The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
Once in a far country there was a king who issued a decree commanding all the Jews in his kingdom to be converted to his faith; those who would not be converted lost all their possessions and were driven into exile.
Many Jews gave up all their riches and in poverty fled the land; others could not part with their possessions, and became converted; and still others pretended to become converted, but in secret continued to be Jews. Every day they would go to a synagogue hidden underground, and they would bind over their arms the phylacteries made of bull's hide, and put over their shoulders the prayer-shawl with fringes of tam's wool, and they would say the morning prayer. There, in secret, they performed the rites of marriage, of circumcision, of holiday.
After a short time, the king died, and his son ruled. The son was a clever tyrant; he governed well, but with a strong hand; and those powers that had formerly belonged to the noblemen, he took to himself, until the noblemen of the kingdom came to hate him bitterly for robbing them of their ancient rights. Then the barons came together and formed a conspiracy. "We will murder the king, and all his family, and we will rule in his stead," they whispered, one to the other.
But in the band of noblemen there was one of the wealthy Jews who had only pretended to be converted in order to remain in the kingdom, and now he thought: "Of what use is my life of lies? I pretended
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conversion because I could not part with my riches, or bear to leave the court of the king. But if the king is killed the country will fall into turmoil and I will lose everything, for a country cannot exist without a king, and one man will swallow up another."
So he decided to go secretly to the king and warn him of the plot against him. The king set spies, to make sure that the former Jew had told the truth, and the night came on which the noblemen had planned to murder the young king, his infant son, and all the royal family.
Then the conspirators crept into the king's chamber, with their knives drawn; but the king lay awake, and his spies were hidden all about the room; the murderers were captured, and they were all punished as befitted their intended crime. But the king remembered the converted Jew who had warned him of their plot, and he desired to reward the Jew.
"What reward shall I give you?" he asked of the loyal man. "I cannot give you nobility, for you are already a nobleman; and gold would be no gift to you, for you are already exceedingly rich. Then tell me what you want me to do for you, and I will do it."
The nobleman said, "Will you indeed give me whatever I ask?"
"Whatever you ask!" declared the king.
"Will you swear by your crown and your kingdom?"
The king placed his hand upon his crown and said, "I swear it by my crown and by my kingdom."
"Then," said the pretended convert, "let me again be a Jew before all the world, let me wear my
prayer-shawl and phylacteries in the morning, and practise my religion in freedom."
When the king heard this he was angry, for in all his land there was not one Jew who dared wrap himself in a praying-shawl, or wear phylacteries against the former king's decree. Nevertheless, as he had sworn by his crown and his country, he was forced to grant the Jew his request.
The next morning, and every day thereafter, the Jew stood where all might see, and wrapped in the splendour of his praying-shawl, with the phylacteries on his arms and forehead, he prayed as his fathers had prayed.
And there came a time, and that king died, and his son reigned in his stead. Now the son remembered how his father had been a tyrant, and how the noblemen had plotted to kill him, so the son instead was a mild and good king, and a learned man; his country prospered, and he took many other countries and ruled over them.
When a son was born to him in his turn, the king remembered the plot to kill all his father's family, and he wanted to make his crown secure for his own son, so he called all the seers of the kingdom into his palace and said, "Tell me, by what power may my seed be cut off, that I may be warned against it."
The seers consulted the stars, and answered, "No power can destroy your family, but you must beware of the bull and the ram."
Then this was written in the Book of the King: "Beware of the Bull and the Ram." When he was old, the king gave the book to his son, and he said to his
son, "Rule gently, and with wisdom." Then the third king died, and his son ruled in his stead.
But the fourth king was like the second king, harsh in his ways, and a tyrant; he too captured many other nations and added them to his kingdom. He remembered the warning in the Book of Kings, and in order to make sure that no harm could come to him and his seed, he commanded that every bull and every ram should be driven from his kingdom. And this was done, until not a bull or ram remained in all that land.
Then the king thought of a plan by which he might capture all the world, and without a single battle. For this king too was very learned, and he knew that the whole world was divided into seven parts, while seven planets went round the heavens, one to light each day, and each planet went with one of the world's seven continents; and he knew that each of the seven parts of the world possessed one of the seven kinds of metal of which the world is made, so that each metal possessed the light of the planet that went with its continent!
