Category:Historical Jesus Studies--Italian

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The category: Historical Jesus Studies--Italian, includes scholarly and fictional works in Italian language dealing with Historical Jesus Studies.

HJS (Italian) -- History of research -- Overview
HJS (Italian) -- History of research -- Overview

Since the Renaissance Italy had a long tradition of artistic and literary retellings of the life of Jesus, culminated in the masterpieces of Aretino and Metastasio and popularized in the 18th century by the production of numerous oratorios.

No Italian scholar contributed to the international rise of modern critical research on the Historical Jesus, which was prompted by the publication in 1774-78 of the work of Hermann Samuel Reimarus. In the period preceding the Italian Unification, the Roman Catholic Church maintained a strict control of the cultural and religious life, effectively blocking the publication of any non-conformist voice. The most popular "Lives of Jesus" of early 19th-century Italy were literary works of spiritual edification, composed by Catholic prelates of great erudition, such as Antonio Cesari, and Giuseppe Lorini. Their scope did not go beyond the objective of providing a harmonization of the gospels to create elegant and consistent historical-biographical narratives. The news of the emerging scholarly debate on the Historical Jesus reached Italy as the echoes of far-away heresies.

Beginnings of Critical Scholarship (second half of the 19th century)

In the climate of religious conformism of the mid-19th century, the only conspicuous exception is given by historian Aurelio Bianchi-Giovini, who in 1853, challenging censorship and risking jail, made available to Italian readers the most advanced results of international research. His "Critica degli Evangeli" had to be published in Zurich, Switzerland and only in the 1860s, after the Unification, could be reissued in Milan. Bianchi-Giovini remained a brilliant, yet isolated figure of precursor in the field of Second Temple Judaism and Christian Origins.

The establishment of the Italian State in 1861 created a new climate of religious freedom. A more solid beginning was provided by the translation of the works of David Friedrich Strauss and Ernest Renan in 1863. In a field hitherto monopolized by Catholic theologians and priests, the publication of such works was in itself a great accomplishment and as expected, was followed by a flow of scandalized judgments and apologetic responses by Catholic biblical scholars, notably, Alfonso Capecelatro, and Vito Fornari.

Things were changing rapidly, however. Italy was now officially a liberal State which in 1870 successfully completed its battle against the temporal power of the Church and conquered Rome as its new capital. In 1873, following the abolition of the Faculties of Theology in Italy, the first chair of History of Christianity was established at the University of Naples. Liberal ideas penetrated also among Catholic authors. Luigi Arosio distinguished himself as the first Catholic NT scholar. In 1890, with his Life of Jesus illustrated by the Best Artists, Ruggeri Bonghi, a friend of Antonio Rosmini and Alessandro Manzoni, a professor of Latin literature and ancient history and founder in 1862 of the newspaper La Stampa, was the first author to inaugurate the Italian tradition of journalists and writers to compete successfully in this literary genre still largely reserved for ecclesiastical authors. The public was also exposed to the first romanticized "apocryphal" versions of the life of Jesus, being they characterized by a new and provocative look at ancient sources (the Judas of Petruccelli or the socialist Jesus of Giannelli) or instead animated by a reverent attitude toward the tradition (the Ben-Hur of Wallace, or The Centurion" by Routhier). In 1the 1890, Alessandro Chiappelli, professor f History of Philosophy at the University of Naples, published the first critical review of studies on the Historical Jesus in Italy.


At the turn of the century, Baldassarre Labanca, first professor of Church History at the University of Rome, was the beginner of the historical-critical study of religion in Italy, with his 1900 book on the reception of Renan. The works of Le Camus and Lacey were translated into Italian, even the Jesus Myth Theory made its appearance with Emilio Bossi. The growing influence of liberal Theology prompted the condemnation of Modernism by Pope Pius X in 1907.


In the 1910s it seemed that an Italian School could flourish in line with the approach of the European Liberal School, with the contributions by Baldassarre Labanca, Fleice Momigliano (the translator and editor of Claude Montefiore), and Giuseppe Chiminelli. The movie Christus, shot in the "original locations" by [{Giulio Antamoro]] in 1916, was an international success.


