Saturday, 16 July 2016



Which is the thing that is strongest? A curious puzzle you find in the Bible. Three young men stood before Persia’s King Darius, each giving reasons why what he chose was the strongest.

The first youth argued it was wine. Why? It brings equality to all. It makes alike the minds of poor and rich, wise and fool, handsome and ugly. All equally and merrily inebriated. Everybody who drinks wine forgets his problems and sorrows and debts and feels jolly and happy. Of course, drunks get quarrelsome and fight but, when they sober up, have forgotten it all. Wine can do all that. Wine is most powerful, see?

‘No, the King is strongest’, the second lad contended. Men rule over other species but the King rules over all men. He can command people to fight and die, so they go out and conquer or are conquered. The King tells them to kill and they kill, to build and they build, to cut down and they cut down. And he tells other people to till the soil or buy and sell and they pay taxes to him. The ruler reclines and sleeps but his guards watch over him. All men obey him. Is it not clear the King is strongest?

Then the third youth spoke up. ‘True, both wine and the King are very strong. But some master both. I mean women. Because it is women who give birth to men. Men come from women, including the King and the very men who plant the vineyards from which wine comes. Men cannot exist without women. Never mind how powerful and wealthy men are, when they see a beautiful woman they drop everything and go crazy. For a female a man is willing to steal, rob and kill and become like a slave. A man loves his woman more than his father and mother who have given him birth. Men have sinned, died, fought wars because of women. Are women not strongest?

Have you not beheld the mighty Darius himself being like a plaything in his concubine Apame’s arms? She takes his crown from his head and laughs and puts it on her own. She slaps his face, she pulls his hair and he smiles and acquiesces. He is so infatuated, she rules him as she wishes. So women can do anything. Women are the strongest.

I figure the youth must have noticed a funny look come over King Darius’ face, so he went on: ‘There is however something even stronger than women. That is truth. Wine, the King, men and women and their works may be unrighteous and they perish because of that but truth endures and is strongest for ever. In truth there is no partiality or bias or preference. Everybody approves of truth and there is nothing vicious or unrighteous in it. To truth belong the strength and the majesty and the kingship and the power of all ages. Blessed be the God of truth!’

The last young man – his name was Zerubbabel – won the contest. Because he had spoken the truth. Truth is indeed the strongest. That women are very strong is also a truth but not the whole truth. True, pretty actress Emma Watson exudes so much sex-appeal that she could turn the most dyed-in-the-wool misogynist into a feminist. And the British PM is now a woman. Although as sexy as an old, discarded can of Lager, she reminds me of Darius’s concubine Apame because she – or the hidden forces propelling her - has ably manipulated and triumphed over effete, ball-less losers. Of course, even a strong person can be wrong, regardless of gender. As Home Secretary May sought to introduce the notorious snoopers’ charter, a bill giving the government unprecedented surveillance over you and me, all citizens. Watch out for Big Sister, chaps!

The first young man also grasped a bit of the truth. Alcohol has a strong pull over men and women. Booze can make people mad. Is there a saddest spectacle than that of a drunk? A person who has forsaken what is essential to man, what elevates human beings over brute beasts: rationality. Not that you need wine to go insane. Society’s rulers are truly mad, drunk with a deluded sense of self-sufficiency. Because they believe they can exist without God. Worse, ungodly Westerners, men and women alike, have the temerity of following ways that contradict the promulgated will of the Creator. As foolish as if they tried to regulate the motions of the stars. Is there a greatest folly? The weak, finite and fallible creature pretending to make laws for the omnipotent, omniscient, all wise and powerful Creator! Sheer lunacy!

The story of the strongest thing is in the biblical Apocrypha, 1 Esdras. God used the charming parable to stir King Darius into helping Prince Zerubbabel to further the divine Will. The lesson is that truth is the strongest. Truth is stronger than falsehood. (Jesus teaches that the enemy of truth is the devil, Beelzebub. Because he is a liar and the father of lies.) The whole earth, the cosmos calls upon truth and Heaven blesses her. The supreme, glorious Truth that, as Dante puts it at the end of his Paradiso, is the strongest because ‘it moves the sun and the other stars’.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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