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Barclay, Joseph (DNB00)

BARCLAY, JOSEPH, D.D. (1831–1881), bishop of Jerusalem, was born near Strabane in county Tyrone, Ireland, his family being of Scotch extraction. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and proceeded B.A. in 1854 and M.A. in 1857, but showed no particular powers of application or study. In 1854 he was ordained to a curacy at Bagnelstown, county Carlow, and on taking up his residence there began to show very great interest in the work of the London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews. The question of Jewish conversion was at that time agitating the religious world in England, and Barclay supported the cause in his own neighbourhood with great activity, till in 1858 his enthusiasm resulted in his offering himself to the London Society as a missionary. He left Ireland, much regretted by his parishioners and friends, and, after a few months' study in London, was appointed to Constantinople. The mission there had been established in 1835, but no impression had been made on the 60,000 Jews calculated to inhabit the town. Barclay stayed in Constantinople till 1861, making missionary journeys to the Danubian provinces, Rhodes, and other nearer districts. He acquired a thorough knowledge of the Spanish dialect spoken by the Sephardic Jews, and diligently prosecuted his studies in Hebrew. In 1861 he was nominated incumbent of Christ Church, Jerusalem, a position requiring energy and tact to avoid entanglement in the quarrels of the parties whose rivalries Barclay describes as a ‘fretting leprosy’ neutralising his best efforts. In 1865 he visited England and Ireland on private matters, received the degree of LL.D. from his university, and married. On his return he found it impossible to continue in his post unless his salary was increased, and the refusal of the London Society to do this necessitated his resignation. This was in 1870; he returned again to England and filled for a time the curacies of Howe in Lincolnshire and St. Margaret's, Westminster, till in 1873 he was presented to the living of Stapleford in the St. Albans diocese. The comparative leisure thus afforded him enabled him to publish in 1877 translations of certain select treatises of the Talmud with prolegomena and notes. Opinion has been much divided as to the value of this work, but Jewish critics are unanimous in asserting that it is marked by an unfair animus against their nation and literature. In 1880 he received the degree of D.D. from Dublin University. In 1879 the see of Jerusalem became vacant, and Dr. Barclay's experience and attainments marked him out as the only man likely to fill the post successfully. He was most enthusiastically welcomed to Jerusalem, and entered on his duties with his usual vigour, but his sudden death after a short illness in October 1881 put an end to the hopes of those who believed that at last some of the objects of the original founders of the bishopric were to be realised. Bishop Barclay's attainments were most extensive. He preached in Spanish, French, and German; he was intimately acquainted with Biblical and Rabbinical Hebrew; he was diligently engaged at his death in perfecting his knowledge of Arabic; and he had acquired some knowledge of Turkish during his residence in Constantinople.

[An elaborate critical biography of the bishop, giving copious extracts from his journals and letters, was published anonymously in 1883.]

R. B.