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Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: a Translation with Commentary Paperback – 23 May 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 880 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (23 May 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393348768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393348767
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 3.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 603,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Alter has achieved the significant feat of refreshing English by taking it back to one of its sources of strength. --Peter Ackroyd

About the Author

Robert Alter is the author of the highly acclaimed Genesis, The David Story, The Five Books of Moses, The Book of Psalms and The Wisdom Books.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am hoping that Robert Alter will eventually complete his translation of the entire Tanakh/Bible -- it is elegant, scholarly, and above all goes a long way in capturing the flavour of the original. A real translator's translation -- the commentary explores the process and problems of translating such an important text, and is always illuminating Keep 'em coming, Professor Alter -- only the Latter Prophets and a bit of Ketuvim to go....!!!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Alter really knows his stuff when it comes to the Old Testament. Most of what he writes is pure gold, but I was left wanting more...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8f1aeee8) out of 5 stars 35 reviews
40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8ec029e4) out of 5 stars Masterful Translation, Instructive Commentary 30 April 2013
By Stephen R. Harris Jr. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By and large, Alter's work is a milestone in the art of translation and is in and of itself an instructive resource for students of the Bible in general, and students of Hebrew in particular. Typically, the practice of translation is viewed through the lens of a false dichotomy: either translations are mechanical, wooden, and "literal" or they are dynamic, thought-for-thought, or otherwise paraphrastic. Alter demonstrates cogently and forcefully that translation is not a game of viewing words as equations to be solved, nor is it the practice of grabbing what the author was trying to say and rendering it in an "abridged" kind of way (see his article in his "Five Books of Moses" entitled, "On the Heresy of Explanation").

As a Hebraist I was immediately gripped by Alter's command of the Hebrew, and stunned by his grasp of the subtle distinctions between literary expressions in the Hebrew text. It goes without saying that what the author has done in this volume and the others of his series is to demonstrate that translation is as much of an art as it is a science; biblical literature often makes sudden and abrupt changes from prose to poetry, and not to mention careful and calculating choices in vocabulary and diction. Translation is just as much about translating art as it is about saying, "this word means this, and that word means that..." Unfortunately the artistry of the text is usually compromised in many English translations because of false assumptions about "literal" versus "dynamic" and paraphrastic translations of the text.

In so many ways, Robert Alter is changing the way that scholars and layman alike are viewing the art of translation, especially among those that know Hebrew and Aramaic. If you have never picked up Alter's translations before, perhaps now would be a good time. His commentary alone is provocative enough, but his translation alone is worth the price of this volume.

My ONLY complaint about this volume has to do with the absence of the section that is typically at the end of his works entitled, "For Further Reading." I contacted him about this and he insists that the bibliography would have been too cumbersome and not particularly helpful for readers. In his volume, "The David Story," there is a run-down of the characters in the narrative of 1 and 2 Samuel as well as a brief list of some of the resources that he consulted in the production of that translation that are absent in this one. While I wish that those appendices would have been included in the present volume, I understand his decision, and I am not deterred in recommending his work in the slightest.

Hebrew Bible translation is moving into a new age in a BIG and GREAT way. Check out this volume and others of his translations to see some of where Bible translation is heading and you might just find some insightful surprises along the way; passages that were once obscure are now clear, passages that translators flattened into clarity by way of the heresy of explanation stand ambiguous as they were in the Hebrew. Altogether, this work is extremely readable, powerfully insightful, and a sober challenge to the excuses of translators past.

Happy reading!
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9114dbe8) out of 5 stars Worth buying and reading 19 May 2013
By Israel Drazin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Alter, an award winning author, has many skills including knowing Hebrew, understanding the Bible, and writing well. He translated and commented on many biblical books. He translates and comments upon "The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings" in this volume. Ancient Judaism divided the Hebrew Bible into three parts: Torah (the Five Books of Moses), Neviim (the prophetical books - books derived by prophecy), and Ketuvim (writings - inspired books). The entire collection is called Tanach, which is an acronym made up of the names of the three parts. Later scholars divided the second section Neviim into two parts, the former and later prophets. Actually, the "former Prophets" are not books of prophecy, but historical books.

Alter does not attempt to give his readers an extensive commentary on the four books. However he does introduce each with about a half dozen pages in which he explains the history and contents of the book. He also places about half a page of commentary on each page of each book.

Alter's translation is much clearer than many others. For example, just a simple sentence in the Art Scroll edition of I Samuel 11:1 translates: "Then Nahash the Ammonite sent up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the people of Jabesh said to Nahash, `Seal a covenant with us, and we will serve you.'" Alter has: "And Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh-Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, `Make a pact with us, and we shall be subject to you.'" In more than half a page under this sentence, Alter explains what the Ammonite kingdom is, its relationship to King Saul and King David, what is the settlement of Jabesh-Gilead, its relationship to Saul, what was found in Cave 4 of Qumran in the twentieth century that throws light on this episode.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8ed6e96c) out of 5 stars Another brilliant rendering of the Hebrew Bible 28 May 2013
By R.W.A. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a newcomer to Alter's work, having been pointed his way by a friend. We recently led a Bible study on Judges, and lamented the fact that Alter's translation and commentary were not yet available. So, as soon as I saw it was available I placed my order. Ancient Israel offers helpful and concise introductions to each translation, and interesting and sometimes provocative notes throughout. Alter approaches the text as a piece of literature, and is great at revealing the artistry of the ancient compilers of these foundational narratives. If what you want is a devotional or explicitly religious perspective, I'd recommend looking elsewhere. But if you want a fresh look at some familiar texts too often taken for granted, then this book is highly recommended.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8ed6e984) out of 5 stars Alter capturing the sense of Hebrew narrative. 18 Sept. 2013
By doug.h - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A translation made by someone who understands how the biblical narrative form is functioning. This means Alter's translation catches the sense of the original language and presents it in an accessible and accurate form for the reader. A word of warning: the commentary is a literary commentary and very brief. This work is one you buy for the translation. If you want a comprehensive commentary, that function is better fulfilled by a dedicated commentary.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x940918d0) out of 5 stars Pretty good but not perfect 7 Nov. 2013
By Pesha - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The only reason I didn't give it 5 stars is that it doesn't show chapter and verse numbers. It's very easy to go to the footnotes and back again. I'm bookmarking each chapter as I go. It would have been nice if the table of contents included chapters and not just each book.
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