Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Literary Bible (NYT book review)

In the Beginning

Published: December 31, 2009

“A Literary Bible,” by ­David Rosenberg, is a large book though not, of course, a complete translation of the Hebrew Bible. Genesis is fairly full, though one looks in vain for the passage “In the beginning . . . ,” from which Genesis takes its title in both Hebrew and Greek. The Prophets, from Samuel to Jonah, get about 160 pages, and an anthology drawn from the Writings — notably the Psalms and Job — occupies the remaining half of the book. Each selection has a preface providing scholarly information and justification for the assumptions and procedures of the present translator. An epilogue, “How the Bible Came About,” makes these points in a more expansive way.


In the work of Bloom and Rosenberg, the character of J was now exultantly developed: she was a sublime writer, an “uncanny” writer, among the greatest of all writers. She was a “strong” poet — not a religious writer, any more than Shakespeare was. Indeed, she was a comic writer whose powerful and eccentric character, more Kafka than Moses, has been obscured by clerical interpreters in the 3,000 years since she wrote. Part of Rosenberg’s task was to produce a style of translation that might fairly represent the rocky magnificence of J’s language.

It was a difficult program, and one may say, with some reservations, that on his own terms Rosenberg makes it work. ...