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The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary

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First time in paperback: “One of the most ambitious literary projects of this or any age.”—Adam Kirsch, New Republic Here in Robert Alter's bold new translation are some of the most magnificent works in world literature. The astounding poetry in the Book of Job is restored to its powerful ancient meanings and rhythms. The creation account in its Voice from the Whirlwind is First time in paperback: “One of the most ambitious literary projects of this or any age.”—Adam Kirsch, New Republic Here in Robert Alter's bold new translation are some of the most magnificent works in world literature. The astounding poetry in the Book of Job is restored to its powerful ancient meanings and rhythms. The creation account in its Voice from the Whirlwind is beautiful and incendiary. By contrast, a serene fatalism suffuses Ecclesiastes with a quiet beauty, and the pithy maxims of Proverbs impart a worldly wisdom that is satirically shrewd. Each of these books addresses the universal wisdom that the righteous thrive and the wicked suffer in a rational moral order; together they are essential to the ancient canon that is the Hebrew Bible.


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First time in paperback: “One of the most ambitious literary projects of this or any age.”—Adam Kirsch, New Republic Here in Robert Alter's bold new translation are some of the most magnificent works in world literature. The astounding poetry in the Book of Job is restored to its powerful ancient meanings and rhythms. The creation account in its Voice from the Whirlwind is First time in paperback: “One of the most ambitious literary projects of this or any age.”—Adam Kirsch, New Republic Here in Robert Alter's bold new translation are some of the most magnificent works in world literature. The astounding poetry in the Book of Job is restored to its powerful ancient meanings and rhythms. The creation account in its Voice from the Whirlwind is beautiful and incendiary. By contrast, a serene fatalism suffuses Ecclesiastes with a quiet beauty, and the pithy maxims of Proverbs impart a worldly wisdom that is satirically shrewd. Each of these books addresses the universal wisdom that the righteous thrive and the wicked suffer in a rational moral order; together they are essential to the ancient canon that is the Hebrew Bible.

