wandering jew (plant)

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WANDERING JEW , figure in Christian legend condemned to wander by Jesus until his second coming for having rebuffed or struck him on his way to the crucifixion. The story has given rise to a variety of folktales and literature still flourishing into the 20th century. Like the image of the Jew in popular conception, the personality of and tales about the Wandering Jew reflect the beliefs and tastes of the age in which he is described. While in the era of Church dominion he inspires religious horror and exhortations to piety, the character is later used as a vehicle for social satire, and even appears as a tragic figure expressing a spirit of revolt against the Church and the established order. He also appears in his old role as a target for modern *antisemitism. The name Wandering Jew has been given to a card game, a game of dice, plants, and birds. The legend has obvious affinities with other tales of eternal wanderers, primarily Cain (with whom the Jewish people as a whole is identified by Christian homilists, beginning with *Tertullian (150–230)).


At first the legend had only indirect connections with the Jews. Its beginnings have been traced (by L. Neubauer, see bibliography) to the New Testament story of the high priest's officer who struck Jesus (John 18: 20–22); it subsequently became linked and equated with other figures and elements, and in particular was associated with sayings attributed to Jesus foretelling his second coming (Mat. 16: 28; John 21: 20). The legend changed, and details were added. This story of the sinner doomed to eternal life apparently circulated in oral tradition in the Near East and eastern Mediterranean as late as the 15th century.

When the legend appeared in Europe, it readily gave expression to the prevailing medieval anti-Jewish hostility. The first written account specifically mentioning a Jew condemned for his sin to live until Jesus' second coming is recorded in a 13th-century chronicle of Bolognese origin. This states that, in 1223, some pilgrims at the monastery of Ferrara related "that they had seen a certain Jew in Armenia who had been present at the Passion of the Lord, and, as He was going to His martyrdom, drove Him along wickedly with these words 'Go, go, thou tempter and seducer, to receive what you have earned.' Jesus is said to have answered him: 'I go, and you will await me until I come again.'" The Jew subsequently repented of the deed, converted to Christianity, and led an ascetic life while enduring his punishment (Ignoti Monachi Cisterciencis S. Mariae de Ferraria Chronica… ed. A. Gandenzi, 1888). The English chronicler Roger of Wendover relates in his Flores Historiarum for 1228 that an Armenian bishop visiting the monastery of St. Albans told substantially the same story, adding that the man had struck Jesus. The tale was incorporated by Matthew Paris (d. 1259) in his widely circulated Chronica Majora, and in many other writings – in entirety or mentioned – in chronicles, poems, tractates, pilgrim itineraries, and miracle plays, from the 13th to 16th centuries in Italy, Spain, France, and England. The scene with Jesus is said to have been painted by Andrea Vanni of Siena (d. 1414).

At the beginning of the 17th century a chapbook was printed in German which accentuated the anti-Jewish implications of the legend, and was to popularize it further and inaugurate its transposition to further literary genres. Evidently based on Matthew Paris' chronicle, it first appeared under different imprints in Germany dated 1602, entitled Kurtze Beschreibung und Erzehlung von einem Juden mit Namen Ahasverus. In the copy published under the imprint of "Christoff Creutzer of Leyden" it is related that Paulus von Eitzen, bishop of Schleswig, in the winter of 1542, when attending church in Hamburg, saw a tall man, dressed in threadbare garments, with long hair, standing barefoot in the chancel; whenever the name of Jesus was pronounced he bowed his head, beat his breast, and sighed profoundly. It was reported that he was a shoemaker named Ahasuerus who had cursed Jesus on his way to the crucifixion. On further questioning he related the historical events that had occurred since. He conversed in the language of the country he happened to be visiting. This version shows "Ahasuerus" as a fully fledged personification of the Jewish people, incorporating the themes of participation in the crucifixion, condemnation to eternal suffering until Jesus' second coming, and the bearing of witness to the truth of the Christian tradition. The description of his person suggests the well-known figure of the Jewish *peddler.

In former versions of the legend, the man who assailed Jesus is referred to by various names: Cartaphilus, Buttadeus, Buttadeo, Boutedieu, Votadio, Juan Espera en Dios. Subsequently the name Ahasuerus (then a cant name for Jew through the familiarity it achieved in *Purim plays) became the most common appellation of the Wandering Jew in later literature, though in French he is frequently called Isaac Laque dem (corrupted Hebrew for "Isaac the Old" or "from the East"). In the German connotation he appears in a distinctly anti-Jewish light, referred to as the "Eternal Jew" (Ger. Der ewige Jude), which in English and French versions became the "Wandering Jew" (le Juif errant).

Numerous reissues of the chapbook appeared in German in varying versions in the 17th century, nine of which are attributed to the authorship of a (pseudonymous) Chrystostum Dudulaeus Westphalus. It was translated or paraphrased into French (notably the Histoire admirable du juif errant, c. 1650, reprinted well into the 19th century), Danish (Sandru Beskriffuelse, 1621), Swedish (Jerusalems Skomager, 1643), Estonian (printed at Reval, 1613), and Italian (Narrazione d'un Giudeo errante, and others).

In Folktale

Well over 100 folktales have invested the legend of the Wandering Jew with many local variations in places far apart, e.g., when the moon is old, he is very very old, but when the moon is young he turns young again (Ukraine); he may only rest for as long as it takes to eat a morsel of white bread (Westphalia), and can only rest on two harrows or a plowshare (Denmark, Sweden). Throughout the Alps his appearance presaged some calamity. In France his passing was connected with storm, epidemics, or famine; 19th-century museums in Ulm and Berne even exhibited large shoes allegedly worn by the Wandering Jew. Mark Twain, in his Innocents Abroad (1869), summarizes a local version of the legend told in Jerusalem by his guide in the Via Dolorosa.

