HomeGroupsTalkMoreZeitgeist
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Loading...

The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (2007)

by Robert Alter

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
593728,808 (4.32)15
Like the Five Books of Moses a cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. The cleansing purity of its images invites reflection and supplication in times of sorrow. The musicality of its powerful rhythms moves readers to celebration of good tidings. So today as it has been throughout our past, this is a book to be cherished as the grounding for our daily lives.This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought by a scholar whose translation of the Five Books of Moses was hailed as a "godsend" by Seamus Heaney and a "masterpiece" by Robert Fagles. Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary shines a light on the obscurities of the text.… (more)

None.

None
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 15 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
These are 150 poems, usually short, by men trying to get the notice of God. God can protect them from against liars, proud people, violent people, rich people, enemies of Israel, conquerors and enslavers. To get his help, they will beg him, obey him, thank him, and, above all, praise him. They have no problem wishing for terrible things for their personal enemies but believe that vengeance is the Lord’s work, not theirs. They wonder often why he fails them. They reminded him at least once that his honor is involved in the protection of faithful and obedient worshippers and and in the children of Israel as a national and ethnic entity.
Robert Alter presents his translations of the Psalms with commentaries after each psalm, said commentary explaining why he translated it as he did. In the process, I learned about the problems caused by other translators misunderstanding nuances in Hebrew and by the sloppy editing of the originals. (The text may be inspired, the editing not so much.) He uses multiple texts to translate the poems and dares to go with the version that makes the most sense according to human reasoning. Alter is Jewish and his approach is secular, so he pays no attention to a plan of salvation that a Christian fundamentalist would insist was there. I don’t mind that but Alter’s insistence on the Israelites having no belief in an afterlife is contradicted by his translations of the passages about the underworld, although nothing as clear as Jesus’s descriptions are present. I have no resources to judge his scholarship but I can say that he has produced a moving and beautiful work of English literature and commentaries that helpfully and honestly explain his decisions. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Nov 23, 2018 |
67. The Book of Psalms (Read March 10 to November 17)

I read two versions with notes
- The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary
by Robert Alter (2007, 548 page Paperback)
- The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, general editor Harold W. Attridge (2006, 117 pages within Paperback)

I am the wrong reader for the psalms. I'm reading the bible to find interesting and memorable stuff. I'm looking for something to engage me and make me think. Job was terrific for this, as the whole poem is an argument back and forth and touches on various religious hot points. The psalms, however, are not like this. They are designed to comfort.

As I beat my head against these 150 repetitive and painfully dull hymns, I had that extra awareness to psalm references, and they come up every where, including in my reading in many places. And usually they were moving within the context used. In literature often a person looking for comfort, sometimes just to quiet their anxious mind, turns to the psalms and embraces them. It wasn't always a meditative quality, although that is found a lot, but the meaning of the psalms was valuable, precious, and beautiful. Which is to say that the psalms serve a purpose, but they require a certain kind of buy-in. Not necessarily faith, although that helps a lot, but willingness to let go, give yourself over to a psalm in some way. I don't think I ever did that. It was rare that I felt any beauty or comfort, just annoyance.

Despite all this, I have a list of favorites and when I think about them altogether (maybe a dozen in total), I'm a bit struck by the richness within them. There are psalms with historical curiosities, and there are ones where the speaker would reach me, such as psalm 77 where anxiety and insomnia lead the speaker to worrying thoughts, or psalm 90 which explores our mortality and asks god to help us come to terms with our temporal limits, or psalm 139 which thinks through a bit the idea of this all knowing, and therefore inescapable, god.

The psalms come in many varieties, and I won't go into detail here. But a lot of them are simply formulaic requests - I'm sick, help me. Or help us, or protect from some bad evil thing...slander seeming to be a very common example of that bad evil thing. They involve a lot formulaic praising of god and mix in a lot of complaints about god not answering. They ask how long will god be silent. It all gets mixed together so that it doesn't at first strike the reader that all this elaborate praise and pronouncement of faith is really just decoration around on a straight forward request for divine intervention. At least that's the jaded perspective - the one I could not avoid, and the one that saw in this a lot whining.