30 review for The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary

  1. 4 out of 5

    Marian

    Some, no doubt, wonder why anyone would pick up a Bible commentary. Does one have to be a religious nut? “The Wisdom Books” would be a great introduction to anyone--even those with more of a secular bent. Reading this book is similar to reading a familar poet with the student guide book immediately below each line. In this case, the poet lived thousands of years ago and we are not always certain what he meant. Alter is quick to point out where modern translators are unsure and explain why lines Some, no doubt, wonder why anyone would pick up a Bible commentary. Does one have to be a religious nut? “The Wisdom Books” would be a great introduction to anyone--even those with more of a secular bent. Reading this book is similar to reading a familar poet with the student guide book immediately below each line. In this case, the poet lived thousands of years ago and we are not always certain what he meant. Alter is quick to point out where modern translators are unsure and explain why lines have been translated as we read them here and in the familar King James Version. I will agree with another reviewer that Proverbs became tedious. However, both Job and Qohelet play off the conventions of Proverbs. I can understand why these three books were bundled together. Ecclesiastes is as daring as I remember it to be and I found that Alter’s explication of the internal structure brought even more to my understanding. Hebrew is such a rich language in its ability to make visual and aural puns. It makes me want to pull out my language primer again.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Robert Alter, well known for his translations of The David Story (I and II Samuel), The Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), takes on another section of the Hebrew Bible: the three Wisdom Books of Job, Proverbs, and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). As Alter mentions in his introduction, what makes these books unique amongst the canon is their universal, philosophical aim. Relatively unconcerned with the Temple cult of Israel, these books make general Robert Alter, well known for his translations of The David Story (I and II Samuel), The Psalms, and The Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), takes on another section of the Hebrew Bible: the three Wisdom Books of Job, Proverbs, and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). As Alter mentions in his introduction, what makes these books unique amongst the canon is their universal, philosophical aim. Relatively unconcerned with the Temple cult of Israel, these books make general observations on life, both descriptive and prescriptive. The truth is, Job and Qohelet are a lot more fun to read, as they topple the banal moralisms of traditional piety. In both these books, life just doesn't make a lot of sense most of the time, but we humans still have to figure it out somehow. As longsuffering Job tells us after God and the Adversary have teamed up to strip him of everything he has: If only my hope were fulfilled, and my hope God might grant. If only God would deign to crush me, loose his hand and tear me apart. (6:8-9) Or Qohelet, lamenting life's unfairness: I returned to see under the sun that not to the swift is the race and not to the mighty, the battle, nor to the wise, bread, not to the discerning, wealth, nor to those who know, favor, for a time of mishap will befall them all. Nor does man know his time, like fish caught in an evil net and like birds held in a trap, like them the sons of man are ensnared by an evil time when it suddenly falls upon them. (9:11-12) Of all the books in the Hebrew Bible, these two look life squarely in the face and consider its possible meaninglessness. There's something in them that especially resonates in the early 21st century, after so many traditional structures have been ripped down. The bulk of Proverbs, by contrast, consists of witty formulations of reverential sayings, such as, "When the Lord is pleased with the ways of a man, even his enemies will make peace with him" (16:7). A number of these sayings are flatly contradicted by Qohelet and Job. To be fair, though, Proverbs does not attempt to present any sort of unified worldview. Many contradict one another (e.g., 26:4-5), and many are simply pragmatic observations without any moral overtones. See, for example, 21:14: "A gift in secret allays anger, and a stealthy bribe, fierce wrath." Furthermore, the book of Proverbs actually contains several distinct sections. It opens with an extended (nine-chapter) praise of Wisdom, which many commentators have taken to be an allegorical figure or a cosmic principle. Christian interpreters, for instance, would later align some traits of cosmic Wisdom with the Logos (the Word) of John 1. Proverbs also contains two distinct sections that appear to be adaptations of Egyptian maxims (22:17-23:11 and 23:12-24:34), as well as (among other parts) what appears to be a confessional from someone named "Agur, son of Yaqeh" (30:1) and an acrostic poem about an ideal wife (31:10-31). In all, it's a bit of a hodgepodge, and though the praise of Wisdom is fascinating, the rest is about as fun as reading a collection of Ben Franklin's sayings. As for Alter's translation, he has focused on recapturing the peculiar qualities of Hebrew poetry: concise rhythm and vivid physical imagery. At times he does this well, as with Proverbs 27:19: "Like water face to face, thus the heart of man to man." At others, he fails, as with the famous refrain of Qohelet 1:2: "Merest breath, said Qohelet, merest breath. All is mere breath." Of course, I don't blame his failures - he is writing in the shadow of perhaps the most important book in the English language: the King James Bible. Not wanting to mess with a good thing, Alter occasionally repeats the word of the King James Version. Compare, for example their versions of Job 38:1-4, in which God finally responds to Job's cries of desperation: Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. (KJV) And the Lord answer Job from the whirlwind and He said: Who is this who darkens counsel in words without knowledge? Gird your loins like a man, that I may ask you, and you can inform Me. Where were you when I founded earth? Tell, if you know understanding. (Alter) One further point of interest in this volume is the extensive footnotes providing commentary. While they occasionally intrude unnecessarily (such as in explaining a proverb that's fairly clear, or telling the reader that a given proverb is banal), they often provide great insight into textual and translational difficulties. As a translator of ancient texts myself (Chinese), I appreciate his lifting the veil a bit. All ancient texts are riddled with tiny scribal mistakes, the Bible included. The scholar, therefore, must compare versions, ancient translations, consider the possibility of mistaking one letter for another, etc., in order to produce the best version possible. I don't see this as a subversive act; in fact, I see it as a holy one. If you respect a text, you want to figure out what it's trying to tell you, what belongs there, etc. How much more so if you revere a text. That said, textual criticism is always to a degree subjective. While some things can be proven with a reasonable degree of certainty ("this passage wasn't originally here because the language is from a later date"), others are guesswork ("this passage wasn't originally here because it's tone/message is different from the rest"). This is nothing new. Even the King James translators made guesses in the face of a corrupt text (such as in Proverbs 24:21). Alter, for his part, remains fairly conservative, not proposing corrections unless they're absolutely necessary. My only beef with him (and the "strong consensus of scholarship" which he follows) is in regarding the final portion of Qohelet (12:9-14) as an editorial addition. The basis for this is not linguistic or archaeological, but the fact that the section contains pious message, which seems at odds with much of the rest of the book. However, the whole book of Qohelet, as Alter points out, brims with paradox and contradiction, an attempt to capture the vast inward contours of a human being. Why should such a writer, after all is said and done, come to the conclusion that it is best to "fear God and keep His commands" (12:13)? One suspects that modern scholars reject this passage as authentic as a projection of their own beliefs: they don't believe a deep thinker, wrestling with doubt, could conclude in reverence. And that, indeed, is a vanity of vanities.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zadignose

