The Wis­dom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes

  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
As is usu­al­ly true with Robert Alter’s Bible trans­la­tions, it’s hard to say whether this book is more valu­able for its ele­gant, pol­ished ren­der­ing of text or for the rich­ness of its insight­ful edu­ca­tion­al com­men­tary. Con­tain­ing some of Alter’s most suc­cess­ful poet­ry, this work illus­trates Alter’s mas­tery of bib­li­cal texts; espe­cial­ly notable are Job 38 – 41 and Proverbs 3, 8, and 18. Although the choice to ren­der Eccle­si­astes pri­mar­i­ly as poet­ic prose rather than set poet­ry is some­what unex­pect­ed, this trans­la­tion is no less suc­cess­ful than the oth­er two — chap­ters 4, 8, and 12 are espe­cial­ly potent. Although Alter ren­ders Eccle­si­astes 12:12 faith­ful­ly, “…of mak­ing many books there is no end, and much chat­ter is a weari­ness of the flesh,” his own work gives the lie to Eccle­si­astes’ schol­ar­ly ennui, keep­ing even these oft-feared or ‑over­looked books of the Tanakh fresh, com­pelling, and occa­sion­al­ly breath­tak­ing. No Jew­ish schol­ar, no rab­bi, no syn­a­gogue or library, and no one even a lit­tle inter­est­ed in study­ing the Tanakh should be with­out this book. It is a price­less aid to teach­ing, learn­ing, under­stand­ing, and even to aes­thet­ic appre­ci­a­tion of Tanakh.
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.

Discussion Questions