Then the king sent messengers to all parts of the earth, commanding that the seven metals of the earth be brought to him. They brought him silver and copper and gold, and with the gold they brought all the golden portraits of all the kings on earth; then they brought all the other metals, and he took them, and had them made into the figure of a man. The head of the figure was of gold, the throat was of silver, and the trunk of the body and each limb was of another metal, so that in all the image was composed of the earth's seven metals. The king placed the statue upon
the edge of a high mountain, and all the seven planets of the heavens turned around the image, and shone their light into it.
Then all over the world people knew that the image had a wondrous power, for if any man needed to know whether to do or not to do a certain thing, he would travel until he came to the statue on the mountain, and he would place himself before the part of the statue that was made of the metal of that part of the earth from which he came, and he would ask the statue whether or not he should do this thing. If the metal that was from his continent shone with light, then the answer was "yes!" and if the metal remained dark, its answer was "no!" And through the fame and power of this marvellous image, all the world came and paid homage to the king who had caused it to be made; and they brought him all their riches.
But yet he was not satisfied. And one night when the sky was dark with great clouds that stumbled one over the other, and the air was dank and cold, the king went out alone from his palace and climbed to the top of the mountain. There he stood before the giant that was made of the earth's seven metals. The shape could hardly be seen in the darkness. The king placed his hands upon it; the metal was cold, and his fingers felt frozen against it.
Then he cried out, "You that contain all riches and all wisdom! Answer me, can I become ruler of this world?"
Suddenly the great image became a column of glowing white fire; it was as though lightning stood before him. The face, the limbs, and every part of
the moulded form, the gold, the silver, and every other metal glowed brilliantly in the cold darkness, and overhead amongst the clouds there was a terrific clash as of hailing trumpets.
The king was frightened, and then he was pleased, and he cried, "How may I become ruler of the world?"
Then the statue opened its golden mouth, and it spoke: "Humble the mighty, and raise the lowly."
It was silent; and the glow went out of the image. The king shivered. All about him was dark, and the air pressed against him as earth in a pit. He found his way back to the palace.
The words spoken by the golden mouth remained with him. "It is well," he thought, "if I cut down the mighty, for no one will remain to have power against me." Then he issued a decree. From all the noblemen, he took away their nobility; he dismissed all generals from their commands; he deprived the judges of their power to judge; and he made his governors into slaves. Even those men who had their titles of nobility from ancient times, and those officials who had won their honours from his father and his grandfather, lost their titles and their rights; all the mighty were cut down.
"So," the king thought, "I alone must have power. And I will raise no lowly man into power."
Then he called before him all those who remained who still had honours and rights, the proud lords of ancient lineage, and the mightiest generals: those among them who would not come were brought by force, and they were thrown upon their knees before him, and all were deprived of their rank. But among
those whose names were written in the former king's book of honour was that Jew who had saved the royal family. And when this man was brought before the fourth king of that family, he was asked:
"What title have you?"
"None," the Jew replied.
"Then what command have you?"
Again he answered, "None."
"Then what privilege have you, that makes you higher than other men?"
"I am not higher than other men," said the aged Jew. "Only, many years ago, in the time of your highness's grandfather, I learned of a plot to kill the king and all the royal family, and because I warned him of that plot the king gave me back the right to worship freely and openly as a Jew, and to wear my praying-shawl and phylacteries, as my father had done before me."
The young king said, "This privilege shall be taken from you. You must become a convert, as you were."
So the aged Jew was forced once more to become a convert. Once more he would have to hide his worship in holes underground, and whisper his prayers in fright. Then as he left the court, he clutched the edges of his praying-shawl in one hand, and his phylacteries in the other hand, and he raised his eyes to heaven, and he uttered a curse. "Cursed be he!" he cried upon the tyrant king, "and cursed be all his seed. May they be cut off from the earth, so that no particle of their cruel flesh, and no drop of their tyrant blood, remain to torture mankind!" And that night, in a hidden dungeon, behind barred doors, he prayed.
