One City, Two Brothers

I heard Chris Smith talking, telling stories earlier this year. Afterwards I bought a book by him: Once City, Two Brothers. It is a story about giving, and also about the ancient city of Jerusalem. It’s a Jewish fable, but also an Arab folktale told by Palestinian arabs living around the city.


Two brothers once came before King Solomon. They argued bitterly over who should inherit the family land.

Solomon listened to them and then told them to be silent and listen to the story of Jerusalem long ago before there was a temple, a city or even a village:

There were two brothers who lived on either side of a hill. Their houses were linked by two paths, one over the hill and one around it. Together they farmed the rich fertile land watered by a stream. They shared the work, planting the wheat in the autumn, harvesting it in the spring. And they shared the crop. Most years they managed to last through the winter comfortably on what the land gave.

One brother married, and soon children were born.

The other, for whatever reason, stayed single.

Now, one year the land gave them a particularly bountiful crop. They harvested forty sacks of grain. This they split between them each taking twenty to their own store room.

But the older brother thought to himself, “It’s not right that I should have the same number of sacks as my brother. He has no family, no children to look after him when he gets old; he needs this grain more than me.” And late that night, loading three sacks of grain onto his donkey, he took the high path to his brother’s house and sneaked the three sacks into his brother’s store.

What he didn’t know is that his brother had been thinking too. “It”s not right that I should have the same amount of grain as my brother. He has a family and more mouths to feed. I’ll take some secretly over to him.” And, under cover of darkness, he took the low path and deposited three sacks of grain in his brother’s grain store.

You can imagine how puzzled both of them were when they looked in their own grain stores and found there were still twenty sacks. Were they losing their wits? Had it just been a dream?

Both brothers did the same the following night, without either of them seeing the other. And the next day? They were even more puzzled: there were still twenty sacks in the store room.

On the third night both brothers did the same thing. But this time they both took the high path, and under the stary sky they met each other. Without a word, both of them understood the reason for his brother’s journey. Their hearts filled with happiness as they realised the love they each had been shown.

With these words, Solomon finished his tale. The two men before him stood in silence for a long while. Everyone waited to see what would happen.

Then the older man looked up and said, “Brother, what was once our father’s is now ours. Not yours, not mine, but ours.”

The brothers embraced and left the court side by side. From then on their families lived happily together. And the story their children loved to hear the most was the one about about the two brothers told by wise King Solomon.


Chris Smith worked for UNICEF on the West Bank and in Gaza. These days he’s a storyteller in England. He’s one of the people who set up The Story Museum in Oxford. At the moment this is an organisation that works with people, especially I think children in schools, to share stories, especially traditional stories. It’s also gathering money to get a physical site.


I hadn’t heard of Aurélia Fronty and her work before I had this book, but now that I look I see that she’s illustrated a lot of wonderful looking books,  just the sorts of titles I like, in French. The colours are amazing, atmospheric, rich and she adapts her lines, her designs wo well to the many places around the world where the tales come from.

She’s done some Greek myths:

and some King Arthur stories:

a japanese tale:

and all sorts of others, that I’d never heard of.



  1. egotoagrimi said

    No better tale for christmas & the new year. Thank you.

  2. simonsterg said

    Yes, let it be my new year wishes, Nana!

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