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The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with…

af Robert Alter

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354854,343 (4.62)15
Presents a modern translation of the Books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, and provides annotations and commentary for each verse.
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Viser 1-5 af 8 (næste | vis alle)
2014 (my review of Job is on the LibraryThing post linked)
Job http://www.librarything.com/topic/163456#4638130
  dchaikin | Sep 21, 2020 |
Great translation with inspiring commentary. ( )
  William_Parker | Jul 13, 2020 |
Robert Alter is a professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley. As of this writing, his translation of the entire Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) has been completed but not yet published. However, he had published his translation of the so-called Wisdom Books (Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes) by 2010. This review is limited to the Book of Job, which Alter characterizes as “the most mysterious book of the Hebrew Bible.”

Alter’s translation is significant, not only because it is readable, but because in the footnotes he shares with the reader many of the difficult choices the translator of this ancient work must make. It is remarkable how many times the translator must simply say, “We have no idea what this ancient word means, and so we will make an educated guess”!

The story itself has many quirks, and it is difficult to draw an unambiguous moral from it. For one thing, Job is said not to be an Israelite and so not one of God’s “chosen” people. In the beginning, God and “The Adversary,” usually identified as Satan, observe that Job is a very righteous man who pays proper obeisance to God. Job is also very rich with a good wife and many children, and so Satan observes that it is easy for him to be satisfied with his lot in life. But, says Satan, Job would curse God if his worldly goods were taken from him. God doesn’t think so, so he and Satan make a bet on how Job would react to real adversity.

So God causes Job’s wife, children, and flocks to die. If that were not enough, God afflicts Job with boils. Still, Job does not renounce God.

However, three of Job’b “friends” tell him that he must have done something very bad to be punished so severely by God. Clearly, they think that bad things happen to people because they do bad things. But Job knows he is innocent. He does not renounce God, but he complains bitterly. His complaint is not about the misfortunes that befell him, but that he is not given an opportunity to plead his case to God.

Now strange things happen in the narrative, causing commentators to disagree about the meaning of the book. A fourth “friend” or interlocutor shows up and makes many of the same arguments about Job’s apparent guilt that had been made by the first three. But his language appears to be that of a different author than the one who wrote about the first three. Then appearing in a whirlwind, God responds not by defending his actions by saying that they were justified, but by saying to Job, “Who are you to question me?” In effect, saying to a mere mortal that you are too insignificant to understand the ways of God, so just live with them.

But then in the final few verses, God relents, cures Job of his physical ailments, restores his wealth, and even provides a new wife and numerous wonderful children. The first wife and children remain irrevocably dead. Incidentally, God does not bother to gloat over “The Adversary,” who disappeared from the narrative.

Most commentators on Job say that it is an anti-consequentialist tract. That is, it shows that one’s lot in life is not determined by how righteously one lives. Indeed, we should take God at his word and not question the world as it is. That would be hard to argue with except for those final few verses where Job ends up even richer than he started.

My guess is that the book originally ended with Job in dire straights and God saying that mere mortals can’t understand his motives. But that seemed too harsh for later transcribers, who added a happy ending but muddied the moral of the story. My reaction to the story is that it is generally a waste of time to look to the Bible for moral guidance, since it is usually ambiguous if not downright stupid or evil.

Alter’s translation, especially the notes, deserves high praise and high marks, a 4.5 out of 5; The Book of Job, less so. Good for its time, but meriting only a 3 today.

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | Jul 9, 2018 |
Wow! ( )
  TanteLeonie | Oct 29, 2015 |
Just to be clear, I'm rating the book. Alter's comments are wonderful, Job is a fascinating poem, Ecclesiastes surely one of the great splenetic explosions in world literature. The first nine chapters of Proverbs are fine, there's some drama there as a father tries to convince his son not to be an idiot. From my own childhood, I know that's a tough task. Five stars for all that stuff. But Proverbs 10 forward... holy mother of God (unsuitable as that expression is).

These are books in the Jewish tradition, too, but forcing people to read Proverbs reminds me of Calvin: human beings are completely depraved if they can come up with that nonsense, and *then* *also* put it into not one, but *two* collections of divinely inspired literature. I imagine a Calvinist preacher somewhere thundering about the fate of those predestined to hell: it's having Proverbs read to you for the rest of eternity by someone who believes, passionately, in the wisdom of the proverbs attributed to Solomon. A wise man avoids readings from proverbs/ but a fool languishes in his boredom. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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Presents a modern translation of the Books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, and provides annotations and commentary for each verse.

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W.W. Norton

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