The Wandering Jew and 15thC Spanish Jews - any help?

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Kitty Crocodile

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I just posted about some concerns of mine over at the Roundtable (here is the link http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=284632), and gothicangel helpfully pointed me towards this sub-forum - I hope you can give me some advice and prevent me from making blunders!

I'm writing a fantasy mystery about near immortals. My MC is a 15th-century Spanish Jew, who after his inexplicable survival from a massacre (which seems like a dream and is actually a resurrection) fears that he is the Wandering Jew. He is extremely traumatized, scared, and not very stable, and being the Wandering Jew seems like a probable explanation. When the Inquisition arrives, it triggers certain memories and he steps forward to confess that he is, indeed, the Wandering Jew. It ends badly for him and the people who have sheltered him.

I've just realized that I don't know what a 15th-century Spanish Jew would have thought about the tale of the Wandering Jew. I assume he would have been familiar with it, but I don't know how likely it is that he would have chosen that Christian tale as an explanation for what happened to him; I do want to point out, however, that the MC is not doing well at all and he is grasping at straws.

Afterwards he denies his heritage and his Jewish background for a couple of centuries, until the mid-20th century and certain events in his personal life shake him up enough to get perspective and acknowledge his past.

All this is mostly my MC's backstory. The main story takes place in 21st-century Holland, and early on another character uses the MC's Wandering Jew confession to wound him as bad as he can - it's a painful and shameful memory for the MC, and this other character knows it.

I'm not Jewish, and I'm a bit apprehensive that I'll somehow botch this despite my every intention to write this story with respect and integrity.

What do you think about all this? Do you see problems here?
 

Rufus Coppertop

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What do you think about all this?
It sounds potentially fantastic.

Do you see problems here?
Potentially. You're going to need to do some research. The Wandering Jew, known as Cartaphilus in at least one version of the story is a literary motif which is fair game.

I think you'll need to do some research into Judaism, its different forms in different eras and some medieval and renaissance history. Given that Christianity was such an integral part of life for those who weren't Jews, some serious research into medieval Christianity and the medieval mind set would be useful too.

For example, the Ptolemaic worldview was official doctrine. The intelligentsia were absolutely certain that the world was a sphere of approximately the size that it actually is. But, it was the centre of the universe and the sun and all the planets and even the stars, orbited Earth. Beneath the moon, in the "sublunary sphere" was the sphere of the elements, fire, water, air and earth and the planet Earth was made up of all of them.

The study of music theory was part of the trivium and quadrivium and various intervals, such as the fifth and third could be used to represent the perfect of divinity or the holy trinity for example.

Then there was alchemy. And there was magic. John Dee, for example, cast horoscopes for Elizabeth I, spied for her on the continent, translated Euclids Geometry into English, studied maths, wrote grimoires and chanted incantations to summon angels into a 'shewstone' of black obsidian.

By the way, have a look at this. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartaphilus

It's a pretty good place to start.

Actually, I just had another look at your post and saw that your story is set in 21st century Holland. That should make things a fair bit easier. Apologies if I'm telling you about stuff you're already aware of.
 
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Kitty Crocodile

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Thank you! 'Potentially fantastic' made my day. :) And I believe I can figure out and avoid the potential problems - thank you for referring me to medieval Christianity, I can see now how relevant that is for this story.
 

CynHolt

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I'm new here and only just found this thread. Oddly, although I'm not Jewish, I do know a few interesting facts about 15 century Spanish Jews. The Spanish Inquisition took place in the later part of the 15th century and it forced the Jews living in Spain to convert to Catholicism. Many of the Jews were mystics, today referred to as members of Kabalah. In the 16th century these Jews were still mystics, but now Christian mystics and wrote several papers on Christian mysticism (how I know about them).

