How to Judge Robert Alter's Landmark Translation of the Hebrew Bible

Finished after decades of labor, this one-man English translation is a stupendous achievement. How does it hold up against the masterpieces (and follies) that have come before?

From The Letter “Aleph” by the Israeli artist Mordecai Ardon, whose work is used for the cover of Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew Bible.

From The Letter “Aleph” by the Israeli artist Mordecai Ardon, whose work is used for the cover of Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew Bible.

Essay
Feb. 4 2019
About the author

Hillel Halkin’s books include Yehuda HaleviAcross the Sabbath RiverMelisande: What are Dreams? (a novel), Jabotinsky: A Life (2014), and, most recently, After One-Hundred-and-Twenty (Princeton). 


However you look at it, Robert Alter’s The Hebrew Bible is a stupendous achievement. The result of decades of work, consisting of over 3,000 pages of translated text and commentary, it includes every one of the 35 books from Genesis to Chronicles that constitute Jewish scripture. One might call it the translator’s equivalent of a solo circumnavigation of the globe were it not that sailing a boat around the globe takes far less time.

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More about: Arts & Culture, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Literature, Religion & Holidays, Robert Alter, Translation