A Literary Bible
An Original Translation
By David Rosenberg
Counterpoint Press, 2009, 680 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - February 15, 2010
David Rosenberg does not present a Bible translation or Bible commentary; he offers his readers his own version of what he thinks the Bible is. Thus readers should not be surprised that Rosenberg omitted most of the Bible in his A Literary Bible.
While Thomas Jefferson and Leo Tolstoy released their version of the New Testament that omitted what they considered supernatural and, therefore, never could have happened; Rosenberg omits anything that does not fit his understanding of what should be in the Bible. Only about a half of the biblical books made it into his The Literary Bible. Most of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers are excluded, as well as all of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Judges, Kings, Chronicles and others. Rosenberg made up for these absences by adding a book that is not in the Hebrew Bible, Judith.
In contrast to the methodology of Jefferson and Tolstoy, Rosenberg includes the miraculous plagues that God afflicted upon the Egyptians, but he omits the Ten Commandments.
However, despite these omissions, Rosenberg's translations are different than what people generally expect and therefore can cause people to think about what they are reading. Additionally, his explanations of the biblical text also prompt additional thoughts. His approach is based on the idea that the Bible was created by humans over a long period of time with sections interspersed with other somewhat unrelated or conflicting sections, even if the two or three sections cause difficulties.
The following are some examples of Rosenberg's translations of Genesis. They are compared to the translations of Robert Alter, which are very close to being a literal version of the Hebrew original. This is how Jacob discovered that his father-in-law Laban tricked him and gave him Leah as a wife instead of his beloved Rachel.
Now look: it is morning, it is revealed; she is Leah. "With what practice have you filled my arms?" Jacob asked Laban. "You undoubtedly know I stayed with you to work for Rachel. Why did you disarm me with empty words?"
Robert Alter has the following in his The Five Books of Moses:
And when morning came, look, she was Leah. And he said to Laban, "What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you, and why have you deceived me?"
Here is another example from Rosenberg:
Now Yahweh planted a garden in Eden, eastward, settled there the man he formed. From the land Yahweh grew all trees lovely to look upon, good to eat; the tree of life was there in the garden, and the tree of knowing good and bad.
Robert Alter has:
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, to the east, and He placed there the human He had fashioned. And the Lord God caused to sprout from the soil every tree to look at and good for food, and the tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge, good and evil.
I wrote a review of Robert Alter's and Everett Fox's Bible translations today and readers may want to read them to see the differences between the three approaches to Scripture.