After 1600 the Jew was reported to have made his appearance in localities in numerous countries at various dates (among many: Luebeck, 1603; Paris, 1604; Brussels, 1640; Leipzig, 1642; Munich, 1721; London, 1818).

In Literature

In the 17th and 18th centuries the Wandering Jew was the subject of complaintes or lyric laments by French popular singers. In England a 17th-century ballad entitled "The Wandering Jew" was printed in Percy's Reliques (1765). The Wandering Jew or Love's Masquerade, a comedy by Andrew Franklin, was produced at Drury Lane, London, in 1797.

From the end of the 17th century the Wandering Jew was used to describe "at first hand" events in world history or remote corners of the earth. *Goethe planned an epic poem based on the legend to survey events in history and religion and the Church (begun c. 1773; pub. by J. Minor, Goethes Fragmente vom ewigen Juden… 1904). The Wandering Jew became a popular theme in Romantic literature, ushered in by the Swabian poet Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart's Der ewige Jude (1783), a poem in which Ahasuerus, standing on Mt. Carmel and overcome by despair, recounts how he has vainly sought death in battle, fire, flood, and tempest. Shelley invests him in Queen Mab (1813) with Promethean dimensions as the rebel against the dictates of a tyrannical deity.

Other literary treatments of the legend include, in French, Edgar Quinet's modern morality play Ahasverus (1833); Eugène Sue's highly colored novel Le Juif errant (1844–45), an anti-Jesuit satire (filmed in France in 1926); and a novel by Dumas Père, Isaac Laquedem (Paris, 1853). Gustav Doré published 12 engravings illustrating the legend in 1856. There is a short satirical story by Guillaume Apollinaire (1910; translated into English by R.I. Hall, The Wandering Jew, 1965). In Danish, Hans Christian Andersen's drama, Ahasverus, was first staged in 1847. Among German writers, Karl Gutzkow (Plan eines Ahasvers, 1842) identifies him with the evil attributes of Judaism. Kierkegaard in his notes (1835–37) depicts Ahasuerus as a man whom God cursed and outlawed. To Maxim *Gorki Ahasuerus is a symbol of all Jews in "The Jewish Massacre." August Strindberg in a short poem dealt with Ahasuerus' difficulties in coping with the complexities of modern life (in Ordalek och Smakonst, Stockholm, 1905).

English and American literary treatments include George Croly's historical novel Salathiel (1827), Nathaniel Hawthorne's story in Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), Rudyard Kipling's "The Wandering Jew" (in Life's Handicap, 1891), a yarn by A.T. Quiller Couch (in Old Fires and Profitable Ghosts, 1900), and short stories by William Sydney Porter (O. Henry; in Sixes and Sevens. 1911), and John Galsworthy (A Simple Tale, 1914), and E. Temple Thurston's popular play The Wandering Jew (1920). Another popular work was the erotic interpretation in the U.S. novel My First Two Thousand Years by G.S. Viereck and P. Eldbridge (1928).

Among Jewish authors who have used the legend as a symbol are Jaroslav Vrcblický, the Czech poet (in three poems between 1872 and 1902), Abraham Goldfaden (poem in Yiddish, Evige Yude, Frankfurt, 1880s), and David Pinski (a one-act Yiddish play The Eternal Jew, 1906). The Wandering Jew appears as the narrator in the biography of Jesus by Edmond Fleg (1933).

Movies include the Yiddish film The Wandering Jew (1933), starring Jacob Ben-Ami, and an English film of the same name with Conrad Veidt (1935).

The hatred of the old superstition is turned into understanding and blessing in the Danish Hans Hartvig Seedorf 's poem "Ahasuerus and the Plough" (1961), in which Ahasuerus is bidden to rest on his plow and thus bless the earth: for by the Jew "stones become grapes/ and figs grow from sand./ Pass between lilies, thou son of Israel,/ into the Promised Land of desire."


J. Gaer, Legend of the Wandering Jew (1961); G.K. Anderson, Legend of the Wandering Jew (1965); Baron, Social2, 11 (1967), 177–82; J. Karlowicz, in: Biblioteka Warszawska, 3 (1900), 1–13; 214–32; F. Rosenberg, From Shylock to Svengali (1960); L. Neubauer, Die Sage vom ewigen Juden (1893); A. Yarmolinsky, in: Studies in Jewish Bibliography and Related Subjects (1929; Slavic treatments of legend); A. Scheiber, in: Midwest Folklore, 4 (1954), 221–35; 6 (1956), 155–8 (Hungarian treatments); F. Kynass, Der Jude im deutschen Volkslied (1934); H.C. Holdschmidt, Der Jude auf dem Theater des deutschen Mittelalters (1935).

[Yvonne Glikson]

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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.

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Wandering Jew ★★½ 1920

An excellent print of the rare Austrian film version of the classic legend, one of at least three silent versions. A Jew is condemned to wander the earth for eternity. 65m/B VHS . AT Ernst Bath, Else Osterheim, Josef Schreiter, Rudolf Schildkraut, Joseph Schildkraut; D: Otto Kreisler; W: Heinrich Glucksmann.

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wandering Jew (Tradescantia) See COMMELINACEAE.

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spider plant (Tradescantia) See COMMELINACEAE.