    Silver has a crucible and gold a kiln, and the LORD tries hearts. --Proverbs 17:3 Another excellent Bible translation from Robert Alter. And the Wisdom Books are where it's at. Qohelet/Ecclesiastes has now joined Job as among my favorite biblical books. Huzzah for cynical whining about our fate. I must grant that Proverbs can be tedious, unpleasant, and... sometimes horrifying!--(Your suffering is deserved, you poor miserable bastards!)--But there's good stuff in there too, plus Proverbs and the ot Silver has a crucible and gold a kiln, and the LORD tries hearts. --Proverbs 17:3 Another excellent Bible translation from Robert Alter. And the Wisdom Books are where it's at. Qohelet/Ecclesiastes has now joined Job as among my favorite biblical books. Huzzah for cynical whining about our fate. I must grant that Proverbs can be tedious, unpleasant, and... sometimes horrifying!--(Your suffering is deserved, you poor miserable bastards!)--But there's good stuff in there too, plus Proverbs and the other books are kind of in a dialog/debate relating to the nature of justice, so the interrelationship of works is interesting. My very unfair quibble is that I would have been happy to see Alter's take on the deuterocanonical "Book of Wisdom" (a.k.a. Book of the Wisdom of Solomon), but I can't have such a thing. Fair enough, since it's not a part of the Hebrew Bible, it's treated as apocryphal by the protestants, and it's probably not even within the scope of Alter's language specialty. But... it would still be cool. Anyway, back to the Catholics for that one. I can't really do this book justice, of course, as I'm mentally exhausted and the only thing I can think to say at the moment is, it's niceness.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lawyer

    Alter's translation of Job is beautiful. He captures the poetry that was intended in the Hebrew. The story of Job, however, remains among the most difficult of the Bible for me. After reading Job, I turned to Walter Brueggerman's chapters on Job in his "Old Testament Theology." His work is fascinating reading. Nothing emerges as extraordinary in the translation of Proverbs. However, Alter's translation of Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most challenging I've read. Alter produces an atmosphere of neg Alter's translation of Job is beautiful. He captures the poetry that was intended in the Hebrew. The story of Job, however, remains among the most difficult of the Bible for me. After reading Job, I turned to Walter Brueggerman's chapters on Job in his "Old Testament Theology." His work is fascinating reading. Nothing emerges as extraordinary in the translation of Proverbs. However, Alter's translation of Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most challenging I've read. Alter produces an atmosphere of negativity that outstrips any other translation I've read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    At times this is a tough translation to get through, although worth it. While the footnotes are usually helpful, reading them alongside the text can make for a disjointed, slow and interrupted read (although, of course, you don’t have to read Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes like this). I think this is the second translation of these books that I have read over the years, so I’m no expert, but they are such interesting works of religion and literature. Ecclesiastes (or, Qohelet, as it is translate At times this is a tough translation to get through, although worth it. While the footnotes are usually helpful, reading them alongside the text can make for a disjointed, slow and interrupted read (although, of course, you don’t have to read Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes like this). I think this is the second translation of these books that I have read over the years, so I’m no expert, but they are such interesting works of religion and literature. Ecclesiastes (or, Qohelet, as it is translated here) is more like a philosophical work than a religious one, and really speaks to me. It’s a work that can never age.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michael Austin

