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 all-female city.

Can this aggadetah be understood literally? If so:

How did the women in the all-female city get there? Was it a neis made specifically for Alexander the Great? Were the women a (closely related) different species that could multiply by itself? Were women sent there from other places, like, lehavdil (or maybe not) a nunnery? Or something else?


1 Answer 1


The Gemara definitely says that the city was entirely female. However, a Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 33:1) seems to discuss the same journey and indicates that males lived there as well (translation and boldfacing is from Artscroll):

אֲלֶכְּסַנְדְּרוֹס מוֹקְדוֹן אֲזַל לְגַבֵּי מַלְכָּא קַצְיָא לַאֲחוֹרֵי הָרֵי חשֶׁךְ, וּשְׁלַח לֵיהּ, נְפַק לֵיהּ וְהוּא טָעֵין גִּדּוּמֵי דִּדְהַב בְּגוֹ דִּסְקוּס דִּדְהַב, אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְמָמוֹנָךְ אֲנָא צְרִיךְ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ וְלֹא הָיָה לְךָ מַה מֵּיכוֹל בְּאַרְעָךְ דַּאֲתֵית לָךְ לְהָדֵין

Alexander of Macedonia went to see a king at the other end of the world, beyond the Mountains of Darkness. [The king] came out to greet [Alexander], and he was carrying golden loaves in a golden tray. [Alexander] said to him, "Do you think that I came here because I need your money?!" [The king] responded, "If so, did you not have what to eat in your own land that you needed to come to this far-off land in search of food?"

So far, the Midrash is very similar to the Gemara (skipping the part about Alexander waging war on them), except that apparently the city of women (a detail the Midrash doesn't note) has a king, not a queen.

We see from the continuation of the Midrash that the king wasn't the only male in the city:

, אֲמַר לֵיהּ לָא אָתֵית אֶלָּא בָּעְיָא לְמֵידַע הֵיךְ אַתּוּן דָּיְנִין, יְתִיב גַּבֵּיהּ, יוֹמָא חָדָא אָתָא חַד בַּר נָשׁ קֳבֵל עַל חַבְרֵיהּ, אֲמַר הָדֵין גַּבְרָא זַבַּן לִי חָדָא קִלְקַלְתָּא וְאַשְׁכָּחִית בְּגַוָּהּ סִימְתָא, הַהוּא דְּזָבִין אֲמַר קִלְקַלְתָּא זַבְּנִית סִימְתָא לָא זַבְּנִית, וְהַהוּא דְּזַבַּן אֲמַר קִלְקַלְתָּא וּמַה דִּבְגַּוָּהּ זַבֵּנִית. אֲמַר לְחַד מִנַּיְיהוּ אִית לָךְ בַּר דְּכַר, אֲמַר לֵיהּ הֵין. וַאֲמַר לְאוֹחֲרָנֵי אִית לָךְ בְּרַתָּא נֻקְבָא, אֲמַר לֵיהּ הֵין. אֲמַר לְהוֹן זִיל אַסֵּיב דֵּין לְדֵין וַהֲוֵי מָמוֹנָא לְתַרְוֵיהוֹן.‏

[Alexander] said to him, "I came here only because I wanted to learn how you dispense justice." So [Alexander] sat near [the king] to observe how he judges the people. One day, an individual came before the king and presented a complaint against his friend. He said to the king, "This man sold me a ruin, and in it I discovered a treasure." The individual who purchased the ruin said to the king, "I did not purchase a treasure, and I do not wish to keep it." And the individual who sold the ruin to his friend said, "I sold the ruin and everything that is inside it, and I want you to keep the treasure." [The king] said to one of them, "Do you have a male child?" [The man] answered, "Yes." [The king] then said to the other one, "Do you have a female child?" [The man] responded, "Yes." [The king] said to them, "Go and marry off this girl to this boy, and the monetary value of the treasure shall belong to both of them."

How do we resolve this contradiction? I find it hard to believe that there's multiple cities beyond the Mountains of Darkness which Alexander visited, which all greeted him with golden loaves and the same rationale for doing so. Which leaves one of several possibilities:

  • The city initially gives the appearance of being of women, in order to dissuade any would-be attackers (as the Gemara describes). Once they're sure that the visitors won't attack them, the men come out as well.
  • When the Gemara says that the city was entirely female, it means that it was mostly female (as often a majority is considered an entirety). The fact that most of the residents were women was enough for their argument of "you'd be called a women-killer" to take hold (perhaps it was a large majority).
  • I still find it weird that the Gemara would stress the fact that it was all women. If really the men were hiding (suggestion #1), why doesn’t it mention it in the Gemara (when they came out, when it says they served him golden bread etc.), or at least say at the beginning “that he thought was only women”? If it was only mostly women (suggestion 2) why isn’t vanquishing the men good enough? The only problem was people would say “he just beat a bunch of women”. If there were men people wouldn’t say that!
    – Lo ani
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 21:07
  • And even if they would say “they were mostly women”, the Gemara should have said so!
    – Lo ani
    Commented May 30, 2019 at 21:13

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