The Wandering Jew


    THIS last volume of Mr. Conway's is a study, not only of the legend of the Wandering Jew, but with it of the large group of analogous myths of undying men who from age to age wander over the earth, or sleep in caverns, or are translated from among men into divine regions, whence however they come back and show themselves still living men. The interest of these stories in the history of philosophy lies in their keeping up men's early ideas of life and death. One of Mr. Conway's purposes in discussing them is to draw attention to their being relics of the primitive period when men were still so far from definitely realising the nature of death, that they had no difficulty in regarding kings, heroes, and prophets as having only departed for a while from among them, to return in a future age to rule and protect their expectant nations. In comparative mythology this group of stories has some importance. They show the beliefs of various races running curiously into one another, as where the Lancashire peasant still hears in the cry of the plover the wail of the Wandering Jew, or in the Harz Mountains his myth has got mixed with that of a grander wanderer, the Wild Huntsman, who courses with his storm-clouds across the sky. The storm-demon whom mythic fancy imagines rushing through the air is often called a Maccabee, and Mr. Conway points out why he has this name. It is because of a verse in the Second Book of Maccabees, chap. v., which, by the way, is a good instance of the personal forms taken by the fancy of an excited people: “And then it happened, that through all the city, for the space almost of forty days, there were seen horsemen running in the air, in cloth of gold, and armed with lances, like a band of soldiers.” Unfortunately some other etymologies made or quoted by Mr. Conway are not so reasonable as this. When the names of biblical person-ages, Herod and Ahasuerus, find their way into European myths, it may not be easy to explain how they got there, but at any rate it is better to leave them alone than to make up imaginary and even impossible German or Scandinavian forms, Haar-Rote, As-Vidar, to account for their presence. It would be easy to take exception to many of the arguments in this volume, but at any rate there are many interesting points in it.

    The Wandering Jew.

    By Moncure Daniel Conway. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1881.

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    The Wandering Jew . Nature 24, 458 (1881).

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