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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes! The WISDOM BOOKS, Alter's Trans. A Critical Review, 10 Nov 2010
Andre Lawrence (Miami, Florida) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
"The strong disparities among these Wisdom books vividly illustrate how the Hebrew Bible, contrary to popular preconception, is not a book but an anthology ...incorporating widely different views of human nature, God and history and even the natural world."
--Robert Alter, 2010
Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley

* Why another translation?
** Comparative selections and commentary
*** Conclusion

* Why another translation?

Scholarship matters. It really does. Scholarship matters just like Integrity matters. Correspondingly, such efforts are the only defense against literalism and fundamentalist fanaticism. Prof. Robert Alter, like many of his contemporaries in Religious Studies (Jewish, Christian and Muslim, alike) share the belief that many of the stories canonized were common tales that the Ancient Israelites and their surrounding neighbors (perhaps even extending into the reaches of central Europe and The Far East) told and re-told for generations before being transcribed. These homogenized stories appeared to have been morality tales before cultural reconstruction transformed them into insular and sacred pieces. In addition to Job, The Creation Story through Noah, Esther, Ruth and even The Tobit all reflect a Judaizing/ Monotheistic rendering when compared to the older source material found in such texts as The Book of The Jubilees or The Epic of Gilgamesh, to name a few.

---Job ("Iyov") 3:3

JPS (1917): "Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night wherein it was said: 'A man-child is brought forth.' "

NAB (1969): "Perish the day on which I was born and the night when they said, `The child is a boy!' "

Alter's (2010): "Annul the day that I was born and the night that said, `a man is conceived.'

"The initial verb means to die or to be lost, and therefore `perish,' used by King James and several modern translations. [A] Couple of modern translators have opted for `damn,' but `yo'vad' is neither an expletive nor does it imply damnation, which is not a biblical idea. The force of what follows is that Job would like to expunge the day of his birth from the calendar, which is the contextual justification for `annul.' "

---Proverbs ("Mishlei") 8:22, 30-31

Geneva (1560): "The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. Then I was by him, [as] one brought up [with him]: and I was daily [his] delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights [were] with the sons of men."

NJB (1985): "Yahweh created me, first-fruits of his fashioning, before the oldest of his works. I was beside the master craftsman, delighting in him day after day, ever at play in his presence, at play everywhere on his earth, delighting to be with the children of men."

Alter's (2010): "The Lord created me at he outset of His way, the very first of His works of old. And I was by Him, an intimate, I was His delight day after day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the world, His earth, and my delight with Humankind."

"The cosmic or cosmogonic prominence of Wisdom may well have provided a generative clue for the prose-poem about the Logos ("In The beginning was the word...") in the first chapter of John's Gospel. In the rabbinic tradition, it was the trigger for the idea that God made the world by following the blueprint of the Torah, which pre-existed creation; and later the Kabbalah would elaborate this notion with a theosophic apparatus."

---Ecclesiastes ("Qohelet/ Kohelet") 1:2

King James (1611): "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all [is] vanity."

NIV (1984): "Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher. "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless."

Alter's (2010): Merest breath/vapor, said Qohelet, merest breath/vapor. All is breath/vapor."

Perhaps this thought should be examined, as the key word translated seems to offer, in Alter's version, a substantially different meaning than those previously given. According to him, "The phrase and in particular the word, `vanity' would be more accurately rendered `vapor.' [It is] the closest word in English to the Hebrew word, `Hevel.' Rendering this phrase, as an abstraction is inadvisable, for the writer uses concrete metaphors to indicate general concepts. "Hevel", `breath' or `vapor,' is something utterly insubstantial and transient, and in this book suggests futility, ephemerality."

However, there also seems to be an esoteric meaning that belies this passage as well. In Judaism, the rabbis teach that there's a parallel world, where everyone and everything has dual representation: a physical representation here and an ethereal before the Creator. This verse, according to the late great Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, reflects this spiritual line of reason. "It is also the mystical reason," Kaplan once stated, "why the names of some saints are doubled in the Bible as `Abraham, Abraham' (Gen. 22:11), `Jacob, Jacob' (Gen. 46:2) and `Moses, `Moses' (Ex. 3:4). The first name corresponds to the Root that remains on High, attached to The Tree, while the second name is the branch that rests in the physical world."

*** This book is about 400 pages; cream-colored and relatively light to hold considering it's a hardcover. The only thing that is missing from the last publication of his Biblical translations is a bookmark. (I mentioned that when I reviewed his translation of The Book of Psalms.) A bookmark would help as this is an annotated translation and often you find yourself referencing earlier comments or chapters, a placeholder really would have been a nice addition.

Perhaps one of these fine mornings I may get up on the wrong side of the bed wondering about this missing bookmark that W. W. Norton forgot to include and I just might have to give my good friend, Gloria Allred a call.

5 stars? Absolutely. Wish I could give more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Exemplary translation, 9 Mar 2012
David (Dublin Ireland) - See all my reviews
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Are the books of the Bible the 'inerrant word of God' or a rich and varied literature, of which we have only a vague idea? Well, whether the word of God or not, the books of the 'tanakh' are ALSO literature, which characteristic structures and their own technique. Robert Alter 'The Five Books of Moses' and 'The Psalms', Robert Alter now gives us 'Job', 'Proverbs' and 'Ecclesiastes'. We know that translation, even between closely related languages, throws up difficulties that only a skilled practitioner can resolve. When the languages are widely separated in time and space, the difficulty is all the greater, and it is to Alter's credit that he has equal respect for English and Hebrew. What is worrying, perhaps, for those who see the text as the 'inerrant word of God', is that there are numerous places where the precise meaning is obscure, or where there is reason to suspect that scribes have introduced errors, or copyists have misread the text. these difficulties are explained by Alter in his valuable notes so that, short of becoming a Hebrew scholar, one feels one has come as close to the original text as possible, and the translator, far from being invisible behind his translation, is a confident and advisor on whose scholarly comments it is safe to rely.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wisdom, 16 Jan 2012
Mr. Peter A. Evans (Hornchurch, Essex, UK) - See all my reviews
Robert Alter has produced a clear, engrossing translation and simple commentary; and his publisher has done him proud. But he does prove you won't go wrong with the AV.
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The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary
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