3 Brothers & 17 Camels

Once upon a time a nobleman left 17 camels to his 3 sons. The eldest brother received one-half of the camels, the middle son one-third, and the youngest boy one-ninth.

The three brothers argued vehemently about the fairest way to divide the livestock, and no one would compromise. Finally, they sought the advice of a wise man in the community.

After listening to their predicament, the sage devised an intriguing solution. He gave the three brothers his only camel. The boys now had 18 animals.

Then the man divided the camels according to the father’s wishes. The oldest brother’s share was one-half or 9 camels. The middle son received one-third or 6 camels. The youngest boy’s share was one-ninth or 2 camels.

Add the numbers up. 9 + 6 + 2 = 17!

The three brothers returned the 18th camel to the wise man.

After extensive ciphering and cogitating, the fable’s math escapes me. No doubt one can learn many lessons from the tale. Since my experience with camels is thankfully limited, I might be missing the subtler nuances of the parable.

The most impressive element is the character of the wise man. Rather than viewing the situation as a win/lose confrontation, he sought out a win/win solution. In the end, everybody got what he wanted.

The story reminds us that brothers are always more important than camels. Such a concept has applications for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations.

  • In our personal relationships, seeking first to understand the other’s perspective gives us new understanding.
  • Parents and children who talk with each other defuse explosive situations.
  • Marriages endure when spouses think of themselves as “we” and not just “I.”
  • Churches grow stronger when we cherish diversity and difference.

In the best of all worlds, brothers and sisters would never argue about such trivial things as camels. However, I suppose that would make the story a real fairy tale.

2 thoughts on “3 Brothers & 17 Camels

  1. One-half, one-third, and one-ninth do not sum to one. So if n = # of cows (in this case 17), at least one brother is gonna get some steak. As I can determine it, the n+1=18 is unique. And furthermore …


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