In this scene the Eternal Jew closes in on the Garden of Aden.
The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Third Era, Part 3. ~220 C.E., Syrian desert
It gone like that for about twenty days. Lucky we was. No marauders chanced on our trail or got wind of us.
And sudden the landscape changed its shape. We was up on a height, lookin’ down. Stone carved smooth, and slopin’ away, here it’s tumbly steep, there, gentle and stepped, an easy descent. And look! Some thistle and stubble and scrub, and even a clump of gray-green bush!
So begun our descent to the river below. Now we seen bedouin here and there, and it even looks like they might have took a bath this year.
And then I seen it, that great out-flow from the center of Aden, the River Euphrates.
So maybe Adonai rejected His throne in Jerusalem. Our priestly thoughts and prayerful acts maybe too impure. Or maybe God wants His priesthood to move back to Aden, the center of worlds, to Adam’s fractions where it all began.
And here I am, wettin’ my feet in the river that can take me back to there.
But before I search out the river’s source, I heard there’s a city that has some Jews in these here parts. One of them called Pumbedit, the other Sura. A few days rest, some kosher food, prayers and study, and news from The Land, and I’ll set my course on Aden again.
I followed my ears on the rumor trails. The people here talk in garbled forms of Aramaic, with faint shapes of Hebrew twisted around the tongue. On many a twisted phrase and twistin’ road I worked my way down river to Sura.
What I expected and what I seen were as different as them Hittite camps I passed in the desert and Jerusalem’s golden lanes.
I come in from the north, a wide trunk road lined with palms. The fertile fields swayin’ in glisteny ocher sheaves. Whole seas of barley with clusters of seed. Interspersed, the pole-climbin’ beans, squash and melon, their leafy brocade like blankets heaped on a prince’s bed. And everywhere the local peasants, men and women workin’ the fields.
Abrupt the fields come to an end as the brick homes pile together at Sura’s edge. But nary a wall or tower or a gate or armed troops. Instead, the city sits there like a child, all smile and laugh, all open arms. Such a thing I never seen. Has Messiah come? Has the human gut spilled out its bile and turned all sweet?
The wide and bustlin’ road wound into Sura’s inner courts, and out again through many a route. And linin’ the ways, the grandeur increased from fine little houses with domey roofs grouped around courtyards and groves of trees, to mansions and palaces, broad and tall, with shuttered windows, intricate carved. Oh, them houses were something to see, faced in tile, the colored glazes all glarin’ in the sun, all warm in the shade.
Down side streets I seen many a square, crowded with venders and shoppers and children. The mixin’ fragrances dazzled my nose and made my belly rumble like the sea and churn like the surf. When I find heaven I’m sure it will smell like the breads the women in Sura bake. Doughy and tall, all cinnamon sweet, or full of dates and raisins and nuts. And a wonder! Challah, braided round, piled four and five high in baskets and carts on every street. It was just before Shabbat! Then there’s the flat breads sprinkled with spice, cumin and sumak, pepper and salt, or smeared with a paste, fiery hot. Or rolled around hunks of fish or lamb and soft grilled onions, drippin’ sesame oil.
That’s just the fragrance of bread in the air, but there’s grillin’ vegetables, fish, and meat, an the subtle scents of flowers and fruit. The bitin’ smoke from dry dung cakes used to cook or to warm the night breeze. And of course, my nostrils are all fresh and tangy with animal smells, especially piss and dung.
But I still couldn’t figure what it all meant, all them braided loaves for Shabbat. How many Jews live in this place? Maybe the closer I walk towards Aden the more the whole world is walkin’ our way! If that’s the case, I’m real close!
Them thoughts were rumblin’ and crumblin’ in my head like the way the stars shape and unshape us, when I seen I come to heaven on earth itself! Stunned I were. Can this be true? I smile; I grins; then giddy as a fool, oh how my worries just drain away! Sudden-like all my life makes sense. All them disasters and troubles were meant to lead me here. Praise of God!
I rush to the nearest man in the street — he might be an angel; I’m not sure — and grab his hand. All jubilant I shake it and wag it, all blustery I babble out nonsense, so frenzied I am. Me babblin’ nonsense like a drunken jinn.
What do I know? This angelly man yanked back his hand, and gave me a clop on the cheek, and rushed across the square.
He knocked the ecstasies right out of me, and there I stood in the very same place. This world it were, and Aden was gone.
So I looked around, this time more close, and it still looked a lot like Paradise to me.
Stately and sumptuous palaces stood surroundin’ the square. How many kings have ruled this place? How many satraps have shown obeisance and paid tribute? Fronted by porticoes, their marble piers inlaid with carnelian, lapis, and pearl. Mosaics of onyx, agate, and glass, or tiles glazed in a rainbow of hues. Flowers and trees, bird and beast; coiled vines and swayin’ wheat; phases of the moon, the stars in their signs; the sun shootin’ rays in zigzag lines.
But then I see with still more amazement: three or four of those elegant homes be houses of prayer to Adonai! Their doorways shaped like tablets of law, and above, the golden cherubim, sword in hand, shofar in mouth, blowin’ forth the Name of God. Lord of heavens! Lord of earths! But for Solomon’s Holy House, here is surely the throne of God.
Fillin’ the square this late afternoon, Shabbat comin’ on. Men and women, bustle and hustle. Tall and proud they looked to me. Now I know how them scouts seen Canaan, and felt as small as grasshopper men.* Most was a head taller than me or more, and with their brocade turbans piled on their heads, they looked taller still. Their fabrics vibrated with colorful designs like the stuff that only royalty wears back in The Land or Athens or Rome.
* Bamidbar/Numbers 13:33
And then a faint rose color streak is painted on the clouds as the sun walked down to the edge of the sky. And sudden-like, the square thinned out, people rushin’ down the side street or into courtyards, and most of all, crowdin’ the doors to the synagogues. Erev Shabbat. I shoulda known. The upper worlds began their singin’ and down here the holy ones, knowin’ the tune, seek out the chambers to hear it best an sing it back.
An there I am, alone on the street. A sadness strikes me. All around, Jews are ascendin’ to angelic spheres, and me, I’m left back here in the earth.
In the next episode an angel descends and takes our hero’s hand…