I have written a great deal on antisemitism, often in a more comprehensive and experimental fashion than others, including academics. For an index of blogs on the website see http://clarespark.com/2012/09/29/index-to-blogs-on-antisemitism/.
One Facebook friend has asked me to explain the Wandering Jew trope, so I am excerpting a few lines from my book, Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. The paragraphs are from chapter one. It is important to know that Melville was not a Jew, but his radical puritan characters evoked the image of the Bad Jew in some of his academic readers. When I refer to Christian Europe or conservative Christians, I mean those Catholics and Protestants who were asserting hierarchy as natural in the face of upsurges from below in the modern period. (When I use the term Bad Jew, I do not mean non-observant Jews as judged by Orthodox Jews. Similarly, “Good Jews” refers to those Jews who are seen favorably by philo-semites.)
[Book excerpt:] Since I use the terms Good Jews, Bad Jews, and Wandering Jews throughout this study, some explanation is in order. Traditional Christian images of the Jews have varied since their gradual emancipation after the French Revolution, but there is still no mythic representation of the Good Jew, nor can there be, for the “Jewish” hammer smashes myths and all other illusions.
For conservative Europeans throughout the Christian era, all Jews were bad; good Jews annihilated this badness by converting to Christianity. The patristic Church fathers had railed against Judaism; it was not the parent religion, but their demonic antithesis, their negative identity. The Jews were materialistic, sensual, incestuous, hypocritical, legalistic yet antinomian, hypercritical of religious leaders, cannibals of their own children, money-mad, spiritually blind, and liars.[i]
The Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment exalted singularity, materialism, and natural rights, heretofore qualities or claims condemned in the Jews. Corporatist Christians deployed the late medieval myth of the Wandering Jew to attack the “Hebraic” radical puritan adversary. Ahasver or Cartaphilus, a cobbler, having refused and mocked Christ on the way to the crucifixion, was cursed by Him to “tarry till I come.” The sleepless, footsore, indestructible Wandering Jew, longing for death, was a fixture in European folktale; he was sighted all over Europe and understood as witness to the Incarnation, a corrective to excessive skepticism in the lower orders.
However the left Romantics (e.g. Byron and Shelley) and the French rural poor of the early 19th century appropriated and transformed the counter-revolutionary myth, constructing the figure of the Romantic Wandering Jew, the Napoleonic hammer-swinging little man who represented anticlericalism and hatred of abusive, illegitimate authority.[ii]
For writers of the Terror-Gothic genre, he was both Promethean and demonic, able to pass through closed doors and the thickest walls: like the repressed facts of the material world, he could not be excluded, contained, or incarcerated. To Byron and Shelley (and later, Yeats), the Wandering Jew represented their idealistic selves, the fully feeling and thinking adolescent who would never sell out, whose probing gaze punctured all myths to construct accurate pictures of social reality as the first step in ameliorating needless human suffering.
There was no European myth of the Good Jew, then; for rebels, the Romantic Wandering Jew was Good because he was Bad, and in moments of remorse, could be disavowed by his champions. For ex-left Romantics returning to classical order, genteel religious antisemitism, with its distinctions between convertible Good Jews and unconvertible Bad Jews, shaded into nineteenth-century scientific racism, rendering all Jews evil by nature. The ideology of scientific racism (still extant today), was a reaction to eighteenth-century liberalism and republican democracy.
Correlating “the rise of the Jews” (really market society) with modernity, scientific racists rendered all Jews incorrigibly evil, conspiratorial, and money-mad, religious Jew or apostate, capitalist or communist alike. It would have been easier to spot them if ethnologists knew what the all-too-protean Jews looked like. Could Herman Melville, religion, genes, and physiognomy to the contrary, have been a crypto-Jew? [End, book excerpt. For more on Melville and his revivers, see http://clarespark.com/2011/10/01/updated-index-to-melville-blogs/.]
[i] 38. See Rosemary Radford Ruether, Faith and Fratricide: the Theological Roots of Antisemitism (New York: Seabury Press, 1974), Chapter Three, 219, 258.
[ii] Champfleury, “French Images of the Wandering Jew,”The Wandering Jew: Essays in the Interpretation of a Christian Legend, ed. Galit Hasan-Rokem and Alan Dundes (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1986), 68-75. “Since the beginning of the century, [Ahasverus] has decorated every poor hovel, balanced by a picture of Napoleon. It seems that the common man gave an equal place in his imagination to these two great marcheurs.”(my emph., i.e., the Wandering Jew cannot be a conqueror or despot if Champfleury has to call attention to the pairing with Napoleon.) For the Wandering Jew as alienated modern artist see Edgar Rosenberg, From Shylock to Svengali; Jewish Stereotypes in English Fiction (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1960). Rosemary Ruether sees the patristic fathers’ use of the Cain legend to represent the reprobate Jewish people as the typological ancestor of the medieval myth of the Wandering Jew, Faith and Fratricide, 133-134. See Uriel Tal, Christians and Jews in Germany (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1975), 16, 232, for descriptions of Christian strategies for dealing with the corroding skepticism fostered by persistence of the obdurate Jewish people: they must be either converted or humiliated so that their “abject state would then bear witness, testes veritatis nostrae, to the indefeasible claims of the triumphant religion of Christianity” (16). Christians might abjure rabble-rousing massacres, while excluding Jews from positions of authority.