The Birth and Death of Monotheism

by Eric Rosenbloom
copyright 1997

Three young men are walking briskly down the road. Looks of relief mix with anxiety as they frequently glance behind them, nervously laughing. They step into a tavern. Over drinks they talk excitedly of their escape from tyrants, from their parents. The barman asks where they have come from, and despite their hatred and forgetting their freedom they proudly say who they are. But the tyrants are dead, responds the barman: I just received the good news. They were killed by a band of robbers. The three brothers look at each other, astonished. Then they are afraid that people will think that they were the robbers, seeing their money and fine clothes, and try to steal it from them. Everyone, however, ignores them. And as they drink more, they feel sorry for their parents' death: without them, they are nobody.

Suddenly, the oldest brother stands up clumsily, knocking the table and spilling the mugs as he stumbles. He shouts to the room, which by this time of night is quite empty: "I did it! I brought the robbers to our parents' house. I did it to free us from our prison. My brothers are innocent. They are free. But I will carry my father's name to remind me of my guilt. Everything I endeavor will be under his merciless eye. It was terrible to do, however glad it has made you. I leave you to your joy."

He ran out into the night, and nobody ever saw him again.

But they heard about him. He built a house in the marshes by the sea and grew very rich selling salt. He got married and had a big family. And he became just as evil as his parents were. His children grew up to be just like him.

Except one son, who was loving and gentle and hated his parents' business. His parents, nonetheless, loved him the most, and when they died they gave him everything. He tried to give it to his brothers and sisters, but they didn't want anything except to get away. They were glad they weren't stuck with the business, because they hated work.

But now his uncles were wondering why they shouldn't enjoy what their brother had made in their parents' name. The middle brother knew how much his brother loved his favorite son, and he didn't know that the young man would gladly give him some of the business. The middle brother snuck into the property one night, killed his nephew, and took over the salt works and his brother's house.

He too got married and raised a big family. He added onto the house to make it even grander. All of his children did just as he told them, because each of them wanted to inherit everything he had. He had so much money that he sometimes gave a little of it to the poor people who did his work for him.

To better allay his guilt, however, he came to love his dead nephew more than he did his own children. Every year, he mourned him as his own son. Every expansion of his business he dedicated to him. He came to believe that it was his brother who had brought about the murder, or even that the son had willingly offered himself -- to atone for the death of their parents when they ran away so long ago. He thought a little more each year that he didn't die at all and had simply gone to take over his grandparents' property.

The youngest brother, hearing all this, grew to hate the middle brother. It was bad enough when the oldest took for himself alone their father's name and the advantage of his fearsome reputation. At least he also took away suspicion from the other two. But the guilt remains, he thought. Now the advantage belongs to the middle one, and to his murders and lies. What has he done to our family's name, to the memory of our parents? O, my father, my mother! None of us is worthy!

Despite his revulsion, the youngest brother was driven by the sufferings of poverty to ask his older brother for help. His older brother offers him a place if he will agree that their brother's favorite son, their beloved nephew, gave up his life to free them from their guilt. "You must believe!" the middle brother cries, trying to convince himself.

The youngest brother spits in disgust: "Evil is one thing, but delusion too -- it is all too sad. I have nothing, and you have less. Mother, father forgive me!" And he lunges at his brother with a dagger he has kept hidden in his sleeve, thrusting the blade deep into his heart. He removes it and turns it on himself, muttering miserably as he expires: "We are free."