Alfred Edersheim (March 7, 1825 – March 16, 1889) was a Jewish believer in Yeshua and a Biblical scholar known especially for his magisterial The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah which is still a most valuable resource today for understanding the Jewish background of Jesus and the Gospels.
Adapted from the ODNB
– EDERSHEIM, Rev. Dr. Alfred, born at Vienna, March 7, 1825, died at Mentone, March 16, 1889.
Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), biblical scholar, was born in Vienna of Jewish parents on 7 March 1825. His father, Marcus Edersheim, a banker and a man of culture and wealth, had come originally from the Netherlands, and his mother was Stephanie, nee Beifuss, of a well-known Frankfurt family. Edersheim was a bright child, and as English was spoken at home he became fluent at an early age. He was educated at a local Gymnasium and also at a Hebrew school, and in 1841 he entered as a student at the University of Vienna. However, his father suffered financial ruin before the completion of his university education, and he was thrown on his own resources.
Edersheim next journeyed to Pest, in Hungary, where he supported himself by giving language lessons and met Dr John Duncan (1796-1870) and other Presbyterian ministers, who were acting at the time as chaplains to the Scottish labourers engaged in constructing the bridge over the Danube. Under their influence Edersheim converted to Christianity, and later he accompanied Duncan on his return to Scotland.
Edersheim then studied Christian theology both in Edinburgh and also (under Hengstenberg, Neander, and others) in Berlin, and in 1846 he became a Presbyterian minister. Shortly afterwards he travelled abroad, and for a year he preached as a missionary both to ethnic Jews and to Germans living in Jassy in Romania. He also met there his first wife, Mary Broomfield, whom he married in 1848 after returning to Scotland.
Edersheim was particularly skilled in preaching; the incumbent at a large church in Aberdeen, he was soon appointed minister of the free church in Old Aberdeen, where he remained for twelve years. During this time he translated several philosophical and theological works from German to English, including Historical Development of Speculative Philosophy, from Kant to Hegel (1854), History of the Old Covenant (1859), History of the Christian Church (1860), and Theological and Homiletical Commentary on the Gospel of St Matthew (1861). He also wrote, while living in Old Aberdeen, History of the Jewish Nation from the Fall of Jerusalem to the Reign of Constantine the Great (1856), and he contributed learned articles to the Athenaeum and other periodicals.
In the winter of 1860-61 poor health led Edersheim to move to Torquay, where his first wife died. He subsequently married Sophia, nee Hancock. Through his influence, the Presbyterian church of St Andrew was built at Torquay, and he became its first minister. In 1872 his failing health prompted him to retire from active work and to devote himself to writing. He therefore resigned his charge at Torquay and moved to Bournemouth.
In 1874 he published The Temple: its Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ. Through his work he met and became friends with Dr George Williams, theologian, and thanks to his influence Edersheim took orders in the Church of England in 1875. From 1876 to 1882 he worked in the parish of Loders, near Bridport, in Dorset. Here he wrote his most important work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (2 vols., 1883), arguably lacking in critical acumen but encyclopaedic in its range of information; he also used his personal knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity to write a fluent and engaging essay.
In 1880 Edersheim was appointed Warburtonian lecturer at Lincoln’s Inn in London, an office which he held for four years. In 1882 he moved from Loders to Oxford where he had been granted an MA honoris causa the previous year.
He had also been awarded honorary degrees from Kiel (PhD) and Vienna, Berlin, Giessen, and New College, Edinburgh (DD). In 1884-5 he was select preacher to the University of Oxford, and from 1886 to 1888 and 1888 to 1890 he was Grinfield lecturer on the Septuagint.
In 1885 his Warburtonian lectures appeared, entitled Prophecy and History in Relation to the Messiah. Soon afterwards he wrote, with the co-operation of D. S. Margoliouth, a commentary on Ecclesiasticus for the Speaker’s Commentary on the Apocrypha (1888). His next project was to be a work on The Life and Writings of St Paul; he had already written the opening chapters when he fell suddenly ill and died, on 16 March 1889, at Menton, France, where he had been spending the winter on account of his health.
