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The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary Paperback – October 17, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1120 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393333930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393333930
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,929 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This brilliant and rigorous book by Alter, who teaches Hebrew and comparative literature at Berkeley, strikes the perfect balance. It delves into literary and biblical scholarship, yet is accessible to the general reader. It argues forcefully and persuasively, but is never arrogant, even when Alter is detailing the inadequacies of other biblical translations. It points to the ways a single Hebrew word can make all the difference in our understanding of the text, but it never loses the forest for the trees. In a stimulating and thorough introduction, Alter makes a case for the coherence of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) as a whole, while acknowledging that it is "manifestly a composite construction" that was written and edited by many people over several centuries. He discusses why we need yet another translation, contending that every existing English translation has an anemic sense of the English language, while the King James Version—the most beautiful and literary English-language translation—is unreliable and sometimes inaccurate with the original Hebrew. After this energizing introduction, Alter proceeds with his eminently readable translation and fascinating footnotes on various Hebrew terms. This may well be the best one-volume introduction to the Torah ever published in English.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

A godsend. The foundational texts are here given their due in prose at once modern and magnificently cadenced. Immediately readable. -- Seamus Heaney, Times Literary Supplement

Engrossing...the translation [that] deserves to become the version in which future generations encounter this strange and inexhaustible book. -- Judith Shulevitz, New York Times Book Review

The poets will rejoice. Alter's language ascends to a rare purity through plainness that equals the plainness of the Hebrew. -- Cynthia Ozick, The New Republic

Customer Reviews

Nat at all an easy read, but great reference material.
jean luc
Alter's translations of the prose narratives of the Bible are superb.
Burl Horniachek
I have only begun to read this book, but I am impressed so far.
S. J. Eggenberger

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Joshua A. King on January 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Though I've read passages from the Torah when I was a young kid in Hebrew School, I never read any form of the Bible in its entirety. I bought this book from purely a secular interest in understanding what the Torah was about, the same way I've read Greek Mythology in the past. I never anticipated that I would read this from cover to cover, but the way Alter strikes the perfect balance between staying true to the original Hebrew while using English that is wrought with commensurate attention to detail and beauty, made it impossible not to. The only thing i'm not sure about is what I enjoyed more: reading the translation itself, or the footnotes. In many ways the footnotes tell you more about the Torah than the text. The author dives into amazing detail with his description of the etymological origins of the hebrew words, explanation for the usage of certain words within the context of the narrative, and analysis into the meaning of the story complete with numerous references to well-known rabbinical scholars and their views. The result is an understanding of the Torah not just through the eyes of a 21st century reader, but through the eyes of the original authors and editors of the compilation that became the Torah, thousands of years ago.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has ever been curious about the Torah and wanted to learn more about its meaning and derivation.
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156 of 166 people found the following review helpful By Thomas J. Burns VINE VOICE on July 30, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are probably millions of English-speaking men and women of religious inclination who have never read the Hebrew or the Christian Scriptures cover to cover. When I undertook a masters degree from a Roman Catholic Seminary, only the Pentateuch and the Prophets were required three-credit courses, and our professors emphasized themes over textual analysis. And, like many others, I know something "of" Deuteronomy and Numbers but have never examined the texts closely.

Searching souls return to sources, and it may be this need that would propel a reader to Robert Alter's original translation of the Pentateuch. As I am neither a true scripture scholar nor fluent in Hebrew language, I cannot comment on the accuracy of the translation, though it is hard to imagine a major publisher [Norton] going wrong with a scholar whose resume includes at least twenty full length works on Scriptural literature and philosophy. What I can address is the impact of Alter's efforts, his manner of presentation, underlying presuppositions, and the values and dangers of applying one's self to the full text.

Alter presupposes an openness to modern scholarship. The very title is metaphorical, not factual. The author embraces the standard source theories [Yahwist, Elohist, Priestly, Deuternomic] and draws from major Christian and Jewish scholarship in his commentaries and introductions, at times taking issue with theories or other mainstream translations. He maintains a strong presence throughout the text, perhaps five footnotes per page.
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35 of 37 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill VINE VOICE on June 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
When was the last time a Bible translation received reviews comparing it to the magisterial King James? In my memory, Alter's is the first.

Robert Alter, perhaps the leading American Hebraist and an outstanding translator, here delivers the reader a thoughtful and fascinating new translation of the Hebrew Bible. Readers will quickly recognize Alter's position as one of the leaders of those who read the Bible as literature. Some may quibble with his decision to occasionally deemphasize more historically based interpretations in favor of examining the text in terms of theme and poetics. Thoughtful readers, however, find much worth learning in such analysis and would almost certainly also enjoy reading Everett Fox's also excellent and more historically based translation.

Of particular note, Alter's commentary and essays serve as wonderful background and offer readers not well versed in Hebrew a window into that languages internal intricacy. For all of these reasons, no serious student should miss this important text.
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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Lord Huggington on February 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I was not brought up in an overly religious home and never read the Torah, outside of a small comparative religion unit in HS english. Then I read numerous glowing reviews of this translation and realized that since so much of our current culture and society is based on Mosaic law, that I should probably check this out.

Being a skeptic, I've always believed that the Bible is packed with contradictions and mistakes. There are some. However, this translation deals with these in a way that explains and never detracts from the splendour of the overall work. The sections that seem to be cribbed from earlier works are explained in that context and you come away with a better appreciation for the work as a whole.

Some stories are chilling, others awesome in the true sense of the word. The God of the Old Testament is a wrathful, vindictive, jealous god. This translation will give the thoughtful reader much to consider.

This being said, I don't know if I would recommend this to someone seeking a religious commentary. This is an objective look at an ancient text, and the treatment is academic - almost clinical. A dispassionate analysis and commentary allows the reader to weigh thoughts and make his own conclusions.

Translation is everything. The guy earlier that complained about the "ands" must not have read the commentary explaining their frequency. Or perhaps he feels he is better qualified as a translator. I got a different version of the Bible out of my archives and it really doesn't compare to Alter's translation.

In summary: if you are looking for an academic treatment of the Torah with phenomenal commentary and explanation, buy this book.
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