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Robert Alter
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The Art of Bible Translation

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  69 ratings  ·  18 reviews
An award-winning biblical translator reflects on the art of capturing the literary power of the Bible in English

In this brief book, award-winning biblical translator and acclaimed literary critic Robert Alter offers a personal and passionate account of what he learned about the art of Bible translation over the two decades he spent completing his own English version of the
ebook, 152 pages
Published March 19th 2019 by Princeton University Press
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Jacopo Quercia
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How would you translate the voice of God? How much of yourself would you imprint upon Him or Her, or perhaps upon past authors you wish to emulate or eschew? Such is the subject of 'The Art of Bible Translation,' a text that should be every bit as useful to creative writers as to those approaching religious studies.

Dr. Alter could have easily focused his attention on various translations and mistranslations of the Bible across the centuries. While he does address such instances, they are brief
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Bible as literature.

Basically, Alter is a literary scholar who reads ancient Hebrew. He ended up getting involved in translation and somewhat recently completed a translation of the entire Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). This book is a summary of some key principles he focused on as he translated--matters of language that he thinks most modern Bible translator handle very poorly: syntax (sentence construction), word choice, sound/word
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alter has much to contribute to biblical translation, and this book offers lively rationale for his stylistic choices. There’s a ton of insightful gems here, very much worth the read. At the same time, Alter’s tone feels a bit too self-congratulatory. And I wish he would have better acknowledged (in his tone throughout) the degree to which subjective preferences rule translation choices.
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a little pedantic but robert alter is mandatory if the literary qualities of scripture vibrates your personal tuning fork. short version: language is a cultural act and we get our greasy foodhands all over it all the time
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short book reads more like an essay than a completed volume. To appreciate it, I think one needs to be well versed in the workings of translation and the Bible, as well as enjoy thinking and learning about languages. The author focuses on the intricacies of the original Hebrew language of the Bible: its syntax, word choice, sound and word play, rhythm, and dialog structure. Most of the modern translations fall terribly short in conveying these and tend to excessively modernize and "dumb ...more
Brian Watson
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Given the great number of languages and the finite capacity of humans to be fluent in more than a few languages, translation is a necessary task. Yet anyone who has translated from an original language to a target language knows that translation is not a science. It cannot adequately be done via computer, as anyone who has used Google Translate knows. Translation is an art. A successful translation will not merely translate propositions from one language to another; it will also capture the ...more
Ben Rothke
May 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Talmud records that when the book of the Prophets was translated into Aramaic, there was an earthquake in the land of Israel. The message one could gather is that God doesn’t take kindly to the tampering of his holy books, even if it’s done by the greatest of sages.

Robert Alter is the emeritus professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and recently completed his landmark translation of the Bible into English. In “The Art of Bible Translation” he
Jun 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Robert Alter, one of the most astute readers of Hebrew Scripture alive today, is sick and tired of modern translators. They think they have to explain everything instead of merely translating. They have no ear for meter. They draw clumsy etymological conclusions. They fear the very things that make the OT unique (repetition, limited narratival vocabulary, lots of conjunctions). So he has published his own translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that seeks to avoid all of these pitfalls. And in this ...more
Will Grannan
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very much enjoyed. Alter gives an erudite view of his process, as well as a historical synopsis of major works and trends in the field.
It makes me want to get his translation of the OT or at least the Pentateuch.
With the rise of online synchronous Bibles, it’s easy to forget that a new vernacular translation is a a work of Faith as well as scholarship, and that any translation has a voice behind it. Personally, I’ve always sneered a little at the KJV, and it’s limited presentation, based on
Jul 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Enlightening and accessible book discussing the challenges of translating the Hebrew Bible, with lots of examples of the challenges of getting across different aspects of the original, specifically syntax, word choice, sound & word play, rhythm, and dialogue. As at least one other reviewer has pointed out, he is the hero of nearly every story he tells, which can get tiresome. (He also spends a lot of time calling out other translators for unnecessarily adding or changing material, while ...more
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Someone once asked me how best to understand the Bible if they were unable to read the original Hebrew. I gave them the advice I’d received years earlier: read two or three different translations and note when they disagree or use a different expression. That signals a problematic word or phrase. However, even multiple translations cannot capture all the nuances of the text. Robert Alter writes about his attempt to overcome these difficulties in his new work “The Art of Bible Translation” ...more
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I think it is SO important to look at the Bible as a translation and a historical text! This book was so interesting. Focusing each chapter on one aspect, such as syntax, word choice, rhythm, etc., made for easy and clear reading. It had not even occurred to me until now that things like rhythm should be noticed when translating the Bible. And he pointed out other translations' flaws without saying his was clearly the best. If I ever feel like tackling it, I am very interested in reading his ...more
May 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
So, translation isn't easy, even if you think you know both languages. And, yes, it's an art. The author recently completed his translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew to English---three heavy volumes, with his commentary; quite a feat, even for someone with his qualifications. This is his short defense of how he went about it.
Matt Carton
Sep 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-reads
Brilliant capstone to a brilliant achievement.

I teach the Bible as Literature at my high school and have used Alter's translations and commentaries as my guide (he also once came to my classes to speak many years ago). Now that he has completed his translation of the Hebrew Bible, he offers this book as a way to show what he had been thinking all these years. I loved it.
Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alter advances a convincing argument against normalizing (i.e., adapting the text to read as if written in English) the language in biblical translation. An interesting look at the many difficult choices a translator has to make.
Brent Lewis
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting analysis and clearly a great amount of passion. Some knowledge of the Hebrew language was helpful.
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Worth the time for pastors and others interested in understanding The Scriptures.
Brian Cubbage
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brief but informative book published in the wake of Robert Alter's The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary, on the principles that lay behind his translation. Unlike most translators of the Bible in modern times, who are translating it as Holy Writ with an eye towards theologically motivated exegesis, Alter is interested in the Bible as primarily a narrative and literary document. None of this is to say that he is in any way hostile to theological interests; after all, Alter ...more
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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.