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To Stone a Stoner Who Stoned A Stoner? The Pale Horseman’s Quandary (A Logic Puzzle)

The pale horseman began to wring his arms for what felt like an entire Friday. As he stood speechless with the rock clenched in his right hand, my eyes turned toward the crowd. Surprisingly, they were no longer paying especial attention to the stoning. Some sort of meat and wine were being served on silver platters by men in robes. Soon, everyone was in on the feast—all except the three horsemen, the woman, and I.

Now, sensing intuitively that it was gauche to hold a picnic at a stoning, and since I was beginning to grow bored staring at a barbecue to which I wasn’t invited, I decided to address the pale horseman directly in an effort to keep the game moving.


White Horseman

It seems you have a difficult decision to make, my friend. I know what I would do in your shoes, but let’s see your move.

Pale Horseman

This thought experiment is like a game of chess from hell. There must be a rational choice whom to stone, but I’m cursed for having to make the choice at all, since whatever I do, I’ll be acting immorally from certain perspectives. I suppose the best I can do is try to decide whom it would be least immoral to stone.  But on top of this, I have to remember—if I stone someone for a second time, that person dies; so, in this rite, throwing a second stone is a more serious decision than throwing a first, which horribly complicates this great question.

You told me once before, Doctor Kimel, that anything which maximizes happiness through the channels of agency and learning should be valued over that which maximizes unhappiness through the channels of exploitation and ignorance. But how can I use this standard to make a decision in a case like this?

White Horseman 

I’ll give you a clue. Try thinking about your potential victims one by one…

Pale Horseman

There’s the horror of this game; I see no clear choice. But, let’s consider the scenario, and perhaps I’ll realize the correct answer.

The Woman: 1 hit (if I stone her again, she will die)

The Red Horseman: 1 hit (if I stone him again, he will die)

The Black Horseman: 0 hits (if I stone him, he will suffer)

The White Horseman: 0 hits (if I stone him, he will suffer)

White Horseman 

I would think twice before stoning me…

Pale Horseman

All that I can do is consider every choice.

The Woman: 1 hit (if I stone her again, she will die)

Many people believe in our sacred book and condemn adultery as an immoral act. But you’ve convinced me that we must appeal to reason rather than assertions that our Scripture is God’s Truth with a capital T, since all cultures believe that they’re correct when intuitions are concerned, but reason is universal. At the point that the woman might have been raped, and at the point that the law mistakenly assumes a rape in the city is unlikely, and at the point that premarital sex might not be a sin in the first place, there is not enough evidence to throw a second stone and kill this woman. I can’t bring myself to choose her—happiness would be destroyed with no clear proof of any benefits or justice.

The Red Horseman: 1 hit (if I stone him again, he will die)

The red horseman claimed he took a leap of faith and believed that he was acting morally when he threw the first stone at the woman. Now, even at the point that the woman might have been innocent, he’d be rational to throw a stone at her insofar as he was compelled to do so by his understanding of God’s will, since the woman’s trouble took place in the city, and the Law is the Law. Now, perhaps the Leap of Faith was insincere, but I have no way of accessing his inner truth. Perhaps he was too stupid to understand your arguments about appealing to logic when constructing a universal morality rather than asserting a singe book is intrinsically holy—but generally, we find those people who are stupid or ignorant to be less morally culpable than those who are wise and know the consequences of what they’re doing. I confess, perhaps he was too hasty when he made his decision. Perhaps he even deserved the black horseman’s rock in his face. But I can’t bring myself to kill him, at least, not yet.

The Black Horseman: 0 hits (if I stone him, he will suffer)

Now, stoning either you or The black horseman would provide a benefit insofar as I wouldn’t be required to kill anyone; after all, this would be either of your first hit with a stone, so I’d simply injure one of you. I realize the black horseman DID cause pain to the red horseman, who might deserve revenge on him. But I have to remember, he was required to throw a stone by the rules of this ritual—the black horseman was his most rational choice, since the red horseman caused pain to the woman, and there is evidence that he was either hasty, ignorant, or fanatical. He acted rationally…and he deserves  no pain. So I don’t know what to do.

White Horseman

I’ll give you a clue. Consider this–my turn is next, and I also must stone someone by the rules of this game.

Pale Horseman

Praise God! Now I understand. I mustn’t dare to stone you. Not only have you caused pain to no one, but YOU ARE NEXT TO THROW. If I threw my rock at you, you would be justified in throwing it back at me. Rationally, I can’t let this happen. And so, my choice is clear…


The pale horseman closed his eyes and threw his rock at the black horseman. “Injustice!” the black horseman cried as he fell to the ground bleeding and spitting.

