1902 Encyclopedia > The Wandering Jew

The Wandering Jew




THE WANDERING JEW. The legend of a Jew doomed to wander until the day of judgment, for an insult offered to Christ, is first mentioned by Roger of Wendover in the Chronicle completed by Matthew Paris, who received the story from an Armenian bishop, who visited England in the year 1228. As told in Matthew's Historia Major, the legend runs that the wanderer's name was Carta-philus, that he was doorkeeper of Pilate's palace, and that as Jesus was led out to be crucified he struck him on the neck, saying, " Go, Jesus, go on faster; why dost thou linger 1" Jesus replied, " I go, but thou shalt remain waiting till I return." The Armenian bishop, if his French servant and interpreter is to be trusted, said that this wanderer had dined with him shortly before his leaving home, and that he was now a penitent man and had been baptized by Ananias, who also baptized Paul, under the name of Joseph. At the time of the crucifixion he was thirty years of age ; whenever he reaches the age of one hundred he becomes faint, and when he becomes conscious again he is as young as when his doom was pronounced. He never smiles, refuses all gifts, and narrates many ancient events to those who come from far and near to listen. On the same authority rests the somewhat later account by Philippe de Mousket in his Chronique rimee. The English chronicler states that the bishop's statement was in reply to a question whether he had seen or heard of one Joseph, said to have been present at the crucifixion to be preserved in the world as a witness of that event. It would appear, therefore, that there was already in existence a legend of an undying Jew, although nothing was intimated of his insult to Christ. The idea of wandering did not enter into the legend until a later period, when persons pretending to be the undying Jew appeared in various parts of Europe. Near the middle of the 16th century the legend appears in Germany, brought there by a man who professed to be the "Ewige Jude" himself. He appeared at Hamburg, in 1547, giving his name as Ahasuerus, and stating that he had been a shoemaker in Jerusalem who would not suffer Christ to rest at his door when, fainting under the weight of the cross. He struck Jesus, and bade him move on. Jesus said, " I will stand here and rest, but thou shalt go on until the last day." This story, however, also rests upon the authority of an irresponsible reporter. It is attributed to Dr Paulus von Eizen, bishop of Schleswig, whose long conversations with Ahasuerus are given, in a work by one Chrysostomus Dudulseus Westphalus,—probably a pseudonym. This was published some years after the death of Paulus von Eizen, which occurred in 1598, and its aim is to make the story as sensational as possible as a " warning." This earliest known book on the legend, published at Leipsic, 1602, professes to be derived from a previous one :—Strange Report of a Jew born at Jerusalem, who pretends he was present at the crucifixion of Christ ; newly printed at Leyden. Other small works appeared somewhat later, as at "Augspurg, 1619," and elsewhere, and were continued throughout the 17 th century, these containing rumours of the Jew's appearance in Hamburg, Dantzic, Naumburg, Lübeck, Brussels, Moscow, and Madrid. Rudolph Botoreus, parliamentary advocate of Paris (Comm. histor., 1604), mentions contemptuously the rumours of the appearance of this Jew in Germany, Spain, and Italy, and the popular credulity. The most important account of any of these monomaniacs or pretenders is that given of one in Paris (1644) by The Turkish Spy (book iii., letter i.). "One day I had the curiosity to discourse with him in several languages; and I found him master of all those I could speak. I conversed with him five or six hours together.in Arabic." "The common people are ready to adore him; and the very fear of the multitude restrains the magistrates from offering any violence to this impostor." From a letter of Madame de Mazarin to Madame de Bouillon, it appears that an individual appeared in England in the beginning of the 18th century professing to have been an officer of rank in Jerusalem who for an insult given to Jesus was doomed to live and wander. It is said that the universities sent professors to cross-examine him, and that many were satisfied of the truth of his story. Several pretenders of the kind appeared in England in the last century. Brand remembered to have seen one going about the streets of Newcastle muttering " Poor John alone." It is difficult, however, to discover whether in all these cases the role of the Wandering Jew was assumed or was added to aged beggars by popular credulity.
The names given to these wanderers are various. Cartaphilus is probably _____ <f>l\os, the " much beloved."

