cover image The Art of Bible Translation

The Art of Bible Translation

Robert Alter. Princeton Univ., $24.95 (136p) ISBN 978-0-691-18149-3

Scholar and critic Alter, who spent two decades producing his own English translation of the Hebrew Bible, takes readers behind the scenes and deep into the footnotes to elucidate the choices translators make when rendering the Bible into other languages. He begins by stressing the literary character of the Bible, which he says most modern translations fail to recognize. He is a fan, with serious reservations, of the canonical King James translation, and, in explaining its merits and shortcomings, sets forth his own version of the fundamentals of good translation. These include a recognition of the terse and ambiguous nature of the text and the study of its peculiarities of syntax, lexicon, literary conventions, and natural narrative dialogue. Some of Alter’s objections are common to all translations—the sound and wordplay of a text, for instance, can be challenging for translators to preserve—but his castigation of many contemporary translation committees, whose work he deems linguistically accurate but oblivious to sound, is lively and fresh. Meticulous and occasionally cranky, Alter provides a refreshing look into the complex work of translating the Bible. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Literary. (Mar.)