Nathan the Wise

by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The German play Nathan the Wise is undeniably about religious tolerance thematically. The overarching story is about the businessman Nathan, who is Jewish, and how he interacts with the Sultan Saladin as well as a German Templar who saves his daughter. The Templar actually says something about how surprised he is that there are good Jews in the world when Nathan offers to help the Templar with a loan for a religious monument.

On top of this, Nathan also tells a story about a father who has a ring that will grant the love of God and men to anyone who wears it. The father gives the ring along with two replicas to his three children, but they don’t know which is real. As Nathan explains, the idea is that the rings are like religions. No one knows which religion is real, so the important thing is to treat each other well. You can be a good person even if you don’t have a magic ring, in other words.

Eventually, the Templar and Nathan become friends, and Saladin praises Nathan’s wisdom, reinforcing the idea of religious tolerance and harmony.

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