Wandering Jew, Legend of the

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A development of a more ancient legend dealing with a man's insensibility of Jesus' plight while He was on His way to Calvary. As a result of his action, the subject of this legend is destined to remain alive until the time of the second coming of Christ. The origin of the legend may possibly be similar to the misunderstanding of a saying of Jesus that occasioned the explanation of Jn 21.22-23. In this passage, it is denied that the beloved disciple was granted any privilege of remaining alive until the second coming of Christ.

From the notion of a privilege of remaining until the second coming, the idea developed into that of the subjects being forced to remain as a curse provoked by a cruel rejection of Jesus. In this form the legend is recorded in the Flores Historiarum of Roger of Wendover, a monk of St. Albans in England. It is contained also in the Historia Majora of matthew paris, dating from the same period. It recounts how a doorkeeper of Pontius Pilate named Cartaphilus, not necessarily a Jew, struck Jesus as He carried His cross on the way to Calvary, saying, "Go faster, Jesus, what are you waiting for?" Jesus answered, "I am going, but you shall wait until I return." Thus, Cartaphilus became immortal. He repeatedly ages and is rejuvenated, while he wanders everywhere, seeking death. He has become a Christian and taken the name of Joseph. In Italy the legend has some variations; the wanderer is called Joanes Buttadeus or Malchus.

The first mention of this legend with the identification of the wanderer as a Jew is in a pamphlet entitled Kurze Beschreibung und Erzhlung von einem Juden mit Namen Ahasuerus that was circulated in Germany at the beginning of the 17th century. This Ahasuerus is presented as a former shoemaker of Jerusalem who had angrily opposed Jesus and had been condemned by Him to wander eternally. In haggadic literature the name Ahasuerus is commonly applied to a wicked fool.

The story became very popular throughout Europe, perhaps reflecting popular prejudices of the time. L. Neubaur records various German, Flemish, Danish, and Swedish versions. A. Yarmolinsky adds to this list several Slavonic, Polish, and Russian versions. In all these there are some variations, but the basic theme remains the same. It is often used in art and literature; some examples are: O. Henry, The Door of Unrest ; Lew Wallace, The Prince of India ; E. Temple Thurston, The Wandering Jew.

The legend is looked upon with disfavor by Jewish people today since it is considered to be an instrument that has been used to foster anti-Semitism.

Bibliography: l. neubaur, Die Sage vom ewigen Juden (2d ed. Leipzig 1893). a. yarmolinsky, "The Wandering Jew," Studies in Jewish Bibliography and Related Subjects in Memory of Abraham S. Freidus (New York 1928) 319328. s. cohen, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia 10:448449.

[s. m. polan]