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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (2007)

af Robert Alter

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773929,575 (4.36)17
Like the Five Books of Moses a cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. The cleansing purity of its images invites reflection and supplication in times of sorrow. The musicality of its powerful rhythms moves readers to celebration of good tidings. So today as it has been throughout our past, this is a book to be cherished as the grounding for our daily lives. This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought by a scholar whose translation of the Five Books of Moses was hailed as a "godsend" by Seamus Heaney and a "masterpiece" by Robert Fagles. Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary shines a light on the obscurities of the text. - Publisher.… (mere)
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some pretty catchy tunes here... something for everyone. ( )
  beaudaignault | Jul 14, 2024 |
A cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought by a scholar whose translation of the Five Books of Moses was hailed as a “godsend” by Seamus Heaney and a “masterpiece” by Robert Fagles. Alter’s The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary illuminates the obscurities of the text.
  Jonatas.Bakas | Jul 12, 2022 |
These are 150 poems, usually short, by men trying to get the notice of God. God can protect them from against liars, proud people, violent people, rich people, enemies of Israel, conquerors and enslavers. To get his help, they will beg him, obey him, thank him, and, above all, praise him. They have no problem wishing for terrible things for their personal enemies but believe that vengeance is the Lord’s work, not theirs. They wonder often why he fails them. They reminded him at least once that his honor is involved in the protection of faithful and obedient worshippers and and in the children of Israel as a national and ethnic entity.
Robert Alter presents his translations of the Psalms with commentaries after each psalm, said commentary explaining why he translated it as he did. In the process, I learned about the problems caused by other translators misunderstanding nuances in Hebrew and by the sloppy editing of the originals. (The text may be inspired, the editing not so much.) He uses multiple texts to translate the poems and dares to go with the version that makes the most sense according to human reasoning. Alter is Jewish and his approach is secular, so he pays no attention to a plan of salvation that a Christian fundamentalist would insist was there. I don’t mind that but Alter’s insistence on the Israelites having no belief in an afterlife is contradicted by his translations of the passages about the underworld, although nothing as clear as Jesus’s descriptions are present. I have no resources to judge his scholarship but I can say that he has produced a moving and beautiful work of English literature and commentaries that helpfully and honestly explain his decisions. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Nov 23, 2018 |
67. The Book of Psalms (Read March 10 to November 17)

I read two versions with notes
- The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary
by Robert Alter (2007, 548 page Paperback)
- The HarperCollins Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version, general editor Harold W. Attridge (2006, 117 pages within Paperback)

I am the wrong reader for the psalms. I'm reading the bible to find interesting and memorable stuff. I'm looking for something to engage me and make me think. Job was terrific for this, as the whole poem is an argument back and forth and touches on various religious hot points. The psalms, however, are not like this. They are designed to comfort.

As I beat my head against these 150 repetitive and painfully dull hymns, I had that extra awareness to psalm references, and they come up every where, including in my reading in many places. And usually they were moving within the context used. In literature often a person looking for comfort, sometimes just to quiet their anxious mind, turns to the psalms and embraces them. It wasn't always a meditative quality, although that is found a lot, but the meaning of the psalms was valuable, precious, and beautiful. Which is to say that the psalms serve a purpose, but they require a certain kind of buy-in. Not necessarily faith, although that helps a lot, but willingness to let go, give yourself over to a psalm in some way. I don't think I ever did that. It was rare that I felt any beauty or comfort, just annoyance.

Despite all this, I have a list of favorites and when I think about them altogether (maybe a dozen in total), I'm a bit struck by the richness within them. There are psalms with historical curiosities, and there are ones where the speaker would reach me, such as psalm 77 where anxiety and insomnia lead the speaker to worrying thoughts, or psalm 90 which explores our mortality and asks god to help us come to terms with our temporal limits, or psalm 139 which thinks through a bit the idea of this all knowing, and therefore inescapable, god.

