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The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel Paperback – September 17, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There are countless good reasons to read The David Story, Robert Alter's new translation of the story of King David (beginning in I Samuel and ending in I Kings 2). In the book's introduction, Alter contends that the story of David is "probably the greatest single narrative representation in antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped and altered by the pressures of political life, public institutions, family, the impulses of body and spirit, the eventual sad decay of the flesh. It also provides the most unflinching insight into the cruel processes of history and into human behavior warped by the pursuit of power." Alter's translation is more literal than the King James version, which makes his rendering of Scripture newly immediate and jarring. (When Samuel anoints David in I Samuel 16, for instance, "the spirit of the LORD gripped David from that day onward.") This David Story is worth reading for the footnotes alone, which describe in vivid detail the mechanics of sheep-shearing festivals, sacrificial feasts, and other cultural phenomena that add depth and life to this familiar story. --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In his latest effort, Alter (Hebrew and comparative literature, Univ. of California, Berkeley) has produced a compelling literary translation of the story of the beginnings of the ancient Israelite monarchy and of one of the Bible's most colorful characters. He argues hereAas he did previously, in his translation of Genesis (LJ 8/96)Athat this story is a literary whole rather than merely a stitched-together collection of independent bits. Alter's translation bears a resemblance to the King James Version (sans "thee" and "thou"), which he considers a true literary translation. But in many instances, his version surpasses King James's by more accurately reproducing the rhythm, syntactical arrangement, and word plays of the Hebrew text. His faithful representation of the Hebrew wawAtranslated as "and"Agives a sense of the story's forward movement and leaves some current translations, in which subordinate clauses often obscure the waw, seeming flat. This is a translation for readers; recommended for all collections.ACraig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Later Printing edition (September 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393320774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393320770
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By David Richter on December 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The stories of Samuel, Saul, and David are high points of Biblical narrative, and Robert Alter's superb new translation with commentary is geared to make the slightest nuances of the richly woven stories available to the reader who must read them in English. Both translation and commentary are first-rate: The David Story alerts the reader to puns and plays on words in the Hebrew, while Alter's own interpretations are enriched by his use of insights by other fine scholar/critics such as Fokkelman, Polzin and Sternberg, along with the traditional rabbinic sources. (A gentleman as well as a scholar, Alter gives credit where it is due.)
The Book of Samuel comes down to us in a Hebrew text that is clearly faulty in spots, and it is also obvious that more than one author has been at work. Some scholars, like Kyle McCarter, editor of the Anchor Samuel, looking for documentary origins, emphasize the breaks in the text, the inconsistencies that suggest that different traditions have been incompletely harmonized with one another. In accordance with his views in "The Art of Biblical Narrative" and his practice in his translation of the book of Genesis, Alter plays down the "documents" approach and instead emphasizes the skill of the final redactor of Samuel who wove those disparate stories into a single skein.
For example, we are confronted by two disparate stories of how David comes to be introduced into Saul's court, first as a skilled musician in Saul's entourage and second as the shepherd boy from Bethlehem who comes from his flock and slays Goliath. Early in chapter 17, that harmonizer is at work when he tells us that "David would go back and forth from Saul's side to tend his father's flock in Bethlehem" (1 Sam 17:15).
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By David Galinsky MD on December 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
At the beginning of the book of Samuel, Hannah, the mother of Samuel, prays wordlessly. The priest, Eli, accuses her of being drunk. Professor Alter points out that the priest misunderstands the situation and that this is a theme that will recur throughout the story - characters misunderstanding the actions and motives of one another. I was knocked off my seat because I had read this passage many times before and had never appreciated that Eli just didn't get it! Later, Eli will be physically blind, but in this scene he is spiritually blind. From beginning to end, Professor Alter offers fascinating insights into the text. He analyzes it to bring out both specific detail and broad general themes. His explanation of the role of the redactor in putting together various sources to make a thematically cohesive story was new for me. There are multiple explanations about how David came to Saul's court which seem to be contradictory. But, if they are seen as illustrating different aspects of David's personality, then the contradictions no longer matter. Every page has interesting interpretations. I have mentioned just two examples of the sort of interpretation that occurs on every page of this book. As Alter points out, biblical Hebrew language is terse. Therefore every modern reader is able to project new ideas into the interstices of the language. This book is masterful at presenting new and plausible interpretations. I have read and reread this book. I recommend it to all, both those new to the story and to those who are familiar with it but want new insights.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leeper on December 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
Robert Alter covers I Samuel, II Samuel, and the first part of I Kings. With these books, the historical span of the life of King David is covered.

Alter translates in such a way as to give us a better feel for the narrative that the original writers may have intended. Not only does he try to get the original words, but also the original tempo of the words that give it a lively effect. Throughout the text, he explains his choices when sources disagrees. Each choice is explained linguistically and in some instances, poetically. This was a definite plus!

Along with commentary on the translation, Alter explains how actions fit historically and geographically. He has definitely done his homework! Further, he explains some parts in modern analogy (a comparison to the mafia in a few instances), which really help the reader connect with the narrative.

I would highly recommend this book for people wanting a good translation and a better understanding of the story and details of King David.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill VINE VOICE on July 23, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most versions of the biblical text succeed either because of a superb translation or because of thought provoking commentary. David Alter gives the world one of those rare treatments that succeeds on both scores and provides a truly important addition to biblical scholarship.
Alter's analysis of the language can be a true bridge for those who want to know the text but do not speak Hebrew. By pointing out to the reader places where the language is unclear, he lets him or her make the choice of what the texts real meaning is. Only the Everett Fox translation is equal or superior.
As for commentary, Alter's literary critique of the text helps bring it to life and helps the reader understand how those in the period of redaction read the text.
Alter has already made many noteworthy contributions to biblical scholarship. With this work, he assures his place in the illustrious pantheon of important biblical scholars.
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