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The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel
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The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel

4.21  ·  Rating Details ·  341 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
The story of David is the greatest single narrative representation in antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time. In its main character it provides the first full-length portrait of a Machiavellian prince in Western literature.
Hardcover, 410 pages
Published December 31st 1999 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1999)
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Stephen Durrant
Apr 25, 2011 Stephen Durrant rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No one I've read writes on the Bible as literature more intelligently and compellingly than Robert Alter. His talents are on full display in this brilliantly annotated translation of the Book of Samuel. Alter draws upon the rich tradition of Jewish and Christian Biblical exegesis and adds his own comments, many of the latter focusing upon the literary qualities of the text. Here, as in his earlier work on Genesis, Alter challenges the source critics who want to pull the Book of Samuel apart, ide ...more
Roger Burk
Mar 19, 2010 Roger Burk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Perhaps durign the reign of Solomon, someone invented history by writing the story of David, assembling material from many sources, including some folklore and poetry as well as historical tales and records. Several centuries later, an editor inserted some material reflecting a new attitude towards the Jewish religion. This astounding story is revealed in Alter's translation and commentary, giving a sense of the different parts where they can be distinguished, but not losing the overall unity. I ...more
Pater Edmund
Jan 22, 2011 Pater Edmund rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scripture
C.S. Lewis says somewhere that the problem with historical-critical exegete is that they are bad critics; they don't know how to read literature. Robert Alter certainly knows how to read literature, as this gorgeous translation and literary commentary show. Alter avoids some of the pitfalls of the historical-method precisely because his primary interest is literary rather than theological, and this (paradoxically) makes his analysis much more useful for theological reflection.
Jul 15, 2007 Crystal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Biblical scholars
This book was required for my class on I & II Samuel. the class was interesting, and so was the book. It's definitely not a devotional, though, so don't buy it on that assumption. Some of Alter's theories about the story of David were unappealing to me, not to mention offensive occasionally. as a scholar, sometimes people become divorced from their belief in what they study. But there were still many insights in this that were of use. Just read carefully, and take only what is good.
My summary of this book in seven words is: Anointment by God isn't a good thing. Human beings being as fallible as they are, it is inevitable that they will be a disappointment and ultimately punished for their bad behavior. Alter is a great translator and his footnotes are helpful for the most part in helping understand the text.
Aug 14, 2011 Keith rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The David Story is the first of Robert Alter’s translations of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible. (He has subsequently translated the Five Books of Moses and the Wisdom Books.) Alter does an outstanding job providing important historical and ethnic context to this work from the Iron Age. More importantly, Alter provides a beautiful translation of the “astringent narrative economy” of the ancient Hebrew texts. (That’s his description.)

Good or bad, right or wrong, the story of Samuel, Saul, and David
Oct 30, 2014 Rivkah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm a big fan of Robert Alter's work and this is a part of my yearly bible study, so I'm biased. However, here is what was most captivating for me in picking up this book to read for the story (from the intro):

"The narrative nevertheless has many signs of what we would call fictional shaping--interior monologues, dialogues between the historical personages in circumstances where there could have been no witnesses to what was said, pointed allusions in the turns of dialogue as well as in the narr
This is a good verse-by-verse translation and interpretation of 1-2 Samuel and the beginning of 1 Kings in the Old Testament, if you can get past the deadly boring "To The Reader" section at the beginning. That section stopped me cold five years ago -- it's not that the ideas in it are boring, but the author takes so long to say them and in such jargon that it's a lot of work to figure out what he's saying.

Fortunately, the actual text is not like that. The translation is quite solid and the auth
Reads almost like a novel. This book elucidates the *character* of the protagonists, not just their actions in the familiar stories. Alter's knowledge of Hebrew shows the nuances of speech that show David's cunning political savvy and Saul's shocking mental breakdown. For the first time, I'm seeing the struggle between Samuel's attempt to control and manipulate hesitant Saul, the first king of Israel. Samuel the sweet obedient child who answered when he was called in the middle of the night turn ...more
May 22, 2011 Btalberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alter's work in reinterpreting the books of Samuel, paired with his insightful commentary, is a wonderful resource for understanding the Samuel narratives. I would suggest reading Bar-Efrat's Narrative Art in the Bible to first understand some the narrative tools Alter leverages. Reading Bar-Efrat before any of Alter's works will also help the reader engage with Alter's commentary so they can make educated decisions in either accepting or criticizing his conclusions. I loved this book though, it ...more
Chris Termaat
May 20, 2014 Chris Termaat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bible-criticism
Robert Alter makes it very clear the author of 1 and 2 Samuel is a literary genius. Even if you insist upon reading this narrative as a fly-on-the-wall history, there is an art to telling the story and, with this narrative, we are in the hands of a master. Alter helps the reader appreciate the use of language, the psychological realism, the consistent theology and the internal references within the narrative.

