Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Rediscovering Robert Alter


After a recent conversation with a coworker (somehow we segued from The Scarlet Letter into Genesis), I was re-inspired to pick up Robert Alter's works again. I first encountered Alter in a Bible as Literature course in college, a class that remains one of my favorites in the six years I was there.

My library had copies of the books I was looking for, and now I'm rereading parts of The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981), which begins with an examination of the placement and purpose of the Tamar story in the midst of the Joseph story. The explanation for this story is one of my strongest memories from the class I took. Only once have I heard a sermon that even came close to doing this story justice.

I'm also reading through The Five Books of Moses (2004), Alter's translation of the Pentateuch. It's an intriguing perspective on Scripture. Alter states that his purpose for producing his own translation is to strike a balance between the highest literary translation of the Bible (the KJV) and the more modern translations, which possess less literary value in spite of their greater accuracy.

Alter also has a companion book -- The Art of Biblical Poetry -- as well as a translation of I and II Samuel entitled The Story of David. I'm attempting to restrain my impulse to buy all these books at once -- though the first two are on my Christmas list.

4 Comments:

Anonymous micah said...

That sounds very interesting. It is something that I think I would like to read.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I think you would like these books a lot, Micah.

And thanks for leaving the first comments! :-)

11:08 PM  
Anonymous Will said...

Andrea,
I'm thankful for Alter's work for many reasons, but recently because while we were over at the home of some unbelieving friends for dinner, we noticed this new book on their shelves. Just as God was moving in their hearts to lead them to begin reading the Bible (for the first time! - this is a strange thought to me), they have a new translation to work with.
I'd be interested to hear how you thought it worked as a translation. I just skimmed through it briefly, and thought it was quite fascinating.

9:30 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

I'm not that far into it, but I do have to say that it leaves the reader feeling somewhat detached. I do find it fascinating in light of all I learned on the Bible as lit in college as well as in light of sermons and other studies on these books (for instance, I just listened to a five-part sermon series on the Pentateuch from my pastor). So reading the translation in that light, and of course, reading it as a Christian, is probably a different experience than using this translation as your introduction to the Bible. For example, Alter's footnotes often comment on how the stories echo other mythical accounts of similar events. So it lacks the personal nature of perhaps reading another translation. I do hope that this translation will not be an impediment to your friends.

And thanks for visiting my blog!

5:19 PM  

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