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The Floating Space City of the Jews

In a tradition preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, Jews unhappy with the Temple of Jerusalem imagined a mythological paradise rooted in Zoroastrian mythology instead

Dan Shapira
May 27, 2022
The Temple of Bel Palmyra, SyriaWikipedia

There are many hundreds of small textual differences between the Jewish and Samaritan Pentateuchs, the most important of them being a long addition in Exodus 20:17 mentioning Mount Gerizim, and the wording in Deuteronomy 27:2-8 (God had already chosen this place, Mt. Gerizim). A recently analyzed fragment of Deuteronomy 27:4 from Qumran possibly strengthens the “Samaritan” reading (as does the ease with which the Solomon-built Temple kingdom had disintegrated). Most Jews of our time remain confused as to the physical location of Mount Zion—the one where the Zion Gate in Jerusalem is, a southwest hill heavily built up by Christian buildings and cemeteries, the Temple Mount (the former eastern hill), or the City of David (the southeast hill).

John Hyrcanus (135-105/4 BCE) the Hasmonean, led an army to Mount Gerizim and burned the Samaritan altar (or temple) in about 112 BCE. The date of the destruction of the Samaritan temple, the 21st of Kislev, became a Jewish holiday on which it is forbidden to mention the dead. Herod rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple, and many other huge temples of the Levant, built in the span of a couple of decades, were then partially modeled on the Third Temple of Herod, like the temples of Damascus , Palmyra, and Baalbek.

David Flusser in his article “No Temple in the City”, writes that:

In the period of the Second commonwealth, the Temple of Jerusalem was … both an object of veneration and a problem. It seems that the lack of consensus about the value of the Jerusalem temple made it easier for the Jews to overcome the terrible crisis caused by its destruction and contributed to the survival of Judaism after this catastrophe. … the rabbinic literature preserved an echo of the critical ideology in connection with the Temple and the sacrificial worship there, though it is probable that sometimes during the oral tradition and in the written stage such utterances were somehow weakened.

Apparently, many Jews were not happy with the Third Temple of Herod, or even with the Second Temple, as was evident by the existence of the Jewish Temple of Yeb/Elephantine; the Temple of Honio/Onias at Tell al-Yahudi/Leontopolis in Egypt, and the existence of a sect noncommitted to the Jerusalem Temple and identified mostly with the Essenes and Qumran. This theology of living without the Temple can be seen also in Josephus’ writings, as Michael Tuval has recently demonstrated in From a Jerusalem Priest to a Roman Jew: On Josephus and the Paradigms of Ancient Judaism.

In perhaps the most important eschatological Jewish tradition preserved in the Babylonian Talmud, the Temple is replaced by some kind of a floating Kangdiz—an enormous Iranian paradisical city rooted in Zoroastrian mythology and located somewhere far away, maybe not here at all, and adorned with precious stones.

In Rev. 21:15ff., the measurements of the New Jerusalem are given, based on Ezekiel 40-48, but on a scale a thousand times larger. Parallel descriptions appeared in Qumranic texts in Aramaic 4Q554 and 5Q15 and other texts from the Dead Sea area. The city is built with precious stones—this is based on Isaiah 54:11-14, cf. Tobith 13:15-17; the chapter of Isaiah is red, in Oriental rites, as the Haphtarah for the Parashath Noah, when the story of Noah is read in the synagogue, so the rabbis made the connection too, see further. This passage is referred to in Rev. 21 and on the same passage is based Tobith 13:15-17. The 12 gates of the city are mentioned (Rev. 21:21) together with the motif of all the 12 tribes reunited, which is based on Ezekiel 48:33-34, cf. 4Q554. The list of the jewels used as the foundations of the wall is modeled on the jewels on the breastplate of judgment of the High Priest (Exodus 28:15-19), implying that the descending city itself is founded on one crucial element of the Temple service. All this implies the gathering of the Faithful of Israel (in the extant text of Rev. 21:24, based on Isaiah 60:3,5, and Psalms 68:30, just ta ethnē, *הגוים,) from all the corners of the world in this Noah’s Ark-like gigantic vessel of Salvation.

