abbott, Esq., had the kindness to introduce me to an English Jew, with whom I had a short conversation about the Gospel. That Jew is to introduce me to their synagogue. My mind is quite relieved since I am again with English gentlemen; Peter Abbott, Esq. and Mr. M’Michael, Mr. Abbott promised me that he will kindly take an interest as well in the cause of the Bible as Missionary Society. Sent letters to Dr. Naudi, Mr. Lee, and Henry Drummond, by my friend Jacob Berggren.’

4 January 1822
‘Moreover, he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim; but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved. Psalm lxxviii. 67, 68. This very exclamation of the royal prophet may have been the reason, that the prophetical song of his harp did not sound well in the ears of the Samaritans, and that his oracles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, have not been accepted, but rather rejected by them.

I took in view this morning the seraglio of the Pasha Abdallah, at Acre, it is a little, nice building. Mr. M’Michael accompanied me. The building is not to be compared with any house of a rich private gentlemen in England. We requested, by means iff Mr. Abbott’s dragoman, a bugrat for our journey to the Mount Lebanon. The clerks of the government office are almost all Christians of this country. We met there with one of the innumerable children of Djezzar; that is to say, with one of those whose nose has beep cut off by Djezzar’s order! We afterwards took in view the spot where Bonaparte encamped with his army: it is near the sea, opposite the Mount Carmel. “There was Nabal, who was churlish and evil in his doings, he would not know who David, and who the son of Jesse was.” 1 Samuel xxv.’

3 February 1822
‘Luigi Assemani desired to argue with me again about faith in the Pope, the Virgin Mary, and the saints. But as he is very young, I thought it not fair to argue with him; I told him, therefore, that I advised him to read the Word of God diligently, which tells us, that God shall add the plagues written in that book unto the man who should add to it; and that he should read that word of God with prayer, and then he would perceive the reason of my disbelief in the Pope.’

4 May 1822
‘Several Jews called on me, and asked for New Testaments, tracts, and Bibles. I gave them the books gratis. They read them in the streets, but the Jews from Barbary took them out of their hands, and burnt a great many. Armenian and Greek priests called on me to-day, and desired to purchase Greek, Arabic, and Armenian Bibles and Testaments, but I was not able to comply with their wish; I therefore wrote again to John Barker, Esq. in Aleppo, and to Peter Lee, Esq. in Alexandria, to send me Bibles, Testaments, and tracts.’

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