(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Nathan, a wealthy Jewish merchant, has just returned to Jerusalem from Babylon when Daja, the deeply prejudiced Christian companion to Nathan’s adopted daughter, a woman orphaned during the Third Crusade, tells him of the dramatic rescue of his beloved Recha from their burning house. Nathan, in spite of having suffered severely at the hands of Christians and Saracens alike, wishes to reward the young man who had so courageously saved Recha’s life. The hero proves to be a young Templar who recently had been pardoned by the sultan.

Each day, at Recha’s urging, Daja attempts to thank and reward the young man as he makes a daily visit to Christ’s tomb, but each time he rudely repulses her. Recha, as the result of shock over her narrow escape as much as from gratitude to her benefactor, suffers hallucinations in which she believes that the young Templar is her guardian angel. Nathan thinks it miraculous that Sultan Saladin should spare a Christian knight’s life or that the Templar would desire to be so spared. The truth is that the Saracen’s leniency is based on the young man’s resemblance to his own dead brother, Assad.

Daja, told by Nathan to seek out the young man and invite him to their home, finds him in a bad mood after he rejects a friar’s request from King Philip that he spy on and murder Saladin. The young man vehemently refuses to consider performing such a deed. The knight again tells Daja that he had performed his rescue of Recha through happenstance and therefore would accept no reward. Nathan then meets with and begs the youth, a penniless stranger in a strange land, to accept aid and friendship. Boorish though the young knight is, he offers to let Nathan buy him a mantle to replace his own, which had burned in the fire. At this suggestion the Jew sheds a tear and dissolves the intolerant Templar’s disdain and suspicion. They shake hands, friends. Nathan learns that the young man is Conrad von Stauffen, a name somehow associated in the Jew’s mind with the name Filneck, but before he could inquire further the Jew receives a message demanding his presence at the sultan’s palace.

The young knight, in the meantime, calls on Recha. Something immediately draws them together, some mutual feeling not unlike romantic love. He hastens off, however, to avert any disaster that might befall Nathan at...

(The entire section is 962 words.)