The Tale of the Wolf and Goat: An Analysis

by Charlotte Dovey
See page for author [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]
A wolf and a lamb are standing in a wooded landscape with a goat behind them.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales includes a very strange story about God and the Devil creating animals.  In it, God creates animals but he forgets about the goat (so much for his being omniscient).  He takes a wolf as his dog, his own special pet.  The Devil compensates for God’s forgetfulness by creating a goat.  The wolf, of course, destroys the goat, so the Devil seeks “damages” or monetary compensation from God.  God agrees to pay him when the last oak leaves have fallen, but of course there are always places in the world where there are oak leaves on the trees.  God, then, tricks the Devil into forfeiting his indemnity.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales includes a very strange story about God and the Devil creating animals.  In it, God creates animals but he forgets about the goat (so much for his being omniscient).  He takes a wolf as his dog, his own special pet.  The Devil compensates for God’s forgetfulness by creating a goat.  The wolf, of course, destroys the goat, so the Devil seeks “damages” or monetary compensation from God.  God agrees to pay him when the last oak leaves have fallen, but of course there are always places in the world where there are oak leaves on the trees.  On the face of it then, God tricks the Devil into forfeiting his indemnity.

Now the Devil is usually the character generally involved in resorting to tricks rather than fair-dealing.  In this story, God uncharacteristically plays the part of the trickster, it seems. Yet, one may argue that the Devil created a destructive animal so he was not due compensation, or that he owed counter-damages.  This, however, was not the approach that God took.  Rather, he appears to have undermined the spirit of the law.  Someone may think that what this story tells us is that God rejects the law of man, where the Devil resorts to uphold it, because God has no other recourse. 

This assessment seems dubious to me.  I suggest an alternative:

The natural law, moral law, and the theoretical framework for human law are compatible, ideally.  If God creates a moral law and natural law, and endows humans with reason (in accordance with natural laws) to work out what these laws are, as thinkers such as Kant postulated, then our legal framework ought to be compatible with morality.  When we discover that it is not, then we must adjust that legal framework.  Now if there is a disagreement between two parties, we require an independent arbiter to adjudicate.  Since God seems to be one of the parties in this dispute, he cannot also be the judge.  This seems to have some interesting implications in the last judgment, such as God is not the judge, or perhaps God is not one of the opposing parties who wish to claim souls.  It may be, as I like to think, that the last judgment is merely a matter of showing people that they already have the ability to judge for themselves:  to show them that they have life and death in equal measure, that they do not just die, but are transformed into something else.

Jacob de Backer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“The Last Judgment”

I have amended this faery tale.  See:

The Tale of the Wolf and Goat, a Retelling

© Copyright 2019, Metamorphorica

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