the Wandering Jew

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The Wandering Jew

A medieval German legend that takes several forms. Although writers and details differ, the essential features of the narratives that have been handed down to us are basically the same.

The legend is that as Christ was being dragged on his way to Calvary, he passed the house of a Jew and stopped there, being weary under the weight of his cross. The Jew, however, inspired by the mob, would not allow him to rest there and drove him on. Jesus, looking at him, said, "I shall stand and rest, but thou shalt go till the last day." The Jew was compelled to wander over the Earth until this prophecy was fulfilled.

The legend of the Wandering Jew is regarded as the epic of the Semite people in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately it has often become a vehicle for crude anti-Semitic propaganda and persecution.

In some parts of Germany, the Wandering Jew theme has been identified with the wild huntsman myth, while in several French districts that mythical character is regarded as the wind of the night. This legend was treated in literary fashion by Eugène Sue in his novel Le Juif errant (10 vols., 1844-45) and by the British author George Croly in his novel Salathiel; A Story of the Past, The Present and The Future (1829). Something of the same atmosphere also pervades the legend of the Flying Dutchman.


Barring-Gould, Sabine. Curious Myths of the Middle Ages. 1866-68. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1967.

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Wandering Jew, in literary and popular legend, a Jew who mocked or mistreated Jesus while he was on his way to the cross and who was condemned therefore to a life of wandering on earth until Judgment Day. The story of this wanderer was first recorded in the chronicles of Roger of Wendover and Matthew of Paris (13th cent.), but not until the early 17th cent. was he identified as a Jew. The story is common in Western Europe, but it presents marked national variations. Among the innumerable treatments of the subject is Shelley's Queen Mab.

See G. K. Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew (1965); G. Hasan-Rokem and A. Dundes, ed., The Wandering Jew: Essays in the Interpretation of a Christian Legend (1986).

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Wandering Jew. Figure in a Christian legend of a Jew who, as a consequence of rejecting Jesus, is condemned never to die, but to wander homeless through the world until the Second Coming (Parousia) of Christ, or until his last descendant shall have died. When the last descendant dies, the Wandering Jew ‘attains the happiness of eternal sleep’.

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wandering Jew a legendary person said to have been condemned by Christ to wander the earth until the second advent; according to a popular belief recorded from the 13th century and current at least until the 16th, he was said to have insulted Jesus on his way to the Cross. In the earliest versions of the story he is called Cartaphilus, but in the best-known modern version it is given as Ahasuerus.