How to Judge Robert Alter's Landmark Translation of the Hebrew Bible. Finished after decades of labor, this one-man English translation is a stupendous achievement. How does it hold up against the masterpieces (and follies) that have come before? (Hillel Halkin).
Reading the Bible as literature—if that is all we read it as—remains an act of rebellion today, if not against a divine giver of the Bible who no longer commands our credence, then against the Bible itself, which does not wish to be read in this way. It is regrettable that, in his excellent introductions to, and commentaries on, the literary qualities of the books of the Bible, Alter has not dealt with this issue, which is ultimately a translator’s as well. Perhaps he still will.The first response to Halkin's essay:
What It Means to Read the Bible as Nothing More than Great Literature. Like all of the other methods that have been devised for approaching the Bible, the literary method has its inevitable limitations (Jon D. Levenson).
Another difficult point, however, is in what sense the Bible can be said to wish or not to wish something. Does a book have will or desire? Is there any reason to take any voice within a book, however insistent it may be, as normative for interpretation?The second response:
Is the Alter Bible Jewish, in Some Definable Sense? Robert Alter himself conspicuously does not call his own version Jewish in any way. Can we? (Leonard Greenspoon).
Nonetheless, Jewish it is. This may become clearer if we look at it from the outside, as it were—and in particular at the criticisms leveled by John Updike at Alter’s translation of the Torah, The Five Books of Moses, published separately in 2004.Remember, Mosaic only gives you full access to three articles per month without a paid subscription. This uses up all three, but they are three good ones.
For past posts on Alter's translation of the Bible, start here and follow the links.
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