Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Saphir, Adolph

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SAPHIR, ADOLPH (1831–1891), theologian, born at Pesth in 1831, was the son of Israel Saphir, a Jewish merchant. His father's brother, Moritz Gottlieb Saphir, was well known as an Hungarian poet and satirist. His mother was Henrietta Bondij, his father's second wife. In 1843 the Saphir family, including Adolph, were converted to Christianity by the Jewish mission of the church of Scotland. At the close of the same year his father sent him to Edinburgh that he might be trained for the free church ministry. Thence in the following year he proceeded to Berlin, where he attended the Gymnasium until 1848. In the autumn of that year he entered Glasgow University, graduating M.A. in 1854. In 1849 he proceeded to Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in 1851 became a student of theology in the Free Church College, Edinburgh. In 1854 he was licensed by the Belfast presbytery, and appointed a missionary to the Jews. His first post was at Hamburg, but, as the Austrian government was desirous of obtaining his extradition for non-performance of military service, he resigned his appointment, and, returning to Great Britain, settled in South Shields in 1856. After five years he removed to Greenwich, and thence in 1872 to Notting Hill. In 1878 he received the honorary degree of D.D. from the university of Edinburgh. In 1880 he left Notting Hill, and two years later accepted a call from the Belgrave presbyterian church, where he remained till 1888. He died of angina pectoris on 3 April 1891. His wife, Sara Owen, of a Dublin family, whom he married in 1854, died four days before him. By her he had one daughter, Asra, who died young at South Shields.

Like his friend, Dr. Alfred Edersheim, Saphir threw much light on biblical study by his intimate knowledge of Jewish manners and literature. As early as 1852 Charles Kingsley wrote to him: ‘To teach us the real meaning of the Old Testament and its absolute unity with the New, we want not mere Hebrew scholars, but Hebrew spirits—Hebrew men.’ In later life Saphir took much interest in the endeavour of Rabbis Lichtenstein and Rabinowich to convert to Christianity the Jews of Hungary and southern Russia; and in 1887 he was chosen president of an association formed in London to assist them, under the title of the ‘Rabinowich Council.’ Saphir was a theologian of the evangelical school, and many of his pamphlets and lectures were intended to controvert the rationalistic theories of German critics. His chief publications were:

  1. ‘From Death to Life: Bible Records of Remarkable Conversions,’ Edinburgh, 1861, 8vo; 10th edit. London, 1880, 8vo.
  2. ‘Christ and the Scriptures,’ London, 1867, 8vo.
  3. ‘Lectures on the Lord's Prayer,’ London, 1870, 8vo.
  4. ‘Christ Crucified: lectures on 1 Corinthians ii.,’ London, 1873, 8vo.
  5. ‘Expository Lectures on the Epistle to the Hebrews,’ London, 1874–6, 8vo.
  6. ‘Rabinowich and his Mission to Israel,’ London, 1888, 8vo.
  7. ‘The Divine Unity of Scripture,’ ed. Gavin Carlyle, London, 1892, 8vo.

[Mighty in the Scriptures, a Memoir of the Rev. Adolph Saphir, D.D., by the Rev. G. Carlyle, 2nd ed. 1894; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

E. I. C.