The Literary Genius of the Hebrew Bible

After two decades of work, Robert Alter has completed his translation of the Hebrew Bible. In an interview with Sameer Rahim, he discusses why it was so important to him to try to preserve the Tanakh’s literary qualities:

The ancient Hebrew writers were certainly motivated by what we would call religious purposes—they had this new monotheistic vision of the world and they wanted to convey what God wanted of humankind and the people of Israel. But for reasons that I don’t think we can understand, these writers happened to be brilliant literary artists and they chose to convey their religious vision in extremely artful narrative and sometimes very brilliant poetry.

It’s a great mystery why they were this good. Ancient Israel was this little sliver of land sandwiched in between these large, powerful and sophisticated cultures—the Syrians and then the Babylonians to the east and the Egyptians to the south. But the biblical writers developed literary skills that totally eclipsed their neighbors. My contention is that if you want to see what the Bible has to say about humankind, morality, human nature, God and Israel, history—if you want to see that in all its fine nuances, you have to attend to the literary workings of these texts.

Let me add something about character. The patriarchal stories [in Genesis] are intended to explain national origins and the configuration of the twelve tribes. You might say they’re virtually ideological tales and that character as we think about it in fiction wouldn’t come into play—but it does. Jacob is very complicated and fascinating above and beyond any explanation of origins that the stories would be meant to convey. My inference is that these writers reveled in the [depiction] of character. Jacob/Israel [is] somebody who is devious, who bargains not only with other human beings but even with God, and is morally dubious in stealing his brother’s blessing and so forth.

Read more at Prospect

More about: Ancient Near East, Arts & Culture, Hebrew Bible, Hebrew literature, Jacob, Religion & Holidays, Translation

In the Next Phase of the War, Israel’s Biggest Obstacles May Be Political Rather Than Military

To defeat Hamas, Israel will have to attack the city of Rafah, which lies on the border between Egypt and Gaza, and which now contains the bulk of the terrorist group’s fighting forces as well as, most likely, the Israeli hostages. Edward Luttwak examines how this stage of the war will be different from those that preceded it:

To start with, Rafah has very few of the high-rise apartment houses, condo towers, and mansions of Gaza City and Khan Yunis. This makes street-fighting much simpler because there are no multilevel basements from which many fighters can erupt at once, nor looming heights with firing positions for snipers. Above all, if a building must be entered and cleared room-by-room, perhaps because a high-value target is thought to be hiding there, it does not take hundreds of soldiers to search the place quickly.

Luttwak also argues that the IDF will be able to evacuate a portion of the civilian population without allowing large numbers of Hamas guerrillas to escape. In his view, the biggest challenge facing Israel, therefore, is a political one:

Israel will have to contend with one final hurdle: the fact that its forces cannot proceed without close coordination with Egypt’s rulers. President Sisi’s government detests Hamas—the Gaza offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood they overthrew—and shed no tears at the prospect of its further destruction in Rafah. However, they also greatly fear the arrival of a flood of Palestinians fleeing from the Israeli offensive.

As for the Israeli war cabinet, it is equally determined to win this war in Rafah and to preserve strategic cooperation with Egypt, which has served both sides very well. That takes some doing, and accounts for the IDF’s failure to move quickly into Rafah. But victory is Israel’s aim—and it’s not going to give up on that.

Read more at UnHerd

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security