Mary Evans Picture Library, London

Gotthold Lessing (1729–1781), a German critic and dramatist, remains famous primarily for Laokoon (1766), a treatise on the limits of poetry and art. He played a crucial role, however, in launching modern biblical criticism by bringing about the publication of On the Intention of Jesus and His Disciples by Hermann Samuel Reimarus (1694–1768). That work is generally considered the first attempt to understand the historical Jesus as separate from the Jesus of the Gospels. Lessing had become friends with Reimarus in the last year of Reimarus’s life and used his position as librarian for the Duke of Brunswick to get the manuscript published in 1778 as a supposedly anonymous manuscript found in the duke’s library.