In this cubic New Jerusalem, there will be neither sin nor lie (Rev. 21:27).”Lie” is a concept central to Iranian Zoroastrian tradition. There will be no sea anymore, another notion that has negative connotations for Zoroastrians, as in the old Canaanite religion[s]. There will be no more night and the city has no need for the sun or the moon. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, and there shall be no more pain.

This description of the New Jerusalem is reminiscent of the way Yima’s Vara or Kandgiz are described in Iran.

Yima was the First Man and the First King in Ancient Iran (in fact, there was another first human couple in Iran, too). His name means “Twin” and he corresponds to Indian Yama, god of Death and Justice, and this Indian Yama tortures bad people in his “world of Yama,” Yamaloka, or in the “place of man,” Naraka.

Later, during the late Sasanian period and the first Islamic centuries Yima the Shining became Jamshēd, a local avatar of King Solomon/Suleiman. Everything that can be told about Solomon can be told of Jamshēd, and vice versa. Both flew on magic carpets, had wondrous chalices and seals, had many things to do with demons, had magic seals, lost their thrones, and so on. And both were great inventors and builders, too.

In an Iranian text, the Late Avestan Vendidad 2.21ff., Ahurā Mazdā, the benevolent supernatural being of Zoroastrian tradition, spoke to Yima instructing him to build a Vara, a huge subterranean enclosure, in order to keep specimens of all the good creatures before a coming snow deluge inflicted by devils. This corresponds to the Semitic Flood motif.

As translated into English by the great French-Jewish scholar, James Darmesteter (1849-1894), The Vendidad, in: Max Müller (ed.), The Zend-Avesta, Part I (SBE, vol. 4). Oxford: OUP 1880; American Edition 1898:

And Ahurā Mazdā spake unto Yima, saying: ‘O fair Yima, son of Vivanghat! Upon the material world the evil winters are about to fall, that shall bring the fierce, deadly frost; upon the material world the evil winters are about to fall, that shall make snow-flakes fall thick, even an aredvi deep on the highest tops of mountains, … Therefore, make thee a Vara, long as a riding-ground on every side of the square, and thither bring the seeds of sheep and oxen, of men, of dogs, of birds, and of red blazing fires. Therefore make thee a Vara, long as a riding-ground on every side of the square, to be an abode for man; a Vara, long as a riding-ground on every side of the square, for oxen and sheep. There thou shalt make waters flow in a bed a hathra long; there thou shalt settle birds, on the green that never fades, with food that never fails. There thou shalt establish dwelling-places, consisting of a house with a balcony, a courtyard, and a gallery. Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of men and women, of the greatest, best, and finest on this earth; thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of cattle, of the greatest, best, and finest on this earth. Thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of tree, of the highest of size and sweetest of odor on this earth; thither thou shalt bring the seeds of every kind of fruit, the best of savor and sweetest of odor. All those seeds shalt thou bring, two of every kind, to be kept inexhaustible there, so long as those men shall stay in the Vara. … In the largest part of the place thou shalt make nine streets, six in the middle part, three in the smallest. To the streets of the largest part thou shalt bring a thousand seeds of men and women; to the streets of the middle part, six hundred; to the streets of the smallest part, three hundred. That Vara thou shalt seal up with thy golden seal, and thou shalt make a door, and a window self-shining within.’

The Vendidad’s account of Yima’s Vara might be late and influenced by the biblical and Mesopotamian stories about the Flood. This is supported by the fact that Vendidad is a late text, containing at least two Semitic words (namely, tanūra, “oven”, Vendidad 8:91, and tūtuk, “clay”, Vendidad 6:51) and a couple of Greek ones. Furthermore, in the Shāhnāmah’s account of Yima (there Jamšēd) has no Vara. Rather, it has demons who build Jamšēd palaces the way they served Solomon. This would seem to imply that the story about Yima’s Vara could not have been part of the original Iranian myth and thus was easily dropped, unlike the more authentic stories about Kangdiz, below.

