He was born on French-Mayence, as a youngest son of the lawyer Jacob Derenburg.
According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, "He was a considerable force in the educational revival of Jewish education in France." He made great contributions to the knowledge of Saadia, and planned a complete edition of Saadia's works in Arabic and French. A large part of this work appeared during his lifetime.
He also wrote an Essai sur l'histoire ella geographie de la Palestine (Paris, 1867). This was an original contribution to the history of the Jews and Judaism in the time of Christ, and has been much used by later writers on the subject (e.g., by Emil Schürer). He also published in collaboration with his son Hartwig Derenbourg, Opuscules et traités d'Abou-l-Walid (with translation, 1880); Deux Versions hebraïques du livre de Kalilah et Dimnah (1881), and a Latin translation of the same story under the title Joannis de Capua directorium vitae humanae (1889); Commentaire de Maimonide sur la Mischnah Seder Tohorot (Berlin, 1886-1891); and a second edition of Silvestre de Sacy's Seances de Ilariri. He died in 1895 at Bad Ems.