The Wandering Jew

Wandering Jew, the. The central figure of a widespread medieval legend which tells how a Jew who refused to allow Christ to rest at his door while He was bearing His cross to Calvary, was condemned to wander over the face of the earth till the end of the world. The usual form of the legend says that he was Ahasuerus, a cobbler. The craftsman pushed him away, saying, "Get off! Away with you, away!" Our Lord replied, "Truly I go away, and that quickly, but tarry thou till I come."

Another tradition has it that the Wandering Jew was Kartaphilos (Cartaphilus); the doorkeper of the judgment hall in the service of Pontius Pilate. He struck our Lord as he led Him forth, saying, "Go on faster, Jesus"; whereupon the Man of Sorrows replied, "I am going, but thou shalt tarry till I come again" ( Chronicle of St. Albans Abbey; 1228). The same Chronicle, continued by Matthew Paris, tells us that Kartaphilos was baptized by Ananias, and received the name of Joseph. At the end of every hundred years he falls into a trance, and wakes up a young man about thirty.

In German legend, he is associated with John Buttadaeus, seen at Antwerp in the 13th century, again in the 15th, and a third time in the 16th. His last appearance was in 1774 at Brussels. In the French version, he is named Isaac Laquedem or Lakedion. Another story has it that he was Salathiel ben Sadi, who appeared and disappeared towards the close of the 16th century, at Venice, in so sudden a manner as to attract the notice of all Europe; and another connects him with the Wild Huntsman.

There is a ballad in Percy Reliques called The Wandering Jew; and poems by Béranger and Quintet entitled Ahasuerus, and by Caroline Norton entitled The Undying One, deal with the legend. Shelley introduces Ahasuerus into Queen Mab, The Revolt of Islam; and his prose tale The Assassin.

In prose fiction, the Jew is the subject of Croly Salathiel ( 1827) reprinted in 1900 as Tarry Thou till I Come, of Lew Wallace Prince of Indıa, and of the more famous romance by Eugene Sue entitled The Wandering Jew ( Le Juif errant; 1845). In the latter, Ahasuerus and his half-sister Herodias, both eternal wanderers, find their chief interest in guiding the affairs of their descendants. The romance is episodic, but the principal events take place in the Paris of 1832 and the plot centers about the struggle between the Protestants and Catholics to control a large sum of money invested for seven heirs of Count Rennepont, a descendant of Herodias. The Jesuits, led by a shrewd and energetic little priest named Rodin, succeed in bringing six of the seven heirs to disaster and presenting the seventh, Gabriel Rennepont, a young Jesuit priest, as the only claimant for the inheritance, but their schemes are finally thwarted.

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