Alfred Edersheim (1825 – 1889) was a Jewish convert to Christianity and a Biblical scholar. He is best known for his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883).
As part of a new series by Cedar Fort — “Spiritual Context-LDS Perspectives” — Marianna Edwards Richardson’s book, Alfred Edersheim: a Jewish Scholar for the Mormon Prophets, discusses the impact of Edersheim’s work on Mormon writers such as Roberts, Talmage, Fielding Smith, and McConkie.
The attraction of Edersheim to Christian writers has been his knowledge of Jewish customs, language, and beliefs, all of which he used to support the Christology of the Old Testament and the Jewish background to the New Testament. Richardson suggests that The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah was brought to Utah Mormonism by B.H. Roberts. Thus began an important and influential Mormon encounter with Edersheim.
The main benefit of Richardson’s book is to show how Edersheim’s conservative biblical exegesis has been used by Mormon theologians. For example, the appendix lists 23 instances in which Talmage used Edersheim as an “authority on Jewish life and customs.” Edersheim is still used today: Richardson finds examples in the work of Parry, Fielding McConkie, Millet, and others. (It is worth noting that he is not consistently mentioned by name in Mormon writings — McConkie often calls him “our learned friend,” for example.)
Richardson has written a useful history of Edersheim from an LDS perspective. It is an uncritical, devotional work — critcism of Edersheim and his conservative brand of biblical scholarship is kept to a minimum — but it will be useful for students of Mormonism’s encounter with the Bible.
From an LDS historical perspective, Edersheim’s writings have been inextricably mixed with our writings. It is important to acknowledge his work and his influence on LDS authors and General Authorities. Edersheim’s view of Jewish prophecy fulfilled in Christ has placed an indelible mark on LDS thought.