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The Laughable Stories of Bar-Hebraeus, by Bar-Hebraeus, tr. E.A.W. Budge, [1897], at

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The Eighth Chapter


CCLXXI. One of the Arab ascetics happened to be present in the mosque with the governor of the country, and the governor said to him, "Ask of me whatsoever thou needest." The ascetic replied, "In the house of God it is meet to make supplication to God alone."

CCLXXII. Another ascetic said, "Extinguish the light of your anger by the remembrance of the fire of Gehenna" (i.e., hell).

CCLXXIII. It was said to another ascetic when he was threatening sinners with [God's] punishment, "Where, then, is the lovingkindness of God?" He replied, "It is spread abroad over the righteous."

CCLXXIV. Another ascetic said, "It may be known that this world is a world of tribulation and wickedness, from the fact that there is no man in it who doth not seek to be something very much better than what he is."

CCLXXV. Another ascetic said, "The desirable things of this world which are transient are like dreams, and those who look for the things of the next world are in doubt about them."

CCLXXVI. Another ascetic said, "The world is carried on by those who serve God and by those who do not."

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CCLXXVII. To another ascetic it was said, "Hast thou ever done anything whatsoever whereat God hath been pleased?" And he replied, "I do not know of a certainty whether I have or not, but I do know that in the matter of what I have done I have always been afraid lest it should displease God, and lest He should turn Himself against me."

CCLXXVIII. When another ascetic saw a certain man giving alms in the sight of men, he said unto him, "If thou wishest to lay up treasure for thyself carry it secretly, lest when men see it they plunder it."

CCLXXIX. Another ascetic admonished a king, saying, "Know well, [O king,] that if these treasures which are laid up in thy treasury had remained in the hands of those who were before thee they would never have come to thee. Traffic thou, then, for thyself in that merchandise which thou hast not, for this will not remain with thee although it belongeth unto thee."

CCLXXX. Unto another ascetic it was said by the king, "Ask of me whatsoever thou needest, and I will give it unto thee." And he replied, "If it be that [I know] that thou wilt give when I ask, and that thou wilt open when I knock unto thee, this [knowledge] is to me one half of the gift."

CCLXXXI. Another ascetic said, "Death is the Divine Passover and the universal festival of this world."

CCLXXXII. Another ascetic was asked, "How was it thus easy for thee to dismiss the desirable things of this world?" And he replied, "Because I knew that death would pluck them away from me by force, therefore I renounced them of mine own free-will."

CCLXXXIII. Another ascetic heard a poor beggar saying, "Where are those who hate this transient world

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so that they may possess the world which will not come to an end?" And the ascetic replied, "They are all in heaven. Thou mayest find a few upon earth, but it is most probable that thou wilt not find any at all."

CCLXXXIV. Unto another it was said, "In what condition will men be on the day of Resurrection?" He replied, "The penitent will be like the lamb which having gone forth to graze hath returned to the fold, and the wicked will be like the lamb which [having gone forth to graze] hath been worried by a mad dog, that is to say by Satan: therefore he must be bound in chains."

CCLXXXV. Another ascetic seeing a king strongly guarded by his bodyguard said, "If he had done no injury to men he would not be afraid of them."

CCLXXXVI. Unto another ascetic it was said, "How canst thou endure being in this corner?" He said, "I am not alone, for I am continually holding converse with the Lord of created things, and when I wish Him to talk to me I read the Divine Scriptures, and when I wish to speak unto Him I pray."

CCLXXXVII. Another ascetic used to say, "It is meet that ye should fear the Lord, for He hath power over your strength, and that ye should be shamefaced before Him, because He observeth you continually in order to look closely into your doings."

CCLXXXVIII. Another ascetic used to say, "Take good heed lest there should happen unto thee that which happened unto him that oppressed thee."

CCLXXXIX. Unto another ascetic it was said by a certain governor, "How strict is thy life of abstinence!" And he replied, "Thou art more strict in thine asceticism

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than am I, because I have only renounced this world which abideth not, from which also thou thyself art about to be deprived by death; but thou hast also renounced that world which passeth not away, and thou hast hated it, therefore thou art an ascetic in respect of both worlds, while I am an ascetic in the matter of one only."

CCXC. Another ascetic said, "He that is careful to gather together more than he needeth, heapeth up for another."

CCXCI. When certain men were blaming another ascetic, and saying, "Thou givest away thine alms too freely," he made answer to them, "Why will ye not understand that it is meet for him that wisheth to go from one house to another to send on some provision in advance?"

CCXCII. Unto another ascetic a king said, "How is it that thou dost not pay homage to me, seeing that thou art of my servants?" And he replied, "If thou didst but understand thou wouldst know that thou wert in very truth the servant of my servants, for I have gained the mastery over and have conquered worldly lusts, but they have gained the mastery over and have conquered thee."

CCXCIII. Unto another ascetic one of the rich men said, "How is it that thy face is always joyful as if thou didst lead a life of pleasure?" And he replied, "It is meet for thee to lament and mourn and for me to rejoice and be glad, for in thy case the days of thy pleasure are coming to an end, and in mine it is the days of my tribulation which are about to cease."

CCXCIV. Another ascetic was asked, "Who is the Good One?" And he replied, "The Good One is

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[paragraph continues] He against Whom ye sin hourly, and Who promiseth to forgive you if ye repent of your evil deeds."

CCXCV. Another sage said, "When thou sinnest thou sinnest against thy Lord, Who feedeth thee; it is meet that thou shouldst fear Him."

CCXCVI. Another ascetic said, "What resemblance is there between those from whom the world hath fled and to whose hands the desirable things thereof come not, even though they struggle hard to possess them, and those who, being in a prosperous condition as regards the things of this world, have fled from the world?"

CCXCVII. Another ascetic said, "It is very much better for a man that his Lord should ask him, saying, Why hast thou not done [such and such a thing]? than that He should ask him, Why hast thou done [such and such a thing]? That is to say, it were better for a man to do neither righteousness nor evil, than that he should do nothing but sin.

CCXCVIII. Another ascetic was asked, "What is this world?" And he replied, "A laughing-stock to him that hath had experience thereof."

CCXCIX. Another ascetic was asked, "What man is wise?" And he replied, "He that doth not rejoice in the possession of the [things of the] world."

CCC. Another ascetic stood over the grave of a certain highway robber and said, "O mighty man, how is it that thou canst rest having slain so many souls? Behold, I could not rest [were I thee]."

CCCI. Another ascetic was asked, "Unto what is the world like?" And he replied, "It is too contemptible to be compared with anything whatsoever, for everything which is beyond the world is better than it."

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CCCII. Another ascetic said to the children of men when he was admonishing them, "It is not that which ye know not which we teach you, but we remind you of that which ye well know."

CCCIII. A thief went to the abode of another ascetic by night, and finding nothing there he said to him, "O thou ascetic, where are thy possessions?" And he replied, "I have hidden them in the house above," meaning in heaven.

CCCIV. Unto another ascetic it was said, "How is it that thou dost never cast blame upon any man?" And he replied, "Because I myself am not entirely free from blame."

CCCV. To another ascetic it was said by a certain nobleman, "How is it that thou dost never come to visit us?" And he replied, "Because thou hast not with thee that which I seek to have, neither have I with me anything which I fear thou wilt want to carry off from me."

CCCVI. Another ascetic used to say, "Consider, now, and see of what benefit is wealth to those who have it. They have [always before them] the fear of the governor, and the care and anxiety [of keeping it] from thieves, and the envy of friends, and the hatred of the son who is waiting anxiously to inherit by [his father's] death."

CCCVII. Another ascetic used to say, "The members of a man are the armour of God with any one of which He can slay him;" that is to say, by the injury and destruction which appertain naturally to each member.

CCCVIII. Another ascetic used to say, "Thou shouldst "increase thy fear of the Lord as if thou hadst never

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wrought righteousness, and thy hope in Him shall increase in thee in proportion as thou dost not commit sin."

CCCIX. Another ascetic said, "Teachers are the physicians of the people, and lusts are the diseases thereof. If a physician hath not the power to remove sickness from himself he is a fool to imagine that he can heal other folk." It seems as if this saying had been stolen from the Holy Gospel wherein it saith, Physician, heal thyself. 1

CCCX. When certain folk went to the abode of another ascetic they did not find in his house even a mat whereon to sit, and while they were marvelling that it was thus he said to them, "If we had been going to remain here 2 we should have spread the place with the finest carpets."

CCCXI. Another ascetic said, "Paradise was our first abode, and since we have been driven out therefrom we earnestly desire to return thither; therefore do we crave to return to the place which gave us birth, and not to an alien country."

CCCXII. Another ascetic said, "He that renounceth the world is not worthy to be praised overmuch, because, although for a short time he doth not voluntarily renounce it, after a little he is made to do so involuntarily."

CCCXIII. Another ascetic wrote to a fellow ascetic and asked him to shew him what this world resembled, and what that which is to come will be like, and he

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wrote to him, saying, "This world is a sleep, and the world which is to come is the waking. Therefore, although we are unconscious thereof, it is of dreams that our conversation consisteth; but when we wake up we find most certainly that all the things which are here are phantoms."

CCCXIV. Unto another ascetic it was said, "Why, since thou art not sick and art not old, dost thou always lean upon a staff? He replied, Because I am [travelling] along a road, and I look forward to the pleasant time when I shall be removed therefrom, and it is manifest that a staff belongeth to the equipment of him that desireth to journey along a road."

CCCXV. Another ascetic said, "If thou wishest to comprehend the folly of [holding] worldly possessions, consider carefully that it is only the fools who gather them together, for good and excellent men are without them."

CCCXVI. Another ascetic said, "It is meet for a man to make provision for himself in this world according to the time which he shall abide therein, and also for the world which is to come according to the time which he shall abide therein."

CCCXVII. Another ascetic when he was passing by saw a certain man standing in the cemetery by the side of a sepulchral monument, and he said to him, "Observe, O man, that the place wherein thou standest is between two marvellous storehouses; in one are heaped up the children of men, and in the other are gathered together the things which they desired."

CCCXVIII. Unto another ascetic who lived in the cemetery it was said, "Why dwellest thou here?" And he replied, "I wish to distinguish between the bones

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of kings and those of their servants, but they cannot be distinguished, for they are all alike."

CCCXIX. Unto another ascetic the king said, "Ask whatsoever thou wishest me to give to thee." He replied, "[Give me] the life which is everlasting, and the youth which is without old age, riches which are never ending, and the joy which is not mingled with sorrow." And the king said, "I have not power over these things to give them to thee," whereon the ascetic replied, "Leave me, then, to ask them of Him that hath power over them," that is to say, from God in the world to come.

CCCXX. Another ascetic used to say, "If God had said that He was about to punish one man only, I should have been horribly afraid lest I might be that man; and similarly, if He had said that He was about to shew mercy on one man only I should not have despaired of being that man. For although God is strong and His judgment is terrible, yet His mercies are exceedingly manifold."

CCCXXI. Another sage said, "Whatsoever thou wishest to possess not to-morrow, that let go to-day; and that which thou wouldst have to-morrow possess thou thyself thereof this day."

CCCXXII. Another sage said unto certain rich men, "I swear to you, by God, that when ye go forth from this world ye will lust for nothing further, except to return to the world, and to work righteousness that ye may be reckoned worthy of happiness and be delivered from punishment. Do righteousness then in the world before ye go out therefrom, for ye will never have the power to return here again."

CCCXXIII. Another ascetic used to say, "For forty

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years I have been always entreating God to fulfil for me one request, and He hath not granted it." And it was said to him, "What is the request for which thou hast petitioned and which hath not been granted unto thee?" And he replied, "That I might not be meditating on that which would not profit me."

CCCXXIV. Another ascetic used to say, "In Gehenna there is no punishment more severe for those who are there than the knowledge which they have that there is no end to their punishment; and similarly those who dwell in Paradise have no greater happiness than the knowledge that their glory and triumph are everlasting."


76:1 This remark may be that of a scribe. Compare St. Luke iv. 23.

76:2 I.e., "If we were not going to die."

Next: The Ninth Chapter: Profitable Sayings of Physicians and Legends Attributed to Them