Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Alter on translating the Bible

INTERVIEW: Robert Alter: “Modern Bible translators have done a wretched job” (Sameer Rahim, Prospect Magazine). Excerpt:
SR: Your translation is very much a literary one. The characters have motivations, for example. Do you feel that’s true to the intentions of the original authors?

RA: The ancient Hebrew writers were certainly motivated by what we would call religious purposes—they had this new monotheistic vision of the world and they wanted to convey what God wanted of humankind and the people of Israel. But for reasons that I don’t think we can understand these writers happened to be brilliant literary artists and they chose to convey their religious vision in extremely artful narrative and sometimes very brilliant poetry.

It’s a great mystery why they were this good. Ancient Israel was this little sliver of land sandwiched in between these large, powerful and sophisticated cultures—the Syrians, and then the Babylonians to the east and the Egyptians to the south. But the Biblical writers developed literary skills that totally eclipsed their neighbours. ...
That's true. The consistently high literary quality of the Hebrew Bible is remarkable.

Background on Professor Alter's now complete translation of the Hebrew Bible is here.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.