Wednesday, February 16, 2005

New Pentateuch translation

In this link, via CT, Martin Seiff reviews Robert Alter's new translation of Pentateuch:

What Mr. Alter has always understood is that the formative texts of the Old Testament are as rich in word-play and complex literary coding and style as any of William Shakespeare's greatest plays and that the ultimate challenge of any translator ought to be to convey all that subtle and precise richness and elegance of style into English -- or any other language.

In his earlier books he repeatedly emphasized, following the pioneering German language studies of Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, the importance of leitmotifs, or recurring key words, in the Hebrew text. Even the ubiquitous simple Hebrew phrase "v" -- literally meaning "and" but also carrying many other potential meanings such as "then" or "next", depending on context -- had its significance erased because so many generations of translators were determined to "tidy up" the biblical text and thereby ironed out thousands of subtle but clearly intended meanings.

Dr. Alter is the author of two books that bring the literature of the Old Testament to life: The Art of Biblical Poetry and The Art of Biblical Narrative.


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