You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

January 23: Gustave Doré’s “Wandering Jew”

January 23, 2016

evreul-ratacitorThe prolific French artist and printmaker Gustav Doré (not Jewish), whose best-known works include the 1856 series of woodcut illustrations for a poem, “The Legend of the Wandering Jew,” died at 53 on this date in 1883. Doré had already made his name creating illustrations for Lord Byron and for a new English Bible, among other projects. The “Wandering Jew” myth was widely believed to be true in Europe beginning in the 13th century (although it dated much earlier): that a Jew who had taunted Jesus on his way to being crucified was then cursed to wander the earth until Jesus returns. In various tellings, this Jew was a shoemaker or other kind of craftsman, or the doorman at Pontius Pilate’s estate; often his name was some version of Ahasuerus, the proverbial fool (also not Jewish) of the Book of Esther. The Wandering Jew appeared in numerous artworks and literary works worldwide and, by the 18th century, became a representative of the entire Jewish people. According to Wikipedia, “There were claims of sightings of the Wandering Jew throughout Europe, since at least 1542 in Hamburg up to 1868 in Harts Corners, New York.”

“[T]he first printing of the Legend of the Eternal (or Wandering) Jew, which appeared in 1602 In 1694 the ‘Wandering Jew’ (since 1609 ‘Juif Errant’) was also called ‘Ewiger Jude’ (Eternal Jew) in German editions, and he retained this name in German-speaking countries and others under their influence.” —Alex Bein, The Jewish Question: Biography of a World Problem