Become a Fan
The Legend of the Three Rings
By Gabor Renner
Monday, February 16, 2004
Rated "PG13" by the Author.
For those of you who know Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's "Nathan der Weise" (written in 1778-79) will please accept my simplifications. This story inspired me to write the poem "The Tablets of the Law".
The story takes place in Jerusalem at the time of Saladin the Great (1138-1193), who was the Muslim sultan fighting the Christian crusading knights. As his war treasury was rapidly being emptied, he thought out a trick of how he could get a lot of money from the rich Jewish merchant Nathan.
So Saladin, the Sultan, invites Nathan, who is called "the Wise", to instruct him about which faith, which moral laws, are the most important. The Sultan realizes that Nathan cannot say it is the Jewish faith, for that would be high treason. He cannot say it is the Muslim faith, for it would be a lie. And he definitively cannot say it is the Christian faith, for it would be both high treason and a lie. Nathan now knows that he will loose his freedom, if not his life.
Nathan asks the Sultan if he may first tell him a legend, which may shed some light on the question, before he instructs him. The Sultan, very sure of the situation, orders Nathan to begin.
"A long time ago, far out to the east, there lived a king who had a ring of immense value. Not only was the ring extremely beautiful, it also had the magic power, that if received with love and kindness it would multiply these attributes a thousand fold for the receiver.
The king wore it always. He never took it off even to sleep. It gave him the facilities to be the greatest king ever. He was beloved by his neighbor kings and subjects alike. He loved God and his country and served both with all his heart, all his strength and all his might. His justice was built more on mercy than on laws.
The kingdom thrived.
When he was dying he called for his favorite son, as he himself was called at his own father's deathbed. It was neither the eldest nor the youngest, yet it was the son he loved the best. The son also had to promise to pass on the ring to his favorite son only. And by the virtue of the ring, he would become the king.
Thus the ring was handed down from father to favorite son from one generation to the other. The kingdom thrived.
Yet one day there was a king who had three sons whom he loved dearly. Each of them loved God and their country and served both with all their hearts, with all their strength and all their might. They were loved by their peers and by all the people in the realm.
The father was dying and was very embarrassed. For he had in secret promised each son individually that he would inherit the ring. In moments when his heart was overflowing with love for the son who was at that particular time alone with him, he had given that promise.
So, in secret he send for a master jeweler whom he orders to spare neither costs nor efforts to make another two identical rings. The jeweler succeeds. No one can now tell one ring from the other.
The king calls each of his sons to come to visit him alone on a separate day. He blesses each son individually, gives him one of the three rings and asks him to keep it a secret until he has died. Then he dies.
After the funeral, the sons come to the Assembly of the Nobles to show the ring he had inherited from his father and to claim the kingdom. Each son is shocked and in this situation accuses his brothers of falsehood and deception. The rings are examined, again and again, yet not one ring was different that the other."
Nathan now looks at Saladin and comments: "Almost as little as today as the genuine faith!”
Saladin, taken by surprise, replies: "You mean this is the answer to my question? ..."
"Well, just to demonstrate that I cannot answer your question. The Father intended that the Rings could not distinguished from another - so that the sharpest eye could not tell which is which."
The Sultan, now angry says: "Don't play with me! You know that those three religions can be distinguished readily enough - even outwardly to the clothes they wear, the food they eat and what they drink!”
Nathan replies: "Exactly so! Except for their basic principles! Are not these faiths all grounded in history? In the writings and in the stories all handed down? And don't we accept our own history bases wholly upon faith? Well then, whose faith are we least likely to doubt? Of our own people's, surely! Of those whose blood we share, who loved us from our early childhood! Can I trust my fathers less than you can trust yours?
Or turn it around; can I demand that you say of your forefathers that they were telling lies? And isn't it the same for the Christians?”
Saladin is stunned. He waves Nathan on to continue.
"Back to the rings. As at the Assembly of the Nobles no decision could be taken, the case was taken to the most experienced and fair judge. Each son swore that he had received his ring from his father's hand personally. And long before that, his father had promised him the ring, him personally, and that he would enjoy the privileges of that ring! It was impossible that his loving father had been false to him! He must accuse his brothers. Although, up to this moment, he always thought the best of them, they were deceitful and traitors and he would take revenge on them.
The judge first said to stop wasting his time. Did they think he was there to solve riddles? Could they bring their father to this court? Or perhaps they would wait till the genuine ring would speak to them?
But then the judge said he understood that the bearer of this magical ring has the power to be loved by his peers and his subjects. That he loves God and his country, and serves them with all his heart, with all his strength and all his might, and that his judgments are based more on mercy than the laws. That must be the deciding factors for the false rings cannot do that.
Whom then the two of you love the most? Quick now! Answer me! What - are you all mute? Does the ring only work backwards, that each of you love only himself the most?
Then all three of you are the deceived deceivers. All three rings are false! The genuine ring got lost and to hide this terrible loss, your father had these three rings made, so he could make it good for you.
I can not give a verdict, yet I can give you some advice - if you will take it! Accept the matter wholly as it stands. If each of you believe that you have your father's ring, then believe in it, and act accordingly as if it were the genuine one.
Possibly, your father didn't want to tolerate the tyranny of just one ring. And because he loved all three sons - and loved you all alike, since he didn't want to humiliate two of you - let each of you strive to fulfill the magic of his ring. And with God's will and your humility, benefaction and peace from the bottom of your hearts may the magic powers of the rings reveal themselves in your children’s, children’s children and then, in a thousand's thousand years, come and stand before this seat and speak, for another, wiser Judge than me may decide"
Saladin is shocked and touched at the same time.
He cries out: "Allah! Inch Allah! "
Nathan asks him: "Now, oh Sultan, do you claim to be that wiser man, the promised one? ... "
Saladin jumps out of his seat and seizes Nathan's hand, which he keeps holding, and speaks: "Dear Nathan, the thousand, thousand years are not over. HIS judgment seat is not for me! Go! Go! But be my friend, nothing else!"
Want to review or comment on this
Click here to login!
Need a FREE Reader Membership?
Click here for your Membership!