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The David Story: A Translation with…
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The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel (1999)

by Robert Alter

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
On the road again, no time to write a proper review, so I'll just say that if you want to read/understand these books I've not encountered a better, more gripping, more fulsomely annotated, less irksomely "biblical," translation/way. ( )
1 vote MeditationesMartini | Jul 16, 2014 |
Five stars for the translation, which is wonderfully readable. But the commentary often sounds like special-pleading rather than than information and feels too in-depth for what is, at the end of the day, a story able to stand on its own (compare Alter's 'Genesis,' the commentary to which is extremely helpful and never feels forced). ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I have just finished the David story which is an Robert Alter translation of Samuel I and II of the Bible. Prior to this I read his translation of the first five books. From that prior translation my favorite parts were in Genesis, the creation story, and perhaps the story of Joseph and his brothers. I found it hard to push through Numbers and Deuteronomy. The book of Joshua could have been renamed the book of Genocide, although according to research into biblical history, all the massacres of people that the Israelites ran into once they had crossed the Jordan did not really happen. Still, it is hard to think that the bible could seriously be a guide to moral conduct. God in the old testament seems to order as many cruelties as kindnesses. Yaweh had supposedly told the Israelites to wipe out the worshippers of other gods and even was angered if they were not thorough enough, though they were told to be kind to orphans, widows and the strangers among them.

It makes more sense to me to take these books more as a set of stories about a people, and not as a moral guide. And, regarded this way, the David story is rather impressive. The two main dramas are David's relationship to Saul - the prior king who had been chosen by Yaweh, and then dropped in favor of David, but who also was in a sort of father role to David - and David's relationship with his own son, Absolom. It is not always clear what David's motivations are, whether his relationships win out over his drive to power or the other way round. At times, in fact, he seems a passive character, letting those around him take actions for him or simply not opposing them strongly enough. It feels like this could be fleshed out into a full-fledged novel, which, presumably is what Faulkner did in Absolom, Absolom, but I think that is one Faulkner I haven't read. ( )
1 vote solla | Jun 23, 2013 |
50. The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter (1999, 414 pages, read July 4 – Sept 3)

Well...it's been since September 1 since I wrote a review and Sept 3 since I finished this book. So, I'm not quite sure what I can now say about it, or how to structure whatever that may be.

Briefly, this is the first book of the Bible since Genesis that I can truly say has some overall remarkable literary aspect to it. (Looking over the other books, I can pick and choose parts that stand out, notably the Song of Deborah in Judges.) What precisely I mean by that is not so easy to explain. There isn't a marked break from Judges to Samuel, or even from within Samuel, from, say, Saul to David. But there is an overall broad sense of complexity and build-up. There is something like character development, and, ever so subtly, some literary sparks.

1 & 2 Samuel follows three main characters, the final judge, Samuel, and the first two Israelite kings Saul and David. Each is met young and unformed, and each is developed slowly and irregularly and experiences something of a rise and fall. And then there are the multitude of fascinating supporting characters, ranging from Eli the failed judge and holy man who is repetitively exposed indirectly by the text to Joab, David's rogue and ruthless nephew, one of the worst and most bloodstained characters to ever become a book's accidental hero. (I can't cover them all: Abner, Jonathan, Abimelech, Abigail, the witch of Endor, Nathan, Bathsheba, Uriah, Amnon, Tamar, Absalom, Ahitophel, Amasa and so on. Oddly, there just isn't much on Solomon's character, here or in Kings)

The first hint to me that something extra was going on here was in 1 Samuel chapter 3 where the author utilizes a very rare sense of biblical humor. At the time the young Samuel, whose life is dedicated to serving the LORD, is serving under the holy man Eli. Three times Samuel hears a voice call his name and each time he obediently rushes out to the Eli to find out what he wanted, saying "Here I am, for you called me." But, it wasn't Eli, this was God speaking to Samuel instead of Eli. Cute, and clever how Eli is exposed, since God does not speak to him. God's message to Samuel is a curse on Eli and his sons, permanently ending his line. Samuel is forced to tell Eli of the curse, and Eli responds with stoic dignity, "He is the LORD. What is good in His eyes let him do." What the text does, and what I fail to capture here, is stagger us with the tragedy and Eli's dignified response. But it only works so well because of that humor the opens our emotions up. That is the story is one complex piece that is constructed to, and successfully does, work our emotions.

Later, I found when I was reading about Absalom's rebellion I could not put the book down. Now, I knew what was going to happen, in some detail. But experiencing it was powerful enough to fully draw me to this most dry of texts. That is something that had never before happened while reading the bible. I don't fully understand why I was so attached to this, or why I was so moved by David's breakdown and final days (covered in 1 Kings chapters 1 & 2) What seems to have happened is that as I followed David and his odd rise, watched how the authors carefully undermined him through every step of his meteoric rise, and learned about all these fundamental character flaws, I somehow became very attached to him.

Between 1 Kings Chapter 2 where David dies, and Chapter 3 about the start of Solomon's reign is a striking textual change. There is nothing literary about Solomon, his reign and successes and failures are merely reported with laconic detail. Outside the Queen of Sheba, there are no characters to become attached to.

In a discussion about whether or not the story of David has any true factual sense to it, beyond the archeologically proven existence of a king named David, one author claims that the internal consistency within the David story seems to argue for some factual validity. I could argue just the opposite, that the literary color brought out by this story and the overall impact constructed through the books entirety, is simply too artistic and elegant to have possibly been true. I would say that regardless of the factual truth of David, this is the work of master of literature, albeit of an odd type of literature. ( )
9 vote dchaikin | Nov 19, 2012 |
This book hardly needs another rave review. However, avoid the Kindle version, as the formatting for the footnotes and clumsy and in some places left undone. ( )
  JDHomrighausen | Sep 1, 2012 |
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In memory of Judah M. Eisenberg
(1938-1998)
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The major sequence that runs, according to the conventional book and chapter divisions of later editorial traditions, from 1 Samuel 1 to 1 Kings 2 is one of the most astounding pieces of narrative that has come down to us from the ancient world.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393320774, Paperback)

There are countless good reasons to read The David Story, Robert Alter's new translation of the story of King David (beginning in I Samuel and ending in I Kings 2). In the book's introduction, Alter contends that the story of David is "probably the greatest single narrative representation in antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped and altered by the pressures of political life, public institutions, family, the impulses of body and spirit, the eventual sad decay of the flesh. It also provides the most unflinching insight into the cruel processes of history and into human behavior warped by the pursuit of power." Alter's translation is more literal than the King James version, which makes his rendering of Scripture newly immediate and jarring. (When Samuel anoints David in I Samuel 16, for instance, "the spirit of the LORD gripped David from that day onward.") This David Story is worth reading for the footnotes alone, which describe in vivid detail the mechanics of sheep-shearing festivals, sacrificial feasts, and other cultural phenomena that add depth and life to this familiar story. --Michael Joseph Gross

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:53 -0400)

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