The Wandering Jew: A Christian Tale

The Jewish people did move around a lot, but that had more to do with Christian mistreatment than divine displeasure.

By David Lazarus | | Topics: diaspora
The Wandering Jew.
The Wandering Jew. Photo: David Roberts/Wikimedia Commons

The notion of the Wandering Jew comes from popular Christian folktales of the European Middle Ages dating between the fall of Rome in 476 CE and the beginning of the Renaissance in the 14th century.

According to these Christian legends, the Jews have been condemned to wander because of their negativity toward Jesus. Considering the Jesus portrayed by Middle Age European Christianity, it is no wonder that the Jews refused to respect their antisemitic messiah.

Christian Europe also became the region from which the Jews were most often expelled. Most of the time they were banished by local authorities who thought that the Jews were establishing themselves financially at the expense of local population. So the authorities forced the Jews out of the city to poorer surrounding districts, where they continued to prosper and were then violently pushed back into the city by angry local merchants.

When this happened, the king who considered the Jews as his private property would intervene and allow the Jews to stay put until the next wave of persecutions and pogroms. Banishing the Jews became a go-to political propaganda program by local authorities who needed to win favor among the already-angry populations because of their poorly-governed and run-down locales.

The expulsion of Jews from entire European kingdoms began in the 12th century. These deportations were especially traumatic for the Jews, who not only lost their homes and livelihood, but were transferred to far and unfamiliar regions where they did not know the local languages and were strangers and foreigners to the local populations.

These expulsions from kingdom to kingdom created the wide geographical dispersion of the Jews in modern times. More often than not, the Jews continued to identify with the regions from which they came, and hundreds of years later still see themselves as either Sephardic or Ashkenazi.

Historically, European Jews have been classified as belonging to two major groups:

  1. Ashkenazim or “Germanics” (Ashkenaz meaning “Germany” in Medieval Hebrew), denoting their Central European base.
  2. Sephardim or “Hispanics” (Sefarad meaning “Hispania” or “Iberia” in Hebrew), denoting their Spanish, Portuguese or North African base.

A third term Mizrahim, or “Easterners” (Mizrach being “east” in Hebrew), has been used to describe other non-European Jewish communities which were located further to the east, but its usage has changed over time and often denotes Jews who never left the Middle East.

The Ashkenazi and French Jews went mostly to Poland and Lithuania, where they were warmly welcomed. They were settled in these kingdoms in vast areas from the northeast to the south of Europe. They were not, however, allowed into Russia, which became the eastern border of the Jewish settlements at the time.

When Spain and Portugal were occupied by the Christians, the Sephardic Jews were expelled. They scattered throughout Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and eventually on to South America. Many of them migrated to the Ottoman Empire, where they were welcomed by the Ottoman authorities and established thriving communities. Other Jewish refugees from Spain went to North Africa, particularly to Morocco, which had a long history of Jewish settlement. Some also went to the Middle East, particularly to the cities of Aleppo and Safed in what is now Syria and Israel. In the Americas, Jewish refugees from Spain settled in various colonies, including Brazil, Mexico and Peru.


Israel Today Membership

Read all member content. Access exclusive, in-depth reports from Israel! Free Zoom events. Connect with Israel right from your home! Raise a voice of truth and hope. Support Faith-based journalism in Jerusalem!


/ month
Full access to Israel Today's Member-only content on all Digital Platforms.
Become a Member


/ year
Full access to Israel Today's Member-only content on all Digital Platforms.
Save 18% Per Month.
Become a Member

Six Months

every 6 months
Full access to Israel Today's Member-only content on all Digital Platforms.
Save 9% Per Month.
Become a Member

3 responses to “The Wandering Jew: A Christian Tale”

  1. Les Lawrence says:

    He Who scattered…
    Jer 31:10 – “Hear the word of Yehovah, O nations,
    And declare it in the isles afar off, and say,
    ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him,
    And keep him as a shepherd does his flock.’

  2. Mark Watkins says:

    Shalom David,

    Excellent piece Mate, those days were marked with vitriol antisemitism, even Martin Luther’s hatred for the Jewish people, which was later adopted by none other than the Bavarian corporal, as these tales are propagated and embellished, it sadly becomes fact, which it is the age old lie from it’s origins….hasatan…The father of all lies….

  3. Disciple 1978 says:

    It was the early church father Augustine 354-430 AD who first said the Jews “were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of the church over the synagogue.” He also said the church was the kingdom of God and that the church age was the millennium. By the 5th-6th Century the church was off limits to the Jews. The Council of Nicea made decrees against the Jews in 325 AD. Luther and Calvin both followed Augustine. Still the church in the 21st Century hasn’t renounced these abhorrent attitudes and plainly wrong theology.

    Israel can take comfort that Christianity only came into being because God made a new covenant with the Jews. “Behold the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” Jer 31:31. The first church didn’t exist when this covenant was made at Golgotha. Synagogue has celebrated the new covenant as we see with Crispus and Sosthenes in Acts 18.

Leave a Reply

Israel Today Newsletter

Daily news

FREE to your inbox

Israel Heute Newsletter

Tägliche Nachrichten

KOSTENLOS in Ihrer Inbox

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter