Key plot points

The protagonist is living on a planet populated by a race of small, logical humanoids. They live in harmony with each other, and apparently have never had the sort of strife humanity has had. They also have the trait of being very literal in their understanding of things. They don't grasp metaphor or allegory the way a human being would.

One day, a rocket ship lands on the planet. The protagonist meets the man in the ship. The new arrival is a religious missionary, who has come to the planet to preach the word of God, and convert the indigenous population. The protagonist develops an almost immediate dislike for the arrival, and I believe tries to convince the other man that he should leave, and that he'll just cause trouble. The missionary is, IIRC, somewhat disdainful of the chiding.

The story proceeds with the missionary setting up roots, building a church, and slowly converting the alien creatures. I recall the aliens' understanding of things making it very difficult for them to grasp the ideas behind faith, the wondrous, and so on. It causes great strife among them. The protagonist becomes increasingly concerned about what is happening.

Events take a tragic turn when the protagonist learns that the aliens have planned to test out the knowledge they have gained from the preacher. Specifically (IIRC) the idea of resurrection. I believe the protagonist, understanding the literal nature of the aliens, sees the danger and tries to save the missionary from what he has wrought. The alien beings overpower them in numbers, though. I believe the protagonist is captured, while the missionary is dragged out of the church and then crucified.

The story closes with one of the protagonist's closest friends among the aliens coming to him and (IIRC) freeing him from the church or wherever he's being held.. He tells the protagonist he needs to go to his own ship and flee. All that has happened has torn apart his society, and it is no longer safe for the protagonist to stay. He also understands that the missionary will not be coming back to life, and that they have committed an act of evil for the first time in their history.

Chronology and other Info

No idea on the timeframe of this one. I'd say no later than the 1970s. It sticks in my mind this one is fairly well-known/something of classic. I just can't remember the title or author for the life of me.


1 Answer 1


The Streets of Ashkelon

This short story by Harry Harrison was first published in New Worlds.

A priest comes to evangelize to the Weskers, a species of literal aliens. He is greeted with some degree of hostility by another human living on the same planet:

“I said what are you doing here.” Garth’s voice was under control now, quiet and cold. He knew what had to be done, and it must be done quickly or not at all.

“That should be obvious,” Father Mark said, his good nature still unruffled. “Our missionary society has raised funds to send spiritual emissaries to alien worlds for the first time.
I was lucky enough—”

After a crash course in theology, the literal Weskers decide that they require a scientific test of the truth of the Bible:

“Can you tell us, Garth?” Itin asked, and the sound of his voice quieted the hubbub.

“I can tell you to use the scientific method which can examine all things—including itself—and give you answers that can prove the truth or falsity of any statement.”

“That is what we must do,” Itin said. “We had reached the same conclusion.” He held a thick book before him and a ripple of nods ran across the watchers. “We have been studying the Bible as Father Mark told us to do, and we have found the answer. God will make a miracle for us, thereby proving that He is watching us. And by this sign we will know Him and go to Him.”

They decide to crucify the missionary in the hopes that he will rise from the dead, thereby confirming their faith:

Of course the Weskers were marvelous craftsmen, and everything had been constructed down to the last detail, following the illustra­tion in the Bible. There was the cross, planted firmly on the top of a small hill, the gleaming metal spikes, the hammer. Father Mark was stripped and draped in a carefully pleated loincloth. They led him out of the church and at the sight of the cross he almost fainted. After that he held his head high and determined to die as he had lived, with faith.

At the end, Garth's friend Itin realizes that they have become murderers:

“Then we will not be saved? We will not become pure?”

“You were pure,” Garth said, in a voice somewhere between a sob and a laugh. “That’s the horrible ugly dirty part of it. You were pure. Now you are—”

“Murderers,” Itin said, and the water ran down from his lowered head and streamed away into the darkness.

  • 3
    The Streets of Ashkelon can be found in the Harry Harrison Anthology "Two Tales and Eight Tomorrows" which is out of print, but still seems to be available second-hand from various booksellers.
    – kate
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 11:41
  • 3
    @Kate - Or you could just read it online: lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/the-streets-of-ashkelon
    – Valorum
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 15:46

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