Jew, the Wandering
Jew, The Wandering.
While the tradition obtained in the Christian Church that the "disciple whom Jesus loved" should not die (Joh 21:23), we find as a counterpart the tradition of an enemy of the Redeemer, whom remorse condemned to ceaseless wanderings until the second coming of the Lord. This tradition of the Wandering Jew has; like other traditions, undergone various changes. The first Christian writer by whom we find it mentioned is the Benedictine chronicler Matthenus Parisius († 1259). According to the account he gives in his Historia Major — an account which he professes to have received from an Armenian bishop, to whom the Wandering Jew had himself told it — his history was as follows: His name was Cartaphilues, and he was door keeper of the palace, in the employ of Pilate. When the Jews dragged Jesus out of the palace, after his sentence had been pronounced, the door keeper struck him, saying mockingly, "Go on. Jesus, go faster; why dost thou linger?" Jesus turned around sternly, and said, "I am going, but thou shalt remain waiting until I return." The door keeper was then about thirty years old; but since, whenever he reaches his hundredth year, a sudden faintness overcomes him, and when he awakes from his swoon he finds himself returned to the age he was at the time the Lord pronounced his punishment. Cartaphilus was baptized with Ananias under the name of Joseph, which caused him afterwards to be confounded with Joseph of Arimathea. As a Christian, he led a life of strict penitence, in the hope of obtaining forgiveness. The scene of action of this Wandering Jew is in the East — namely, Armenia.
The tradition of the West is somewhat different. Here we find him first mentioned in the 16th century, under the name of Ahasuerus, and he is said to have appeared in 1547 in Hamburg, then in Dantzig and in *other cities of Germany, and in other countries also. Dr. Paulus, of Eizen, bishop of Schleswig — the storm goes — heard him relate his history as follows: Ahasuerus was a shoemaker in Jerusalem during the life of Jesus, and one of the loudest in crying "Crucify him." When Jesus was led to the place of execution, he passed before the shoemaker's house. Tired with the weight of the cross, the Savior leaned against the porch for rest; but the shoemaker, who stood at his door with a child in his arms, bade him harshly move on (according to some he even struck him), when Christ, turning round and looking severely at him, said, "I shall stay and rest, but thou shalt move on until the last day." Towards the end of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th, the tradition of the Wandering Jew, in England, changed to the original Eastern account. A stranger made his appearance claiming to be an officer of the upper council of Jerusalem, and that he had done what was generally attributed to Cartaphilus — namely, had struck Jesus as the latter left Pilate's palace, and said to him, "Go, move on; why dost thou yet linger here?" The English universities sent their ablest professors to question him. He proved himself able to answer them all; he related a great deal concerning the apostles, as also about Mohammed, Tamerlane, Soliman, etc., all of whom he professed to have known personally; he knew all the dates of the events connected with the Crusades, etc. Some considered him an impostor or a visionary, while others believed him.
Whether the allegory of Ahasuerus, or this ever restless being, is to be understood as a type of the anti-Christian spirit of skepticism, or whether, in a more concrete sense, it is meant to typify the ever-wandering, homeless, yet still unchanged Jewish people, is a question for critics to decide. We will only add that this fanciful tradition has become the theme for a great number of works of imagination. It has been worked up into songs, as by Schubert, Schlegel, etc.; into epics, as by Julius Mosen, Nich. Lenaw, etc.: into dramas, as by Klingemann. French writers also have used it; Edgar Quincet and Beranger have composed songs on the Wandering Jew. But the most remarkable production to which this legend has given rise is Eugene Sue's novel, The Wanderings Jew (Le Juif errant, Paris, 1844). See Dr. J. G. Th. Grasse, Sage v. ewigen Juden, historisch entwickelt (Dresden u. Leipz. 1844. 8vo); Herzog, Real-Encylopadie, 7, 131 sq. (J.N.P.)