Robert Alter and the Translation of the Bible

Most people who work with the Hebrew Bible are familiar with Robert Alter. Alter is a literary scholar who has written many influential books, one of which, The Art of Biblical Narrative, has been very influential in helping scholars study the literary techniques of the Hebrew Bible.

But Alter is also famous for his acclaimed translations of the Bible. So far, Alter has translated the five books of Moses, the book of Psalms, the Wisdom books, and the story of David (1 and 2 Samuel).

Alter’s latest translation is a translation of the books known as the Former Prophets. His newest translation, Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, was published on April 1, 2013. With this latest release, Alter has translated about 60% of the Hebrew Bible.

In an interview with Anthony Weiss, Alter said the following about the book of Judges:

I find the Book of Judges very exciting. In a way, it’s kind of the Wild West era of ancient Israelite history. There is this refrain in the closing chapters of the Book of Judges: “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Each man did what was right in his own eyes.” So you have this setting of political chaos. You have these ad hoc military leaders who exercise daring, resourcefulness, ruthlessness. You have the wonderful story of Deborah and the victory that she basically inspires over the Canaanite army, and, in the midst of that, a Song of Deborah, which may well be the oldest poem we have in the Hebrew language. It may go back as far as 1100 BCE, and it has a kind of grandeur and archaic magic that I find quite exotic.

You can more about Alter’s interview with Anthony Weiss by visiting Forward.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

This entry was posted in Robert Alter, Translating, Translation Problems and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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