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Sermon Podcast | Audio | Video : Christian Books : PREFACE TO THE SECOND AND THIRD EDITIONS.

The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah by Alfred Edersheim


IN issuing a new edition of this book I wish, in the first place, again to record, as the expression of permanent convictions and feelings, some remarks with which I had prefaced the Second Edition, although happily they are not at present so urgently called for.

With the feelings of sincere thankfulness for the kindness with which this book was received by all branches of the Church, only one element of pain mingled. Although I am well convinced that a careful or impartial reader could not arrive at any such conclusion, yet it was suggested that a perverse ingenuity might abuse certain statements and quotations for what in modern parlance are termed Anti-Semitic' purposes. That any such thoughts could possibly attach to a book concerning Him, Who was Himself a Jew; Who in the love of His compassion wept tears of bitter anguish over the Jerusalem that was about to crucify Him, and Whose first utterance and prayer when nailed to the Cross was: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do' - would seem terribly incongruous and painful. Nor can it surely be necessary to point out that the love of Christ, or the understanding of His Work and Mission, must call forth feelings far different from those to which reference has been made. To me, indeed, it is difficult to associate the so-called Anti-Semitic movement with any but the lowest causes: envy, jealousy, and cupidity on the one hand; or, on the other, ignorance, prejudice, bigotry, and hatred of race. But as these are times when it is necessary to speak unmistakably, I avail myself of the present opportunity to point out the reasons why any Talmudic quotations, even if fair, can have no application for Anti-Semitic' purposes.

First: It is a mistake to regard everything in Talmudic writings about the Gentiles' as presently applying to Christians. Those spoken of are characterised as the worshippers of idols,' of stars and planets,' and by similar designations. That the heathens' of those days and lands should have been suspected of almost any abomination, deemed capable of any treachery or cruelty towards Israel, - no student of history can deem strange, especially when the experience of so many terrible wrongs (would they had been confined to the heathen and to those times!) would naturally lead to morbidly excited suspicions and apprehensions.

Secondly: We must remember the times, the education, and the general standpoint of that period as compared with our own. No one would measure the belief of Christians by certain statements in the Fathers, nor judge the moral principles of Roman Catholics by prurient quotations from the Casuists; nor yet estimate the Lutherans by the utterances and deeds of the early successors of Luther, nor Calvinists by the burning of Servetus. In all such cases the general standpoint of the times has to be first taken into account. And no educated Jew would share the follies and superstitions, nor yet sympathise with the suspicions or feelings towards even the most hostile and depraved heathens, that may be quoted from the Talmud.

Thirdly: Absolutely the contrary of all this has been again and again set forth by modern Jewish writers. Even their attempts to explain away certain quotations from the Talmud - unsuccessful though, in my view, some of them are - afford evidence of their present repudiation of all such sentiments. I would here specially refer to such work as Dr. Grünebaum's Ethics of Judaism' (Sittenlehre d. Judenthums') - a book deeply interesting also as setting forth the modern Jewish view of Christ and His Teaching, and accordant (though on different grounds) with some of the conclusions expressed in this book, as regards certain incidents in the History of Christ. The principles expressed by Dr. Grünebaum, and other writers, are such as for ever to give the lie to Anti-Semitic charges. And although he and others, with quite proper loyalty, labour to explain certain Talmudic citations, yet it ultimately comes to the admission that Talmudic sayings are not the criterion and rule of present duty, even as regards the heathen - still less Christians, to whom they do not apply.

What has just been stated, while it fully disposes of all Anti-Semitism,' only the more clearly sets forth the argument which forms the main proposition of this book. Here also we have the highest example. None loved Israel so intensely, even unto death, as Jesus of Nazareth; none made such withering denunciations as He of Jewish Traditionalism, in all its branches, and of its Representatives. It is with Traditionalism, not the Jews, that our controversy lies. And here we cannot speak too plainly nor decidedly. It might, indeed, be argued, apart from any proposed different applications, that on one or another point opinions of a different kind may also be adduced from other Rabbis. Nor is it intended to convey unanimity of opinion on every subject. For, indeed, such scarcely existed on any one point - not on matters of fact, nor even often on Halakhic questions. And this also is characteristic of Rabbinism. But it must be remembered that we are here dealing with the very text-book of that sacred and Divine Traditionalism, the basis and substance of Rabbinism, for which such unlimited authority and absolute submission are claimed; and hence, that any statement admitted into its pages, even though a different view were also to be adduced, possesses an authoritative and a representative character. And this further appears from the fact that the same statements are often repeated in other documents, besides that in which they were originally made, and that they are also supported by other statements, kindred and parallel in spirit.

In truth, it has throughout been my aim to present, not one nor another isolated statement or aspect of Rabbinism, but its general teaching and tendency. In so doing I have, however, purposely left aside certain passages which, while they might have most fully brought out the sad and strange extravagances to which Rabbinism could go, would have involved the unnecessary quotation of what is not only very painful in itself, but might have furnished an occasion to enemies of Israel. Alike the one and the other it was my most earnest desire to avoid. And by the side of these extravagances there is so much in Jewish writings and life - the outcome of Old Testament training - that is noblest and most touching, especially as regards the social virtues, such as purity, kindness, and charity, and the acknowledgment of God in sufferings, as well as their patient endurance. On the other hand, it is difficult to believe that even the vehement assertions of partisans on the other side, supported by isolated sayings, sometimes torn from their context, or by such coincidences as are historically to be expected, will persuade those who keep in view either the words of Christ or His history and that of the Apostles, that the relation between Christianity in its origin, as the fulfilment of the Old Testament, and Traditionalism, as the externalised development of its letter, is other than that of which these volumes furnish both the explanation and the evidence. In point of fact, the attentive student of history will observe that a similar protest against the bare letter underlies Alexandrianism and Philo - although there from the side of reason and apologetically, in the New Testament from the aspect of spiritual life and for its full presentation.

Thus much - somewhat reluctantly written, because approaching controversy - seemed necessary by way of explanation. The brief interval between the First and Second Editions rendered only a superficial revision possible, as then indicated. For the present edition the whole work has once more been revised, chiefly with the view of removing from the numerous marginal Talmudic references such misprints as were observed. In the text and notes, also, a few errata have been corrected, or else the meaning rendered more clear. In one or two places fresh notes have been made; some references have been struck out, and others added. These notes will furnish evidence that the literature of the subject, since the first appearance of these volumes, has not been neglected, although it seemed unnecessary to swell the List of Authorities' by the names of all the books since published or perused. Life is too busy and too short to be always going back on one's traces. Nor, indeed, would this be profitable. The further results of reading and study will best be embodied in further labours, please God, in continuation of those now completed. Opportunity may then also occur for the discussion of some questions which had certainly not been overlooked, although this seemed not the proper place for them: such as that of the composition of the Apostolic writings.

And so, with great thankfulness for what service this book has been already allowed to perform, I would now send it forth on its new journey, with this as my most earnest hope and desire: that, in however humble a manner, it may be helpful for the fuller and clearer setting forth of the Life of Him Who is the Life of all our life.

A. E.

OXFORD: March 1886.

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