All were deathly silent as I, the white horseman, prepared to make my move …

April 22-April 23

Next Chapter April 24


To Stone for Adultery? The Red Horseman’s Judgment (On Biblical Obligations)

I opened my eyes and gasped for breath. I felt no control over my limbs and was temporarily bewildered by what looked like indistinct spheres of light hovering over my bedroom door. So this is what it was like to experience sleep paralysis, I thought; I’d read about it once in school. Entombed beneath my sheets, I closed my eyes and tried to resurrect the narrative of the broken dream as best I could. Eventually, my consciousness succumbed to sleep, but this time, I didn’t realize that I was in a dream—not at first.

Now, I found myself seated on a white charger, alone. I wore a gold sash and a flowing, ivory toga, a detail that I appreciated thanks to my education in classical history.  I held a bow in my right hand rather like a slingshot. Branches of laurel crowned my head. My left hand clenched a scroll. On it were seven waxen seals inscribed with the images of stars. One of the seals was broken. Then I noticed that I was wearing glowing slippers the color of heated bronze, some image conjured up from vague childhood memories of The Wizard of Oz, perhaps, or the original version of Snow White.

Blocking my path, I saw a congregation of 21 onlookers in long robes hovering around the gate of the great city. Three were dressed in red, and three by turn in orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. I guessed the worst when I noticed jagged rocks clenched in their hands. Toward the front of the crowd, the red, black, and pale horsemen were burying the girl to her waist in a pit of gravel and binding her hands.

“What’s all this about?” I asked the first stranger I met in the crowd.

“That child is about to be stoned to death,” answered the man.

“But why?”

“Our Sacred Law says, if a woman claims she’s raped in the countryside, she should be found innocent of adultery. But if she’s raped in the city, she should be put to death. Those three horsemen are about to cast the first stones. Two square hits, and it will all be over for her.”

“How perfectly awful.”

“That just shows you’re a naïve reader of scripture,” said a crone through her nose. “There’s actually great wisdom behind that rule. After all, you’d hear a woman’s screams of protest in a city, but not in the countryside.  So, it follows that in the case of an alleged rape in the city, there were no screams, and that the woman didn’t really try to protest. Does the logic make sense to you now?”

“Preposterous,” I said. “This is a very great evil. I don’t care that this sort of punishment was common once upon a time, or that some horribly misguided people still do it now. It’s wrong, in all places and at all times.”

“Explain yourself,” thundered the old woman, and the crowd, instead of attending to the stoning, began to turn its attention toward me. “How can a law written in our Sacred Scripture be wrong? It’s the word of God, like it or not. You’ll never win this debate.”

“Oh, won’t I?” I laughed. Then, riding to the front of the crowd, I called upon the three pied horsemen.

“Don’t lay a finger on this girl,” I said.

The red horseman stepped forward and began to address me in a thunderous voice.


Red Horseman

You may be a stranger here, but let me be clear about this country’s Laws. According to our Sacred Law, a woman in this condition must be stoned to death.

White Horseman

But your Sacred Law might not be sacred at all. There’s nothing to rationally prove that it represents divinely inspired truth. It might simply be an invention of imaginative human authors limited by the worldviews of the times and places in which they were raised. In fact, the existence of other sacred books that pious people follow in other parts of the world suggests that you don’t hold the monopoly on truth. So, you can’t be sure God wants you to kill this girl, and should err on the side of caution, since you know unwanted pain to be a great evil.

Red Horseman

I’m not persuaded by your sophist’s tricks. I was born into this society, for whatever reason, and I’ve made a leap of faith; I’ve decided that the Sacred Law represents God’s perfect wisdom in the clearest possible form that it can take in this world. Our Sacred Book is more than the product of human hands.  And as for other supposedly sacred books in the world, this set of divine laws makes the most sense to me. There’s synergy between my intuitions and its dictates. The other books are wrong. This one is right. I feel it, deeply.

White Horseman

Memories molded on the stage of culture shape your intuitions, and you mistake the relative for the absolute. Consider this. Everyone’s intuitions are shaped by culture and memories and habit, so every sacred book seems to be moral to the people who were brought up on it. How can you prove to other people that their sacred laws are wrong and that yours are right? If it’s only a matter of faith rather than reason, why would people from a different culture believe in your God? Their intuitions would be different from yours. And to make matters worse, your sacred law even sometimes contradicts itself, like on the question of whether future generations inherit the sins of their ancestors or not. All of this suggests that Bibles should be treasured as moral guides, but not deified as perfect and literal representations of God’s will. The only really persuasive Sacred Law is that of science–true everywhere, and provable to everyone.

