Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ANCIENT ISRAEL by Robert Alter


The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary

by Robert Alter

Pub Date: April 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-393-08269-2
Publisher: Norton

A fresh translation of six historical books of the Hebrew Bible.

Venerable scholar Alter (Hebrew and Comparative Literature/Univ. of California; The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary, 2010, etc.) continues a decade of biblical-translation work with this new look at Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. These core historical texts explain the history of ancient Israel, including such famous figures as Samson, Elijah, David and Solomon. Each translation is accompanied by an introductory essay and extensive commentary in footnotes. Though Alter does not address the obvious question—why another translation?—his translation is unique enough and his commentary extensive and erudite enough to render the question rather moot. The author has a definitive respect for the ancient writers who first wrote these texts; he sees them not as “schools” or abstract conveyors of legend but as real people who knew they were doing an important service by recording this history, as best they knew it. Alter also reads the texts with a sharp eye for moral lessons and ethical dilemmas. Rather than ignoring ethical issues or chalking them up to cultural differences, he grapples with them, understanding the text to be an ethical and religious work. Yet he does so without snobbishness. Alter’s translation has an earthy quality, sticking closely to the text without bending it to fit modern preferences for grammar and language flow.

A fine, useful resource for lay scholars, clergy and serious Bible readers.