Jews


Jews
   England shared the assumption (general until the later 20th century) that Jews lost their homeland as punishment for murdering Jesus, and have ever since been accursed. Symbolically, this was expressed through the medieval legend of the Wandering Jew, doomed to roam the earth till Christ's Second Coming because he had shouted at him to move faster on the way to Calvary. The story first appeared in Matthew Paris's Chronicle of the Abbey of St Albans (begun in 1235), which declares that an Armenian Bishop who visited the Abbey in 1228 had often seen this Jew, now a devoutly penitent Christian hoping for forgiveness on Doomsday. It remained popular all over Europe till late in the 19th century, publicized through ballads and *chapbooks, many of which claimed the wanderer had actually been sighted in one town or another. There is a circumstantial English account of his passing through Stamford on Whitsunday 1658, and curing a consumptive by advising him to drink daily a brew of 'two leaves of red sage and one of bloodworte'. A related notion is that of Jews present during the Crucifixion whose punishment is to become restless night birds, the *Seven "Whistlers, or mine-haunting *knockers.
   Another important medieval theme was the accusation that Jews kidnapped Christian children and crucified them on Good Friday or Easter Sunday; two child saints, William of Norwich and Hugh of Lincoln, are alleged to have been 'martyred' in this way, and to have miraculously revealed the whereabouts of their corpses by singing prayers after death. Hugh's story was told in ballads, and also by Chaucer as 'The Prioress's Tale'.
   Jewish religion was assumed to consist of sorcery and devil-worship, leading Christians to apply the terms 'synagogue' and 'sabbath' to gatherings of *witches. Yet, paradoxically, Hebrew was seen as the most sacred of all languages, outranking even Latin and Greek; hence the widespread use of Hebrew words, letters, and symbols in ritual *magic, and in healing *charms.
   ■ Venetia Newall, in The Witch Figure, ed. V. Newall (1973), 95-124; George K. Anderson, The Legend of the Wandering Jew (1967); S. Baring-Gould, Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (1877), 1-31.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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