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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary

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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary

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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary
By Robert Alter
W. W. Norton & Company (2009), 518 pages
ISBN-10: 0393337049
ISBN-13: 978-0393337044

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - February 9, 2010

The biblical book of Psalms is extremely important in Christianity and Judaism because it is used extensively in the prayer books to come closer to God, and because people in trouble turn to it for consolation, recite it and meditate upon it. Yet, despite its wide use, it is generally not understood and frequently even misunderstood. Thus Robert Alter's translation into modern idiomatic English and his extensive very readable commentary, which usually takes up half of every page, is very welcome. Alter breaks up each Psalm into poetic divisions and introduces his work with some thirty pages explaining the historical context of the Psalms and other subjects, such as nine pages introducing readers to the poetry of the Psalms.

An example is the famous twenty-third Psalm. Alter's version of the first three verses is:

A David Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want.

In grass meadows He makes me lie down,

By quiet waters guides me.

My life He brings back.

He leads me on pathways of justice

For His name's sake.

Among many other explanations, Alter informs us that likening "God or a ruler to a shepherd is a commonplace in this pastoral culture."


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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