During Mediæval times, the legend of the wandering Jew gained popular recognition. I have previously (around 2003 on Aeclectic’s TarotForum) written some comments that indicates possible connections between the Fool and the Wandering Jew – what we shall be briefly looking at here are not only some of those references, but also weaving thoughts surrounding this legend with aspects of relatively recent political developments in light of Rudolf Steiner’s Christology… some of which will undoubtedly seem a little stretched or far-fetched to some. Still, here goes…
The Wandering Jew
The legend ultimately derives from a passage in Matthew that was expanded in typical mediæval fashion in order to begin to make sense of the words given therein. Mediæval Christian thought provides us with numerous wonderful stories, from infancy ‘gospels’ through to quite sophisticated theological treatises forming a substantive foundation for much that is still current in contemporary Christian understanding (for example, numerous contemporary works that are ultimately derived or in part based on the works of Augustine or of St Thomas Aquinas).
Let’s turn to the biblical source first and then make brief diversions elsewhere. The following is found in Matthew 16:27-28
For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he shall reward each according to their deeds. Truly I say to you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
From this arose a legend that finger-pointed not only to an ‘identifiable’ individual Jew, but also, through a sequence of thoughts, to the Jewish people as a whole. For example, in the fourth century Prudentius writes:
From place to place the homeless Jew wanders in ever-shifting exile, since the time when he was torn from the abode of his fathers and has been suffering the penalty for murder, and having stained his hands with the blood of Christ whom he denied, paying the price of sin.
Of course, in the above description it is in light of the destruction of the second Temple in the year 70 when Judea was under Roman annexation, effectively describing the increasing diaspora of Jewish life and the appalling view of Jews as ‘Christ-killers’ (seemingly at the same time forgetting that all early Christians, as well as Jesus himself, were of course Jewish). The Jewish folk were, in so many ways, ‘homeless’ or, rather, without a home in their own right in the promised land of their forebearers. The quote from Matthew also lead, in addition, to the specific query as to whom it was that Christ spoke. And here the legend points to a local dweller in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s crucifixion. According to what is probably to most common tale, as Christ was passing by bearing the cross on his way to Golgotha, a local leather-smith ‘taunted’ Jesus urging him not to dawdle, for which Christ replied that whereas He was indeed stepping to his death, the taunter would now have to ‘wait and continue living until I return’.
There is an interesting twist in the story as it develops through time, as by the 17th century the taunter is named Ahasver – ironically the Persian fool-king mentioned in the Book of Esther and the basis of which forms the Jewish festival of Pushim.
In any case, we have by this stage both an individual as well as a people who are destined to walk the Earth without homeland until the second coming of Christ. Truly, one could say, a possible depiction of an itinerant wanderer that walks and is chased as an unwanted beggar-fool.
Christ’s return: Rudolf Steiner’s approach
Notwithstanding the various Christian views as to when this is to take place, Rudolf Steiner has a specific Christology that incorporates two particular characteristics: the first is that the return is as described in the Gospels, with directly piercing through the veil and seen by those who ‘have eyes to see’; the second is that a time is specified and has already taken place (and continues to so do). Let’s briefly look at these two points.
Again the reference is principally from Matthew, in this case 24:27-30 (though I skip 28-29 in what follows):
For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. […]
And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
This is very much an image similar to that usually represented by trump XXI in the earlier Marseille type: Christ in the ‘clouds’ (or bursting through a mandorla) also used for representations of the transfiguration and for ‘Christ in Majesty’ (as a side-note for those interested, the first section of the quote references Steiner’s ‘Foundation Stone Meditation’).
As Steiner describes the appearance or return of Christ (in, for example, The Reappearance of Christ in the Etheric), he gives a date that effectively sees the ‘piercing through the clouds’ begin in the 1930s and continues from that time on. In light of this, for Anthroposophists (and others who similarly consider that the ‘Second Coming’ occurs in such a realm and began prior to WWII), the legend of the wandering Jew, if taken seriously, would see relief in his liberation through a well deserved and long overdue death. For the ‘wandering Jew’ collectively (in other words, as a people), it probably seems obvious that the establishment of Israel in the 1940s would provide some kind of ‘confirmation’ that Christ’s ‘return’ has taken place: the place of their home has been re-established and now provides rest in the promised land (albeit still all too tumultuous!).