1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jew, The Wandering
JEW, THE WANDERING, a legendary Jew (see Jews) doomed to wander till the second coming of Christ because he had taunted Jesus as he passed bearing the cross, saying, “Go on quicker.” Jesus is said to have replied, “I go, but thou shalt wait till I return.” The legend in this form first appeared in a pamphlet of four leaves alleged to have been printed at Leiden in 1602. This pamphlet relates that Paulus von Eizen (d. 1598), bishop of Schleswig, had met at Hamburg in 1542 a Jew named Ahasuerus (Ahasverus), who declared he was “eternal” and was the same who had been punished in the above-mentioned manner by Jesus at the time of the crucifixion. The pamphlet is supposed to have been written by Chrysostomus Dudulaeus of Westphalia and printed by one Christoff Crutzer, but as no such author or printer is known at this time—the latter name indeed refers directly to the legend—it has been conjectured that the whole story is a myth invented to support the Protestant contention of a continuous witness to the truth of Holy Writ in the person of this “eternal” Jew; he was to form, in his way, a counterpart to the apostolic tradition of the Catholic Church.
The story met with ready acceptance and popularity. Eight editions of the pamphlet appeared in 1602, and the fortieth edition before the end of the following century. It was translated into Dutch and Flemish with almost equal success. The first French edition appeared in 1609, and the story was known in England before 1625, when a parody was produced. Denmark and Sweden followed suit with translations, and the expression “eternal Jew” passed as a current term into Czech. In other words, the story in its usual form spread wherever there was a tincture of Protestantism. In southern Europe little is heard of it in this version, though Rudolph Botoreus, parliamentary advocate of Paris (Comm. histor., 1604), writing in Paris two years after its first appearance, speaks contemptuously of the popular belief in the Wandering Jew in Germany, Spain and Italy.
The popularity of the pamphlet and its translations soon led to reports of the appearance of this mysterious being in almost all parts of the civilized world. Besides the original meeting of the bishop and Ahasuerus in 1542 and others referred back to 1575 in Spain and 1599 at Vienna, the Wandering Jew was stated to have appeared at Prague (1602), at Lübeck (1603), in Bavaria (1604), at Ypres (1623), Brussels (1640), Leipzig (1642), Paris (1644, by the “Turkish Spy”), Stamford (1658), Astrakhan (1672), and Frankenstein (1678). In the next century the Wandering Jew was seen at Munich (1721), Altbach (1766), Brussels (1774), Newcastle (1790, see Brand, Pop. Antiquities, s.v.), and on the streets of London between 1818 and 1830 (see Athenaeum, 1866, ii. 561). So far as can be ascertained, the latest report of his appearance was in the neighbourhood of Salt Lake City in 1868, when he is said to have made himself known to a Mormon named O’Grady. It is difficult to tell in any one of these cases how far the story is an entire fiction and how far some ingenious impostor took advantage of the existence of the myth.
The reiterated reports of the actual existence of a wandering being, who retained in his memory the details of the crucifixion, show how the idea had fixed itself in popular imagination and found its way into the 19th-century collections of German legends. The two ideas combined in the story of the restless fugitive akin to Cain and wandering for ever are separately represented in the current names given to this figure in different countries. In most Teutonic languages the stress is laid on the perpetual character of his punishment and he is known as the “everlasting,” or “eternal” Jew (Ger. “Ewige Jude”). In the lands speaking a Romance tongue, the usual form has reference to the wanderings (Fr. “le Juif errant”). The English form follows the Romance analogy, possibly because derived directly from France. The actual name given to the mysterious Jew varies in the different versions: the original pamphlet calls him Ahasver, and this has been followed in most of the literary versions, though it is difficult to imagine any Jew being called by the name of the typical anti-Semitic king of the Book of Esther. In one of his appearances at Brussels his name is given as Isaac Laquedem, implying an imperfect knowledge of Hebrew in an attempt to represent Isaac “from of old.” Alexandre Dumas also made use of this title. In the Turkish Spy the Wandering Jew is called Paul Marrane and is supposed to have suffered persecution at the hands of the Inquisition, which was mainly occupied in dealing with the Marranos, i.e. the secret Jews of the Iberian peninsula. In the few references to the legend in Spanish writings the Wandering Jew is called Juan Espera en Dios, which gives a more hopeful turn to the legend.
Under other names, a story very similar to that given in the pamphlet of 1602 occurs nearly 400 years earlier on English soil. According to Roger of Wendover in his Flores historiarum under the year 1228, an Armenian archbishop, then visiting England, was asked by the monks of St Albans about the well-known Joseph of Arimathaea, who had spoken to Jesus and was said to be still alive. The archbishop claimed to have seen him in Armenia under the name of Carthaphilus or Cartaphilus, who had confessed that he had taunted Jesus in the manner above related. This Carthaphilus had afterwards been baptized by the name of Joseph. Matthew Paris, in repeating the passage from Roger of Wendover, reported that other Armenians had confirmed the story on visiting St Albans in 1252, and regarded it as a great proof of the Christian religion. A similar account is given in the chronicles of Philippe Mouskès (d. 1243). A variant of the same story was known to Guido Bonati, an astronomer quoted by Dante, who calls his hero or villain Butta Deus because he struck Jesus. Under this name he is said to have appeared at Mugello in 1413 and at Bologna in 1415 (in the garb of a Franciscan of the third order).