Edersheim was remembered fondly for his tolerance and good humour, as well as for his skills as a preacher and writer. His daughter Ella wrote a short memoir of his life which was published as a foreword to Edersheim’s Tohu-Va-Vohu (‘Without form and void’, 1890).
Prayer on seeing a scholar: Blessed are You, HaShem, our God, King of the Universe, who has given of His knowledge to flesh and blood.
Thank you for the wisdom, knowledge and understanding of your Word that you gave to Alfred Edersheim, and for his legacy of scholarship that continues to today. May none of us be wise in our own understanding, but humbly sit at your feet, our Master Teaacher, and learn from others who have paved the way for us to follow you. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.
Edersheim, Rev. Dr. Alfred, born at Vienna, March 7, 1825, died at Mentone, March 16, 1889. We give the following extract about him from the Memoir of Dr. Saphir, by Rev. G. Carlyle: “In 1847 young Edersheim became a student at the University of Buda-Pest. He had been brought up luxuriously in Vienna, and was one of the leaders of fashion. He was highly educated, spoke Latin fluently, knew  Greek, German, French, Hebrew, Hungarian and Italian. When Cremieux, the head of the French bar, paid a visit to Vienna, the synagogue presented him with an address, and deputed young Edersheim to deliver it.
Cremieux was so pleased with his eloquence that he offered his father to take his son to Paris, and provide for him for life, but his parents would not give him up…. Before the winter was over, Edersheim was under the teaching of the Holy Spirit, and had glorious views of the Deity of Christ. Trusting in His One Sacrifice, and filled with the peace of God, he gave himself up to be His servant in any way it might please God to direct him. He opened a class to teach the students English on the condition that the Bible should be their only lesson book. Baptized, and now full of life and vigour, it was resolved that he should go to Edinburgh, to the Rev. Professor Duncan, to complete his theological studies.
Edersheim, after his ordination, was missionary first in Jassy, Roumania, and then minister for many years at the Free College Church, Old Aberdeen, and then at Torquay…. He then joined the Church of England and became Vicar of Loders in Dorset.”
He resigned his living in 1883, and settled at Oxford, where he held the position of Grinfield Lecturer of the University. He was also Warburton Lecturer of Lincoln’s Inn, and “Select Preacher” of the University of Oxford.
Dr. Edersheim was a voluminous author, and his works are extremely valuable from the fact that he was able to deal with his subject both from the standpoint of a learned Jew and a learned Christian.  It may be as well to state here his total output, from which it will be seen how wide and extensive was his range of study and scholarship.
He was Translator and Editor of the “History of Speculative Philosophy from Kant to Hegel, from the German of Dr. Chalybäus, with introduction by Sir Wm. Hamilton” (Edinburgh); “Kurtz, History of the Old Covenant (vol. 1) with condensed abstract of Kurtz’s Bible and Astronomy”; “Lange, Bible Commentary on St. Matthew” (2 vols.); “Kurtz, History of the Christian Church, with emendations and additions” (Edinburgh, 1860); Author of “History of the Jewish Nation from the Destruction of Jerusalem to the Establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire” (T. and T. Clark, 1856. Revised by Rev. H. A. White. Longmans, 1896); “The Golden Diary of Heart-Converse with Jesus in the Book of Psalms” (R.T.S.); “Elisha the Prophet, his History and Times” (R.T.S.); “The Jubilee Rhythm of St. Bernard,” and other Hymns, chiefly from the Latin (J. Nisbet and Co., 1866); “The Temple, its Ministry and Services as they were at the time of Jesus Christ” (R.T.S., 1874); “Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the days of Christ” (London, 1876); “Bible History,” 7 vols. (R.T.S.); “The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,” 2 vols. (Longmans, 1884; eighth edition, 1894); “Jesus the Messiah,” an abridged edition of the foregoing; “Prophecy and History in relation to the Messiah, being the Warburton Lectures for 1880-84” (8 vols., Longmans, 1885); “Commentary on Ecclesiasticus,” in “The Speaker’s Commentary on the Apocrypha” (J. Murray, 1888); “Tohu-va-Vohu (Without form and void),” a collection of Fragmentary Thoughts and Criticisms, edited by his daughter (Longmans, 1890), and various articles from time to time in the “Edinburgh Review.” He was also editor of “Israel’s Watchman” in 1877.