This is an excellent scholarly commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel with a bible-as-literature o
Jan 31, 2016 Nathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A breath of fresh air after reading
McKenzie's historical David attempt.
Alter exhibits his vintage acumen for all things literary. Yet I was also a bit disappointed with some of the commentary. Very little of what Alter sees is original; it's his trademark style and effortless prose that we get with this book. In brief, Alter's work is more blurb-worthy than substantive. This may not be the definitive work on the literary David I hoped for, but it is a joy to read and a useful mile marker for Dav
Alison L.Y.
Jan 06, 2011 Alison L.Y. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was incredible. Whether you're religious or not, Alter gets at the David story as a tightly woven narrative of the man and the men (and women) around him, leaving you a bit breathless at the unknown writer's literary skill. I hadn't read 2nd Samuel since childhood, but the section beginning at David spotting Bathsheba through to his reinstatement as king after a bloody civil war is one of the most compelling, tragic things I've ever read. It's not for Sunday school.
May 01, 2012 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Christmas gift from my son that enriched my winter as I slowly read this wonderful translation and commentary of the parts of the Old Testament telling the story of David. Since I am Christian and do not know Hebrew, reading his explanations of the subtle meanings of the original Hebrew words brought the story alive for me.
Apr 23, 2008 Alessandro rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Samuel 1 & 2, among the few books of the Bible worth reading (along with Genesis, also translated by Alter, and the book of Job), Alter does an excellent job with what some might call the world's first novel. David, unlike most of the personalities in the Bible, undergoes real character development and deals with meaningful moral dilemmas.
Justin Evans
Five stars for the translation, which is wonderfully readable. But the commentary often sounds like special-pleading rather than than information and feels too in-depth for what is, at the end of the day, a story able to stand on its own (compare Alter's 'Genesis,' the commentary to which is extremely helpful and never feels forced).
Jan 04, 2011 Max rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, religion
Although the translation was easy to understand, the story was a bit boring to me and overall it was a process to finish it. It had some interesting parts, and I like that it really made me further question my beliefs based on the actions "God" took in it, but I would not really recommend it to anyone.
Maria Lichtmann
Everything Robert Alter translates with his impeccable knowledge of the Hebrew language is also an insightful reading. I have drawn on his interpretation of the David story numerous times in presenting the fascinating Court History of the Davidic reign to my students.
Bryn Hammond
Apr 07, 2012 Bryn Hammond rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not translation but an interpretation of David, and I so don't like his interpretation. I have been influenced by the different view of him in The Book of J.
Virginia Doland
Great book. I used this as one of the texts in a course I taught in Crime and Punishment. Alter's footnotes were very useful -- the analysis in the footnotes caused students to rethink some of the understandings about who David was.
Dale Rosenberg
Nov 03, 2014 Dale Rosenberg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Good translation and very interesting (and vocabulary-building) notes. My only quibble is it would be better with English and Hebrew side by side. I find I have to read it with a Tanakh next to me to see what the Hebrew is that he's translating.
Oct 24, 2016 Emma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Bible's explanation of why we have principalities. This book explains how does the first king of Israel rise to power, and how does one of the most famous politicians in ancient history, King David, rise to power. An interesting question to think about is that if David is a machiavellian?
Jun 22, 2010 Rachael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really brought this story to life, energy bubbles off the surface. David comes through the text as a flesh and blood man, with a full range of emotions as he sees his triumph turn into tragedy. Anyway, definitely changed my approach to 1 and 2 Samuel.
Brian Mcquaig
Jan 09, 2015 Brian Mcquaig rated it really liked it
This translation and the explanations it gives on meanings has helped me - for the first time - to actually understand the bible. This translator also did a similar translation of Exodus.
Douglas Wilson
Jan 28, 2009 Douglas Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: commentary, biography
Really good.
Nov 17, 2016 Jacquelin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I will turn to this book in my study of David and 1/2 Samuel again and again, and as an introduction to Alter's work, this was amazing.
Daniel Olson
Jul 23, 2013 Daniel Olson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The commentary is eye-opening and offers a new evaluation of the character of King David.
Jan 23, 2015 Heidi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
Robert Alter's commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel is a fascinating description of cultural and linguistic components of the story of David's life.
Jun 28, 2012 Scott rated it liked it
Shelves: commentary
6/14/13 finished the 1 Samuel section.
Jan 09, 2011 Kaylyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So beautifully arranged and translated.
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Robert Bernard Alter (b. 1935) was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Lifetime Achievement and the PEN Center Literary Award for Translation. He is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and has published many acclaimed works on the Bible, literary modernism, and contemporary Hebrew literature.
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“The stories of Saul and David interlock antithetically on the theme of knowledge. Saul, from first to last, is a man deprived of the knowledge he desperately seeks.” 0 likes
“The story of David is probably the greatest single narrative representation in antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped and altered by the pressures of political life, public institutions, family, the impulses of body and spirit, the eventual sad decay of the flesh.” 0 likes
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