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Nathan the Wise is the Western classic on religious tolerance. It offers a vision of Jews, Christians, and Muslims as People of the Book, united by a shared reverence of the text, mutually respectful, giving one another rich gifts of particularity. In Jerusalem in 1192, at the time of the Third Crusade, the Muslim sultan Saladin declares a truce in which Muslim, Christians, and Jews are to live in harmony. The fragile peace is broken by a fiery young Templar and further threatened by Saladin's sister, the lady Sittah, and Heraklios, the Christian patriarch. Nathan is a wise and wealthy Jewish merchant whose wealth is sought by Sittah and Heraklios. The Christian Templar rescues Nathan's precocious daughter Recha from a fire. The two young people, Jew and Christian, are drawn to each other in love, a love which is fostered by Recha's nurse, Daya. Aided by a ubiquitous friar and a picaresque dervish, the two young people come up with an imaginative resolution to the issue of which is the one true faith, during the trial at which Nathan must defend his life.

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