And the king dreamed. He dreamed that he lay beneath the heavens; it was night, and the black sky pressed close upon him, the sky was close as the roof of his chamber. In the sky were the twelve beasts of the zodiac, each creature the sign of a month of the year. The crab and scorpion were there, and the lion, and all the others; but two of the twelve glowed with a light stronger than that of all the other ten. He saw them. They were bull and ram. And as he looked upon them, the bull and the ram opened their jaws, and laughed. He saw their strange, brutal laughter, but he could not hear anything.
The king shivered in his bed, and cried out with fright. The dream was broken. His attendants came running to him, and he sent them for his sages. To the sages he cried, "Tell me the meaning of this dream!" And he told his dream to them, but they could not understand it. Then he called for the Book of the King, and there he read what his father had written: "Beware of the Bull and the Ram, for by the Bull and the Ram the seed of the king will be cut off."
When he read these words, the king's heart began to knock like the hand of death, and sweat was upon his forehead. He called the queen and told her of his dream and of its meaning. The queen was frightened, and their children were terribly frightened.
Then the king reflected, "How can I be harmed by a bull or a ram, when there is not one in all the kingdom?" And his heart was more quiet, but still he was afraid, so he called the wisest of the sages to him and asked, "How may I be sure?"
The aged seer answered, "I have a remedy for
fear that was told me by my father. The sun has three hundred and sixty-five beams, and there is one place where the light of all three hundred and sixty-five beams come together, and upon that spot grows an iron rod. Whoever has fear needs but go there and touch that rod, and his fear will be taken from him."
The king was pleased with this advice, and he called his wife, and they took their children and all their family, and they said to the seer, "Guide us to that place where the three hundred and sixty-five rays of the sun come together."
Then the seer led the way, and the king and all his family followed, and they went a great distance until they came to a parting of the roads. And there an angel stood. He was the Angel of Wrath, for of every human act of rage an angel is born, twisted, and meagre, and hard, and the commander of all the angels born of anger was that Angel of Wrath who stood in the road before them. His form was powerful, and his eyes were cold blue fire, and a flaming sword was in his hand.
Of him, they asked the way.
For there were four roads. There was a smooth highway, and there was a road of quagmires seething with reptiles and vile worms; and there was a road that broke into bottomless gaps and craggy holes jagged with sharp stones: there men fell, and were swallowed up; and there was a road that became a flaming fire.
The Angel of Wrath pointed his sword, and it was to the road that became a flaming fire.
The seer knew, for his father had given him an omen; but the king did not know.
And as they went, the seer watched for signs of the flames before them. After they had gone a long way, he saw the fire, and he looked and saw in the midst of the fire a sea of molten red, clear as crystal blood, and safely over the fiery sea there went a row of angelic beings wearing kingly mantles and crowns, and with them went a row of aged Jews, each wrapped in his praying-shawl, with his holy phylacteries wound upon his arms and forehead.
Then the seer said to the king, "The road is a flaming fire. I have an omen from my father, that whoever goes nearer than four leagues to that fire will be burned to death, and so I will not go further."
But the king looked into the fire, and saw the row of regal beings wearing golden crowns, and he said, "See, a king may pass safely through the flames!"
Then the king led all his family, and they went into the fire, and were burned, and the king and all his seed were entirely consumed.
The sage turned back, and came once more to the palace. There all the wise men were assembled, and they wondered how it could be that the seer had come home unharmed, while the king and all his family were dead. "Was it not written," they said, "that only a bull and a ram might destroy the seed of the king? And the king took care that there might be not one bull or ram in all his land! Then through what power was he killed, with all his royal family?"
The aged Jew cried out to them, "It is through me that the king and all his family met death! The seers truly saw his death in the stars, but did not understand what they saw. For the phylacteries are made of the hide of the bull, and the fringes that hang
on the praying-shawl are woven of the wool of the ram. And so the bull and the ram, called down by my prayers to curse him, brought the end to his seed on earth. For in that row of kings whom he saw going safely through the flames were only those rulers in whose lands Jews might live unharmed, and freely worship their God in praying-shawl and holy phylacteries. And he thought to pass safely through the flames with them, but he could not take his place among them!"