I remember learning a story in the Talmud (I think) and am trying to find the source. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but this is what I remember.

There was a Talmudic Rabbi who was sold into slavery, and was being taken by his new master to Rome.

On the way, the Rabbi told his new owner that traveling in front of them were a Jew and a non-Jew (possibly slaves), a donkey and another animal (I can't remember which), and one was carrying oil and one water. There may have been some other details that the Rabbi told his owner as well.

When this was proven to be true, the owner was so impressed that he told the Rabbi that if he would tell him how he was able to know this, the owner would set the Rabbi free.

The Rabbi told him that he had deduced it based on various clues. He pointed out that there were two drip patterns. One had absorbed in the ground (water) and one hadn't (oil). He pointed out that one of the people had gone off the path to relieve himself, which is a Jewish trait, while the other person hadn't. (He probably pointed out some other things as well)

That's what I remember; anyone have a source?

  • 3
    For the (pedantic) record, Holmes used induction, not deduction.
    – HodofHod
    Commented Feb 4, 2012 at 23:28
  • 1
    It pleases me to know that "do you mind if I open the window, Dr. Kovacs?" does in fact have a talmudic precursor. :-) Commented Jan 1, 2015 at 22:20

1 Answer 1


Sanhedrin 104, from the last line of the first amud to perhaps a quarter of the way down the second.

Soncino Translation:

Our Rabbis taught: It once happened that two men [Jews] were taken captive on Mount Carmel, and their captor was walking behind them.

One of them said to the other, ‘The camel walking in front of us is blind in one eye, and is laden with two barrels, one of wine, and the other of oil, and of the two men leading it, one is a Jew, and the other a heathen.’

Their captor said to them, ‘Ye stiff-necked people, whence do ye know this?’ They replied, ‘Because the camel is eating of the herbs before it only on the side where it can see, but not on the other, where it cannot see. It is laden with two barrels, one of wine and the other of oil: because wine drips and is absorbed [into the earth], whilst oil drips and rests [on the surface]. And of the two men leading it, one is a Jew, and the other a heathen: because a heathen obeys the call of Nature in the roadway, whilst a Jew turns aside.’

He hastened after them, and found that it was as they had said. So he went and kissed them on the head, brought them into his house, and prepared a great feast for them. He danced [with joy] before them and exclaimed ‘Blessed be He who made choice of Abraham's seed and imparted to them of His wisdom, and wherever they go they become princes to their masters!’ Then he liberated them, and they went home in peace.

  • 1
    A tip of the hat to archive.org/stream/talmudicjales012697mbp#page/n133/mode/2up for correcting the story for me so I could search for it properly.
    – msh210
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 20:18
  • 7
    Note that the "detective" in the story isn't depicted as a rabbi, though, just as an ordinary Jew (with the point being that "wherever Jews go, they become rulers over their masters" - a derash based on Lam. 1:1, שרתי במדינות).
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 20:19
  • 1
    @Alex Indeed, it a very similar story appears on that verse in Eicha Rabba
    – Ypnypn
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 23:01

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