Jew­ish Text

A Lit­er­ary Bible: An Orig­i­nal Translation

  • Review
By – September 8, 2011
Any read­able trans­la­tion is ulti­mate­ly not a trans­la­tion ver­ba­tim but some­thing of a para­phrase. That said, the sub­ti­tle of David Rosenberg’s A Lit­er­ary Bible: An Orig­i­nal Trans­la­tion is rather decep­tive. While it is, unques­tion­ably, orig­i­nal, the book is not a trans­la­tion but a loose para­phrase of selec­tions of the Tanakh. It is, in the best sense pos­si­ble, West Side Sto­ry to the Tanakh’s Romeo and Juli­et: often beau­ti­ful, based on the orig­i­nal, but not the same thing. In the abstract, unprob­lem­at­ic; yet if this were, indeed, Tanakh, there would be no room for midrash. While the author has done a remark­able job empha­siz­ing dif­fer­ent styles and voic­es, of trans­form­ing poet­ry into prose, or into a very dif­fer­ent style of poet­ry, in his attempt to make the lan­guage of Tanakh reflect our mod­ern idioms, he has also edit­ed out large sec­tions of the text — even entire books — and seems to have done so pri­mar­i­ly when the text becomes the­o­log­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing. This is unfor­tu­nate, both because it would be great­ly inter­est­ing to see how the author would actu­al­ly deal with such mate­r­i­al, and because it is specif­i­cal­ly the chal­leng­ing parts of the text that moti­vate the evo­lu­tion of Jew­ish thought in midrash, in halakhah, in phi­los­o­phy. One wish­es that the author had per­mit­ted him­self to be a bit more influ­enced by Robert Alter, whose trans­la­tion — if less idiomat­ic — is, if noth­ing else, com­pre­hen­sive and lyri­cal; or Everett Fox’s trans­la­tion of the Five Books of Moses, which is glo­ri­ous­ly wild and pas­sion­ate and deeply Hebrew in its Eng­lish. That said, as a sup­ple­men­tary tool for teach­ers offer­ing a spec­trum of dif­fer­ing inter­pre­ta­tions to their stu­dents along­side the text, this book could be a very valu­able resource.

Read David Rosen­berg’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

The Writer of Writ­ers

The Judeo-Chris­tian­i­ty Sec­tion

A Trav­el Tip

Ami­tai Adler is a Con­ser­v­a­tive rab­bi. He teach­es and writes in Los Ange­les, CA, and has been pub­lished in Sh’­ma and Jew­ish Bible Quarterly.

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