What Arnoldo Momigliano Wrote
The first is titled "Biblical Studies and Classical Studies". To give you a little taste, he writes:
If I said there is no basic difference between writing biblical history and writing any other history, it is because I wanted to introduce what to my mind is the really serious problem about writing any history today. There is a widespread tendency both inside and outside the historical profession to treat historiography as another genre of fiction. The reduction of historiography to fiction takes various forms and is justified with varying degrees of intellectual sophistication. It is sometimes presented in the simple for of reducing any literary product (including historiography) to the expression of ideological points of view; that is, of explicit or concealed class interests. It is also offered, with greater sophistication, as an analysis of historical works in terms of rhetorical postures; and finally, it is elaborated by combining ideological and rhetorical analysis with the purpose of proving that any historical account is characterized by a rhetorical posture which in turn indicates a social and political bias. The conclusion is in all cases the same: there is no way of distinguishing between fiction and historiography.
Now, all this may be right or wrong but is irrelevant to the fundamental fact about history—that it must be based on evidence as a condition sine qua non, whereas other forms of literature are not compelled to be so based, though of course nothing prevents a novel or an epic poem from being pedantically founded upon authentic archival documents. One is almost embarrassed to have to say that any statement a historian makes must be supported by evidence which, according to ordinary criteria of human judgment, is adequate to prove the reality of the statement itself. This has three consequences. First, historians must be prepared to admit in any given case that they are unable to reach safe conclusions because the evidence is insufficient; like judges, historians must be ready to say ‘not proven.’ Second, the methods used to ascertain the value of the evidence must continually be scrutinized and perfected, because they are essential to historical research. Third, the historians themselves must be judged according to their ability to establish facts. The form of exposition they choose for their presentation of the facts is a secondary consideration. I have of course nothing to object in principle to the present multiplication in methods of rhetorical analysis of historical texts. You may have as much rhetorical analysis as you consider necessary, provided it leads to the establishment of the truth—or to the admission that truth is regretfully out of reach in a given case. But it must be clear once and for all that Judges and Acts, Herodotus and Tacitus, are historical texts to be examined with the purpose of recovering the truth of the past. Hence the interesting conclusion that the notion of forgery has a different meaning in historiography than it has in other branches of literature or art. A creative writer or artist perpetrates a forgery every time he intends to mislead his public about the date and authorship of his own work. But only a historian can be guilty of forging evidence or of knowingly using forged evidence in order to support his own historical discourse. One is never simple-minded enough about the condemnation of forgeries. Pious frauds are frauds, for which one must show no piety—and no pity.
Another essay which lies fairly beyond my ken is "Judeo-Hellenistic Symbols". Recently friends were discussing dictionaries of symbolism, which I had not known existed. Highly recommended for the writer, one said. Given that context, I found what Momigliano had to say about interpreting ancient (religious and/or pagan) symbols interesting:
From the Renaissance onward, the problem of interpreting symbols by the ancients, or symbols believed to be by the ancients, has become a matter of concern for antiquarians and historians. The problem is not substantially different from that of interpreting literary and epigraphic texts. But while for the latter it gradually has become possible to develop, with the help of grammar, a generally accepted hermeneutics that only geniuses and crazy people can ignore, in the case of figurative arts such an agreement has not yet been reached. Now that archaeology has come to play a major role in the reconstruction of all aspects of ancient life, uncertainty in the interpretation of ancient figures has even greater consequences. Until we decide on the rules of the game, what now is happening before our very eyes will continue to happen: scholars of great renown and value present interpretations of the same monument—for example, the subterranean Basilica of Porta Maggiore or the Villa dei Misteri—interpretations different to an extent that would be unthinkable in the case of an epinicion by Pindar or a tragedy by Aeschylus. Moreover, when the interpretation concerns a vast group of figurative documents, such as the Pompeian paintings (K. Schefold) or the contorniates (A. Alföldi), the chances for agreement between experts are reduced to zero. We can only hope that someone will come along and write a new treatise on the interpretation of ancient paintings and coins.
The dust jacket of my book has a quote from Martin Goodman ("Times Literary Supplement") presumably reviewing it:
Perhaps [Momigliano's] most solid achievement in the study of Jews was to help to locate them properly in relation to Greek and Roman society and ideas.... But most lasting of all are the acute evaluations of Jewish scholars like himself whose sometimes precarious position in the modern world sharpened their understanding of the ancient. Many of the more recent figures Momigliano knew personally: Scholem, Benjamin, Finley, Bing, Fraenckel, Bickerman. It was out of their personal traumas... that a good deal of the best classical scholarship of the past two hundred years has derived. Momigliano, who ranked high in their number, was a worthy chronicler of their lives and work.