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Alter’s Latest Biblical Translations

April 3, 2013

Robert (Uri) Alter is continuing with his project to translate the Hebrew Bible into English using the literary principles he described in his Art of Biblical Narrative and Art of Biblical Poetry.  (These books have been among the most successful academic publications of recent times; with The Art of Biblical Narrative selling close to 100,000 copies and being the subject of an entire issue of a notorious issue of Prooftexts in 2007.)

His latest volume is entitled Ancient Israel and is a translation and commentary of the former prophets (books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings).  My copy is in the mail (and I hope to share comments on it with this blog later); but I will be especially interested to see if Alter made revisions (“alter”-ations) to his earlier translation of the book of Samuel in his David Story.

To date, I believe Alter’s translation project encompasses the following:




Alter also wrote the Afterword to Ariel and Chana Bloch’s translation of Song of Songs (which I recommend buying only in its hardcover format; the paperback abridges the material somewhat); and in some ways, the Blochs’ translation is somewhat in the style of Alter’s technique.

So, using the traditional book division of the Hebrew Bible into 24 books, Alter has now translated 12 of the 24 books, and has given his “imprimatur” to a 13th.  Let us hope more of his translations are forthcoming soon.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 3, 2013 6:50 am

    Thank you very much for this announcement, and for the links! I’ve ordered my copy and am especially interested in Alter’s “Joshua” and “Judges.”

    As Willis Barnstone was translating, restoring, the “New Covenant” (or the NT gospels and Apocalypse), he praised Alter’s work this way:

    A major change from the pedestrian Hebrew Bible translations that our century has sponsored has been the 1996 publication of Genesis in versions by Robert Alter and by Stephen Mitchell and the 1999 translation of Alter’s David. Alter and Mitchell are both literary, the Alter rhythmically rhetorical and austerely beautiful, with significant annotation; the Mitchell more contemporary, clean, and, like the Alter at once close to both the King James and to modern speech. Like the Everett Fox lineated translation of The Five Books of Moses, the first lines of Genesis in the Alter version have orchestral power and balance, although Alter does so in prose rather than in verse. [from The New Covenant Commonly Called the New Testament, page 17.]

  2. April 3, 2013 7:29 pm

    Thanks for the quote, Kurk. I also talk about Alter’s program indirectly through a discussion of translations of Finnegans Wake here.

  3. childeroland permalink
    April 13, 2013 6:47 pm

    He’s supposed to be doing the Major Prophets next.

  4. April 14, 2013 4:08 pm

    Yes, I understand he is continuing his efforts on Biblical translations.

  5. Russ permalink
    July 9, 2013 7:37 pm

    Thank you for the info. I just started reading his translation of the Wisdom Books. (I’m falling behind in my reading.)


  1. Forthcoming Book on Translating Finnegans Wake | BLT
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