Alfred Edersheim.jpgAlfred Edersheim

Edersheim,  Alfred  (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).

Adapted from the ODNB