Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends, by Aunt Naomi (pseud. Gertrude Landa), , at sacred-texts.com
One day a strange rumbling noise was heard, and toward evening the army halted by the side of a river even more mysterious than the River of Life. It was not a river of water, but of sand and stones. It flowed along with a roaring sound and every few minutes great stones were shot up into the air.
Alexander asked the Jewish soldier if he could explain.
"This," said the Jew, "is the Sambatyon, the river which ceases to flow on the Sabbath."
"And what lies beyond?"
"The land of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel," was the answer. "None have seen this country."
"Cannot the river then be crossed?" asked Alexander.
"Not by all who wish to cross."
The next day was Friday, and Alexander waited until the evening to see what would happen.
An hour before sunset, at the time of the commencement of Sabbath, the river ceased to flow. The rumbling died down and the Sambatyon appeared like a broad expanse of shining yellow sand.
"To-morrow I shall cross with my army," said Alexander, but next morning the Sambatyon was enveloped in dense black clouds.
Alexander could not see a yard in front of him, and when he ventured on to the sand, the horses sank into it. Flames were also seen in the clouds. After the sun had set and the Sabbath had ended, the clouds cleared away, the rumbling began again and the sand flowed once more like a river.
Alexander was disappointed for a while, but at last he consoled himself with the thought that he had conquered the whole world.
"Now must I carry out my project of ascending above the clouds and afterward descending into the sea," he said, and he proceeded to carry out the instructions given to him in Jerusalem.
Four huge eagles were caught and chained to a big box. At each end of the box was a pole, and on the end of each a brilliant jewel was placed. When all was in readiness, Alexander entered the box and carefully closed the doors.
"Thus did Nimrod ascend into the sky," he said, "but he was a fool. He shot arrows into the air, and when the angels returned them stained with blood, he thought he had killed God. I desire only to see the heavens, not to conquer them."
He gave the signal, and the heads of the eagles chained to the poles were uncovered. The moment they saw the dazzling jewels they tried to snatch them, but could not. So they continued to rise higher and higher until the box was carried above the clouds. By looking through the windows at the top and bottom of the box, Alexander could see how high he was. For a long time he saw nothing but clouds, which appeared like a vast sea beneath him, but when these cleared away, he saw the earth again.
So high was he that the world looked like a
ball. Until then he had not known the earth was round. The seas enveloping the greater part of the globe looked like writhing serpents.
"Now I can understand," he said, "why the wise rabbis say that the great fish, the leviathan, surrounds the world with its tail in its mouth."
Then he looked above. The sun seemed further away than ever.
"Heaven is not so near as I thought," he said, and seeing himself but a tiny speck miles above the earth and still further away from the heavens, he grew afraid for the first time in his life. With a stick he knocked the jewels from the poles outside the box, and the eagles, seeing them no longer, began to descend. Alexander breathed more freely when he was safe on the ground again, but he would not tell his generals what he had seen.
"Wait until I have descended into the sea," he said.
Under his orders, a diving bell of clear thick glass, bound with iron, had been constructed. Alexander entered the bell, all the joints were then tightly secured with pitch, and the bell lowered from a ship into the ocean by means of chains.
Before he entered, Alexander took the precaution
to put on a magic ring, which his wife, Roxana, had sent him. This, she said, would protect him against the monsters of the deep.
Down, down into the watery deep sank the bell, and for some time Alexander could see nothing. When his eyes grew accustomed to the strange, greenish light, he noticed multitudes of queer fish darting round about the bell. Many were of a shape never conjectured by man, some were so tiny that he could scarcely see them, and others so large that one of these monsters actually tried to swallow the bell. But Alexander showed the magic ring which glowed like a blazing star and the monster darted away.
So deep down sank the bell that no light could at last penetrate from the sun. Most of the fish, however, were luminous, and Alexander was almost dazzled by the changing of the brilliant lights as the denizens of the deep swam swiftly around the bell. Shells of wondrous beauty did he see, together with pearls of great size. The treasures of the deep were revealed to him, and he saw that the riches on land were as nothing compared with them. He saw the coral insects at their work of building, and plants of entrancing beauty growing in the oozy bed of the ocean.
"1 wonder," said Alexander, "if I dare venture forth and take some of these beautiful gems back with me. The ring will protect me."
Alexander was one of the bravest men that ever lived, and he immediately set about trying to open the bell. In doing so, he rattled the chains by which it was lowered, and Robus, the officer in charge, took this as a signal to raise the bell.
In his excitement he dropped the chains into the sea, and they fell with a big crash on the bell and smashed it to pieces. When Robus saw what had happened, he cast himself into the sea in a gallant endeavor to rescue his master.
Down below in the glittering depths of the ocean, Alexander saw the fish hurrying away in great fear and he heard the rattling of the chains as they dropped through the water. He looked up and saw them crash on the bell. A terrible, buzzing sound filled his ears, a thousand dazzling colors danced before his eyes and made him giddy.
With great presence of mind he remembered his ring, and immediately a big fish swam underneath him, raised him from the wreckage of the bell and rose swiftly to the surface. Alexander emerged just as Robus dived into the sea. At
once he showed the fish his ring and it dived and brought his gallant officer safe to his side.
"I have seen enough," said Alexander, when he was safe on land, "more than mortals should see. I have learned that the earth is for man and that the air above and the waters beneath are for the other and more wonderful creatures of God."
He made preparations to return to Macedon, but his army was wearied with long marching and begged of him to let them rest. Accordingly, he halted outside Babylon. Sickness seized him, but he remembered the warning of the rabbis and would not enter the city. For days he wandered around until his soldiers showed signs of mutiny. Then, throwing caution to the winds, Alexander entered Babylon.
At once his illness took a serious turn, and in a few days he died. When the Jews heard the news, they mourned him sincerely, for they knew that they had lost a good friend. All that re-mains as a memorial of Alexander is the city of Alexandria, which he founded in Egypt. It stands to this day.