Alfred Edersheim is a compelling but difficult figure for Messianic Judaism to appreciate. On the one hand, he was a Jewish-Christian and a well-learned reader of rabbinic literature. On the other hand, he was typical of the Jewish converts to Christianity in his day, renouncing loyalty to Judaism in favor of his new faith. Thus, Edersheim brings the light of rabbinic literature to bear on the life of Yeshua and yet he also makes many anti-rabbinic statements which are troubling for Messianic Jews today.
I don’t think we can benefit from ignoring Edersheim or putting his books on the dusty, unused shelves in our libraries.
For one thing, Edersheim represents an advance in Jewish-Christian thought. In his time, it was usually the critical readers like Schurer who wrote on such topics. Edersheim is an example of a staunch believer in the Bible and the good news of Messiah who reflected on rabbinical literature and the New Testament.
Edersheim’s scholarly methods are imperfect, much of that due to the fact that a great deal less was known in the late nineteenth century about Jewish literature leading up to the New Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls and much of the Pseudepigrapha were not found at the time. Nonetheless, his writings are illuminating and for those careful to take anti-rabbinic talk with a grain of salt and not to imagine that Yeshua lived in the fully-formed world of rabbinic Judaism, Edersheim’s books are a resource to be prized.
David Mishkin teaches at Israel College of the Bible and has made Edersheim a life study.
The Wisdom of Alfred Edersheim is just the kind of resource people need to understand and quickly find insight from this pioneer in Jewish Christianity. Readers will not only find a summary of Edersheim’s life and an annotated bibliography of his writings, but also a topical treasury of Edersheim quotes. Consider Edersheim on the subject of higher criticism, for example:
For the more strongly negative criticism asserts its position as to the Person of Jesus, the more unaccountable are His Teaching and the results of His Work.
In other words, when reading the ideas the critics have about who Yeshua actually was and how little of his teachings they feel are genuinely from him, one wonders how the greatest human movement in history was started by the weak Yeshua proposed by the critics. It is a powerful argument when you think of it and one that should (and sometimes does) inform historical Jesus studies.
The Wisdom of Alfred Edersheim is available at wipfandstock.com and it would be a good idea to own Edersheim’s magnum opus, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.