It’s noteworthy when someone raised Jewish embraces Christianity. How much more so when that person — a scholarly individual— bridges both religions to bring the Bible to life for his fellow Christians. Alfred Edersheim did that very thing, especially in his monumental work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
EDUCATING MIND AND SPIRIT
Alfred was born into a Jewish home in Vienna, Austria. His father, a wealthy banker, provided well for his four children, the youngest being Alfred. After completing Hebrew school, the promising young Edersheim entered the University of Vienna. Then, his father faced a financial reversal. Alfred had to drop out of the university. He restarted his studies in Hungry at the university in Pest, supporting him-self by teaching some of the languages he knew.
Ministers from the Church of Scotland saw Pest as a mission field. One of them gave Alfred a New Testament. He was especially drawn to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Reading the New Testament opened Alfred’s eyes to the fact that others had wrongly portrayed Christianity to him. Another Scottish missionary, John Duncan, well-informed in the Jewish faith and well-versed in Hebrew, helped Alfred see Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. Alfred accepted Jesus as his personal savior and was baptized.
The new convert furthered his theological education in Edinburgh and later in Berlin. In 1846, Alfred received ordination into the Presbyterian church.
HANDLING THE WORD OF TRUTH
After a year as a missionary to Jews in Romania, Alfred married. Then he pastored for twelve years in Aberdeen, Scotland. During that time, he used his knowledge of languages to translate theological writings of others from German into English.
Health issues led Alfred to move to Torquay. His first wife died, and he remarried. In 1872, poor health led him to resign from pastoring. All his energies went into writing. Previous publications included not only translations of theological works, but scholarly articles he’d written.
EXPLAINING JEWISH CULTURE
Steeped in the knowledge of his ancestral culture, the rabbinic writings and a command of Hebrew and Greek, Alfred brought the Jewish world of Jesus’ day to life. His book, The Temple: It’s Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ saw publication in 1874. That was followed two years later by Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ. His classic work, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, was published in two volumes in 1883 and later released in a single volume. A series of lectures were compiled into Old Testament Prophesy and History in Relation to the Messiah in 1885.
Alfred joined the Church of England in 1875, which proved to be a better fit for him. He served as vicar in a parish in Dorsetshire. Then, he lectured for a few years at Lincoln’s Inn in London. In 1884, Alfred received an appointment to preach at Oxford University.
Continuing health problems took him to France where he passed away unexpectedly on March 16, 1889.
LET ME KNOW: How has Alfred’s story informed, encouraged, or otherwise helped you? I welcome your comments.
- Mishkin, David. The Wisdom of f Edersheim. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishing, 2008.
Some of Alfred’s books available today–
- Bible History: Old Testament
- History of the Jewish Nation After the Destruction of Jerusalem Under Titus
- Old Testament Prophesy and History in Relation to the Messiah
- Practical Truths from Elisha
- Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ
- The Hebrew Commonwealth
- The Temple: It’s Ministry and Services at the Time of Jesus Christ
- The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah,