Background of 'Wandering Jew' Legend
New York. Board of Rabbis Opposes
Nobel Prize Winner Lagerk vises Heretical Public Funds for Parochial Schools
NEW YORK, (JTA) — The those who honor the seventh
Touch to 'Ahasuerus. Fable in Newest Novel New
York Board of Rabbis day."
Nobel Prize winning novelist who consigned yOu to suffering editions in Germany alone. Ac-
Paer Lagerkvist has written a and death? Who sacrificed you cording to this tale, a Jerusa-
novel based on the Wandering —you whom he called his own lem shoemaker taunted Jesus
Jew legend. Random House is- son. who made you believe you while he was on his way to Gol-
sued the 118-page novel, in an were so? . . . Who offered up gotha, and Jesus supposedly
excellent translation from the the Son of Man? You should told him, "Go on forever till I
Swedish by Naomi Walford, know; you should know what return."
under the title "The Death of he's like—you who persist in
There are eight known edi-
Ahasuerus." The impressive calling him your father, though tions of this German pamphlet
drawings are by Emil Anto- he has never cared about you in Flemish and Dutch, a French
nucci. . . . He sacrifices men ! He de- edition was published in Bor-
This novel may be due for mands continual sacrifice—hu- deaux in 1609, Danish and Swe-
much controversy, since of man sacrifice, crucifixions ! dish translations and a Czecho-
the death of the strange wan- That's what he's like, if you slovakian under the title "Eter-
derer who, according to the would only listed to me . . . nal Jew."
The story was interpreted to
fable that has survived eight My curse as the enemy of god,
centuries, would not die until the repudiator, the blasphemer, be an account of the cruici-
the second coming of Christ. the rebel against god. For it fixion by an eye-witness. Trag-
was he who cursed me, not you" ically, every report of the reap-
Lagerkvist's absorbing novel,
pearance of the mythical Wan-
noteworthy for its simplicity,
Therein lies the accusation— dering Jew was accompanied by
describes the gathering of ruf-
fians and gambler s, accom- against god (the uncapitalized religious disturbances in super-
panied by harlots and salesmen term in accordance with the re stitious quarters.
The wanderer, deathless ac-
of religious amulets, and some sped for divinity accredited in
wealthy, too, at an inn for Lagerkvist's text)—the divinity cording to the curse, was re-
pilgrims on their way to the who causes "continual sacri- ported to have appeared in
Hamburg in 1547; Spain, 1575;
Holy Land "to their saviour's lice."
It was in a monastery that the Vienna, 1599; Luebeck, 1601
sepulchre." A motley crowd is
there, and in describing them stranger expired. A lay-brother and 1603; Prague, 1602; Bava-
the author capitalizes divine "stow'. looking at the dead man ria, 1604; Ypres, 1623; Brussels,
names only when they are —at his remarkable face which 1640; Leipsic, 1642; Paris, 1644;
spoken in great reverence and now radiated so perfect a tran- S t a mf or d, 1648; Astrakhan,
not when uttered irreverently. quility. It had not done so 1672; Franjenstein, 1676; Mu-
nich, 1721; Altbach, 1766; Brus-
A stranger enters the inn and when he . . came
. W here
h o could
he be, sels, 1774; Neacastle, 1790.
he takes a seat at a vacant spot this, singular guest? . . . No one
Mormon O'Grady, according
opposite a man named Tobias in the monastery knew. Was he to the Sept. 28, 1868, issue of
who joined the pilgrim crowd really a pilgrim? Was he even Desert News, even reported the
after his release from the army. Christian? No one knew. But Wandering Jew to have ap-
A drunken woman joins them his peace was great. That one peared in the United States in
and commences an harangue could see." -
against Tobias, accusing him of
The imaginary reports also
In a sense,
having dishonored her, of hay shatters
his story .contended that the strange wan-
and brought her down to her
derer was seen in North Africa
low state. Nevertheless, she ends the curse imposed upon in 1919 and as late as 192,3 in
loves him. It was Tobias who
named her Diana, when he first remain deathless: in the La-
* * *
met and loved her and lived gerkvist story he dies. Will
Thus, the fable spread, ofen
with her while she was hunting the great Swedish novelist,
the Nobel Prize winner, be causing misery for Jewish com-
in the forest.
munities, frequently serving—
Diana moved away from their charged with heresy?
His story is unusual in many as in the newest Lagerkvist
table. and Tobias proceeded to
corroborate her story. Then he respects. Not once is the word novel, as a novelist's theme.
related how, after leaving her, Jew mentioned in the novel. He One of the best known novels
he wandered upon a forsaken does not refer to the Wandering dealing with the theme is Eu-
but .where he found a dead Jew, and only in the title is the gene Sue's "The Wandering
woman — a woman who had counterpart for it — Ahasuerus Jew" ("Le Juif Errant," 1844).
But even before the appear-
been on her way to Golgotha. —used by him.
But in the final chapter, in ance of the German pamphlet
on a pilgrimage similar to that
for which the rich and the poor which the stranger speaks out in Leyden, the tale of the death-
had gathered in that inn. It be- against god, it becomes appar- less wanderer gained momen-
came apparent that he, deeply ent that the strange guest was tum. In Flores Historiarum.
Roger de Wendover, a monk in
moved by that experience, in- a person cursed by Jesus.
tended• to complete her trek
•The background of the St. Albans, England, wrote
towards the Holy Land.
legend is interesting. It is not claiming that an Arm_enian
—it could not be—of Jewish bishop, on a visit in the St. Al-
Came the morning. The pil- origin. In Jewish tradition bans cloister, told of one, Carta-
grims wandered on, but Tobias, Ahasuerus,—as the Ahusue- philius, who was the doorkeep-
Diana and the stranger re- rus in the Book of Esther— er of Pontius Pilate, struck Je-
mained. Then they, too, began in the Purim story—is the sus on his back as he falteringly
the trek towards the land of traditional fool. But in the was on his way to be cruicified,
Jesus—Tobias unwillingly bilt christological fable it is the telling him: "Go faster, Jesus,
pursued by the new urge that Jewish wanderer who is de- what are you waiting for?" To
which Jesus was to have re-
took hold of him, Diana insist- picted.
ing upon being with him, the
The story is traced to the plied: "I am going but you shall
stranger following them — the Gospels — to Matthew, Luke. wait until I return." In this
story it is Cartaphilius who was
novelist explains that it was Mark, and John.
without as yet understanding
In Matthew 16:28 we find: granted immortality. The story
"Verily I say unto you, There relates that Cartaphilius later
Tragedy came. Diana saw an be some standing here, which became a Christian and adopted
arrow of an assassin aimed at shall not taste of death, till the name Joseph.
Then there is the version
Tobias. She stepped in its path they see the Son of man coming
and was herself killed, and be- in his kingdom." Almost the ex- that spread in Italy where the
fore dying she asked her lover act word are in Mark 9:1, the same words ascribed to Carta-
again to call her Diana, which only change being in the con- philius are given as these of
he did: "Diana . . . Diana . . . eluding words: "till they have Malchus, the servant to the high
goddess of the chase . . . "
seen the kingdom of God come priest in the time of Jesus. Ac-
Tobias marched on. He just with power." Luke 9:27 also cording to John 18:10, Simon
missed the boat on which the speaks of "till they see the king- Peter cut off Malchus' ear in
pilgrims had left for the Holy dom of God."
the garden of Gethsemane just
Land and he offered all the
At first "the curse" was as- before Jesus was imprisoned.
money he had to three boatmen. sociated with John, but that - In another 1 e g e n d, the
They robbed Min and he van- claim is repudiated in John strange wanderer is named Jo-
ished. The stranger was left 21:22-23 and the idea is linked hannes Buttadio, the latter
alone, and then he opined:
to a contemporary of Jesus who meaning "who struck god."
"Why do- you persecute me was to live to be a witness to
Why do you never leave me in the resurrection of Jesus.
peace? Why do you never for-
to the Jewish mythical wan-
sake me? What have I done to
The legend itself first was deter in "Innocents Abroad."
you that you should be re- published in a four-page pam- Some believe that the Jewish
venged, that you should always phlet in Leyden, Germany, in peddlers who have been seen
be thinking of your vengeance? 1602, under the title "Kurtze in many lands, some with
What did Fdo? I forbade you to Beschreibung and Erzaehlung bears, pleading to make sales,
lean your head against my von Einem Juden mit Namen account for some of the beliefs
house. That's all. Isn't it? How Ahasuerus." It was said to have of the deathlessness and mys-
many others have done the been printed by Christoff Crut- ticism of the weird legendary
same? But me you will not for- zer, but the name was never character whose story has been
give—me you will not forget. • erified.
imbedded in many Christian
Although it was so long ago ..."
