Arnaldo Momigliano. Judaism Past and Present

Contribute by: prof. Silvia Berti, Associate Professor of Modern History, Department of Philosophy in Villa Mirafiori, Sapienza University of Rome.

Over twenty- five years ago, when I first mentioned to Arnaldo Momigliano my idea of publishing a one- volume selection of his writings on Judaism, few people would have recognized in this strong sense of belonging the most intimate source of his relationship with the past— the primum mobile of his work. This is not a question of affirming that Momigliano is essentially a historian of Judaism or of its contemporary interpreters and theorists. A statement of the kind would go against all the evidence and deconstruct all the connotations that Pierre Vidal- Naquet’s adjective momiglianesque intrinsically conveys. What the anthology (selected in agreement with Momigliano himself) was foregrounding was the way in which the lines of his thought on Judaism gradually built up an accurate and detailed self- portrait, besides throwing light on his studies overall and the deeply rooted motivation behind them.

Today this is widely accepted, and not simply as regards his intellectual biography. Life, doctrine, and métier d’historien all converge in a very original approach to the problems of Judaism in the modern world today. Central to his position is an insistent and mandatory defense of historical truth and truthfulness, with which his commitment to what may be termed the “ethical experience” of Judaism is so closely interconnected that it is difficult to speak of unless all its discrete components are read as an entirety.

Arnaldo Dante Momigliano (1908–1987) was one of the great twentieth-century historians, and left an indelible mark on both European and American culture. For more than sixty years his influence was felt far beyond the field of ancient history, his chosen area of specialization, particularly as regards intercultural relations in the Hellenistic and Roman world and the related historiography. Anyone who came in contact with him in individual or academic discussions, above all younger scholars, was immediately aware of his prodigious intellectual energy, a second nature in him, forcing his interlocutor to confront more extensive issues and test them against the most rigorous analytical enquiries. Momigliano studied at Turin University under Augusto Rostagni and Gaetano De Sanctis, graduating in 1929. He then moved to Rome to work with the latter, who had supervised his thesis. In 1933 he accepted the Chair of Greek History that De Sanctis himself had had to vacate on refusing to swear loyalty to the fascist regime (1931).