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
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.