King Solomon and The Angel of Death
The following parable is taken from British explorer and travel writer Freya Stark's diary, as chronicled in A Winter in Arabia: A Journey Through Yemen, which recounts her 1937-38 expedition in search of an ancient South Arabian city.
In the run-up to the parable, in reflecting on the subject of physical health in southern Arabia at the time, she writes: "To my mind, with so many microbes about, and of so unknown and violent a character, it seems a waste of time to try to avoid meeting them. I am not a very good advocate, having had most diseases at one time or another, but the wisdom of the Arabs is concentrated in the old story of King Solomon and the Angel of Death."
This story exists in many forms, according to Stark, but in her telling it goes like this:
A man, walking in the streets in Jerusalem, saw the Angel of Death staring at him in a pointed way, as he thought. Having gone to King Solomon, to ask his advice, he decided to absent himself from the Angel's vicinity, and departed for India.
Now the Angel used to come at intervals to visit the king, and on his next appearance, when they had spoken for a time on this and that, King Solomon said:
"I should be much obliged if, when you walk about in the streets of my city, you would take a little care how you look at my people: they are apt to recognize you and to feel discomposed." And he told him of the man who had been afraid.
"Indeed," said the Angel of Death, "I will remember what you say. But as for that man, I was looking at him with no unlucky intention. I was merely surprised to see him in Jerusalem, for I have been ordered to fetch him from India in three weeks' time."