The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Ahasuerus, the Legend of
Imaginary figure of a Jerusalem shoemaker who, taunting Jesus on the way to crucifixion, was told by him to "go on forever till I return." The legend first appeared in a pamphlet of four leaves entitled "Kurtze Beschreibung und Erzählung von einem Juden mit Namen Ahasverus." This professes to have been printed at Leyden in 1602 by Christoff Crutzer, but no printer of that name has been discovered, and the real place and printer can not be ascertained. The legend spread quickly throughout Germany, no less than eight different editions appearing in 1602; altogether forty appeared in Germany before the end of the eighteenth century. Eight editions in Dutch and Flemish are known; and the story soon passed to France, the first French edition appearing in Bordeaux, 1609, and to England, where it appeared in the form of a parody in 1625 (Jacobs and Wolf, "Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica," p. 44, No. 221). The pamphlet was translated also into Danish and Swedish; and the expression "eternal Jew" is current in Czech. The pretended existence of the Wandering Jew, who is stated to be met with from time to time in all of these countries, was eagerly seized upon amidst the religious disturbances caused by the Reformation, as furnishing an eye-witness of the crucifixion. The various appearances claimed for him were at Hamburg in 1547; in Spain in 1575; at Vienna, 1599; Lübeck, 1601; Prague, 1602; Lübeck, 1603; Bavaria, 1604; Ypres, 1623; Brussels, 1640; Leipsic, 1642; Paris, 1644; Stamford, 1658; Astrakhan, 1672; Frankenstein, 1676; Munich, 1721; Altbach, 1766; Brussels, 1774; and Newcastle, 1790. The last appearance mentioned appears to have been in America in the year 1868, when he was reported to have visited a Mormon named O'Grady (see "Desert News," Sept. 23, 1868).
Influence of Legend on Literature.
The figure of the doomed sinner, forced to wander without the hope of rest in death till the millennium, impressed itself upon the popular imagination, and passed thence into literary art, mainly with reference to the seeming immortality of the wandering Jewish race. These two aspects of the legend are represented in the different names given to the central figure. In German-speaking countries he is referred to as "Der Ewige Jude" (the immortal, or eternal, Jew), while in Romance-speaking countries he is known as "Le Juif Errant" and "L'Ebreo Errante"; the English form, probably because derived from the French, has followed the Romance. The Spanish name is "Juan Espera en Dios." The legend has been the subject of poems by Schubart, Schreiber (1807), W. Müller, Lenau, Chamisso, Schlegel, Julius Mosen (an epic, 1838), and Koehler; of novels by Franzhorn (1818), Oeklers, and Schucking; and of tragedies by Klinemann ("Ahasuerus," 1827) and Zedlitz (1844). Hans Andersen made his "Ahasuerus" the Angel of Doubt, and was imitated by Heller in a poem on "The Wandering of Ahasuerus," which he afterward developed into three cantos. Robert Hamerling, in his "Ahasver in Rom" (Vienna, 1866), identifies Nero with the Wandering Jew. Goethe had designed a poem on the subject, the plot of which he sketched in his "Dichtung und Wahrheit."
In France, E. Quinet published his prose epic on the legend in 1833, making the subject the judgment of the world; and Eugene Sue wrote his "Juif Errant" in 1844. From the latter work, in which the author connects the story of Ahasuerus with that of Herodias, most people derive their knowledge of the legend. Grenier's poem on the subject (1857) may have been inspired by Gustav Doré's designs published in the preceding year, perhaps the most striking of Doré's imaginative works. In England—besides the ballad given in Percy's "Reliques" and reprinted in Child's "English and Scotch Ballads" (1st ed., 8:77)—there is a drama entitled "The Wandering Jew, or Love's Masquerade," written by Andrew Franklin (1797). William Godwin's novel "St. Leon" (1799) has the motive of the immortal man, and Shelley introduced Ahasuerus into his "Queen Mab." George Croly's "Salathiel," which appeared anonymously in 1828, treated the subject in an imaginative form; it has been recently reprinted under the title "Tarry Thou Till I Come" (New York, 1901).
Origin of Legend.
According to L. Neubaur, the legend is founded on the words given in Matthew 16:28, which are indeed quoted in the earliest German pamphlet of 1602. So, too, from John 21:20 et seq. a legend arose in the Church that St. John would not die before the second coming of Jesus; while another legend declares that the attendant Malchus, whose ear St. Peter cut off in the garden of Gethsemane (John 18:10), was condemned to wander till the second coming. His action is associated in some way with the scoffing at Jesus, and is so represented in a broadsheet which appeared in 1584. An actual predecessor of the Wandering Jew is recorded in the "Flores Historiarum" by Roger of Wendover in the year 1228. An Armenian archbishop, then visiting England, was asked by the monks of St. Albans about the celebrated Joseph of Arimathea, who had spoken to Jesus, and was still alive. The archbishop answered that he had himself seen him in Armenia, and that his name was Cartaphilus; on passing Jesus carrying the cross he had said: "Go on quicker," Jesus thereupon answering: "I go; but thou shalt wait till I come." Matthew Paris included this passage from Roger of Wendover in his own history; and other Armenians appeared in 1252 at the Abbey of St. Albans, repeating the same story, which was regarded there as a great proof of the Christian religion (Matthew Paris," Chron. Majora," ed. Luard, London, 1880, 5:340-341). The same archbishop is said to have appeared at Tournai in 1243, telling the same story, which is given in the "Chronicles of Phillip Mouskes," 2:491, Brussels, 1839. According to Guido Bonnati, the astrologer known to Dante, this living witness of the crucifixion was known as Johannes Buttadæus because of his having struck Jesus. Under this name he appears at Mugello in 1413 and in Florence in 1415 (S. Morpurgo, "L'Ebreo Errante in Italia," Florence, 1891).
It is difficult, however, to connect this Cartaphilus, Buttadæus, or Buttadeo with the later Ahasuerus of the pamphlet of 1602, no trace being found either in popular legend or in literature during the intervening two centuries. Graetz supposes that the somewhat different picture given of the Wandering Jew in a book called "The Turkish Spy" (1644), in which work the Wandering Jew is called "Sieur Paule Marrana," and is said to have passed through the tortures of the Inquisition in Spain, Portugal, and Rome, was derived from a Marano author (see, however, Boswell's "Life of Johnson," under date April 10, 1783, and Malone's note). Moncure D. Conway attempts to connect the legend with others of immortal beings, as those of King Arthur, Frederick Barbarossa, and Thomas the Rhymer, not to speak of Rip Van Winkle. These again he connects with immortals visiting the earth; as Yima in Parsism, and the "ancient of days" in the books of Daniel and Enoch. Yima and Enoch, as well as Elijah, are also credited with immortality; but there is no evidence of any connection of these names with the legend of the Wandering Jew which, as stated above, was put into currency in 1602 in Germany, by some one who was acquainted with the earlier form of the story known only in literary sources from Matthew Paris.
- G. Paris, Le Juif Errant, Paris, 1881;
- M. D. Conway, The Wandering Jew, London, 1881;
- H. Graetz, in Papers of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, pp. 1-4;
- Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, 5:1834-1836, Rotterdam, 1707;
- Graesze, Der Tannhäuser und der Ewige Jude, Dresden, 1861;
- Jacob Bibliophile, in Curiosités des Croyances Populaires, pp. 105-141, Paris, 1859;
- Neubaur, Die Sage vom Ewigen Juden, 2d ed., Leipsic, 1893.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Ahasuerus, the Legend of'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/a/ahasuerus-the-legend-of.html. 1901.