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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary Paperback – October 19, 2009

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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary + The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary + The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393337049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393337044
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“You think you know these texts . . . until you read Alter, who reignites their beauty in bracing and unexpected ways.” (Malcolm Jones - Newsweek)

“Alter is musically and poetically sensitive.... [He] takes us back to the essence of the meaning.” (James Wood - The New Yorker)

“A considerable achievement.... Alter holds me to his darkly economical texts.” (Harold Bloom - New York Review of Books)

“Every reader of this translation will be led towards fresh thoughts and will discover favorites that inspire the imagination in new, rich ways.” (Walter Brueggemann - Christian Century)

“In his compelling and swiftly moving translations, Alter has thrust the reader back to the place where the monotheistic religions were born out of even more ancient beginnings.” (Jewish Book World)

“The achievement of this new translation is to present the Book of Psalms as a wonder of ancient literature.” (The Tablet)

About the Author

Robert Alter's ongoing translation of the Hebrew Bible, the magnificent capstone to a lifetime of distinguished scholarly work, has won the PEN Center Literary Award for Translation. His immense achievements in scholarship ranging from the eighteenth-century European novel to contemporary Hebrew and American literature earned Alter the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Los Angeles Times. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

Customer Reviews

It has given me many wonderful fresh insights into one of my absolute favorite Bible books.
Becky Way
Robert Alter's translation of the Psalms, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, is wonderful - clear, poetic, and accurate.
W. A. Carpenter
Even the size of the hardcover book does not allow you to tuck it into your pocket or bag for easy use.
Faithful Reader, USA

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 102 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on December 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've been going through a patch of bad health lately. To help ease my way, some friends were kind enough to give me Robert Alter's translations of the Psalms. They didn't know that I'm a fan of Alter's earlier Five Books of Moses translation. I was delighted to receive their gift.

I've been reading the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) translations of the psalms for so long that they've become second nature to me. But Alter's renderings have an immediacy that really does bring a sense of vitality, of expectancy, of being-there-in-the-moment, that awakens both the senses and the heart.

Take the well known Quemadimodum, Psalm 42. The BCP's translation of the beginning is this:

As the deer longs for the water brooks,
so longs my soul for you, O God.

My soul is athirst for God, athirst for the living God;
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?

Here's Alter's translation:

As a deer yearns for streams of water,
so I yearn for You, O God.

My whole being thirsts for God,
for the living God.

When shall I come and see
the presence of God?

The BCP version has a lovely, contemplative rhythm. But Alter's version has an edge that expresses not just longing but almost a demand. It's an interesting change of pace, and one that invites a different set of responses and prayers.

Alter's commentary to his translations is graceful and informative, and not--thank God!--heavy-handed and pedantic. I generally distrust commentary attached to translated poetry. But Alter's usually enhances rather than distracts.

This translation is a wonderful gift that Alter has given us all. And my copy of his translation is a wonderful gift from my friends. Thank you!
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164 of 171 people found the following review helpful By Andre Lawrence TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 13, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Update: Jan. 2010
I wrote to Prof. Alter to inquire about any other biblical translations because, quite frankly, his translation (and, Prof. Everett Fox' translation) are some of the most exciting and intriguing books to be published in any genre. Here is Prof. Alter's response:

Dear Mr. Lawrence,

Many thanks for your enthusiastic response. The next installment of my Bible translations, The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary will be published in October [2010].

All best,

Robert Alter
***** ***** *****

I've come to expect excellence from Professor Alter, especially after first reading The NY Times review of his "The Five Books of Moses" (Sept. 2004). It was a wonderful translation. I then purchased his translations of Genesis and The David Story based on (I & II Samuel), both books read like a novel. The David Story, in particular, I found to be an exceptionally vivid portrait of David, although I don't agree with Prof. Alter's conservative supposition of David's relationship with Michal and Jonathan. Minor point, but usually Alter, the intellectual, in his annotations is known to challenge orthodoxy. The Book of Psalms, although not a biographical sketch, is written in the typical Alter style.

Take for instance a troubling Psalm for translation. Psalm 2: A declaration of God's dominion.

Serve The Lord with fear/ and rejoice with trembling/Kiss The Son, lest he be angry...

Artscroll, Tehillim (2006)
Serve The Lord with awe/That you may rejoice, When there is trembling...
Read more ›
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74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Robert Alter the great master- critic of understanding the Bible as literary text here puts his considerable knowledge of Biblical poetics and translation techniques to use in an effort to capture the compactness, and rhythm of the Hebrew original. Alter's aim is to give us a translation closer to the source than any done before.
In doing so he faced many problems one of them of course being the canonical place the 'King James Version' has in the hearts of many lovers of the Bible. Alter handles this in varying ways. In Psalm 23 he leaves the famous opening "The Lord is my Shepherd' in part because he could find no way of compacting the Hebrew original which is three words only. Later on in the other most well- known line of the poem he translates in place of "Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil." ,"Though I walk in the vale of death's shadow/I fear no harm." Though Alter's translation may be here more accurate, it is difficult not to feel the impossibility of improving upon a 'line' which has in itself become part of the English tradition in Literature, and which is so deep in the hearts and minds of many readers.
Alter is knowledgeable, skillful and his work has true literary power. It is a translation which definitely adds to the tradition of translations of what is arguably the greatest and most meaningful personal religious poetry ever written.
His commentary is in itself a small masterwork which will deeply enrich the understanding of all who read ,love, and our strengthened by 'Tehillim'.
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