Wolff, Joseph

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WOLFF, JOSEPH (1795–1862), world traveler and Christian missionary to the Jews in the Oriental Diaspora. Born in Weilersbach, Bavaria, the son of a rabbi, he converted to Catholicism in 1812. He was admitted to the Collegio Romani in 1816, but after being expelled because of his heretical views, he moved to England and joined the Anglican Church. In 1827 he married the daughter of the Earl of Oxford, and their son was Sir Henry Drummond Wolff, the well-known diplomat and politician. He studied Oriental languages and theology at universities in Vienna and Tuebingen, among others. Thereafter he became a missionary to the Jews, traveling to Palestine, Kurdistan, Mesopotamia, Turkey, Persia, Khurasan, Bukhara, India, Yemen, Abyssinia, and many European countries.

He undertook his first great missionary journey to the Orient in 1821, which he described in Missionary Journal and Memoirs of Reverend Joseph Wolff (3 vols. London, 1827–29). After touring the British Isles and Holland in 1827, and Palestine and Cyprus in 1829, in 1831 he undertook his second journey to Asia, which he described in Researches and Missionary Labours Among the Jews, Mohammedans, and other Sects (18311834) (2 vols., London, 1835). In 1836 he traveled to the U.S., where he delivered a sermon before Congress in Washington, received a degree at Annapolis, Maryland, and was ordained as deacon in New Jersey. In 1838, however, he returned to England, accepting a parish in Somerset and occupying this office until his death. He left in 1843 for a second journey to Bukhara, having offered to search for Charles Stoddart and A. Conolly, two high-ranking English officers imprisoned by the emir of Bukhara. However, they had been executed before his arrival, and Wolff himself narrowly escaped a similar fate. The Bukharan episode is described in Narrative of a Mission to Bukhara to Ascertain the Fate of Colonel Stoddart and Captain Conolly (2 vols., London, 1845), which ran into seven editions.

His writings contain interesting and valuable details about the Jews and Jewish communities in the regions he had visited, but because of his missionary zeal and erratic character, Wolff's data lack objectivity and reliability.


J. Wolff, Travels and Adventures. An Autobiography, 2 vols. (1861); H.L. Palmer, Joseph Wolff; His Romantic Life and Travels (1935); G. Wint (ed.), Mission to Bokhara (1969).

[Walter Joseph Fischel]