A Parable


How many miles to Babylon?
— Threescore miles and ten.
Can I get there by candlelight?
— Yes, and back again.

Can I take an express to Babylon,
Where they sell the souls of men?
— If you come back on the very same track,
You’re sure to go back again.

3 Responses to “A Parable”

  1. Thy Friend John Says:

    An outtake with a different tone:

    And if I go there by candlelight,
    May I get wine at the inn?
    — Aye, of the wrath of her fornication,
    Drunk by the kings of sin.

    If the kings press me not in their army,
    May I then find the sure homeward way?
    — By the signs to New Jerusalem,
    By the light of returning day.

    All this came to me on arising this morning, when I realized with some excitement that the “threescore miles and ten” of the familiar nursery rhyme was a reference to the conventional human lifespan, and that the “candlelight” that would light our way to Babylon and back must therefore be the divine guidance given us all in this benighted world to make our way to the city of error (“Babylon,” per Rev. 17:1-19:6) and disentangle ourselves from it

  2. Marshall Massey Says:

    Thank you! This made my morning!

    • Thy Friend John Says:

      Oh, goody! I’m so glad that somebody read it! And I’m so pleased that the somebody was thee, Marshall!

      Serendipitously, I just read in Meister Eckhart’s _On the Parables of Genesis_ that Maimonides distinguishes two kinds of parable, one where the whole parable is a parable, and one where every word, or nearly every word, is parabolic or metaphorical, in addition to the whole scriptural unit being parabolic.

      It got me thinking about “the wine of the wrath of her fornication,” clearly one of the most memorable images in the whole Bible. Don’t wine and fornication sound like things that promise to make you feel good, at least for a little while? But “wrath” – that disharmonious word – sounds like the methyl alcohol in the wine that immediately makes you feel sick as hell, and the pimp that takes your wallet and beats you up while Babylon herself, all her tempting charm vanished, shrieks at you in rage, reminding you mercilessly of everything you ever felt shame over. A wine bottle best left unopened!

      But open it we did, I think, when we reached with Eve for the fruit on the forbidden tree, thinking we might get a better deal for ourselves through self-will than we get from the will of God.

      And so in this world we have an economic system based on self-seeking, where each individual economic actor does his or her best to import pleasure and export pain, not realizing, as Socrates did (in Plato’s Phaedrus) that pleasure and pain, or advantage and disadvantage, are Siamese twins: reach for one, get the other. Fill your tank at the pump, get the Gulf Oil Spill. Buy a T-shirt, open another sweatshop where employees are treated like prisoners, earn in turn the same misery for yourself as you’ve let fall on others.

      Fortunately the Lord gave us the antidote for Babylon’s addictive vintage, a little prayer that says “Thy will be done.”

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