It is clear that Yima’s Vara is very similar to Noah’s Ark; the main difference is that this is a city, though an underground one, with streets, water courses, gardens, and everything one might expect to find in a paradise, and not a sea vessel, like Noah’s Ark. Yet Kangdiz can travel like a vessel, just as the Sabhā of Yama, the Indic “twin” of Iranian Yima (Mahābhārata 2.8.1-5) did:

O Yudhisthira, I shall now describe the assembly house of Yama, the son of Vivaswat, which, O son of Pritha, was built by Viswakarma. Listen now to me. Bright as burnished gold, that assembly house, O monarch, covers an area of much more than a hundred yojanas. Possessed of the splendor of the sun, moving at pleasure in every direction. Neither very cool nor very hot, it delighteth the heart. In that assembly house there is neither grief nor weakness of age, neither hunger nor thirst. Nothing disagreeable findeth a place there, nor any kind of evil feelings there. Every object of desire, celestial or human, is to be found in that mansion, and all kinds of enjoyable articles ...

Kangdiz has walls of gold and silver and 15 gates. This description recalls that of the New Jerusalem, with its 12 gates. Moreover, it can move and is some kind of a paradise on earth. Ayādgār ī Jāmāspīg 7:2-8, a Pahlavi revision of a lost Parthian composition, has the following to say:

Kangdiz was made by the illustrious Syāva[x]š upon the heads of demons. The road around it is 700 farsangs, and it has 7 walls; 54 its palaces are of silver, and those who are therein wear garments of gold. There are 7 pasture-grounds in it, protected by a rampart, 7 deep (?) rivers flow out of it. In that place, it is always spring, yet also productivity and trees in fruit; and it knows neither cold nor heat, and few (other) evils abide therein. Its inhabitants are of goodly life, kindly, upholding the Good Religion. Their law is virtue and their faith the primal doctrine. Their lives are long, and when they die they are blessed.

We have seen that Kangdiz is some kind of a remote floating paradise; but so is the New Jerusalem of Rev. 21, where the Faithful of Israel can be kept from sin, night, pain, and darkness. Rev. 22 (cf. Rev. 21:6) describes a river of the water of life. It flows through the middle of the great street of the city from the Throne of God, with the Tree of Life that bears 12 fruits planted by the rivers of water. This brings forth its fruit in its season (cf. Ps. 1:3) every month, and the leaves of the tree are “the healing of the nations.”

The idea of a mobile Jerusalem can also be traced in the Bible. The description of the new Jerusalem in Ezekiel 40:2 can be understood in the sense that Jerusalem shall move southwards from the Temple Mount and the new city of huge proportions shall be set on a mountain:

“In the visions of God he brought me into the land of Israel, and set me upon a very high mountain, by which was as the frame of a city on the south”
וַיָּבֵא אֹתִי שָׁמָּה בְּמַרְאוֹת אֱלֹהִים הֱבִיאַנִי אֶל אֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיְנִיחֵנִי אֶל הַר גָּבֹהַּ מְאֹד וְעָלָיו כְּמִבְנֵה עִיר מִנֶּגֶב

Ezekiel 40:2 is probably the earliest documentation of the Iranian perception of a moving city.

Isaiah 60, on which Rev. 21 is modeled, belongs to the part of the Book of Isaiah that is referred to as “Trito-Isaiah” (Isaiah 56-66), as distinct from Proto-Isaiah and Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55).

The author of Proto-Isaiah lived in Jerusalem in the mid-eighth century BCE, under the kings Uzziyah, Yotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah.

Deutero-Isaiah was a contemporary of Cyrus the Great (?-530 BCE). Deutero-Isaiah was also a propagandist, one would say “politruk,” of Cyrus, whom he called the Messiah. It was, in fact, noted immediately after the decipherment of the “Cyrus Cylinder” how close the style of both the Cylinder and Deutero-Isaiah’s “Cyrus passages” are. It was Deutero-Isaiah who called Cyrus the “anointed one” (Isaiah 45:1-6), and prophesized that Cyrus “will rebuild My city and set My exiles free” (Isaiah 45:13), and described Zion as God’s wife rejected, but taken back. Deutero-Isaiah is also the first clear-cut example of monotheism in the Bible, declaring (Isaiah 44:6):

Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God, כֹּֽה־אָמַר ה' מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְגֹאֲלֹו ה' צְבָאֹות אֲנִי רִאשֹׁון וַאֲנִי אַחֲרֹון וּמִבַּלְעָדַי אֵין אֱלֹהִֽים.