Red Horseman

The scripture is perfect and is never contradictory! Learned priests understand the full context of the writings and can explain away all your supposed contradictions. For example, certain language might be used symbolically, since a perfectly divine text has rich layers of internal allusions.

White Horseman

Then how do you know the injunction to stone this woman isn’t just a symbol or a metaphor? Why take this particular law literally, when you ignore so many others? And anyway, your logic is circular. For example, I can make the claim that Winnie the Pooh is divinely inspired, and I can begin to use it as a moral code. Can I persuasively justify my reasoning by saying—”I’ve taken a Leap of Faith, and since Winnie the Pooh is perfectly perfect in every way as a moral guide,  whatever I do on the suggestion of the book is justified”? And can I silence voices of dissent by saying “any contradictions in the book only seem like contradictions, but really aren’t, because it’s perfectly perfect?”

Red Horseman

You’re a contemptible debater. You would say, a man who killed his own mother mustn’t be morally judged. After all, some savage tribe somewhere on a mountaintop might howl at the wind and celebrate matricide. There’d be a difference of opinion on the issue—and so, you’d argue, nothing is impermissible! All we can do is take our moral bearings from the best traditions of the past, and follow the Sacred Law to the letter, whether we like it or not. So, the girl must be stoned. The Law against adultery is an important one. This isn’t a trivial affair. I realize that this girl’s life is at stake.

White Horseman

I think that you, sir, are the contemptible one. Let’s speak realistically here. In ancient times, before the rise of modern science, early humans turned to stories to explain how the world around them functioned. Great moral and legal narratives like the Bible tried to inculcate just and moral behavior among ancient people. Here and there, traditions diverged, but most religions spoke to the belief in order in the universe, and the importance of humility before God. Today, I think that people should embrace the commonalities of different faiths and see them as inspirations to better understand art and science and the law; they shouldn’t use religion as an excuse to murder other people, as you are. When it comes to the ethics of killing a woman who is a victim of rape, human knowledge has evolved in such a way that we can universally recognize this as a cruel and despicable act… Value Scripture for its timeless messages, but not its outdated biases.

Red Horseman

And who’s to decide what’s a timeless message, and what’s outdated, or cruel, or despicable? You? First you said that every moral code was relative. And then, you have the audacity to impose a moral code yourself, saying that it would be categorically wrong to stone this woman. Why is your word better than Scripture? Is it thanks to your intuitions and social upbringing? Then you’ve fallen into the same trap you say I have. My intuitions differ from yours, as did my upbringing. So, here’s my vote when it comes to our first debate on this, my birthday. My two brothers can decide the matter for themselves.


The crowd was absolutely silent. The red horseman produced a rock from his robe and heaved it with all his might at the woman’s face. He shattered her two front teeth and unleashed rivulets of blood down her chin and neck. Her torso lurched forward in her place of burial. Her eyes revealed that one more hit would do the trick.

April 20, 2011

Next Chapter April 21, 2011

The Lamb in the Bonfire (The Scapegoat in the Sack)

A moment went by, or weeks.

In the distance, I saw the three horsemen respond to the sound of my voice. They began to ride toward the woman from the direction of a second turreted city gate. They were still far away, though—mirages on the horizon. As I watched them materializing in the ether, I said,

“This will be fun. It’s rare that I have a lucid dream these days. I had them almost every night when I was a kid. A boy, I mean, and not a little goat. Given your obvious penchant for sheep, I thought it was a distinction worth mentioning.”

The woman began to cry again.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said. “This will be biblical! For a while, I’ll get to be like God in this place, wherever we are, so long as I remember who I am, and that I’m in a dream.”

“I’m the one who must be dreaming,” said the girl between involuntary hiccoughs. “This is like a nightmare.”

“My imagination is constructing a fine plot—its characters speak so realistically,” I congratulated myself out loud. Then I added for good measure, “You’re a phantom image. Some sort of Freudian symbol or Jungian archetype or something like that. I’m the only true consciousness in this dialogue.”

“How do you know?”

Cogito ergo sum. I’m David Vincent Kimel. I was born in Israel in a hospital called Tel Ha Shomer, in a city called Ramat Gan.”

“Where are your ancestors buried?”

“That’s a funny question! Well, my mother is descended from Italians, I guess—an old Neapolitan family, the Buonocores. The King of Naples executed an ancestor of mine, and Napoleon eventually inherited the estate.  I remember reading that he gave it to his mother as a kind of summer home. My father is a Jew of Romanian ancestry. His mother, Malka, was the daughter of a man named David, a peddler who sold bread. I’m named after him. Her mother was descended from Avtalion, the famous rabbi who was a relative of the Assyrian King who scattered the tribes of Israel, or so says the Talmud. And according to National Geographic, which can now trace our most distant ancestors using cheek swabs…”

“What’s National Geographic, and what are cheek swabs?”

