It’s an epithet oft given to me, due to my frequently nomadic lifestyle, which always managed to conjure up some vaguely romantic Kerouac-like drifter notion or the last scene of Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s a concept that speaks enough about us that Chaim Potok called his History of the Jews â€˜Wanderings.’
And it seems to be so deeply engrained in our collective psyche that I’ve heard it used as an explanation for Israeli’s almost visceral need for travel (as in â€˜you can put the Jew back in his homeland, but you can’t take the wanderer out of him’)
In the modern era alone The Wandering Jew was the title and theme for several films in early cinema, including one about Theodore Hertzl. The W.J. was part of the inspiration for James Joyce’s Ulysses a Rudyard Kipling story and is even the name of an invasive
weed plant I wrote about a while back.
But who or what is the Wandering Jew, really?
I (perhaps naively) assumed it’s origin lay in our ancestors 40 year Sinai desert vacation and translated to our personal wanderings through our own physical and spiritual wildernesses.
However, the legend first appeared in a German pamphlet (heh, Germany. That figures) in 1602 and quickly became popular reading all over Europe and fodder for anti-semitism. It refers to an event that dates 2,000, not 3,500 years ago
The Wandering Jew, also known as Ahasverus or Buttadaeus, was given the curse of immortality by Jesus Christ. As Christ was carrying his heavy cross from Pilate’s hall and towards his place of crucifixion, Ahasverus, then a porter in Pilate’s service, struck Christ, and mocked him for walking so slowly. Christ, in turn, told the insolent porter to wait for his return, that is, until the Second Comingâ€¦The Wandering Jew soon repented of his sins and was baptized Catholic. He grows old in the normal fashion until reaching one hundred whereupon he sheds his skin and rejuvenates to the age of thirty. The Middle Ages abound with sightings of the Wandering Jew, generally telling his story in turn for meager food and lodging.
But wait, doesn’t that actually make him a Wandering Catholic?