Both Rev. 21:6 and the Muslim shahādah are based on this verse.

Isaiah 40:3-5 describes the return of the exiled to Jerusalem on a wide straight road, a kind of strat of Pahlavi texts dealing with the entrance of the blessed dead into the Zoroastrian paradise, or ṣirāṭ al-mustaqîm, the straight Roman road (via strata) leading to the resurrection of the dead, as appears in the sūrah al-Fātiḥah. This passage was taken up by all four Gospels and applied to both John the Baptist and Jesus.

Trito-Isaiah is a name of an author, or a group of authors, influenced by Deutero-Isaiah, who lived during the Return to Zion organized by Cyrus. Both Deutero-Isaiah and Trito-Isaiah are full of Iranian imagery, and it was mostly via these two compositions plus Ezekiel that Iranian ideas entered Jewish lore. For our discussion here it is important that Trito-Isaiah (Isaiah 66:1) is the first example in the Bible to have put in doubt whether God needs a temple or sacrifices:

“Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool: where is the house that ye build unto Me? and where is the place of My rest?”
כֹּה אָמַר ה' הַשָּׁמַיִם כִּסְאִי וְהָאָרֶץ הֲדֹם רַגְלָי אֵי-זֶה בַיִת אֲשֶׁר תִּבְנוּ-לִי וְאֵי-זֶה מָקוֹם מְנוּחָתִי.

As is well known, Zoroastrians have no centralized temple cult and no sacrifices. So, it seems that the notion of a paradisiacal city (replacing the Temple) entered Jewish lore in the period of the Return to Zion.

 In the rabbinic literature, the tradition that the future Jerusalem would be built from precious stones appears in Pesiqta deRab Kahana, 18, and in the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 100a, and in Baba Bathra 75b. In the latter it appears toward the end of the chapter “One who sells the ship,” where the future Jerusalem appears as a vessel of Salvation over turbid waters, a new Noah’s Ark for the Righteous ones to whom the New Covenant will be given.

The notion of the heavenly Jerusalem appears only twice in the Babylonian Talmud: Taʿanith 5aand Baba Bathra, as mentioned, which is parallel to Rev. 21. It is in the eschatological passage of Baba Bathra 75b that we find traces of the “no Temple in the City” tradition. In Baba Bathra 75b the rabbis discuss the legal implications of selling a ship, a mundane affair in Mesopotamia, and then they turn to stories about naval journeys reminiscent of those of Sindbād the Sailor, and treasures hidden in the depth of the sea.

First came a huge tsunami. The Leitmotiv is Ps 107.23-30, though unmentioned and unquoted, then Jeremiah 5:22 is quoted. Then the rabbis’ knowledge of Zoroastrianism is introduced, to signal to the listener or reader that there come things Iranian:

Rabbah said: I by myself saw a Hurmiz son of Lilawatha who was bouncing on the wall of Maḥoze on the cupola and a rider, galloping below on horseback could not overtake him.

Once they saddled for him two female mules in the bridles on two bridges of the Rognag; and he jumped from one to the other, backward and forward, holding in his hands two cups of water, pouring alternately from one to the other, and not a drop fell to the ground. On that day “They mounted up to the heaven, they went down to the deeps; their soul melted away because of trouble” (Ps 107:26; this is where the biblical Leitmotiv is signaled). When the kingdom heard [of this] they put him to death.

Of course, Ōhrmazd is God in Zoroastrianism, and not a demon; it is Ahriman, Ōhrmazd’s Satan, who should be looked for here.

