Hope Itself   /   Fall 2022   /    Thematic: Hope Itself

The Eternal Hope of the Wandering Jew

Which came first: the wandering or the Jew?

David Stromberg

The Wandering Jew (detail), 1983, by Michael Sgan-Cohen (1944–1999); © estate of the artist, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Missing persons cases are seldom about finding someone. Too often, people who have disappeared are not missing at all. They are either hiding or long dead, possibly victims of murders waiting to be solved. Such cases, in short, are best to avoid. But when I heard that there had been recent sightings of the long-lost Wandering Jew, I knew I had to investigate.

The challenge was that no one could actually say where the Wandering Jew had been sighted. Since allegedly taunting Jesus in Jerusalem on his way to being crucified, resurfacing in thirteenth-century Christian folklore in England as an immortal penitent, making regular appearances throughout Europe in booklets published during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and finally being mentioned in reports published in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News in 1868, the Wandering Jew had left no visible trail. Forced to take a different tack, I decided to focus less on the question of the wandering and more on the question of the Jew. If I could find some answers to the Jewish question, I thought, I might also discover where the Jew might have gone. But first I had to see what the Jewish question was all about. What, in fact, was the question?

So I went straight to the source: the German Protestant theologian Bruno Bauer and his 1843 essay “Die Judenfrage,” translated in turn as “The Jewish Question” and “The Jewish Problem.” Obviously, much had happened with and to the Jews since Bauer tried to address the question, but since he was the first to put it so directly, his essay seemed like a good start.

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