Holy Land: El Khudr and Moses

This famous story of Musa (Moses) and El Khudr is adapted from the Koran. In Europe, it circulated as a folktale and eventually became known as the story of "Parnell's Pilgrim" because of a poem by Reverend Thomas Parnell entitled "The Hermit" which retells this same story, although without mentioning Moses or Al Khidr by name. You can read Parnell's poem here: The Hermit.

If you saw the film Charlie Wilson's War, you might remember the same type of story being attributed to an anonymous Zen master! You can watch the clip at YouTube.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Holy Land Folklore unit. Story source: Folk-lore of the Holy Land: Moslem, Christian and Jewish by J. E. Hanauer (1907).

El Khudr and Moses

The following story, a version of one told in the Koran, is related by the Moslems of El Khudr:

The great Lawgiver was much perplexed and troubled when he thought about the apparently confused and strange dealings of Divine Providence, so besought Allah to enlighten him. He was told, in answer to his prayer, to go on a certain day to a certain place where he would meet a servant of the Merciful, who would instruct him.

Mûsa did as he was told and found at the rendezvous a venerable derwìsh, who, to start with, made him promise not to make remarks or ask questions concerning anything he might see while they journeyed together. Mûsa promised, and the pair set out on their travels.

At sunset they reached a village and went to the house of the sheykh, a man rich and kindly, who bade them welcome and ordered a sheep to be killed in their honour. When bedtime came they were conducted to a large, well-furnished room. The "tusht and ibrìk," which in most houses are of tinned copper, were here of silver plate set with jewels. Mûsa, being tired out, soon fell asleep, but long ere daylight his companion woke him, saying they must start at once. Mûsa objected, finding the bed comfortable. He declared it ungrateful to leave so early while their host was still abed and they could not thank him. "Remember the terms of our compact," said the derwìsh sternly, while to Mûsa's amazement he coolly slipped the silver "tusht" or wash-hand-basin into the bosom of his robe. Mûsa then rose in silence and they left the house.

That evening, quite worn out, they reached another village, and were once more guests of the sheykh, who proved the very opposite of their host of the previous night. He grumbled at the necessity he was under of harbouring dirty vagrants and bade a servant take them to a cave behind the stable where they could sleep on a heap of "tibn" [chopped straw]. For supper he sent them scraps of moldy bread and a few bad olives. Mûsa could not touch the stuff, though he was starving, but his companion made a good meal.

Next morning, Mûsa awoke very early, feeling hungry and miserable. He roused his guide and suggested that it was time to rise and start. But the derwìsh said, "No, we must not sneak away like thieves," and went to sleep again.

Some two hours later the ascetic rose, bade Mûsa put the fragments of the night's meal into his bosom, and said, "Now we must bid our host farewell." In the presence of the sheykh, the derwìsh made a low reverence, thanking him for his hospitality towards them and begging him to accept a slight token of their esteem. To the amazement of the sheykh, as well as Mûsa, he produced the stolen basin and laid it at the sheykh's feet. Mûsa, mindful of his promise, said no word.

The third day's journey was through a barren region, where Mûsa was glad of the scraps which, but for the derwìsh, he would have thrown away. Towards evening they came to a river which the derwìsh decided not to attempt to cross till next morning, preferring to spend the night in a miserable reed-built hut where the widow of a ferryman dwelt with her orphan nephew, a boy of thirteen.

The poor woman did all in her power to make them comfortable, and in the morning made them breakfast before starting. She sent her nephew with them to show the way to a ruinous bridge further down the river. She shouted instructions after the boy to guide their honors safely over it ere he returned. The guide led the way, the derwìsh followed him, and Mûsa brought up the rear.

When they got to the middle of the bridge, the derwìsh seized the boy by the neck and flung him into the water, and so drowned him.

"Monster! Murderer!" cried Mûsa, beside himself.

The derwìsh turned upon his disciple, and the prophet knew him for El Khudr.

"You once more forget the terms of our agreement," he said sternly, "and this time we must part. All that I have done was predestined by Divine mercy. Our first host, though a man of the best intentions, was too confiding and ostentatious. The loss of his silver basin will be a lesson to him. Our second host was a skinflint. He will now begin to be hospitable in the hope of gain, but the habit will grow upon him and gradually change his nature. As for the boy whose death so angers you, he is gone to Paradise, whereas, had he lived but two years longer, he would have killed his benefactress, and in the year following he would have killed you."

a pilgrimage site associated
with Moses)

(800 words)

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