Then comes ʿUrzila, a mythological bull, as big as Mt. Tabor (ʿUrzila translated Tannin in the Babylonian tradition). This ʿUrzila drops his kuftas (cowplop) and his droppings block the course of Jordan River (cf. Ps 114.3, unquoted); this ʿUrzila might be an avatar of Ridyā from BT Ta’anith.

Then, in the manner of “Had Gadya,” comes a frog as large as HGRWNY’ fortress, then comes the tannina who swallows the frog, then comes the Iranian mythological bird פושקצא (see further) who swallows the tannina, and then sits on a very high tree.

Then comes the fish Kwwr’/Kəwārā, so big that from his bones they can build cities. On the back of this Kwwr’/Kəwārā fish, the sailors were preparing their food, until the fish felt the heat (like in stories of St. Brendon, Sindbād, and an Iranian mythological hero, Kershāsp).

Then comes a giant griffinlike bird standing in deep and turbid waters, Zīz śāday (Ps 50.11 & 80.13-14), the king of the birds, whose ankles rest on the earth, and his head reaches to the sky.

The above, though having sailors’ stories as the peshat, and some of the last Psalms as the Leitmotiv, is modeled on a chapter in the Zoroastrian Pahlavi composition Bundahišn, where the list of, basically, the same fabulous creatures, is given.

Then our BB stories turn towards a journey in the desert, with an Arab (or, Tay’a) guide, who shows Rabbah Bar Bar Ḥanah the fat and suffering; geese; the dead and giant bodies of the Dead of the Desert (מתי המדבר; and the generation of those who left Egypt but was unworthy to enter the Promised Land. They lie there as drunk, huge men. Bialik wrote a Hebrew poem based on this short Talmudic description.

Then the Arab guide shows Rabbah Bar Bar Ḥanah Mt. Sinai, and the motives of Exile/Flood are introduced. The guide shows his Vergil the sufferings of Korah and his community; they are cooked inside pans in the Gehenna (a similar description is found in a Zoroastrian text that is a distant forerunner of Dante’s Divine Comedy; the BT is the first attestation of this Iranian motif).

William Blake, 'Behemoth and Leviathan,' 1825-26
William Blake, ‘Behemoth and Leviathan,’ 1825-26The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Then back to the naval stories; here comes again the fish Kwwr’/Kəwārā, who is a horned Sea Goat, then pearls and precious stones in the depths guarded by sharks, some of the kept for the wife of Ḥanina ben Dosa in the World to Come; then stories about Leviathans, then back an excursion in the desert, back to the tanninim. The Almighty kills the sea monster Yamm, as in the Canaanite mythology; then there comes the known story about the Feast of the Righteous ones on the flesh of Leviathan, and an inside joke about fishmongers in the markets of Jerusalem (apparently, an old one, prior to the destruction), and how tabernacles will be made from the hide of Leviathan for the righteous ones.

Then Lev 26.13 is quoted (I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen; and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you go upright, קוממיות), understood that the men will be bigger twice than the First Adam, introducing thus the shi’ur Qomah mysticism; people will be more close to their Lord than the First Adam was, and then Ps 142.12 is quoted understood in the sense that people of Israel themselves will be the Temple.

The creatures that appear in these passages are taken from Iranian lore, among them the kara-fish of Vendidad 19:42 and Yasht 14:29 and the avatar of the urinating donkey living in Kangdiz.

The rabbis then address the question of what is to be done with the remains of the shining hide of Leviathan, a naval creature. The Talmud expounds a verse from Isaiah 54:11-12, leading to the topic of precious stones as building material for a new Jerusalem. However, in order to better appreciate the Talmudic discussion, the whole of Isaiah 54, on which Rev. 21, and especially Rev. 21:18-21, is constructed, must be borne in mind:

1. Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.
2. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes;
3. For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.
4. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.
5. For thy Maker is thine husband; The Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called.
6. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God.
7. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee.
8. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.
9. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.
10. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
11. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires.
12. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones.
13. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children.
14. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.
15. Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake.
16. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.
17. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.

