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Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men

The Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise men (1274-1276) is a work of apologetics, designed to demonstrate the efficacy of Ramon Llull’s method in a discussion concerning the truth or falsity of the three Laws or religions of the book: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The disputants had to be men of good faith who were prepared to follow the ‘conditions’ of the ‘flowers’ which grew on five symbolic ‘trees’. It involved binary combinations of the attributes of God, the virtues, and the vices, combinations which were related either by concordance or contrariety. If the conditions of this discursive game were accepted, the incontrovertible triumph of Christianity would come about automatically, without the participants in the debate feeling belittled or threatened. It was the victory of reason.

Two things draw one’s attention in the Book of the Gentile. First, the systematic presentation of the principles of the Mosaic Law and of that of Islam, with a responsible and adequate knowledge of the contents of both, which was not very common in writers of religious polemic at this time. Second, the narrative tale which informs the treatise. Llull imagines that a Gentile, that is to say, a pagan who is ignorant of monotheism, consents to a knowledge of faith through the teachings of three wise men or experts, one Jewish, one Christian and one a Muslim. After illuminating the disciple upon the existence of a single God, the creation, and the resurrection (truths which all three masters admit), each one presents his own religion so that the listener and the reader might choose the correct one. Seemingly, therefore, the discussion ends in deadlock, while the Gentile asserts that he knows which is the good religion.

The Book of the Gentile is written in a highly emotive tone, with descriptions of a wondrous, idealised nature, dialogues characterised by extreme courtesy and outbursts of lofty religious poetry.

In the Liber de fine (1305), while giving an overview of his works in retrospect, Llull assures us that ‘the Book of the Gentile must be considered a version of the Art, because Dame Intelligence with her Trees teaches one artifically to discover that the Christian law is superior to all other laws’.