The psalms come in many varieties, and I won't go into detail here. But a lot of them are simply formulaic requests - I'm sick, help me. Or help us, or protect from some bad evil thing...slander seeming to be a very common example of that bad evil thing. They involve a lot formulaic praising of god and mix in a lot of complaints about god not answering. They ask how long will god be silent. It all gets mixed together so that it doesn't at first strike the reader that all this elaborate praise and pronouncement of faith is really just decoration around on a straight forward request for divine intervention. At least that's the jaded perspective - the one I could not avoid, and the one that saw in this a lot whining.

The psalms also come in varying lengths. And, for me, the shorter the better. There is a series of 15 psalms known as the Songs of Ascent that are all short, and this was my favorite section of the psalms (pss 120-134). The short psalms at there best are very spare, a few words with a radiating meaning. They can be moving. Where as the longer psalms tend to be almost meaningless, just collections of formulaic statements.

One summary of all this is that I think the psalms are primarily designed to be comforting, not thought provoking. They are to rest the mind, presumably in anguish of some kind, even if that anguish is merely mental wanderings on mortality.

As for the translations, I can say with confidence that [[Robert Alter]]'s translations of the psalms is a train wreck. I like his translations elsewhere. But here in the psalms he consistently makes odd decisions that make the psalms less clear, or more clunky. His notes explain many of his decisions, but typically they left me thinking that his solution was much worse then the problem he came up against. And often, all too often, he just seemed to have no aesthetic sense. Had I figured this out up front, I would have ditched his book. But I was half way through before I gave up on trying to find the good in him here. I had no problem with the NRSV, however. After Alter, I appreciated it's clarity. And these psalms don't actually have much subtlety - translation sensitive or not.

I'll conclude with my favorite line, from ps 131, which expresses a desire I can relate to and one that is pertinent for our current world: But I have calmed and quieted my soul
2 stem dchaikin | Nov 25, 2014 |
Viser 1-5 af 9 (næste | vis alle)
The brief introduction to his translation of the Psalms is itself a masterpiece ...

... The psalm comprises about fifty words, less than half the total required by English translations. Professor Alter can do little about that; his translation is hardly shorter than the standard ones. What he can do is make the dynamic of the psalm's lines and that of individual words correspond better to those of the original. ...
 
If respect for God's inspiration of Scripture entails respect for the aesthetics of biblical literature, which I think it does, then Alter's translation is truly a gift to the church. Poetic techniques such as intensifying parallelism, chiasm, and terseness are important because the Hebrew poets who wrote under inspiration used them to say what they were saying. We would do well to listen to how they say what they say, even if it means attending to the subtle difference between an ABBA and an ABAB pattern. Therefore, despite some inevitable weaknesses, this translation and commentary is strongly recommended to all readers of the Psalms.
tilføjet af Christa_Josh | RedigerWestminster Theological Journal, Nathan Mastnjak (Sep 1, 2008)
 
Alter's ability to read and turn a phrase puts him in a unique class. Given that the church is now neither literate nor literary, there is much to commend this analysis by a literary master. Like the contribution of Othmar Keel to psalmic symbolism and iconography (Eisenbrauns, 1997), Alter's text also has a role to play in Psalms scholarship. In a genre poached for proof texts and tolerated for its imagery, Alter restores the honor and literary eloquence of psalmic poetry. All translators of the Psalter should definitely consult this book. Moreover, English teachers will find a gold mine of examples of biblical poetry.
tilføjet af Christa_Josh | RedigerJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Andrew J. Schmutzer (Sep 1, 2008)
 
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Like the Five Books of Moses a cornerstone of the scriptural canon, the Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers over millennia. The cleansing purity of its images invites reflection and supplication in times of sorrow. The musicality of its powerful rhythms moves readers to celebration of good tidings. So today as it has been throughout our past, this is a book to be cherished as the grounding for our daily lives. This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought by a scholar whose translation of the Five Books of Moses was hailed as a "godsend" by Seamus Heaney and a "masterpiece" by Robert Fagles. Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms captures the simplicity, the physicality, and the coiled rhythmic power of the Hebrew, restoring the remarkable eloquence of these ancient poems. His learned and insightful commentary shines a light on the obscurities of the text. - Publisher.

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