Part 6, Chapter 3

Part VI

Chapter 3

‘KING PIRGANDICUS37 entered them,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘but no one since.’

‘And when did he live?’ inquired Alroy.

‘His reign is recorded in the Talmud,’ answered Rabbi Zimri, ‘but in the Talmud there are no dates.’

‘A long while ago?’ said Alroy.

‘Since the Captivity,’* answered Rabbi Maimon.

‘I doubt that,’ said Rabbi Zimri, ‘or why should he be called king?’

‘Was he of the house of David?’ said Alroy.

‘Without doubt,’ said Rabbi Maimon; ‘he was one of our greatest kings, and conquered Julius Caesar.’38

‘His kingdom was in the northernmost parts of Africa,’ said Rabbi Zimri, ‘and exists to this day, if we could but find it.’

‘Ay, truly,’ added Rabbi Maimon, ‘the sceptre has never departed out of Judah; and he rode always upon a white elephant.’

‘Covered with cloth of gold,’ added Rabbi Zimri.

‘And he visited the Tombs of the Kings?’39 inquired Alroy.

‘Without doubt,’ said Rabbi Maimon. ‘The whole account is in the Talmud.’

‘And no one can now find them?’

‘No one,’ replied Rabbi Zimri; ‘but, according to that learned doctor, Moses Hallevy,* they are in a valley in the mountains of Lebanon, which was sealed up by the Archangel Michael.’

‘The illustrious Doctor Abarbanel, of Babylon,’* said Rabbi Maimon, ‘gives one hundred and twenty reasons in his commentary on the Gemara* to prove that they sunk under the earth at the taking of the Temple.’

‘No one reasons like Abarbanel of Babylon,’ said Rabbi Zimri.

‘The great Rabbi Akiba,* of Pundebita, has answered them all,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘and holds that they were taken up to heaven.’

‘And which is right?’ inquired Rabbi Zimri.

‘Neither,’ said Rabbi Maimon.

‘One hundred and twenty reasons are strong proof,’ said Rabbi Zimri.

‘The most learned and illustrious Doctor Aaron Mendola, of Granada,’* said Rabbi Maimon, ‘has shown that we must look for the Tombs of the Kings in the south of Spain.’

‘All that Mendola writes is worth attention,’ said Rabbi Zimri.

‘Rabbi Hillel,40 of Samaria, is worth two Mendolas any day,’ said Rabbi Maimon.

‘’Tis a most learned doctor,’ said Rabbi Zimri; ‘and what thinks he?’

‘Hillel proves that there are two Tombs of the Kings,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘and that neither of them are the right ones.’

‘What a learned doctor!’ exclaimed Rabbi Zimri.

‘And very satisfactory,’ remarked Alroy.

‘These are high subjects,’ continued Maimon, his blear eyes twinkling with complacency. ‘Your guest, Rabbi Zimri, must read the treatise of the learned Shimei, of Damascus, on “Effecting Impossibilities.”’*

‘That is a work!’ exclaimed Zimri.

‘I never slept for three nights after reading that work,’ said Rabbi Maimon. ‘It contains twelve thousand five hundred and thirty-seven quotations from the Pentateuch, and not a single original observation.’

‘There were giants in those days,’ said Rabbi Zimri; ‘we are children now.’

‘The first chapter makes equal sense, read backward or forward,’ continued Rabbi Maimon.

‘Ichabod!’* exclaimed Rabbi Zimri.

‘And the initial letter of every section is a cabalistical type of a king of Judah.’*

‘The temple will yet be built,’ said Rabbi Zimri.

‘Ay, ay! that is learning!’ exclaimed Rabbi Maimon; ‘but what is the great treatise on “Effecting Impossibilities” to that profound, admirable, and—’

‘Holy Rabbi!’ said a youthful reader of the synagogue, who now entered, ‘the hour is at hand.’

‘You don't say so! Learned Maimon, I must to the synagogue. I could sit here all day listening to you. Come, David, the people await us.’

Zimri and Alroy quitted the house, and proceeded along the narrow hilly streets to the chief temple of the Hebrews.

‘It grieves the venerable Maimon much that he cannot join us,’ said Rabbi Zimri. ‘You have doubtless heard of him at Bagdad; a most learned doctor.’

Alroy bowed in silence.

‘He bears his years well. You would hardly believe that he was my master.’

‘I perceive that you inherit much of his erudition.’

‘You are kind. If he have breathed one year, Rabbi Maimon will be a hundred and ten next Passover.’

‘I doubt it not.’

‘When he is gathered to his fathers, a great light will be extinguished in Israel. You wanted to know something about the Tombs of the Kings; I told you he was your man. How full he was! His mind, sir, is an egg.’

‘A somewhat ancient one. I fear his guidance will hardly bring me the enviable fortune of King Pirgandicus.’

‘Between ourselves, good David, talking of King Pirgandicus, I cannot help fancying that the learned Maimon made a slight mistake. I hold Pirgandicus was only a prince. It was after the Captivity, and I know no authority for any of our rulers since the destruction assuming a higher title. Clearly a prince, eh? But, though I would whisper it to no one but you, I think our worthy friend grows a little old. We should remember his years, sir. A hundred and ten next Passover. ’Tis a great burden.’

‘Ay! with his learning added, a very fearful burden indeed!’

‘You have been a week in Jerusalem, and have not yet visited our synagogue. It is not of cedar and ivory, but it is still a temple.* This way. Is it only a week that you have been here? Why, you look another man! I shall never forget our first meeting: you did not know me. That was good, eh? And when I told you I was the chief Rabbi Zimri, how you changed! You have quite regained your appetite. Ah! ’tis pleasant to mix once more with our own people. To the left. So! we must descend a little. We hold our meetings in an ancient cemetery. You have a finer temple, I warrant me, in Bagdad. Jerusalem is not Bagdad. But this has its conveniences. ’Tis safe, and we are not very rich, nor wish to seem so.’