In 1920 the literary retelling of the Life of Jesus by Italian novelist Giovanni Papini was a sensation, being translated in all major languages. Catholic scholar Leone Tondelli and Ernesto Buonaiuti (now a University professor after his excommunication in 1925) produced some remarkable works. Yet, the rise of Fascism in the ‘20s and especially, the Concordat of 1929 between Fascist Italy and the Vatican, caused a progressive yet dramatic decline in the freedom of research and the end of this creative experience.

Felice Momigliano died in 1924 (being haunted even in death by vicious anti-Semitic attacks), Ernesto Buonaiuti lost his academic position, and Luigi Salvatorelli published in English in the Harvard Theological Review his long essay on "The Historical Investigation of the Origins of Christianity" (1929).


In the 1930s the interest in the research on the Historical Jesus was kept alive by the translation of the works of a few French and German authors of proved orthodoxy, such as Emile Lagrange, Franz Michel Willam, and Louis-Claude Fillion. And yet Italy was still capable to produce some original contributions, by Leone Tonelli, Piero Martinetti, Igino Giordani, and Israel Zolli (who applied Jewish and rabbinic source to the study of the New Testament according to the lesson of Hermann Strack and Paul Billerbeck). The Fascist Racial Laws of 1938 were the last blow that denied any possibilities of survival to the first generation of Italian scholars on the Historical Jesus.


During the war, there was only room for some pious retelling of the Life of Jesus, that could comfort and console. The Lives of Jesus by Giuseppe Ricciotti and Giacomo Mezzacasa played that role.

No one of the old generation was left to rebuilt an Italian school on the Historical Jesus after the war. Giuseppe Ricciotti's Life of Jesus enjoyed a continuous success in Catholic circles, even in translation, but was a work that belonged to the past. In 1943 the Vatican had lifted the ban against the translation of the Bible in modern languages, and the Italian Biblical Association was established in 1948, but after decades of repression and persecution, the new generation was not made of trained scholars. Primo Mazzolari and Francesco Magri were social activists who drew inspiration from the life of Jesus for their political views. Salvatore Quasimodo, Riccardo Bacchelli, Piero Bargellini and Michele Saponaro were writers, novelists and poets. After the Holocaust and the shocking conversion of Israel Zolli (now Eugenio Zolli) to Catholicism, the Jewish voice could be heard only through the translation of Scholem Asch's novel on Jesus.



The Second Vatican Council opened in 1962; it laid the foundations for a renewed interest in historical research and fostered a new climate of freedom and ecumenical dialogue. The impact on the study of the Historical Jesus was enormous, especially, for the rediscovery of the Jewishness of Jesus and of the social and political implications of his preaching.

In 1964 Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel according to Matthew, dedicate by the marxist author to the "loving memory of John XXIII," received international acclaim.


The seminal work of Carlo Maria Martini, rector of the Pontifical Biblical institute in the 1970s, prepares the path for the emergence of a new generation of Italian scholars:


In the 1980s an Italian school on the Historical Jesus finally reemerged. The generation of the Vatican II found its leaders in Giuseppe Barbaglio, Giorgio Jossa, and Rinaldo Fabris.


In the 1990s Mauro Pesce emerged as the leading Italian scholar on the Historical Jesus working in Italian Universities.


In 2003 Second Temple specialist Paolo Sacchi published his own specific contribution to the Historical Jesus, and Gabriele Boccaccini edited a volume on the development of early Christology, as the result of a meeting in Venice of Italian and international specialists, and a detailed essay on the history of the Historical Jesus Research in Italy in 2007.

In 2006 the publication of Inchiesta su Gesu, in which Corrado Augias interviewed specialist Mauro Pesce generated a lot of controversy and showed the still fragile impact of historical research in the Italian society.


Mauro Pesca and Giorgio Jossa remained the most active Italian scholars on the Historical Jesus. There are three major obstacles: the precarious situation of studies in religion in Italian Universities and Seminaries; the lasting influence of religious conservatism against the historical method; and the difficulty for young researchers and scholars to find academic positions. What will follow the generation of the Second Vatican Council is yet to be seen.


  • Gabriele Boccaccini / Gesù ebreo e cristiano: sviluppi e prospettive di ricerca sul Gesù storico in Italia, dall'Ottocento a oggi (with an Appendix on works available in translation) / In: Henoch 29.1 (2007), 105-154.


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Cognate Fields (Italian)
Cognate Fields (Italian)

Pages in category "Historical Jesus Studies--Italian"

The following 200 pages are in this category, out of 318 total.

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