The source of all these reports of an ever-living witness of the crucifixion is probably Matthew xvi. 28: “There be some of them that stand here which shall in no wise taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” As the kingdom had not come, it was assumed that there must be persons living who had been present at the crucifixion; the same reasoning is at the root of the Anglo-Israel belief. These words are indeed quoted in the pamphlet of 1602. Again, a legend was based on John xxi. 20 that the beloved disciple would not die before the second coming; while another legend (current in the 16th century) condemned Malchus, whose ear Peter cut off in the garden of Gethsemane (John xvii. 10), to wander perpetually till the second coming. The legend alleges that he had been so condemned for having scoffed at Jesus. These legends and the utterance of Matt. xvi. 28 became “contaminated” by the legend of St Joseph of Arimathaea and the Holy Grail, and took the form given in Roger of Wendover and Matthew Paris. But there is nothing to show the spread of this story among the people before the pamphlet of 1602, and it is difficult to see how this Carthaphilus could have given rise to the legend of the Wandering Jew, since he is not a Jew nor does he wander. The author of 1602 was probably acquainted either directly or indirectly with the story as given by Matthew Paris, since he gives almost the same account. But he gives a new name to his hero and directly connects his fate with Matt. xvi. 28.
Moncure D. Conway (Ency. Brit., 9th ed., xiii. 673) attempted to connect the legend of the Wandering Jew with a whole series of myths relating to never-dying heroes like King Arthur, Frederick Barbarossa, the Seven Sleepers, and Thomas the Rhymer, not to speak of Rip Van Winkle. He goes even farther and connects our legend with mortals visiting earth, as the Yima in Parsism, and the “Ancient of Days” in the Books of Daniel and Enoch, and further connects the legend with the whole medieval tendency to regard the Jew as something uncanny and mysterious. But all these mythological explanations are supererogatory, since the actual legend in question can be definitely traced to the pamphlet of 1602. The same remark applies to the identification with the Mahommedan legend of the “eternal” Chadhir proposed by M. Lidzbarski (Zeit. f. Assyr. vii. 116) and I. Friedländer (Arch. f. Religionswiss. xiii. 110).
This combination of eternal punishment with restless wandering has attracted the imagination of innumerable writers in almost all European tongues. The Wandering Jew has been regarded as a symbolic figure representing the wanderings and sufferings of his race. The Germans have been especially attracted by the legend, which has been made the subject of poems by Schubart, Schreiber, W. Müller, Lenau, Chamisso, Schlegel, Mosen and Koehler, from which enumeration it will be seen that it was a particularly favourite subject with the Romantic school. They were perhaps influenced by the example of Goethe, who in his Autobiography describes, at considerable length, the plan of a poem he had designed on the Wandering Jew. More recently poems have been composed on the subject in German by Adolf Wilbrandt, Fritz Lienhard and others; in English by Robert Buchanan, and in Dutch by H. Heijermans. German novels also exist on the subject, by Franz Horn, Oeklers, Laun and Schucking, tragedies by Klinemann, Haushofer and Zedlitz. Sigismund Heller wrote three cantos on the wanderings of Ahasuerus, while Hans Andersen made of him an “Angel of Doubt.” Robert Hamerling even identifies Nero with the Wandering Jew. In France, E. Quinet published a prose epic on the subject in 1833, and Eugène Sue, in his best-known work, Le Juif errant (1844), introduces the Wandering Jew in the prologues of its different sections and associates him with the legend of Herodias. In modern times the subject has been made still more popular by Gustave Doré’s elaborate designs (1856), containing some of his most striking and imaginative work. Thus, probably, he suggested Grenier’s poem on the subject (1857).
In England, besides the ballads in Percy’s Reliques, William Godwin introduced the idea of an eternal witness of the course of civilization in his St Leon (1799), and his son-in-law Shelley introduces Ahasuerus in his Queen Mab. It is doubtful how far Swift derived his idea of the immortal Struldbrugs from the notion of the Wandering Jew. George Croly’s Salathiel, which appeared anonymously in 1828, gave a highly elaborate turn to the legend; this has been republished under the title Tarry Thou Till I Come.
Bibliography.—J. G. Th. Graesse, Die Sage vom ewigen Juden (1844); F. Helbig, Die Sage vom ewigen Juden (1874); G. Paris, Le Juif errant (1881); M. D. Conway, The Wandering Jew (1881); S. Morpugo, L’ Ebreo errante in Italia (1891); L. Neubaur, Die Sage vom ewigen Juden (2nd ed., 1893). The recent literary handling of the subject has been dealt with by J. Prost, Die Sage vom ewigen Juden in der neueren deutschen Literatur (1905); T. Kappstein, Ahasver in der Weltpoesie (1905).