The psalms also come in varying lengths. And, for me, the shorter the better. There is a series of 15 psalms known as the Songs of Ascent that are all short, and this was my favorite section of the psalms (pss 120-134). The short psalms at there best are very spare, a few words with a radiating meaning. They can be moving. Where as the longer psalms tend to be almost meaningless, just collections of formulaic statements.

One summary of all this is that I think the psalms are primarily designed to be comforting, not thought provoking. They are to rest the mind, presumably in anguish of some kind, even if that anguish is merely mental wanderings on mortality.

As for the translations, I can say with confidence that [[Robert Alter]]'s translations of the psalms is a train wreck. I like his translations elsewhere. But here in the psalms he consistently makes odd decisions that make the psalms less clear, or more clunky. His notes explain many of his decisions, but typically they left me thinking that his solution was much worse then the problem he came up against. And often, all too often, he just seemed to have no aesthetic sense. Had I figured this out up front, I would have ditched his book. But I was half way through before I gave up on trying to find the good in him here. I had no problem with the NRSV, however. After Alter, I appreciated it's clarity. And these psalms don't actually have much subtlety - translation sensitive or not.

I'll conclude with my favorite line, from ps 131, which expresses a desire I can relate to and one that is pertinent for our current world: But I have calmed and quieted my soul
2 vote dchaikin | Nov 25, 2014 |
The Psalms are the part of the Bible that really separates the LORD's sheep from the idol-worshipping goats. You'd have to be a deeply cranky secularist, no fun at all at parties, not to get swope up in the epic of the Creation; and conversely, let's face it, nobody-be-they-ever-so-pious actually likes Leviticus or Numbers. There's some degree of consensus. (I think, though, that a lot of what I'm about to say also applies to Joshua; I hate it, but I hear Christians saying it's their favourite book all the time, one can only assume because it's the first one where they really slaughter the unbelievers and pile their skulls high.) But Psalms is like, where the believers let it all hang out: the majority of these poems are devoted either to praising God at length (at lengh), which I can usually just about get through, or whining about the psalmist's "foes" (always in the first person, "my foes," "the ones who slander me," etc., and even though sometimes the "me" in question is Zion, often it seems to just be a strategic choice to appeal to the regular guy worshipper, who just wants to slam anyone who crosses his with withered organs and the end of their line--so often I thought the supplication psalms echoed he kind of brainless self-aggrandizement and sneering dismissal of anyone who's not all over your shit that rappers do when they use the term "haters"--you know? Nicki Minaj, say, is "Step up in the party like my name was "that bitch." /
All these haters mad because I’m so established. / They know I’m a beast, yeah I’m a fucking savage / Haters you can kill yourself," and the Psalmist is "LORD, the haters have spoken lies about me in their mouths, dash them to pieces, right now LORD," you know? In the Alter translation, the actual literal word "haters" is found in a few psalms, but I'm thinking it's too much to hope it's an intentional winking thing.)

According to another LibraryThing reviewer of NT Wright's book on the Psalms, they "force us to look at the evil around us by saying 'Evil is real, and some people are so wicked that we simply must wish judgment upon them'. If that sounds like fun, you can enjoy the supplication psalms and possibly also go fuck yourself. My friend "FlorenceArt" summed it up well on our reading thread: "most of them are either whining about enemies or calling for their blood."

But there are moments in all of this: the foes/haters with "fat covering their hearts," "their eyes stare out through fat"; "when evildoers draw near me to eat my flesh … they trip and they fall."And it's not all supplication psalms: there are also psalms of thanksgiving and of history and to memorialize David and that's all fine. Psalm 29 beautifully develops an extended metaphor of God as a storm bending the cedars, stirring up the winds, recalling the first time he flew across the face of the waters as the Word. (Too few of them do this kind of extended developing; as for the poetry itself, Alter tries to concretize it with "my breath/my neck" instead of "my soul," and there are moments of affecting simplicity, but overall I find myself wishing I could judge or at least hear the Hebrew, remembering as well that these are to be sung--remember "Rivers of Babylon" (psalm 137)?) European is about as indebted to the psalms as it's possible to be, and that alone makes them worth a bit of your while.

