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The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (2004)

by Robert Alter (Translator)

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9581221,020 (4.58)3 / 47
"The Five Books is an enduring source of literary and spiritual renewal. In its narrative we find the primal stories of the Creation and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The intimacies of Genesis portray the tortuous relations between fathers and sons, husbands and wives. The grand historical narrative of Exodus and Numbers conveys a still-resonant drama of enslavement and liberation. Leviticus and Deuteronomy codify a culture and ensure its transmission over generations."--Jacket.… (more)
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» See also 47 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
I purchased this book soon after it appeared and placed it on a shelf with other reference works. Over the years, I would look something up in it from time to time.
When preparing a sermon, I usually wait until I’m pretty far along in the process before checking commentaries; I like to struggle with the passage on my own first. Recently, after working with a passage, I had some questions I couldn’t resolve. I looked up what Alter had to say and was struck by how judicious both his translation and his comments were. What is more, there was no wasted verbiage on aspects of the text I had been able to figure out for myself. So I decided to read the book from cover to cover.
Robert Alter combines the talents of a perspicuous student of modern literature with life-long exposure to the Hebrew scriptures. He is informed by the documentary hypothesis, but not in its thrall, finding convincing explanations based on narrative intent for some of the features of the text others ascribe to careless splicing of sources. This doesn’t lead him to reject source criticism entirely, though. He accepts that the text as we have it developed over a long period, perhaps as much as nine centuries. His image for the resulting, composite text is “collage.”
In addition to his dialogue with modern scholarship, Alter makes use of the rich tradition of medieval Jewish exegesis.
His sure-footed understanding of the Hebrew language reveals itself in his care in handling the word “nephesh,” often and misleadingly translated “soul,” and his distinguishing of three different terms for sexual relations, with the nuances that each employs. I also liked the way he consistently uses “keening,” an English word of Irish origin, to translate the Hebrew “qinah.” It’s one of the few words in English that has both a similar sound and meaning to a Hebrew term. Yet he nowhere explains his choice—this is a man who has no need to call attention to his erudition.
The translation successfully combines conveying a feel for the Hebrew text while still reading like literature in English. It’s quite possibly the best English-language translation of the Torah today.
Soon after I began reading this, Alter completed his translation of the entire corpus of the Hebrew scriptures and published it to great acclaim. Based on the evidence of this installment, the praise seems justified. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
In slipcase. ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 20, 2020 |
Well, I've finished Genesis, and I really don't see what all the excitement is about. For beauty, this new translation is so far behind the King James as not even to be in the same race. For meaning, I have not yet seen that any of Prof. Alter's changes makes much difference. That leaves the notes. Some of these are rather technical and contain interesting information. Many if not most, however, are just Prof. Alter's opinions on history and literature. I suppose these have some interest, considering that the Professor is an accomplished scholar, but one gets tired of reading a text of this importance to the counterpoint of reductionist comments. Mr. Alter's point as to the integrity and sophistication of the text doesn't sit very well with his whole-hearted acceptance of the documentary hypothesis. Our old, shadowy friend the Priestly Redactor makes frequent appearances, with his usual combination of genius and ham-handedness.

Maybe there will be more scope for the Professor's method in Exodus.
  cstebbins | Sep 27, 2015 |
Robert Alter's translation of the Five Books of Moses is stunning. There is something wonderful about reading them translated from scratch by a single person so that it embodies a fresh, singular vision rather than a committee that builds on previous translations (although the New Standard Revised Version has a lot to be said for it, and the other work of a single translator I once tried to read--Everett Foxx--was borderline unreadable). It is also a beautiful edition, nicely printed with excellent and detailed footnotes that focus on the literary qualities of the text but also provide explanations and context for much of the text as well. It is also nice to have a large volume devoted just to the Torah. I read this over the course of a number of years, next up is Robert Alter's just published "Ancient Israel" which covers Joshua through Kings.
2 vote nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
I'm prematurely rating this book, as I am only just finishing Genesis—the first of the five eponymous books here. But I can already tell this work has finally broken my "bible barrier": I have been trying to read the bible from a literary-history perspective for most of my life, and until now have never gotten a toehold. Alter's translation reminds me of what Seamus Heaney did for Beowulf. Here the language is brilliant, not a single passage done sloppily, a fantastic melding of heightened tone (archaic and lofty) with readable English. It is a text one can grapple with. And his commentary! Granted, I feel as if I should, for due diligence, also compare notes with another translator, another commentator, but I feel like Alter is my teacher through all of this, neither hyper-religious nor disdainful of the faith and metaphors contained. This book will sit with pride in my ancient/classical reference section and will get picked up often. ( )
2 vote lyzadanger | Feb 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
Robert Alter is a masterful scholar and a critic of exemplary sensitivity and tact who, both as translator and as commentator, has placed himself wholly in the service of the artfulness of the Torah. It is because he has been so attentive in his commenting that he can afford to be so daring in his translation, so immune to the “heresy of explanation,” so faithful to the literary details of the text that other translators either see as impediments or do not see at all. Conversely, it is his adherence to this specifically literary model of fidelity in representation that leads him into commentary that far exceeds the demands of mere annotation.
added by eereed | editFirst Things, Alan Jacobs (Dec 4, 2009)
 
A reader should, however, not shy from the rare but exact word, and none of Alter’s eccentricities of diction substantially undermine his attempt to deliver a strongly rhythmic and ruggedly direct equivalent of the Hebrew.
added by eereed | editThe New Yorker, John Updike (Nov 4, 2004)
 
Alter's magisterial translation deserves to become the version in which many future generations encounter this strange and inexhaustible book.
 
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"The Five Books is an enduring source of literary and spiritual renewal. In its narrative we find the primal stories of the Creation and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The intimacies of Genesis portray the tortuous relations between fathers and sons, husbands and wives. The grand historical narrative of Exodus and Numbers conveys a still-resonant drama of enslavement and liberation. Leviticus and Deuteronomy codify a culture and ensure its transmission over generations."--Jacket.

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W.W. Norton

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

Editions: 0393019551, 0393333930

 

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