There was once a story about how the Rev. Joseph Wolff upon his arrival in Mesopotamia, was pointed to one of the ancient Rechabites by some of the Jews he saw there.
I showed him the Bible in Hebrew and Arabic, which he was much rejoiced to see, as he could read both languages, but had no knowledge of the New Testament. After having proclaimed to him the tidings of salvation, and made him a present of the Hebrew and Arabic Bibles and Testaments, I asked him,—” Whose descendant are you?”
“Mousa,” said he, “is my name, and I will show you who were my ancestors;” upon which he immediately began to read from the fifth to the eleventh verse of Jeremiah 35.
“Where do you reside?” said I.
Turning to Genesis 10. 27, he replied, “At Hadoram, now called Simar by the Arabs: at Uzal, now called Sanan by the Arabs;” and again referring to the same chapter, verse 30, he continued, “At Mesha, now called Mecca, in the deserts around those places. We drink no wine, and plant no vineyard, and sow no seed; and live in tents, as Jonadab, our father, commanded us: Hobab was our father too. Come to us, and you will find us sixty thousand in number; and you see thus the prophecy has been fulfilled,” ‘Therefore, thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not want a man to stand before me forever;'” and saying this, Mousa, the Rechabite, mounted his horse and fled away, and left behind a host of evidence in favor of sacred writ.
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Joseph Wolff (1795 – 2 May 1862), Jewish Christian missionary, was born at Weilersbach, near Bamberg, Germany. He travelled widely, and was known as the Eccentric Missionary, according to Fitzroy Maclean’s Eastern Approaches. He published several journals of his expeditions, especially Travels and Adventures of Joseph Wolff (2 vols, London, 1860).
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. He was converted to Christianity through reading the books ofJohann 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 neighbor 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.
In 1821 he began his missionary wanderings 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 but 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 Anglican 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.” “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.”
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.