Robert Alter on the Psalms

Thu, 11/09/2008 - 10:14 -- James Oakley

Alter on Psalms

Having used it a little, Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary looks to be a highly worthwhile book to have.

Robert Alter has done lots of work over the years on understanding how Hebrew poetry works. Here, he offers his own translation of the Psalms, together with a short commentary on the text. The comments are brief, but insightful. The translation is fresh, and where he differs significantly from most English versions he explains why he translates as he does.

Let me give an example, from Psalm 1:2


But the LORD's teaching is his desire, and His teaching he murmurs day and night


2. murmurs. The verb hagah means to make a low muttering sound, which is what one does with a text in a culture where there is no silent reading. By extension, predominantly in post-biblical Hebrew, it has the sense of “to meditate.”

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matthew's picture
Submitted by matthew on

for pointing this out James. As a non-expert, I like Alter's translation of Genesis. And I like 'teaching' rather than law for Torah and murmurs rather than meditates for hagah. But does he really translate yhvh 'Lord'? Not even 'LORD'? Hopeless! Whatever does that do to e.g., Ps 110.1? Sorry - hobbyhorse....

James Oakley's picture
Submitted by James Oakley on

I was being lazy. The HTML to get small caps is a fiddle. Yeah - all caps would be better.

No, he does translate it in capital letters so that the reader knows YHWH is in view.

(I'll change the post to capitals, and one day to small caps!)

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