The Wandering Jew, according to the popular legend, a person born of the tribe of Naphtali, seven or eight years before the birth of Christ, who ran away from his father to accompany the three wise men from the east who were guided by a star to the manger at Bethlehem. On his return to Jerusalem, his stories of what he had seen, and of the rich presents which the eastern monarchs conferred on the child, saluting him as king of the Jews, were the cause of the massacre of the innocents. Being a carpenter, he was employed in making the cross destined for the passion of Christ, who passed his workshop on the way to Calvary. The soldiers begged him to allow the Saviour to enter for a few moments' rest, but he contemptuously refused and offered insult. According to another legend, he was a shoemaker, sitting at his bench as the Saviour passed, and refused to permit him to sit for rest. According to both legends, Christ bade him to traverse the earth, without possibility of stopping or resting, until the second coming. In his ceaseless wanderings from that time he has in vain sought death amid the greatest dangers and calamities.

The legend first appears in the chronicle of Matthew Paris in the 13th century, where the wandering Jew is called Cartaphilus, and said to have been a servant of Pilate. His name in the later forms of the legend is Ahasuerus. The legend has formed the basis of many poems, tragedies, and romances. The most notable designs illustrating it are those of Gustave Dore (Paris, 1856). - See Grässe, Die Sage vom ewigen Juden (Dresden, 1844; enlarged ed., 1861;.