In the USA, in Europe, and the Middle East we all need to sit down and discuss commonalities. A good way to start would be by reviewing the play by Lessing, an enlightenment author, who wrote of the divisions and similarities between the crusader Christian, the Muslims and the Jews.
On my flight back to Kuwait on the German airlines, Lufthansa, I brought along a German language copy of the 18th Century classic theater play by Gotthold Ephraem lessing. Lessing, called Nathan der Weise ("NATHAN the WISE"). I had seen the play nearly 20 years ago in Wuppertal, Germany and had loved the precepts of this Enlightenment-era piece. With the recent (1) boondoggle by the Pope in Regensburg, Germany in quoting crusader- era leadership and (2) the subsequent backlash of misunderstanding in the Islamic world this past September 2006, it is about time that most peace-seeking citizens (of whatever faith) work on the tolerance preached in and carried out by the main characters at the end of this wonderful work of Lessing's on Muslims, Christians and Jews set in Jerusalem just after the 3rd Crusade.
The play, Nathan the Wise, (first performed in 1779) is almost as old as the United States itself but far too few Americans either have seen about or hear of this play. Lessing situates this drama in a period of truce with the Great Saladin in the seat of power. As backdrop of the tale, Saladin is apparently seeking to negotiate a marriage between his family and that of Richard the Lionhearted. This was intended to create conditions for a more permanent peace in the region. However, it needs to be stated that Richard does not otherwise play any visible role in the drama at all. However, this idea of marriage among peoples of different faiths is not only a backdrop to the whole work of Lessing's.
NATHAN RETURNS HOME
The play begins with the return home of Nathan , a Jew, to Jerusalem from a lengthy business journey to Baghdad. Upon his arrival, Nathan discovers that there had almost been a fatal fire in his home. The girl, whom Nathan has been raising in his house as if she is his own daughter, is almost killed in the blaze, but a Knights Templer saved her from the flames in the last moment.
Nathan seeks to meet with and reward the young Templer knight, but the young man refuses to even shake Nathan's hand indicating he, a fanatical fundamentalist Christian, dislikes Jews, and the Templer had not even known (nor cared) that he was rescuing a Jewess. The brash young knight was simply carrying out a command (or oath) from his order of knights to rescue those who are in trouble.
However, both Nathan's tolerance and good nature wear down the young knight's hardened surface and resistance. The Templer finally agrees to visit the home of Nathan and receive thanks from Nathan's "daughter", Daga. Fascinatingly, this same Templer had himself been the benefactor of great tolerance and had been rescued from execution by the Muslim leader, Saladin, only a few days earlier.
Saladin had observed this young Templer in prison. He had been arrested with other rebellious Templers for treason, but Saladin had decided that any young man-who looked as much like his very own long-lost brother, Assad, as this particular Templer did-need not be executed. Not only was the rebellious young Templer not executed by the Muslim commander who controlled the city of Jerusalem, but the Great Saladin also pardoned the Templer of all his crimes as well. Days after being set free from the gallows to walk the streets of the city, this same lucky Templer had come upon the burning home Nathan and rescued the wealthy Jew's "daughter".
In short, God seemed to be working special and mysterious things in this young Templer's life. This is why the Christian patriarchs were, in the meantime, keeping an eye on this young Templer and his activities in Jerusalem.
To make a long story short, later when the Templer met Nathan's "daughter", Daja, he falls in love with the beauty. His heart burns with love, but he feels ashamed because he had been raised in a prejudiced Catholic Europe to believe that Jews-like Muslims-were the enemy of his God and faith.
Confused by his own feelings for the young women, the Templer begs leave of Nathan's household and runs out.
DARK MEMORIES AND SECRETS
Later, however, in the streets outside the Templer is first followed and then approached by Daga's nanny, a Christian born in Switzerland but hired by Nathan to help raise the "daughter". The nanny reveals that the so-called "daughter", Daga, is not really Nathan's daughter but was baptized Christian long ago. Nathan is simply raising the girl as his daughter.
This report from Daga's nanny horrifies the earnest Templer. He is angered that a Jew would take a Christian orphan and raise her as if she was his very own.
With this hateful feeling grwoing in his heart, the young Templer goes to meet officials from the church and receives advice as to what to do about this act of blasphemy carried out on Daga, i.e. against a Christian child of God. The Church patriarch indicates that if what he claims as fact is indeed true, then the Jew (Nathan) must be cruelly executed for his sin and crime against the Lord.
Meanwhile, it is revealed that nearly a generation earlier, poor Nathan had returned home to Jerusalem from another lengthy business journey to find that a horrible pogrom against Jews had just taken place in that Holy City. Nathan's own wife and his seven children had been murdered.
It was in this very period of mourning that a friend and Christian soldier, calling himself Wolf von Filnek, had asked Nathan to take care of his child as he was preparing to go off to battles to the north and east. Subsequently, Nathan had sought to raise the child, Daja, as best he could. Meanwhile,Wolf von Filnek had died in battle far away.