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The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary
Robert Alter

0393019551 Retail Price: $39.95
CenturyOne Price: $27.95
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Format: Hardcover in Slipcase, 1064pp.
ISBN: 0393019551
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Pub. Date: September 2004

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From The Publisher:

The capstone of a brilliant scholar's lifelong work to establish the literary identity of the Bible, in an elegant, slipcased hardcover.

Through a distinguished career of critical scholarship and translation, Robert Alter has equipped us to read the Hebrew Bible as a powerful, cohesive work of literature. The culmination of this work, Alter's masterly new translation and probing commentary combine to give contemporary readers the definitive edition of The Five Books.

Alter's majestic translation recovers the mesmerizing effect of these ancient stories—the profound and haunting enigmas, the ambiguities of motive and image, and the distinctive cadences and lovely precision of the Hebrew text. Other modern translations either recast these features for contemporary clarity, thereby losing the character of the original, or fail to give readers a suitably fluid English as a point of contact. Alter's translation conveys the music and the meaning of the Hebrew text in a lyrical, lucid English. His accompanying commentary illuminates the text with learned insight and reflection on its literary and historical dimensions.


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.
—Publishers Weekly, Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


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About the Author

Robert Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He has published many acclaimed works on the Bible, literary modernism, and contemporary Hebrew literature.

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