Front Page Titles (by Subject) DLXXXVIII: A PARABLE ON PERSECUTION - The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775
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DLXXXVIII: A PARABLE ON PERSECUTION - Benjamin Franklin, The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. VI Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775 
The Works of Benjamin Franklin, including the Private as well as the Official and Scientific Correspondence, together with the Unmutilated and Correct Version of the Autobiography, compiled and edited by John Bigelow (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). The Federal Edition in 12 volumes. Vol. VI (Letters and Misc. Writings 1772-1775).
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A PARABLE ON PERSECUTION
1. And it came to pass after these things, that Abraham sat in the door of his tent, about the going down of the sun.
2. And behold a man, bowed with age, came from the way of the wilderness, leaning on a staff.
3. And Abraham arose and met him, and said unto him: “Turn in, I pray thee, and wash thy feet, and tarry all night, and thou shalt arise early on the morrow, and go on thy way.”
4. But the man said: “Nay, for I will abide under this tree.”
5. And Abraham pressed him greatly; so he turned and they went into the tent, and Abraham baked unleavened bread, and they did eat.
6. And when Abraham saw that the man blessed not God, he said unto him: “Wherefore dost thou not worship the most high God, Creator of heaven and earth?”
7. And the man answered and said: “I do not worship the God thou speakest of, neither do I call upon his name; for I have made to myself a god, which abideth alway in mine house, and provideth me with all things.”
8. And Abraham’s zeal was kindled against the man, and he arose and fell upon him, and drove him forth with blows into the wilderness.
9. And at midnight God called unto Abraham, saying: “Abraham, where is the stranger?”
10. And Abraham answered and said: “Lord, he would not worship thee, neither would he call upon thy name; therefore have I driven him out from before my face into the wilderness.”
11. And God said: “Have I borne with him these hundred and ninety and eight years, and nourished him, and clothed him, notwithstanding his rebellion against me; and couldst not thou, that art thyself a sinner, bear with him one night?”
12. And Abraham said: “Let not the anger of the Lord wax hot against his servant; lo, I have sinned; lo, I have sinned; forgive me, I pray thee.”
13. And Abraham arose, and went forth into the wilderness, and sought diligently for the man, and found him, and returned with him to the tent; and when he had entreated him kindly, he sent him away on the morrow with gifts.
14. And God spake again unto Abraham, saying: “For this thy sin shall thy seed be afflicted four hundred years in a strange land.
15. “But for thy repentance will I deliver them; and they shall come forth with power, and with gladness of heart, and with much substance.”
In the year 1774 Lord Kames, in the second volume of his Sketches of the History of Man, introduced the substance of the foregoing parable with these words: “The following parable against persecution was communicated to me by Dr. Franklin of Philadelphia, a man who makes a great figure in the learned world, and who would still make a greater figure for benevolence and candor, were virtue as much regarded in this declining age as knowledge.”1
From the manner in which it was here presented to the public, it was naturally inferred and taken for granted that Franklin was its author. Some surprise, therefore, was manifested when it was discovered not long after that a parable of substantially the same import was found in Jeremy Taylor’s Liberty of Prophesying, published in 1657, and which he professed to have found “in the Jews’ books.” Curiosity was now provoked to find whence or from what Jews’ books the parable was taken. At length it was discovered in the Latin dedication to the Senate of Hamburg of a rabbinical work entitled The Rod of Judah. The translator, Genz, gives the story substantially as it is given by Jeremy Taylor. The only important difference is the answer made to Abraham, which in Genz’s preface reads as follows: “I am a fire-worshipper, and ignorant of manners of this kind, for our ancestors have taught us no such observance.” Perceiving with horror from his speech that he had to do with a profane fire-worshipper, and a person alien to the worship of his God, Abraham drove him from his table and his abode, as one whose intercourse was contagious, and as a foe to his religion.2
Genz attributed the authorship of the parable to the nobilisimus Autor Sadus. Following up this trail, the parable was traced to the Bostan, or Flower Garden, of the celebrated Persian poet Saadi. An English translation of it from this ancient poem was published in the Asiatic Miscellany, at Calcutta, in 1789, and is quoted from that work by Bishop Heber in his Life of Jeremy Taylor.1 Saadi also gives the parable as “something that he had heard once,” and not an invention of his own. But here the trail is lost. Whence Saadi derived it is a matter of pure speculation. In his Gulistan there is an allusion to an incident in his life which may throw some light upon the remoter history of the parable. The poet says that while he was a prisoner to the Crusaders, he was set to work “with some Jews” on the trenches before Tripoli. This being a period of high culture among the Jews of Western Asia, it is not unlikely that among the prisoners of that race that fell into the hands of the Christians, some of them may have been men of refinement and learning, like Saadi himself, and may have imparted this parable to him, either as of their own invention or as a tradition. So far as we know, like “Topsy,” it had no parents—it grew.
When the parable was found among the writings of Jeremy Taylor, Franklin, who was then residing in England, was charged with plagiarism. To this the succeeding number of the Repository, in which the charge had appeared, contained a reply from Franklin’s fast and most respected friend, Benjamin Vaughan, disclaiming any pretension on Franklin’s part to have been the author of the parable in question. He said: “This great man, who at the same time that he was desirous of disseminating an amiable sentiment, was an extreme lover of pleasantry, often endeavored to put off the parable in question upon his acquaintance as a portion of Scripture, and probably thought this one of the most successful modes of circulating its moral. This object would certainly have been defeated, had he prefixed to the printed copies of the parable, which he was fond of dispersing, an intimation of its author. He therefore gave no name whatever to it, much less his own. And often as I have heard of his amusing himself on this occasion, I never could learn that he ascribed to himself the merit of the invention. His good humor constantly led him into a train of amusing stories concerning the persons who had mistaken it for Scripture (for he had bound it up as a leaf in his Bible, the better to impose upon them), which, perhaps, made the point of authorship be forgotten.”
In a letter to Vaughan, dated November 2, 1789, Franklin says that he never published it, “nor claimed any other credit from it, than what related to the style and the addition of the concluding threatening and promise.”
Whoever was the original author of this parable, it is very clear that it was Franklin that put the royal image and superscription upon it that gave it its currency throughout the world.—Editor.
[1 ]It is a noteworthy circumstance that in the third edition of his Sketches the words in italics are omitted. His Lordship, in spite of his admiration for Franklin, had to incline before the prevailing breeze.
[2 ]“Ad quæ senex: ‘Ego ignicola sum, istiusmodi morum ignarus; nostri enim majores nullam talem me docuere pietatem.’ Ad quam vocem horrescens Abrahamus rem sibi cum ignicolâ profano et à sui Numinis cultu alieno esse, eum è vestigio et à cœnâ remotum, ut sui consortii pestem et religionis hostem, domo ejicit.”
[1 ]For an account of Saadi, see Everett’s Mt. Vernon Papers, and Saadi’s life by Harrington.