This story has taken many forms through millennia. It has no known singular origin. The tale of the wandering Jew was common during Dark and Middle Age Europe and it seemed every location had its own version.
Despite variances, every story had major common elements. Primarily, an individual was cursed by Jesus Christ for a wrong done to him during his life on earth. As punishment, the individual is cursed to roam the world for eternity. They can never stop and will never know rest.
The myth centers on several implications from Scripture:
“Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” -Matthew 16:28
“And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” -Mark 9:1
“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” -Luke 9:27
“Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.'” -John 21:22
The version believed to be the oldest is of a Jewish cobbler. While Christ carried the cross, he placed a hand on the entrance to the cobbler’s business to steady himself and rest a moment. The infuriated cobbler commanded he move away from his doorstep and on to his death. He became cursed to wander the earth for his wrath. The cobbler eventually had a name and that was Joseph.
Several variations actually feature a response from Christ. A similar version centers around one of Pontius Pilate’s servants named Cartaphilus. When the Romans first escorted Christ to be scourged, the servant grew impatient. He told the condemned many to speed up. Christ told him, “I am going and you will wait until I return.”
Eventually, Cartaphilus became converted to the new faith of Christianity. He even changed his name to Joseph, but none of that saved him from his fate.
Another version of the tale featured a cobbler named Ahasverus. Ahasverus believed Christ was evil. He confronted Christ while he carried the cross and told him to hurry towards his death. Christ said, “I shall stand and rest, but thou shall go to the last day.”
Ahasverus was last seen in Lubeck, Germany, in 1601. He was then seen in the Baltic region of Livonia, in the small town named Revel, called Tallinn today. His last known “sighting” was in Krakow, Poland, in the Seventeenth Century.
Many in those old days believed a race descended from Cain, in Genesis, who was cursed to roam the world forever. Many believed the “gypsies,” or any nomadic people, descended from him.
There were also rumors surrounding gypsies, independent of Cain or Christ, which said their ancestors refused to help a mother and child who attempted to escape from Egypt. Because of their cruelty and indifference, they would never know their own land or find a place to rest.