This is probably too late to be of any help, but I thought it was interesting.
 

ladyillana

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While on paper your concept is fascinating, but speaking as a practicing Jew, I find it somewhat implausible that a Jewish character would identify himself with very Christian legend. You might want to consider having your main character be the product of an intermarriage between a Christian and a Jew which would not have been entirely implausible in Spain before Ferdinand and Isabella became rulers in the late 15th century. There was a fair amount of intermingling between the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities before the so-called Catholic Monarchs opened up the Inquisition. Being the product of a mixed marriage could help heighten the character's confusion. The myth of the Wandering Jew probably wouldn't be particularly familiar to your character as the legend seems to have more of a German origin and doesn't particularly start to develop widespread popularity until 17th and 18th century . However, if the character had Christian father or adoptive father it might help with credibility to some extent. (Being Jewish is passed through the mother, so it would have to be a Christian father or adoptive father.) If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask; I might be able to answer it . I majored in Spanish Language and Literature and minored in Religious Studies.
 

Kitty Crocodile

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Thank you, CynHolt and ladyillana, I really appreciate your input! I've done a lot of rewriting over the spring: I changed the premise and left out all the references to the Wandering Jew in the 15th century section (the main character's main problem is his immortality), and I included the Wandering Jew in the 19th century section when the main character is labelled as such by another character looking to do harm. I hope I have fixed the problems, but if anyone would like to read the book or the relevant sections (I've started submitting it a few weeks ago) to evaluate this, I'd be happy to send it. :)
 

Quentin Nokov

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I'd be interested in taking a peek. :) I did comment in your thread in the Round-Table. The comment probably isn't helpful, but then, maybe it is, you could check it out anyway. It has to do with Jewish Holy Days kept in the eyes of a Christian :) And actually Ladyillana, Jewish traditions were actually passed down from my great-great-great grandfather, so I'm not sure what you mean by being Jewish is passed through the mother.
 
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MacAllister

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Quentin, your own family's highly individual -- and more than a little bizarre -- misinterpretations and adaptations of Jewish traditions and religious holidays, aside, it's pretty clear that you don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about, with regard to the actual culture and religion.

A Jew is any person whose mother was a Jew or any person who has gone through the formal process of conversion to Judaism.

It is important to note that being a Jew has nothing to do with what you believe or what you do. A person born to non-Jewish parents who has not undergone the formal process of conversion but who believes everything that Orthodox Jews believe and observes every law and custom of Judaism is still a non-Jew, even in the eyes of the most liberal movements of Judaism, and a person born to a Jewish mother who is an atheist and never practices the Jewish religion is still a Jew, even in the eyes of the ultra-Orthodox. In this sense, Judaism is more like a nationality than like other religions, and being Jewish is like a citizenship.

So please stop. I suspect you're not intending to be so profoundly offensive towards so many of your fellow AWers, but that's still the net result.
 
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ladyillana

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I'd be interested in taking a peek. :) I did comment in your thread in the Round-Table. The comment probably isn't helpful, but then, maybe it is, you could check it out anyway. It has to do with Jewish Holy Days kept in the eyes of a Christian :) And actually Ladyillana, Jewish traditions were actually passed down from my great-great-great grandfather, so I'm not sure what you mean by being Jewish is passed through the mother.
In traditional, orthodox Judaic practice, one is considered Jewish if one's mother is Jewish. In a mixed marriage situation (completely discouraged in Orthodoxy), if it is the father that is Jewish and the mother some other religion, any children of that marriage would have to formally convert to be recognized as Jewish. Of course, in different branches of modern Judaism there varying practices, but in 15 century Spain only the Orthodox practices would have been recognized.
 

Quentin Nokov

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So please stop. I suspect you're not intending to be so profoundly offensive towards so many of your fellow AWers, but that's still the net result.

I only meant to provide a different perspective. There are Jews who keep the same Holy Days with the same meaning as we do, but they call themselves Messianic Jews. There are many Christian Churches that teach, keep and observe these Holy Days. I was open about not understanding the maternal procession of Jews, nor did I claim to know anything about it.

I had replied with the intent to maybe spark ideas into different religious views. From my understanding, I thought a wandering Jew was one who walked the earth 'til Christ's 2nd coming--that's why I mentioned the holy days that we keep because they correspond with (at least my) God's planner and Christ's 2nd coming. Perhaps I was uninformed on that aspect of a Wandering Jew?

