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The pre-eminent scholar Robert Alter has finally finished his own translation. Robert Alter in his office at home in Berkeley, California. By Avi Steinberg. O ne morning this fall, at his home high in the Berkeley hills, the literary critic and translator Robert Alter chatted with me about the dilemmas he faced while translating the Hebrew Bible. The hebrew bible Alter, who is 83, sat on a sofa with a long-limbed, feline watchfulness.
The pre-eminent scholar Robert Alter has finally finished his own translation. Robert Alter in his office at home in Berkeley, California. By Avi Steinberg. O ne morning this fall, at his home high in the Berkeley hills, the literary critic and translator Robert Alter chatted with me about the dilemmas he faced while translating the Hebrew Bible.
Alter, who is 83, sat on a sofa with a long-limbed, feline watchfulness. Behind him, a picture window looked out onto a blooming garden; now and then a hummingbird appeared over his left shoulder, punctuating his thoughts with winged flourishes.
He occasionally cast a probing eye on his brand-new, complete translation of and commentary on the Hebrew Bible — from Genesis to Chronicles — which, at more than 3, pages, in three volumes, occupied most of an end table.
Published this month, it represents the culmination of nearly two and a half decades of work. That word, which translates the Hebrew word nefeshhas been a favorite in English-language Bibles since the King James Version.
Nefeshto the contrary, suggests the material, mortal parts, the things that make us alive on this earth. The body. The poetic structure dictates its own logic. As a translator, he has tracked verse by verse through the Hebrew Bible to make these structures visible in English, in some cases for the first time. But what, I asked Alter, motivated him to undertake this massive project?
What exactly is the problem with the hundreds of other English translations that already exist? His face transmitted, in full, his commentary on this text: Only translators devoid of style, those who lack even a rudimentary grasp of the connotative powers of language, much less those with any sense of sex appeal, would animate erotic verse with diction such as this.
And then there was that other word. It is also boldly unfaithful. If the old Hebrew word is now veiled in the English, it is also more present, under the covers. These poems are clearly aware of the conventions of Hebrew poetry that preceded them — and this, I think, was and still is part of why it is exciting to see a slight loosening of some of these poetic strictures.
And what about those strictures? Just how did the Song the hebrew bible Songs, a racy pop album that was possibly sung in ancient taverns, arrive in Holy Writ? And the task of restoring those original colors and shadings — their nuances — is, I believe, still incomplete.
No book has been retranslated as often as the Bible, because no book has been as widely republished. Legions of Bible readers hunger endlessly for new versions. Eugene H. Most translations, however, are more standardized. They make little effort to represent the artistry of either the Hebrew or the English languages, much less of both at once, as Alter tries to do. Still, as a readerly translation of the Bible, the King James the hebrew bible imperfect. The translators of the King James, though they were masters of English style, showed little interest or ability to represent the characteristic forms of ancient Hebrew, especially, as Alter has argued, in the poetic sections.
If the King James demonstrates that the Hebrew Bible can be made an English masterpiece, it also proves that even a masterpiece of translation is never the final word. Alter came to the biblical text first as a reader and interpreter. In his early critical writings on the Bible, in the s, he pushed the hebrew bible a dominant view within academic Bible scholarship that the ancient texts were effectively a big messy pile of documents, useful mostly for what data they might yield to linguists in their tallies of Semitic verb forms or to historians in their the hebrew bible to document ancient cultic practices.
The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (Vol. Three-Volume Set) [ Robert Alter] on freedownloadbase.com *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. A landmark.
These seams are, after all, visible in the texts themselves — for example, in narrative duplications, beginning, famously, with the two contradictory versions of the creation story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. One says that Adam and Eve were created together while the the hebrew bible tells a story of Adam created alone, trying and failing to find a partner among his fellow creatures, until God surgically removes his rib to create Eve. The art of the biblical narrative, Alter hypothesized, was finalized in a late editorial stage by some unifying creative mind — a figure who, like a film editor, introduced narrative coherence through the art of montage.
It was a secular and literary method of reading the Hebrew Bible but, in its reverent insistence on the coherence and complex artistry of the central texts, it has appealed to some religious readers. The book was — and remains — a surprise hit; it opened up an old, mysterious and often maligned text for the first time to many readers.
His growing commitment to translation since the s can be seen as a move toward an increased investment on his part in the general reader, over and against institutional gatekeepers of the text, both in academia and in the religious world.
