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Robert Alter (1) (1935–)

Author of The Art of Biblical Narrative

For other authors named Robert Alter, see the disambiguation page.

45+ Works 8,379 Members 80 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

Robert Alter is Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew & Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. (Bowker Author Biography)

Works by Robert Alter

The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981) 1,470 copies
The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (2004) — Translator — 958 copies
The Literary Guide to the Bible (1987) — Editor — 709 copies
The Art of Biblical Poetry (1985) 660 copies
The Art of Bible Translation (2019) 123 copies
Modern Hebrew Literature (1975) 82 copies
Hebrew and Modernity (1994) 23 copies
Motives for Fiction (1984) 11 copies
Prophets 8 copies

Associated Works

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb (2009) — Translator — 1,200 copies
The Song of Songs: A New Translation (1995) — Afterword, some editions — 286 copies
The Cambridge Companion to Biblical Interpretation (1998) — Contributor, some editions — 256 copies
The Amos Oz Reader (2009) — Foreword — 45 copies
The Selected Poetry of Dan Pagis (1989) — Introduction — 23 copies
Israel: A Traveler's Literary Companion (1996) — Foreword — 16 copies
The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory (1990) — Contributor — 14 copies
Gershom Scholem (Bloom's Modern Critical Views) (1987) — Contributor — 7 copies
Imagining Creation (2008) — Contributor — 6 copies
The Epic Voice: (2002) — Contributor — 5 copies
The New Salmagundi Reader (1996) — Contributor — 3 copies


Common Knowledge



And so we begin Alter in Le Salon Littéraire du Peuple pour le Peuple (January 2015)
Alter and a tour of a sea bed in Le Salon Littéraire du Peuple pour le Peuple (March 2013)
Alter and the deceitful pen of the scribes in Le Salon Littéraire du Peuple pour le Peuple (July 2012)


Looks good so far. I am only up to chapter three, and I compulsively read footnotes which is not the fast way to read this one.

The author has gone on to translate all five books of Moses into English. His painstaking approach is to try to capture the nuances of the original Hebrew. The footnotes explain some of the translation problems such as obscure phrases and double meanings implied in the text.
MilesFowler | 4 other reviews | Jul 16, 2023 |
Alter makes a convincing case for how bad current translations of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are. To sum it up:

1) Translators sometimes don't understand the meaning of the original Hebrew or pay close enough attention to how the same word is used in other places. Sometimes this results in clear mistranslations. In other cases, it leads to translations that miss the deliberate intent of the author of using the same word in different contexts, i.e., the modern translators translate the same Hebrew word into multiple English words.
2) Modern translators, in their attempt to modernize and simplify the language, rearrange sentences so that the proper emphases are lost. There is a reason why the object of the verb comes at the beginning of the sentence; it is because it is important, and the original writer wanted you to know that.
3) The original Hebrew uses different methods and language for prose, poetry, and dialogue. Prose uses a more limited vocabulary, and translators should respect that rather than introducing more complex English words or--again--translating a single Hebrew word into various English words. The language of the poetry passages is more diverse. While it isn't really possible to reproduce Hebrew poetry in English, translators should at least try to keep the rhythm, but they seldom do. Dialogue has to be treated with special respect as it lets us see the character of the speaker. By basically rewriting much of the dialogue to make it mundane and straightforward, the emotions of the speakers are many times lost.
4) The King James Bible, despite its faults, still goes some way toward displaying the literary quality of the original Hebrew text. The committee which produced it was made up of learned men, but they were men who understood literature and poetry much better than the committees that have come up with our modern biblical translations. In their attempt to convey the meaning of the text, modern translators have lost the style of the original, which in Alter's opinion, was very important. He shows that the authors of the Hebrew Bible were very conscious in their use of words, of alliteration, and of other techniques that must, to the extent possible, be reflected in any accurate modern translation.

Throughout this short book, Alter provides multiple concrete examples of how modern translations have gotten it wrong and compares them with his own translation (available in his 3-volume set of the complete Hebrew Bible with his extensive notes). In almost every case, his translation makes more sense, and in the few cases where his word choice seems a bit odd, we at least have transparency, as he explains exactly why he did what he did. I have Alter's Hebrew Bible on my coffee table, and I look forward to diving into it soon. (Interestingly, it is often the Jewish Publication Society's translation that comes under the most fire, which is surprising, since one would expect it to show more respect toward the original Hebrew than other translations.)

As a critic of literature, Alter brings a totally different perspective, and a much needed one, to biblical translation. I can only hope that when new revisions are made of other versions of the Hebrew Bible, they take into account at least the clear errors Alter has identified, even if they have such a low opinion of their readers' intelligence that they still stick to simplified phrasing that loses not just the beauty, but much of the subtle meaning present in the original text.
… (more)
datrappert | 1 other review | Oct 5, 2022 |
Interesting but need more knowledge of Bible to appreciate fully
ritaer | Aug 25, 2022 |
location-WellesleyPL, Jewish, Judaica, Tanach, Prophets, Nach, Samuel, Saul, David, Hannah, translation, commentary,
raizel | 6 other reviews | May 3, 2022 |



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