I'm actually offended by your comment, MacAllister, because I never claimed to "know" much or anything about Orthodox Judaism and was only sharing what I do know about what my family keeps. Especially to call me bizarre or that I've misinterpreted religious holidays are offensive, as well as another person who stated I was ignorant of Judaism and Christianity is hurtful and offensive to me. We did not make-up these dual meanings.

My goal was to provide a different perspective and what Kylabelle mentioned as being offensive, I humbly edited and removed that portion from my earlier statements. And I apologize for the statements I deleted, but I do no apologize for what I left behind. Yes, maybe I was articulate as I could have been and made a slip up calling the holy days 'Jewish', when in fact they don't belong to just the Jews, but all of Israel. They are biblical holy days.

I won't be responding further. In fact, I'll be stepping away from A.W. for a while. To be called ignorant, bizarre, to say I'm misinterpreting holy days and to say I'm being profoundly offensive is truly staggering to me and don't wish to take part in further conversations on here when it seems my views can't even be respected. Seems hypocritical that if I offend someone I'm berated, and yet you can offend me without repercussion.
 
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MacAllister

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I was open about not understanding the maternal procession of Jews, nor did I claim to know anything about it.

I call bullshit. You've made a whole bunch of sweeping pronouncements about Jewishness, in general, then hastily edited when you got called on it:
Now, a few things about Jews and I apologize if I offend anyone but having Jewish ancestry myself, I can account for this. Jews tend to be arrogant. I see it in myself and I see it in others who call themselves Jews. One person haughtily responded to my father once that, "We're God's chosen people"--except God picked Israel because they were nobodys. They were like the kid who got picked last in dodge-ball.

But you're not actually Jewish, ARE you, Quentin. Not really? You had a family member a few generations back, who maybe was. That's it. You maybe eat a few latkes during Hanukkah and feel all smug, but you don't have the faintest idea what Rosh Hashanah is actually about.

Perhaps I was uninformed on that aspect of a Wandering Jew?
Yeah. You're uninformed about a whole LOT of things.

I'm actually offended by your comment, MacAllister, because I never claimed to "know" much or anything about Orthodox Judaism and was only sharing what I do know about what my family keeps. Especially to call me bizarre or that I've misinterpreted religious holidays are offensive, as well as another person who stated I was ignorant of Judaism and Christianity is hurtful and offensive to me. We did not make-up these dual meanings.

Yeah, you have. And you DID make this shit up. It's ridiculous, bizarre, and eccentric in the extreme. Then you have the nerve to pretend that your family's extremely strange interpretation of what it means to be Jewish is just as "real" as any other version.

You know what? That just. Ain't. So.

So be just as offended as you want. Just stop pretending to be Jewish in any way shape or form, and for the love of all the gods and little green martians riding their cosmic ponies, STOP pretending to a voice of authority which is nothing but half-baked nonsense pulled out of your own nether regions, okay?

I won't be responding further. In fact, I'll be stepping away from A.W. for a while. To be called ignorant, bizarre, to say I'm misinterpreting holy days and to say I'm being profoundly offensive is truly staggering to me and don't wish to take part in further conversations on here when it seems my views can't even be respected. Seems hypocritical that if I offend someone I'm berated, and yet you can offend me without repercussion.

Terrific.

Feel free to take all the time you need. And maybe do a little reading about the actual cultures and traditions you're pretending to speak for.

Or, yanno, find a nice local rabbi to start an actual and ongoing conversation with.

Just do NOT ever bring your personal load of that sort of horse-pucky back here.
 
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Hapax Legomenon

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I had the same thoughts of the person who said that the Wandering Jew is a Christian legend. I had not even heard of it until high school and it certainly would have not been my first thought upon realizing I was immortal or something. A Jew would have to be really inundated with Christian culture and legends to first thing of that, and I don't think that would happen during the 15th Century unless he converted or something. Probably his first thought would be Cain or something else more Jewish (I am not very familiar with Kabalah but that would be the first place I'd look).
 
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