After having discussed the precious stones, the Talmud in Baba Bathra 75b has a passage interpreting a verse from Isaiah 4:4-6 that speaks of the appearance of the sanctuary on Mount Zion in the glow of the fire and pillars of smoke. This is understood as referring to the glory of the righteous ones and of a new Jerusalem.

It is into the midrash interpreting this verse as talking about the future of Jerusalem that an account is inserted which deals with an Old Man who shows Rabbah bar Bar Ḥana a “lower” Jerusalem. Rabbah bar Bar Ḥana is an authority on the Temple service as it comes to dimensions and locations and to a situation when there is no Temple at all:

אמר רבא בר בר חנא אמ׳ ר׳ יוחנן שלשה נביאים עלו עמהם מן הגולה. אחד שהעיד להם על המזבח ואחד שהעיד להם על מקום המזבח, ואחד שהעיד להם שמקריבים אע״פ שאין בית
Rabbah bar Bar Hana said in R. Johanan’s name, ‘Three prophets went up with them from the exile: one testified to them about [the dimensions of] the altar; another testified to them about the site of the altar; and the third testified to them that they could sacrifice even though there was no Temple.’ (b. Zebahim 62a).

The story about the “lower” Jerusalem appears after a tradition in the name of Rabbi Yoḥanan had been introduced, interpreting an obscure verse from Zechariah 14:10 as saying that the lower part of Jerusalem will be inhabited. The Talmud deduced from this that the lower part of future Jerusalem will be three parasangs afar from its upper part.

Thus the Old Man leads the hero of the Sindbād-like portions of the Talmudic chapter, Rabbah bar Bar Ḥana, to the place where one can see the future Jerusalem ready-made in the heavens to descend one day to earth. He tells Rabbah bar Bar Ḥana that the inhabitants of this future Jerusalem will travel within the city flying like doves, quoting the verse from Isaiah 60:8 ( מִי אֵלֶּה כָּעָב תְּעוּפֶינָה וְכַיּוֹנִים אֶל אֲרֻבֹּתֵיהֶם / Who are these who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their roosts?). Thus, the future Jerusalem is a completed structure of huge dimensions, whose parameters are defined with respect to a numerology of three, floating in the heavens like a spaceship in which the righteous fly like doves. Its walls are decorated with precious stones, but it contains no distinct Temple since the city itself is a kind of the Temple, populated by people who are Temples themselves.

And now let us consider Baba Bathra 75b. We find there the following passage:

… Rabbah in the name of R. Yoḥanan further stated: The Holy One, blessed be He, will make seven canopies for every righteous man; for it is said: And the Lord will create over the whole habitation of Mount Zion, and over her assemblies, a cloud of smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory shall be a canopy/covering (ḥuppah) [“And there will be a tabernacle (sukkah) for shade in the daytime (le-ṣal yomam) from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain,” Isaiah 4:5]. This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, will make for everyone a canopy corresponding to his rank …
R. Ḥama b. Ḥanina said: The Holy One, blessed be He, made ten canopies for Adam in the garden of Eden; for it is said: Thou wast in Eden the garden of God; “every precious stone [was thy covering, the cornelian, the topaz and the emerald, the beryl, the onyx and the jasper, the sapphire, the carbuncle and the emerald and gold,” Ezekiel 28:13]. Mar Zutra says: Eleven; for it is said: Every precious stone ...

What is implied by “and over her assemblies”? (Isaiah 4:5). Rabbah said in the name of R. Yoḥanan: Jerusalem of the World to Come will not be like Jerusalem of the present world. [To] Jerusalem of the present world, anyone who wishes goes up, but to that of the world to come only those invited will go. Rabbah in the name of R. Yoḥanan further stated: The righteous will in the Time to Come be called by the name of the Holy One, blessed be He; for it is said: Every one who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory. I have formed him, yea, I have made him (Isaiah 43:7).

