In Tamid (32a):

אמר להן בעינא דאיזל למדינת אפריקי אמרו ליה לא מצית אזלת דפסקי הרי חשך אמר להן לא סגיא דלא אזלינא אמטו הכי משיילנא לכו אלא מאי אעביד אמרו ליה אייתי חמרי לובאי דפרשי בהברא ואייתי קיבורי דמתני וקטר בהאי גיסא דכי אתית (באורחא) נקטת בגוייהו ואתית לאתרך עבד הכי ואזל מטא לההוא מחוזא דכוליה נשי

(Alexander the Great said to chachmei hanegev)I need to go to the country “Africei”’. They answered ‘it is impossible to go, because the “dark mountains” (hills that were dark even in the daytime, and therefore couldn’t be passed) are in the way’. He said ‘I didn’t ask whether I can go, rather how I can go’. They answered ‘take an Egyptian donkey (which can see at night) and a lot of rope, and when you go, unwound it so that you can follow the rope back (so you won’t get lost).’ He did so, and made it to an only-female city.

Later on in the Gemara (32b):

תנא דבי אליהו גיהנם למעלה מן הרקיע וי"א לאחורי הרי חשך

They taught in Eliyahu’s Beis midrash: hell is above the sky, and some say it is beyond the “dark mountains”.

Does this mean that according to the opinion that hell is beyond “the dark mountains”, Alexander the Great went to hell (and came back alive, as the Gemara continues from the first source), and that the chachamim helped him get there? Do any sources deal with this question?

  • Not sure what to tag this question, feel free to retag/ suggest tags.
    – Lo ani
    May 30, 2019 at 17:05
  • I don’t understand the question.
    – Dr. Shmuel
    May 30, 2019 at 17:08
  • 1
    @Dr.Shmuel I think he’s asking that since, according to one opinion, Gehennom is beyond the Harei Choshech, and we find that Alexander the Great went beyond the Harei Choshech, if that means that he went to Gehennom.
    – DonielF
    May 30, 2019 at 17:17
  • @DonielF yes, that’s my question. I’ll try to clarify it.
    – Lo ani
    May 30, 2019 at 17:19
  • 1
    The second source you gave does not state that hell is the only thing that exists beyond the "mountains of darkness". Jun 24, 2020 at 14:13

1 Answer 1


The Maharsha on the spot understands the second Gemara somewhat metaphorically:

גיהנם למעלה מן הרקיע וי״א כו׳. נראה ע״פ מ״ש בפרק אין דורשין בז׳ רקיעים מכון שבו אוצרות שלג כו׳ סופה וסערה כו׳ כל אלה לפורענות כפרש״י ופריך דבארעא איתנהו דכתיב שלג ומישור רוח סערה וגו׳ ומשני דוד הורידן שנאמר לא יגור במגורך רע והשתא הכא דקאמר למעלה מן הרקיע שכן היה שכל פורענות דגיהנם למעלה במכון היה וי״א לאחורי הרי חושך היינו לאחר שהורידן דוד וק״ל:

It appears according to that which they said in Ein Dorshin [second Perek of Chagigah], that in the seven firmaments are the storehouses for snow, etc., storm, etc., All of these are for punishment, as Rashi explains. It asks that these are in the ground, as it says, "Snow and smoke, storm wind, etc." and answers that David brought them down, as it says, "Evil will not dwell in Your dwelling place." Now, here, where it says that [Gehennom] is above the sky, it's because all the punishments of Gehennom were above in their abode. "And some say beyond the mountains of darkness" - that's after David brought them down.

By this understanding, literal Gehennom is not beyond the mountains of darkness, and therefore Alexander did not travel there.

  • If anything, by this understanding gehenom is more likely to be beyond the mountains: It can’t mean that gehenom is in the sky, because David brought it down to earth, so the only other choice is beyond the mountains. How does this Maharsha prove that the story is not literal?
    – Lo ani
    May 30, 2019 at 21:00
  • @Loani Because he understands that Gemara as referring to not Gehennom itself, but where the punishments inflicted in Gehennom are stored before they're used. IIRC Eruvin 19a explicitly says Gehennom is underground.
    – DonielF
    May 30, 2019 at 21:01
  • So you’re saying he went to the storehouses of gehenom and back? This doesn’t seem to answer the question, just change it to “Did Alexander the Great actually go to the storehouses of punishments and come back alive?” I find both equally hard to believe.
    – Lo ani
    May 30, 2019 at 21:18
  • Also, the Gemara says that on his way back, he happened upon the gates of gan eden. IMHO it seems more likely that gehenom and gan eden are in the same area, and not the storehouses of gehenom and gan eden.
    – Lo ani
    May 30, 2019 at 21:19
  • @Loani You asked if he went to Gehennom, and I answered that he did. Whether he went to the storehouses or not is a separate question (which may end up being circular if another commentator explains this Gemara literally). Is it a satisfactory answer? Perhaps not, but it's still an answer. As for Gan Eden, I honestly don't know where the Harei Choshech are (math doesn't check out for them to be in literal Africa, so perhaps Asia minor, perhaps eastern Asia), and he just happened upon the right spot in Mesopotamia to head to Gan Eden on the way back.
    – DonielF
    May 30, 2019 at 21:20

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