A ring with the power to make its owner loved by both God and his fellow man is passed down the generations, father to son, until one father has three sons he loves equally. To avoid choosing between them, he has two other rings made. No one now knows which is the authentic ring and arguments between the sons ensue. A judge advises them that, if the ring really possesses its reputed power, the true owner will make himself known, so they should each act as if theirs were the true ring.
A parable told to Saladin by Nathan the Wise at the time of the Third Crusade (1192), as retold by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in 1779