in allusion to St John, who was believed to "tarry" until the coming of Christ. Joseph was perhaps caught from the legend of Joseph of Arimathsea, who was said to have wandered into Britain in the year 63, when his flowering staff indicated the spot where Glastonbury abbey should be built. The Turkish Spy in Paris gives his name as Michob Ader; Libavius (Praxis Alchymix) as Butadseus. In Brussels he was called Isaac Laquedem, a name believed by Griisse to be the French la combined with kedem, Heb. for "aforetime." Mr Karl Blind has suggested that his name in Germany, Ahasuerus, may have been formed out of a corruption of As-Vidar, " god Vidar,"—the Teutonic deity who was to survive the destruction of the world and conquer the wolf Fenris by thrusting his foot covered with an enormous shoe down the monster's throat (Gentleman's Magazine, July 1880). This ingenious suggestion would account for the transformation of the wanderer between 1228, when the Armenian bishop described him as Pilate's doorkeeper, and 1547, when he claims to have been a shoemaker. For a long time there were kept at Bern and also at Ulm enormous pairs of shoes said to have been left by the Wandering Jew on his visits to those places.

The legend of the Wandering Jew seems clearly related to a class of myths, found in every part of the world, in which certain saints or heroes are represented as having never died. Many of these myths,—as those of King Arthur, Charlemagne, Barbarossa, Tell,—are no doubt ethnically connected; but the corresponding myths found among the Incas, and among various American tribes, may lead us to seek for a common root of them all in human nature,—in the unwillingness of men to believe that their heroes can be really dead. In a primitive race, which had not yet conceived the idea of animistic immortality, the notion of a continued existence in happy isles, valleys, or grottoes, would naturally arise. The earliest instance of this earthly immortality would appear to be that of the Persian Yima, king of the Golden Age, who, in the Zend-Avesta, " gathers around him men and animals in flocks, and fills the earth with them, and after the evils of winter had come over his territories leads a select number of the beings of the good creation to a secluded spot, where they enjoy uninterrupted happiness" (Haug's Essays, &c, p. 277). In a corresponding phase of development the Semitic races ascribed a similar terres-trial immortality to Enoch, Elijah, and some others. The Arabs have very particular accounts of the secret abodes of these ; and there are indications that in Eastern folklore Moses was believed to be sleeping in his unknown sepulchre.

By the action of religious dualism on this belief there arose evil counterparts of the immortal heroes, who instead of dwelling in blissful retreats were doomed to wander without finding even the repose of the grave. Of this class Cain was the most conspicuous, and the Bedouin still feels his presence in the feverish desert-winds (Cain-winds), as the Picardy peasant says of a destructive gale, G'est lejuif errant qui passe. Esau, Ishmael, and others have been evil wanderers in the superstitions of various localities; but there is one tradition of high antiquity which would appear to have especially prepared the way for our legend. It is related by G. Weil (The Bible, the Koran, and the Talmud, p. 127) that, according to this tradition, the golden calf was made by Al Samiri. Moses was about to put this man to death when Allah declared he should be banished. "Ever since that time he (Samiri) roams like a wild beast throughout the world; every one shuns him, and purifies the ground on which his feet have stood; and he himself, whenever he approaches men, exclaims, Touch me not!" There also arose a belief that this monster dwelt with his progeny on a rocky island in the Arabian Gulf, from which emanated the plague (Sale, Koran, xx.).