The translation emerged organically.
The last 11 books contain poetry , theology , and some additional history. For full treatment, see biblical literature. Hebrew Bible , also called Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament, or Tanakh , collection of writings that was first compiled and preserved as the sacred books of the Jewish people. A brief treatment of the Hebrew Bible follows. It constitutes a large portion of the Christian Bible.
His later translation work has the hebrew bible out, in a larger and more systematic way, what he started in his criticism. Since — and not including this current complete edition — his Bible translations have sold in the hundreds of thousands. The first verset, semantically airtight, is all Alter. In the skillful way that he has harmonized the various voices, past and present, Alter proves to be another Arranger, practicing the composite art that he believes has long been the life-breath of this text.
A lter was born in the Bronx and grew up in Albany, to working-class parents who emigrated from Lithuania and Romania. His father was born in the waning years of the 19th century and fought as a teenager in World War I. Alter came to Hebrew, like many an American Jewish child, somewhat haphazardly — first in traditional contexts, like bar mitzvah lessons but also in Hebrew-only summer camps of the period.
The cultural record of American Jews, in literature and art, can be summarized as a collective complaint against parental demands to learn Hebrew, but Alter took to it immediately and chose to continue his studies, even while playing varsity football and running track. As a young man, Alter was so enamored with the language that he spent much of his time systematically mastering a Hebrew-Hebrew dictionary.
A membership card to his local public library became his ticket to the wider world. Like many of his contemporaries with literary aspirations, he graduated from a public high school and found his way into the middle of a thriving midcentury literary scene in New York City. D in comparative literature. Many Jewish writers of those years saw it as their mission to march onto center stage of American literature: not simply to master the English language but to remake it in their own voices.
As a young critic, Alter was active in this project. For a literary person of those generations, the King James Version loomed large. Along with Shakespeare, the King James was one the hebrew bible the wellsprings of English literature, especially in the United States. It is one of the few major texts that was the hebrew bible in both the Jewish and the Anglo-American traditions.
And though Alter and his peers remained smitten by the language of the King James, there was an underlying sense that a key piece of their Jewish heritage had long been held captive in the churches the hebrew bible schools and texts of white Protestant English.
With his intricate and artistically attuned translation, Alter has helped carve out a dignified place for the Hebrew Bible as the Hebrew Bible, squarely within the Anglo-American literary tradition, and rescued it from second-class status. Alter regularly composes phrases that sound strange in English, in part because they carry hints of ancient Hebrew within them. Sarah has just given birth to her first child, a son; in Hebrew, his name is Yitzhak, meaning he who laughs.
After giving birth, she feels mocked, shamed and socially demoted. At the end of her life, when she should be reaping the rewards of seniority and respect, she fears that she has been turned into a punch line. Does this make Sarah a hero?
Not exactly. In fact, painting her in this pained light deepens her complexity by giving a more terrible clarity to her motives in the next episode, when she takes vengeance on Hagar, a foreign woman of lesser social status, whom she perceives as a rival. Perhaps a misogynist tradition of translation was more comfortable with Sarah as a crazy woman than as a victimized truth teller. It has been the subject of centuries of conjecture and, among feminist critics since the s, a subfield of study.
And it sears. W hat does Alter himself see through the mask of the text? As we sat outside in his courtyard garden, in the warm glow of the Berkeley sun, I asked Alter whether he, who had spent so many hours in his upstairs study with the works of these ancient Hebrew authors, had ever got a signal from a human on the other side of the text.
This answer surprised me. Alter, for one, finds its apocalyptic imagery a bore. So why did Daniel move him? It was strangely intimate, you know, for me to discover that, to see this writer struggling.
It is one of the few books in the Hebrew The hebrew bible where Aramaic appears for long stretches of the text.
It is a theme of the story itself, which imagines a similar crisis, set in an earlier period, of a Judean exile in the court of the Babylonian king, tasked with translating a mysterious text.
The Book of Daniel offers a clear illustration that the conundrum of translation did not emerge later, after biblical history; the problem was there all along. Daniel, like his authors, is a late arrival to a lavish party at which the hebrew bible is very much a guest. He grapples with a foreignized text in a foreign kingdom, a writer in a globalized world who is left to decipher the writing on the wall.
He laughed. Supported by.