Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889)


Portrait Alfred Edersheim. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Alfred Edersheim was a Christian scholar, preacher, and novelist. Born in Vienna to a Jewish family, he converted to Presbyterianism later in life. He lived in Scotland and England, and authored a number of books, especially on Jewish and Christian first-century history.

Edersheim’s view of Josephus can be described as a composite one. On the one hand, he follows Josephus faithfully. On the other hand, throughout his writings Edersheim regards Josephus as a traitor who collaborated with Rome. For Edersheim, the betrayal was twofold – against the Jews by commission and against Christianity by omission.

Josephus’s ‘Jewish betrayal’ commenced when he collaborated with the Romans as the commander of Galilee: if Josephus was not initially a traitor, his conduct, at least, appears sufficiently treasonable, and seems to have roused the suspicions of his colleagues at an early stage (Edersheim 1896: 32).

Josephus’s ‘Christian betrayal’ was due to the fact that Josephus hardly described the most significant development of the first century AD – the life of Jesus Christ and the rise of Christianity: ‘Josephus always carefully suppresses, so far as possible, all that refers to the Christ probably not only in accordance with his own religious views, but because mention of a Christ might have been dangerous, certainly would have been inconvenient, in a work written by an intense self-seeker, mainly for readers in Rome’ (Edersheim 1898 [1893] vol.1: 214-15). Thus, according to Edersheim, Josephus ‘betrayed’ his expertise as an objective historian.

Edersheim, Alfred, History of the Jewish Nation after the Destruction of Jerusalem under Titus. Edinburgh, 1856.
E[dersheim], A[lfred], ‘Josephus (19)’, in: A Dictionary of Christian Biography, Literature, Sects and Doctrines, eds. W, Smith and H. Wace (London, 1877-1887), vol. 3 (1882): 441-60.
Edersheim, Alfred, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 2 vols. London, 1883.

Driver, S.R. (rev. Agnew, S.), ‘Edersheim, Alfred (1825-1889)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004).

JRA entry contributed by Oded Steinberg