The story spread through households. In Germanic coun
Then the stranger speaks as Germany, the pamphlet was re- tries the idea of a wandering
what the faithful will interpret printed in eight editions in Jew has been perpetuated under
as the blasphemer: "Who was 1602, and before the end of the the title "Der Ewige Jude"-
it who .made them crucify you, 18th century it went into 40 i the immortal or eternal Jew. In
voiced opposition this week to
the use of public funds, on all
levels, for private and parochial
Such support, the board de-
clared in a resolution adopted
at its 81st • annual meeting,
would be both a violation of the
principle of church-state separa-
tion and a "threat to the reli-
gious institutions which depend
on outside aid to further their
Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz was
elected president of the rabbini-
cal organization which repre-
sents Reform, Conservative and
The meeting also adopted a
resolution demanding that pub-
lic schools should be free of reli-
gious teachings. It also de-
nounced the New York state
Sunday closing laws as penaliz-
ing Sabbath-observing Jewish
merchants and urged the New
York State Legislature "to enact
a fair Sabbath law which will
no longer discriminate against
In another resolution, the rab-
bis urged "a thorough study by
Jewish and other agencies of
the problem of Jewry in the
Soviet Union, with a view to
taking steps which will amelior-
ate the lamentable situation of
our people there."
The board asserted that "the
curtailment of religious and cul-
tural rights for Jewry behind the
Iron Curtain, and the trials and
convictions of Jewish leaders on
the charge of 'contact with for-
eign powers', appear to be a
serious indication of Soviet in-
tention to separate Russian Jew-
ry from the rest of the world
Jewry and to impose severe
limitations on their spiritual and
The board scored the Arab
countries for their refusal to
recognize Israel and to seek
peace. It urged in a resolution
that the United States Govern-
ment "insist that nothing less
than clear-cut demands for di-
rect peace negotiations between
the Arabs and Israelis be carried
Romance language countries
the mythical figure is "Le Juif
Errant" and "L'Ebreo Errante." Hebrew Corner
In Spanish, it is "Juan Espera
Jerusalem the capital of Israel. is
In the many poems and
on hills and is surrounded
stories in which the wanderer situated
by hills. One of the important hills
is the mythical character, he in its vicinity is the Mount of Olives.
hill is mentioned many times
assumes various roles. In Hans in This
Bible, and it is believed that
Christian Andersen's fable he is its the
name was given because of the
Ahasuerus the Sngel of Doubt. many olive groves that were on it.
Still since early generations Jews
The Jewish historian Hein- were
accustomed to bury in this hill
rich Graetz traces the story also their dead, because there is a legend
that the resurrection of the dead will
to "The Turkish Spy", a tale in begin at this place. And surely
which the wanderer is called graves from the period of the First
that is over 2,500 years ago,
"Sieur Paule Marrana" and was Temple,
were found at this place.
to have gone through the In- The burying of the dead extended
many generations and actually stop-
quisition in Spain and Portugal, ped
with the outbreak of the
and the idea therefore is be- War only
of Liberation, when the hill was
lieved through this course to
In the days of the Second Temple.
have been derived from the ex- when
the Sanhedrin—the Religious
Court of the Jewish Nation—would
periences of Marranas.
fix the beginning of the month (then
Some liken the myth of the it was not accustomed to use cal-
would light on this hill
Wandering Jew to such death- endars)—they
great fires to notify the Jews, the
less character ideas as the commencement of the month. •
of Olives is also very holy
Prophet Elijah, but this has in Mount
the Christian tradition. According
been conceded to be far-fetched, to their tradition Jesus went up to
from this hill. Therefore
the entire christological fable heaven
churches and monasteries were
stemming a chain of prejudicial many
built on this hill.
A small portion of the Mount of
myths which, in the Middle Olives,
known by the name of "Har
Ages, made the Jew the goat for Hatzofim"
(Mount Scopus) is under
all the ills that afflicted man- the rule of the State of Israel.
Translation of Hebrew Corner.
kind. —P.S. Published by Brith Iorith Olarnith,
Mount of Olives
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