These traditions were inherited by the folklore of Christendom. The mantle of Enoch and Elijah, and other saintly sleepers, fell upon the seven supposed to be slumbering in a cave near Ephesus, near to the slumbering St John, belief in whose earthly immortality is mentioned in the New Testament (John xxi. 23). On the other hand, the mantle of Cain and other evil wanderers would seem to have fallen on Nero, who for some time after his death was believed by friend and foe to be still living. At a later period, after Borne had been Christianized, the idea of a perpetual enemy of the Messiah was temporarily detached from any one man and personified as Antichrist, —a restless invisible spirit appointed by the adversary to resist the rival kingdom. This more abstract conception was prolific of evil wanderers. When, in course of the diffusion of Christianity throughout Europe, its missionaries came in contact with popular beliefs in deities which in many cases had been developed from traditional heroes and warriors,—such as Odin, Waldemar, Vidar,—these imaginary potentates were degraded into phantoms, demons; the brand of Cain was set on their names by solemn anathema, and thenceforth all regions of space had their doomed wanderers,-—the Wild Huntsman in the air, the Flying Dutchman on the sea, and various forest-phantasms like the Gros Veneur of Fontainebleau and Diedrich of Bern on the earth. The Jewish race, however, was the one race which did not yield to Christianity ; its special identification with Antichrist was therefore inevit-able. Many superstitions affecting them had long been accumulating. There was a belief that the seven whistlers —plovers or sometimes wild geese—were Jews that had been transformed because they had assisted in the cruci-fixion of Christ, and to see or hear those birds was regarded as ominous of disaster. The Witch Sabbaths were so called because the Jews were supposed to assemble at them. Their wealth was believed to be obtained from Satan. There was also a belief that they carried about plagues. This idea may partly have been derived from the tradition of Samiri and his island, already mentioned, but possibly derived some confirmation from the actual results of crowding the Jews into the confined and neglected quarters of cities, in disregard of sanitary laws. From innumerable sources like these gathered the cloud of fanaticism which sent its thunderbolts upon the Jewish people. The legend of the Wandering Jew, when it was pieced together, represented precisely the popular belief that this race, having betrayed its supernatural mission, had received a supernatural doom. The legendary figure was invested with the fatal associations of most of the demons which Christianity had degraded. He passed in the storm, presided at orgies, diffused diseases, instigated revolutions, burned cities. He was not only associated with European demons but with those of the Jewish race also. There was a wild fable about Judas,—that he had fulfilled a fearful dream of his mother before his birth, living, despite her throwing him into the sea, to "kill his father and sell his God,"—which reappears in our legend. Judas was said to have become page to Pilate, as Carta-philus was his doorkeeper. Death refused to touch Judas until his doom had been fulfilled, as it spared the Wandering Jew. In the familiar legend of the discovery of the True Cross, the Jew who, after torture, points out its place of concealment to Helena is named Judas; and M. Magnin has plausibly suggested that the story of the Wandering Jew grew up in connexion with the True Cross legend. As Cain was a prototype of Judas, so was Judas of such doomed wanderers as Malchus in Italy and Ahasuerus in Germany. M. Gaston Paris believes the legend of Malchus to be the earlier. He was said to have struck Jesus with an iron bar, and to have been condemned to walk until judgment-day around a subterranean column, against which he often dashes his head in the vain hope of death.

The respect shown by peasants to persons pretending to be the Wandering Jew was such as might have been expected for Cain with a mark upon his brow defending him from the hand of man. Such a mark was indeed supposed to be on the Wandering Jew's forehead. Xemola says it was a red cross concealed by a black bandage, on which account the Inquisition vainly tried to find him. While persecuting actual Jews, the peasantry had some compassion for this imaginary one, and in some parts of Germany two harrows were sometimes left in the field, sot up together with teeth downward, it being believed that so the wanderer might obtain a night's rest.

The Wandering Jew has been a favourite subject of poetry and romance. Goethe (Dichtung und Wahrheit, xv.) has given the scheme of a dramatic poem on the theme which he had contemplated. It has been dealt with by C. F. D. Schubart, Der ewige Jude, 1787; A. W. Schlegel, Warnung, 1811; Aloys Schreiber, Der ewige Jude, 1807; W. Müller, Wanderliedern, 1830; Edgar_Quinet, Ahasuerus, 1833; Chamisso, Neuer Aliasucr, 1836; F. Hauttral, Ahasueriad, 1838; Julius Mosen, Ahasuer, 1838; Ludwig Köhler, Der neue Ahasuer, 1841; Nicolas Lenau, Ahasuer, 1843. H. C. Andersen, Ahasuerus, 1847 ; E. Grenier, La mort du Juif-Errant, 1857. Beranger (1831) and Wordsworth liave written lyrical poems on the subject. Shelley evokes the ] Wandering Jew six times, notably in his Queen Mab. In 1812 a comedy based on the legend by Craignez was performed in Paris. Klingemann's tragedy Ahasuerus (1827) was successful as a play. Eugene Sue's romance (1844), which stimulated popular interest in the legend, has also been often acted. Several German novels have been founded on the legend, the most important ; being those of Franz Horn, Th. Oelckers, and F. Laun. In England, where the legend had been made familiar by the ballad in Percy's Reliques, there was acted at Drury Lane, in 1797, a comedy by Andrew Franklin, entitled The Wandering Jew, or Love's Masquerade. George Croly's novel Salathiel is on this subject. See Dr J. G. Th. Grässe, Die Sage vom Eivigen Juden, historisch entwickelt, &c, Dresd. and Leipsic, 1844; Herzog's Seal- Encyclopädie ; Friedrich Heibig, Die Sage vom "Ewigen Juden," _ihre praclische Wandlung und Fortbildung, Berlin, 1874; C. Schoebel, La legende du Juif-Errant, Paris, 1877 ; Gaston Paris, Le Juif-Errant, Paris, 1880. (M. D. C.)






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