R. Samuel b. Naḥmani said in the name of R. Yoḥanan: Three were called by the name of the Holy One; blessed be He, and they are the following: The righteous, the Messiah and Jerusalem. [This may be inferred as regards] the righteous [from] what has just been said. [As regards] the Messiah—it is written: And this is the name whereby he shall be called, The Lord is our righteousness (Jeremiah 23:6). [As regards] Jerusalem—it is written: It shall be eighteen thousand reeds round about; and the name of the city from that day shall be “the Lord is there” (Ezekiel 48:35). Do not read, “there” but “its name.”

R. Eleʿazar said: There will come a time when “Holy” will be said before the righteous as it is said before the Holy One, blessed be He (Isaiah 6:3); for it is said: And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem shall be called Holy (Isaiah 4:3).

Rabbah in the name of R. Yoḥanan further stated: The Holy One, blessed be He, will in the Time to Come lift up Jerusalem three parasangs high; for it is said: And she shall be lifted up, and be settled in her place (Zechariah 14:10). “In her place” means “like her place.” Whence is it proved that the space it occupied was three parasangs in extent? Rabbah said: A certain Old Man told me, “I saw ancient Jerusalem and it occupied [an area of] three parasangs.” And lest you should think the ascent will be painful, it is expressly stated: “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their roosts” (Isaiah 60:8). R. Papa said: Hence it may be inferred that a cloud rises three parasangs.

This future Jerusalem, inhabited by the righteous, will be airborne. While R. Ḥanina b. Pappa said that “Jerusalem in the midst of which is Thy Name, Thy sanctuary (miqdaškha) and the righteous” and then said further that the future Jerusalem would have no walls no one followed him. On the contrary, Resh Laqish, a third-century CE amora who lived in the Roman Land of Israel, is immediately quoted to have said that the Lord would, in the Time to Come, add to Jerusalem a thousand gardens, a thousand towers, a thousand palaces, and a thousand mansions, but he did not mention the Temple. Then the giantomaniac mentions of three or 30 Jerusalems are added. There is no gathering of the dispersed exiles, nor the gentiles and their kings coming to the light of Jerusalem, as in Rev. 21, but an exclusive spaceship for the elite.

In an effort to explain why there is no Zoroastrian central temple, Yaakov Elman wrote that “the Israelites … were heirs to a Mesopotamian tradition of a temple devoted to a city-god,” while Iranians stemmed from a different tradition. Indeed, for whatever reason, Zoroastrians failed to develop a central temple cult, but they did create a stock of legends about remote mythical places, such as a huge movable paradisical city of Kangdiz built of jewels. It seems that in our Talmudic chapter we have the oldest documentation that these stories were current in Sasanian (or even Arsacid?) Babylonia. It is the purely Iranian convoy of the eschatological conclusion of the Talmudic chapter in Baba Bathra that makes the annulment of the Temple in the future Jerusalem under the impact of the lack of a temple in Kangdiz more plausible.

One might wonder about the relevance of the sea when speaking of such a land-locked city as Jerusalem (in fact, all the sacred and important culturally cities of the Levant, with the important exclusion of Byblos, Tyre, and Sidon, are deep in the hinterland). The sea is considered demonic by Zoroastrians, but this is also the case with the ancient Canaanite religion, where Yamm (“the Sea”) and Lotan (“the Leviathan”) are among the antagonists of the chief Canaanite gods. However, in Baba Bathra’s chapter the whole apocalyptic narrative is the crescendo for the naval stories and strange things happening in the sea. It is in the floating Noah’s Ark of the future Jerusalem that salvation from the maritime voyage of life can finally be achieved, exactly as Tertullian had it: This city we affirm has been provided by God for the reception of the saints by resurrection, and for their refreshment with abundance of all blessings—spiritual ones—in compensation for those which in this world we have either refused or been denied.

From the Ark of the revival of life to the Ark of the living dead, the surprising outcome of this Talmudic discourse would be that the rabbis already knew what so many of us feel: Fuck This Dying Planet. Then they return, as usual, to discuss the legal aspects of selling a ship.

Dan Shapira is an interdisciplinary historian and philologist at Bar-Ilan University. He is working currently on medieval and early modern Jewish minority communities, the Crimea, and the Khazars.