The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary

The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary

3.8 9
by Robert Alter, Alter, R. Alter
     
 

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A brilliant new translation and commentary of one of the Bible’s most cherished and powerful books.

Like the Five Books of Moses a cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. The cleansing purity of its images invites reflection and supplication in times of sorrow. The

Overview

A brilliant new translation and commentary of one of the Bible’s most cherished and powerful books.

Like the Five Books of Moses a cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. The cleansing purity of its images invites reflection and supplication in times of sorrow. The musicality of its powerful rhythms moves readers to celebration of good tidings. So today as it has been throughout our past, this is a book to be cherished as the grounding for our daily lives.

This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought by a scholar whose translation of the Five Books of Moses was hailed as a "godsend" by Seamus Heaney and a "masterpiece" by Robert Fagles. Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary shines a light on the obscurities of the text.

Robert Alter is a widely acclaimed literary scholar. He is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Editorial Reviews

James Wood - The New Yorker
“Alter is musically and poetically sensitive.... [He] takes us back to the essence of the meaning.”
Harold Bloom - New York Review of Books
“A considerable achievement.... Alter holds me to his darkly economical texts.”
Malcolm Jones - Newsweek
“You think you know these texts . . . until you read Alter, who reignites their beauty in bracing and unexpected ways.”
The New Yorker
Alter takes us back to the essence of the meaning. . . . Everything is clearer, seeming to have been rinsed not in the baptismal waters of the New Testament but in the life-giving water of the desert.— James Wood
New York Review of Books
A considerable achievement. . . . Alter holds me to his darkly economical texts.— Harold Bloom
Newsweek
You think you know these texts . . . until you read Alter, who reignites their beauty in bracing and unexpected ways.— Malcolm Jones
Adam Kirsch - New Republic
“Extraordinary.... We never forget, with Alter's Psalms, that the text we are reading is the work of human hands—not Holy Writ, but something at once less and more than that, great poetry.”
Barbara Berman - San Francisco Chronicle
“It is impossible to overstate the depth, the versatility, and the value of Alter's contribution.”
Mark Doty - Los Angeles Times
“One of the best outcomes of Alter's translation is a sense of an abrupt, muscular intensity; he restores to the Psalms a kind of strangeness that emanates from an encounter with a culture we recognize yet is distinctly alien to us, far removed in time and frame of mind.”
Walter Brueggemann - Christian Century
“Every reader of this translation will be led towards fresh thoughts and will discover favorites that inspire the imagination in new, rich ways.”
Jewish Book World
“In his compelling and swiftly moving translations, Alter has thrust the reader back to the place where the monotheistic religions were born out of even more ancient beginnings.”
The Tablet
“The achievement of this new translation is to present the Book of Psalms as a wonder of ancient literature.”
Michael Dirda
Every generation needs to revitalize the classics by looking at them anew, and many previous poets and scholars have taken stabs at translating the Psalms. One should welcome such efforts. Students will certainly find The Book of Psalms valuable, and it can usefully correct and supplement the more familiar English version.
—The Washington Post
Library Journal

Following his critically acclaimed 2004 translation of the Torah (The Five Books of Moses), Alter (Hebrew & comparative literature, Univ. of California, Berkeley) here turns his attention and considerable skills to the book of Psalms, taking great pains along the way to remain faithful to both the sense of the original Hebrew and the rhythms, metaphors, wordplay, and unique voice of its poetry. An extensive introduction explains Alter's philosophy of translation and the challenges faced by those rendering Hebrew text in English, and detailed, footnoted commentary gives philological, literary, and theological background and justifications for word choice and usage. A short list of resources for further reading is also included. Alter's translation may seem somewhat startling for readers more familiar with the verbose language of the King James Version, but it offers both clarity and fidelity to the meaning, meter, and nuances of the original Hebrew. Highly recommended for theological and academic libraries and for public libraries with large theological collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/1/07.]
—Amanda K. Sprochi

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393337044
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
10/19/2009
Pages:
518
Sales rank:
197,293
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Robert Alter's ongoing translation of the Hebrew Bible, the magnificent capstone to a lifetime of distinguished scholarly work, has won the PEN Center Literary Award for Translation. His immense achievements in scholarship ranging from the eighteenth-century European novel to contemporary Hebrew and American literature earned Alter the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Los Angeles Times. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Robert Alter, Ph.D. presents his translation and explanation for the 150 biblical Psalms. His work is truly a scholarly tome presenting the Psalms in their historical context and how they were intentionally or unintentionally influenced by translators and time. He reaffirms that original translators or editors organized the Psalms according to five books so the Psalms appear as divine as Moses' pentateuch. A marketing ploy in the ancient order? He describes how translations done over hundreds of years can accidentally or intentionally change the meanings of this great spiritual collection. Even simple and trivial letter swaps such as including a letter from one word to the following word dramatically altered the meaning of the original poem. Translation challenges also include how the translator altered the meaning of a Psalm by ignoring or substituting simple words when faced with complex concepts or unique words. The introduction to Alter's book is academically robust enough for someone who wants a dry explanation of the Psalms without an a lot of spiritual discussion. Dr. Alter numbers the Psalm chapters according the Masoretic, or the Hebrew numbering schema versus the Septuagint of Greek schema. This distinction is important for the reader who wants to make comparisons between Dr. Altar's collection and those in other textbooks. I particularly liked how Dr. Altar concurrently presented numbered footnotes on the same page as the text being studied. It was easy to maintain a focus on the Psalm presented at the top of the page and quickly glance at the explanation found at the bottom half of the page. He systematically explains syntax, rhythm, cadence and poetry of the psalms. It became easier to read the Psalms following Dr. Altar's explanation of the poet's tool called 'poetry related sequencing'. The poet starts a stanza or verse with a general comment that sets the tone for th Psalm. The poet then uses sequentially more specific verbs or nouns until the final verse contains the unequivocal action or unambigous meaning of the verse. Dr. Altar's book is meaningful for it's translations, grammatical explanations, and the eruditous way he explains an ancient written language. For these reasons The Psalms would be a meaningful addition to one's Psalm library. Other texts must be read for theologic or spiritual interpretation but Dr. Altar's tome is necessary for it's academic muscle.
KelleyZ More than 1 year ago
I'm using this as a devotional. One psalm per day, I read the psalm and then re-read it with Alter's comments. Then I journal my thoughts on it. It's really opened my eyes to some of the meanings behind the verbiage used. A truly remarkable book!
AmicusTE More than 1 year ago
I bought the e-book version of this book for the convenience of being able to reference it when my print copy was at home. Robert Alter's translation attempts to convey the understandings of the Hebrew text. His extensive commentary explains his translation choices and gives cultural background to the text. The arrangement of text and commentary in th e-book makes it easy to use.
Jimp99 More than 1 year ago
Robert Alter has written a number of outstanding translations and commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. The Book of the Psalms continues this work with a thought-provoking translation of the Psalms. The reader may at first feel a jarring sense of discord when he begins reading the Psalms as translated by Alter. However, as one studies the commentary provided, one is quickly reassured and amazed at the intricacy and beauty evoked by Alter's translation. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading the Bible and mining it for new meaning as well as the general reader who is reading the Bible as a cultural work of literature.
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Lame