Elijah Montalto (1567-1616) and the Emergence of the Anti-Christian Polemics among the Portuguese Jews

Francisco Testa (Universidade de Lisboa)

18 de Abril de 2024 | 18:00

FLUL | Sala Lambrino Buescu (C109.C)

Organização | José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim

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During the seventeenth century, prominent figures within the Portuguese Jewish community engaged fervently in the anti-Christian controversy. Notable polemicists involved in these discussions included Elijah Montalto, Saul Levi Mortera, Moses Raphael d’Aguilar and Isaac Orobio de Castro.   


The subject of the conference will be Elijah Montalto's Tratado sobre o capitulo 53 de Isaias, a significant anti-Christian disputation from the Seventeenth century. Notably, this manuscript has achieved widespread circulation throughout Europe through translations in Spanish and Dutch, along with an English (incomplete) printed edition. My presentation will specifically centers on Montalto’s critique of the original sin – aligning with a well-established tradition in Sephardi polemical literature, notably exemplified by Iberian rabbis such as Hasdai Crescas and Josef Albo –, with the aim of elucidating Montalto’s exegesis of Genesis 2:17. In fact, Montalto critiques the erroneous interpretation, stemming from flawed translations, adopted by Christians concerning the Hebrew infinitive absolute mot tamut (you shall surely die). This expression serves as a simple reinforcement and does not imply a mors duplex, as asserted by Christians, encompassing both physical and spiritual dimensions. Moreover, I will endeavor to establish connections with other polemical treatises that also delve into the interpretation of the expression mot tamut. These include works such as Isaac Ben Abraham of Troki’s Ḥizzuk Emunah, Leone Modena’s Magen ve-herew, the manuscript Obstaculos y oposiciones contra la religion cristiana en Amsterdam (doubtfully attributed to Saul Levi Mortera) and the apologetic script Danielillo



Francesco Testa, an Italian Phd candidate, is currently enrolled at the University of Lisbon, undertaking a research project funded by FCT. Previously, he pursued studies in Philosophy at the universities of Macerata and Paris. Additionally, he gained experience as an educator, having worked as a high school teacher across various countries (Romania, Australia, Tunisia, Germany and Iran). His investigation focuses on the anti-Christian polemics of the Portuguese Jews from Amsterdam (XVII century). Within his study, considerable attention will be dedicated to analyze the treatises authored by figures such as Elija Montalto, Saul Levi Mortera, Moses Raphael d'Aguilar and Orobio de Castro.