“Never mind what those are. Let’s just say that I have it on good authority that my father’s father’s distant father came from Babylonia. And my mother’s mother’s distant mother from Carthage…”

“I suppose you’re going to say next,” said the woman, “that your stepfather was a carpenter, and that you grew up outside of a place called New Haven. And that you went camping in the Galilee every year with your father, where you’d swim in the Jordan River.”

“How did you know all that?”

The galloping of the horsemen became louder.

“Oh God,” cried the woman. “Those three old priests are coming back! And they’re on the hunt for a scapegoat.“

“I told you, goats have nothing to do with this…”

The horsemen had by now surrounded the woman. One rode a red horse and sported a ridiculously large mustache. The second was on the back of a black horse and had shaggy silver hair. The third was bald and sat on a pale horse of no distinct color. They all seemed to speak in Latin, or German. I couldn’t tell.

Ecce homines, was gibt es hier? I called. “We’re all characters in my dream, and I could wake up at any moment, so we haven’t got much time. Listen up. We’re going to play a game. We’ll hold a debate competition between all the ghosts of this place. We’ll ask True or False questions about the meaning of life—one side will defend True, and the other side False. And then, we four can be the judges until a single winner is left standing, the messiah of this place. The woman can break any ties. It will be a brilliant literary exercise, part Alice in Wonderland and part Plato’s Symposium. What do you say?”

“There’s no question what must be done here,” said the red horseman. Ignoring everything that I’d said, he grabbed hold of the lamb and heaved it into a sack.

“You mustn’t touch him!” screamed the woman. “It’s some sort of portent. And besides, he’s a black sheep, not a white one. He wouldn’t be appropriate for the rite.”

“Actually, the pelt was white originally,” I chirped stupidly. “It was your blood that made it so black.”

“But it doesn’t matter; the pelt is black now!”

“Actually, it’s very dark red.”

The three horsemen cackled. Over the sound of their laughter, she cried,

“It belongs to me and you can’t have it—the poor little black sheep! I beg you, don’t kill it.”

They heaved the sack into a great bonfire which had either just materialized or escaped my notice.

The last thing that I heard was a voice that muttered, “Now, stone the girl.”

I complained long and hard about this turn of events to an audience of air. At the end of my oration, I heard a voice intone, “You’re fired.”

I felt as if a giant held me in cupped hands. I was humble, and bowed to necessity. So I wasn’t dropped.

Then I woke up for the first time.

April 19, 2011

Next Chapter April 20, 2011

Prelude (A Fateful Announcement)

Mary Had a Little Lamb Whose Fleece Was White as Snow. The tune of the nursery rhyme opened my dream last night. It might be the oldest song that I know. Well, Baa Baa Black-Sheep is another candidate, or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or even The Alphabet. It’s hard to tell. The last three songs all share the same tune and are easy to mix up.

Asleep in bed, I looked down upon a woman riding an ivory colt through the gates of a city of gold on a path paved with platinum. She was not more than thirteen years old. Two horsemen galloped by, and then a third.

She spoke.

“Little snow white lamb,” she moaned, nearly drowned out by the sound of hooves, “I’ve lost faith in God’s existence.”

No sooner had she spoken, I realized that she was cradling a lamb in her arms.

“My gown doesn’t fit me any longer. There’s only one explanation that I can think of… I must have stomach cancer. How could God let this happen to me?”

“Nonsense,” I laughed to myself. “You don’t have stomach cancer. You’re just pregnant.”

“I’d rather the problem be stomach cancer!” she cried honestly as if in answer. “I’m very young. I’m not yet married. And what if my mother should find out? She’d be angry, and think that I was making up a tale, since it happened in the city. God, don’t let them stone me before I even marry!”

I saw a broken shard of glass clutched in her right hand, and she gripped it so tightly that it drew blood. Three drops fell on the lamb’s coat–three rose red stains. The blood melted into the pelt like salt into water, and soon it was dyed completely scarlet, and then a shade of red so dark that it might as well have been black.

As if reading from a script, I recited, “How can you simultaneously say that you’ve lost faith in God’s existence, and then ask how God could let this happen to you, and then call on God for help?”


“Never mind. I have no idea how I got here and the sun can’t normally talk, so I must be in a dream. Yes, that must be it. I’m David Vincent Kimel of Israel and Connecticut, and I’m in a dream! So this is what it feels like to be a star.”

March 25, 2011

Next Chapter April 19, 2011