Although, here is dchaikin from the same thread cited earlier: "Psalms don't challenge anything. They are conventional. They can be comforting, but the won't engage you. Also they get repetitive…." They're for people of faith, probably especially those with a nasty streak.

The major exception, for me, are the several "psalms of ascent" near the end--no foes, no haters, just sincere, kind thanks to God for taking care of us and for our moments of joy. Psalm 126 says "I am one of the dreamers" and expresses the kind of faith that can fill your heart: "Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy / Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, / will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them." It really resounded for me in what has been a time of new trials different from those I knew, and left me undone, melancholy melted, ready to take a deep breath and say "no fighting" and hug my loved ones. Too bad you have to get through so much divine murder and sociopathic self-love to get there, because this was a faith I could understand. ( )
7 vote MeditationesMartini | Nov 21, 2014 |
Alter, famous for his explications on Biblical narrative and poetry, translates the Psalms and provides translation notes.

He attempts to present the structure of Hebrew parallelism as effectively as possible in English as well as attempting to convey other nuances present in Hebrew but not as evident in English. He is not afraid to emend the text according to the example of other ancient translations or on the basis of what to him and to other scholars seems to make better sense at given moments. When he does so he discusses the matter in the textual commentary.

The textual commentary is helpful to explain various textual matters, including translation decisions, ambiguities, and some discussions of meaning. At some point in the notes for each psalm Alter tries to present some basic guide to meaning, although his interpretations are very much enamored of form criticism and the modernist scholastic project.

Useful especially for its introduction, textual notes, and especially if you have some understanding of Hebrew. ( )
  deusvitae | Sep 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
The brief introduction to his translation of the Psalms is itself a masterpiece ...

... The psalm comprises about fifty words, less than half the total required by English translations. Professor Alter can do little about that; his translation is hardly shorter than the standard ones. What he can do is make the dynamic of the psalm's lines and that of individual words correspond better to those of the original. ...
 
If respect for God's inspiration of Scripture entails respect for the aesthetics of biblical literature, which I think it does, then Alter's translation is truly a gift to the church. Poetic techniques such as intensifying parallelism, chiasm, and terseness are important because the Hebrew poets who wrote under inspiration used them to say what they were saying. We would do well to listen to how they say what they say, even if it means attending to the subtle difference between an ABBA and an ABAB pattern. Therefore, despite some inevitable weaknesses, this translation and commentary is strongly recommended to all readers of the Psalms.
added by Christa_Josh | editWestminster Theological Journal, Nathan Mastnjak (Sep 1, 2008)
 
Alter's ability to read and turn a phrase puts him in a unique class. Given that the church is now neither literate nor literary, there is much to commend this analysis by a literary master. Like the contribution of Othmar Keel to psalmic symbolism and iconography (Eisenbrauns, 1997), Alter's text also has a role to play in Psalms scholarship. In a genre poached for proof texts and tolerated for its imagery, Alter restores the honor and literary eloquence of psalmic poetry. All translators of the Psalter should definitely consult this book. Moreover, English teachers will find a gold mine of examples of biblical poetry.
added by Christa_Josh | editJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Andrew J. Schmutzer (Sep 1, 2008)
 
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Quotations
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Like the Five Books of Moses a cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. The cleansing purity of its images invites reflection and supplication in times of sorrow. The musicality of its powerful rhythms moves readers to celebration of good tidings. So today as it has been throughout our past, this is a book to be cherished as the grounding for our daily lives.This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought by a scholar whose translation of the Five Books of Moses was hailed as a "godsend" by Seamus Heaney and a "masterpiece" by Robert Fagles. Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary shines a light on the obscurities of the text.

No library descriptions found.

Book description
Haiku summary

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4.32)
0.5
1
1.5 1
2 1
2.5
3 3
3.5
4 11
4.5 3
5 18

W.W. Norton

2 editions of this book were published by W.W. Norton.

Editions: 0393062260, 0393337049

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 151,718,043 books! | Top bar: Always visible