In its day, “The Art of Biblical Narrative” was subversive. A current Berkeley colleague of Alter’s, Ronald Hendel, told me about his experience as a Harvard grad student in philology in the early 1980s. One of his instructors pulled him aside after class and whispered, “Go to the bookstore and get yourself a copy of ‘The Art of Biblical Narrative,’ but you can’t let anyone around here see that you’re reading it!” Hendel added, “And he wasn’t kidding.” One of Alter’s former undergraduate students during that period, Ilana Pardes, who is now a professor of comparative literature at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has written of “witnessing the birth of the book, or rather the birth of a new way of thinking about the Bible.”I was in the same PhD program with Ron at the same time. I know who that instructor was, but I shan't say here. And, yes, Alter's work was subversive.
For more on Professor Alter's now-complete translation of the Hebrew Bible, see here and here.
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