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Edersheim's book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah has been called "one of the best known and most important references on the life of Christ ever written." However, a lot has changed in the last century since he wrote his book (it has been over 130 years). N.T. Wright has mentioned how outdated Edersheim's material is. Most notably, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi library had not yet been discovered during Edersheim's lifetime. How do modern New Testament scholars (especially those who specialize in first-century second-temple-Judaism) view Edersheim's work (I've already linked to a brief quote by NT Wright but please expand on his perspective as this is only a brief comment)? Do any respected New Testament scholars consider Edersheim's work to still be authoritative?

Please note that this is not an attack on Edersheim himself. He was likely a great scholar who did the best he could with the material he had available. This question is about the current value and accuracy of a specific work of his.

  • This question appears to be on-topic as per discussion in a related meta post – Susan Aug 16 '16 at 0:31
  • Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled - Michael Crichton Consensus in modern scholarship does not necessarily negate good observations of the past. So why do we care who thinks what, but instead look at specific claims? – Bob Jones Dec 25 '17 at 16:10
  • You might want to ask this on Mi Yodea: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/88503/… – Ruminator Jan 15 at 16:53
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1. Question :

Do any respected New Testament scholars consider Edersheim's work to still be authoritative?

This is a highly subjective question - so, I will try to point out :

  1. In Messianic Communities - some scholars are "Respected" because they rely on Edersheim's works. (So, a "Scholar's Respect" does not impute credibility to a source they cite.)
  2. Jews for Jesus and other Messianic "Scholars" often rely on Edersheim's works; and
  3. Regardless - there are many objections against characterizing Jesus as a "Rabbinically observant Jew"; and if those objections are valid, then the credibility of Edersheim's works is undermined - as Edersheim often presupposes the acceptance of Rabbinicism within Israel - and even by Jesus.

2. Jews for Jesus and the Messianic Jewish Community often rely on Alfred Edersheim's works:

Edersheim, 7 March 1825 – 16 March 1889, Wikipedia link.

I have often seen Jews for Jesus missionaries refer to Alfred Edersheim's work, "Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah" - most notably: CHAPTER X. THE PASCHAL SUPPER - THE INSTITUTION OF THE LORD’S SUPPER, (CCEL online text).

I have seen this text be highly influential in the Messianic Jewish community. For example, Jews for Jesus publishes a book, "Christ in the Passover", (Ceil Rosen, Moshe Rosen, pg. 156), which relies on Edersheim to establish a Passover timeline - to claim that the Last Supper was actually the Passover feast, instead of teaching that Jesus was crucified on Passover along with the other Passover sacrifices. (Was the Last Supper Actually a Passover Feast?)

This doctrine is a tremendous pillar in this faith - which is used to justify teaching Christians to imitate Rabbinic Jews during the Passover holiday, and adhere to their traditions - "to be more like Jesus".

In around March, 2010 - I returned to San Franciso, and had an opportunity to talk about this with Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, at a Nazarene Church he spoke at. I tried to share some of my concerns, and I feel we had a great conversation. Two months later, I found out that he died and a letter he had written was published :

He being dead still speaks. (Hebrews 11:4), Moishe Rosen, May 10, 2010 -"... how much misunderstanding there is among believers. ... those who know the Lord and are born again were supporting the efforts of rabbis who, frankly, not only don’t know Christ, but don’t want to know Him. ... Jews who have become believers in Jesus ... promote Jewishness and Judaism to the Jews. ... Within Judaism today, there is no salvation because Christ has no place within Judaism.

His assertion is incredible, and this is still a massive issue within the Messianic [Christian] Jewish community today.

But, for those Moishe was speaking about - they do indeed rely on Edersheim, The Mishnah, and the Talmud. I have often seen Jews for Jesus "Christ in the Passover" missionaries speak at churches, raising funds, and promoting those doctrines, and relying on these authorities.

Edersheim's work is very largely dependent on his analysis of Rabbinic Jewish tradition, the Mishnah, and the Talmud - which weren't even composed until the 3rd Century CE.

As just one example, Edersheim cites Rabbinic Tradition Anachronistically, and applies it to Jesus:

We also know, that, as the Jewish Law directed, they reclined on pillows around a low table, each resting on his left hand, so as to leave the right free, (Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, ibid).

But, Edersheim Was Certainly Wrong:

This "Jewish Tradition" has no basis in Scripture - and came to be after the destruction of the Temple, (What Are the Four Questions on Passover? What's the Meaning Behind the Four Questions?).


3. Jesus was not Remotely a Rabbinic or Pharasaic Jew :

There were two major sects in Israel at the time, (among others) - notably the Sadducees, who were comprised largely of the High Priests, Scribes and the Levitical tribe.

These Sadducees, (who were in power at the time of Jesus), outright rejected Oral Tradition - as a fabrication.

The traditions of the Sadducees have been expunged from historical records - and it is impossible to make incredible conclusions - with such a great gap in the historical record.

Jesus outright rejected Pharasaic tradition, (which later became Rabbinic Judaism) :

Jesus' family were Priests and Levites, (at the very least on Mary's, and Elizabeth's side). Therefore, given Jesus' theology - he might have been raised with a Sadducean upbringing. His sermons certainly reflected the Sadducean view, (at least in this regard) :

NASB, Mark 7:13 - thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”

NASB, Matthew 15:3 - And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

Or, Jesus' community that he grew up in, might have been something else altogether - John 7 - What was so significant about Galilee?.

Regardless - Jesus had not become either a Pharisee or Sadducee, nor observed "Rabbinicism" - as Alfred Edersheim suggests.


4. Conclusion :

In short, there are reasonable and significant objections to Edersheim's work; but, many of those doctrines are not challenged, (especially in the Messianic community).

There really is no basis - at all - to assert that Jesus' life, and observances, reflected Rabbinic Judaic tradition - as Alfred Edersheim tried to assert.

For this reason, "Respected Scholars" might not actually rely on everything that Edersheim suggests.

  • Minor quibble regarding one point: “Jesus' family were Priests and Levites, […]. Therefore, it is probably true that Jesus was raised with a Sadducean upbringing.” There were a great many priests & Levites among the Pharisees as well. – J. C. Salomon May 9 '17 at 2:21
  • @J.C.Salomon - A.) I agree that Pharisees and Sadducees were Priests and Levites. However, his theology, Joseph's actions, and even Mary's seem to deviate. However, Jesus was raised "In the Galilee" which is historically noted as being neither. B.) So, I clarified that claim - and linked to a related question. – elika kohen May 27 '17 at 18:35
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Edersheim's work on the background of the four Gospel narratives had a strong emphasis on political and socio-economic issues relevant to the time of Christ; this allows the reader to understand certain passages in a better context that thousands of years and another language create barriers to properly understanding. That being said, it would be appropriate for a scholar to revisit some of these insights in a literary work as there are significant differences between the Textus Receptus (text based on 12th and 15th-century manuscripts) and the Critical Text (text largely based on 4th-century manuscripts), however, Edersheim's work is still significant and largely accurate since he consulted the Rabbinic Law and Talmudic writings for historically accurate information.

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