    I learned most of what I know about biblical poetry from Robert Alter's previous books on the subject--especially The Art of Biblical Poetry(1985), which I read in graduate school. From that book, I had a good general sense of how biblical verse was structured: primarily of the two-line verses where the first line introduces a topic, character, or idea and the second line completes, extends, or reverses the meaning of the first line. A great deal of the Old Testament was originally written in th I learned most of what I know about biblical poetry from Robert Alter's previous books on the subject--especially The Art of Biblical Poetry(1985), which I read in graduate school. From that book, I had a good general sense of how biblical verse was structured: primarily of the two-line verses where the first line introduces a topic, character, or idea and the second line completes, extends, or reverses the meaning of the first line. A great deal of the Old Testament was originally written in this kind of verse, and Alter's earlier book is a good way to understand the formal structure. Even so, I was not prepared for the extent to which a translation that paid strict attention to this one formal aspect would alter my perception of the texts. The Wisdom Books consists of Alter's translations of, and commentary on, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (which he refers to with the Hebrew name Qohelet. For me, Alter's versions of the first two of these books were revolutionary. I have read Job in a number of translations, but this is the first one that worked to preserve the original parallel couplets that make up most of the poem. I do not know enough Hebrew to judge the translation, but I do trust Robert Alter's scholarly abilities. But I can say with certainty that the formal parallelism of the paired lines shapes the meaning in ways that most translations do not capture. One of the things that makes poetry poetry is that it follows formal verse conventions in its construction--and, in great poetry, these formal elements always create meaning in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. This is notoriously difficult to capture in a translation, and I suspect that Alter is just trying to approximate the effect for the English reader. But he does a good enough job that I felt like I was reading the poem for the first time. I was even more impressed with Alter's translation of Proverbs. Most translations do use some kind of parallel couplet for the Proverbs, but Alter does a better job of anyone I know of conveying the different ways that the second verset of the couplet can relate to the first. He is especially good at bringing out the irony in this formal relationship and showing how, after a long string of second lines that extend the meaning of their predecessors, a single couplet that reverses its meaning cam have tremendous power. I have never enjoyed reading the Proverbs before, but, with Alter, it is kind of fun. As Robert Alter works his way through the Old Testament (The Wisdom Books is his fourth volume of translation with commentary) he is giving English-speaking readers a real gift: a scholarly translation of the Hebrew scriptures that pays supreme attention, not just to the words in the texts, but to the formal strategies that ancient writers used to turn these words into great literature.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Israel Drazin

    Robert Alter is a supreme translator of the Bible in readable English and an excellent commentator of the texts. In this book his writes an introduction to, translates, and comments on Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. He tells readers that “there is little in the three biblical books that is specifically Israelite.” He notes that the wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes raise “a raise radical challenge to the doctrine of reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, it dissents from a c Robert Alter is a supreme translator of the Bible in readable English and an excellent commentator of the texts. In this book his writes an introduction to, translates, and comments on Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. He tells readers that “there is little in the three biblical books that is specifically Israelite.” He notes that the wisdom books of Job and Ecclesiastes raise “a raise radical challenge to the doctrine of reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked, it dissents from a consensus view of biblical writers-a dissent compounded [in Job] by its equally radical rejection of the anthropocentric conception of creation that is expressed in biblical texts from Genesis onward.” In regard to Ecclesiastes, which he calls Qohelet, Alter tells us, for example, that "we are not entirely sure what Qohelet means, and whether it is a title or a name, so he chose, as many other scholars did, not to translate the term. He suggests that we think of Kohelet as a “literary persona of a radical philosopher articulating” his view of life; meaning, the author invented the character Kohelet as his spokesman. He agrees with C. L. Seow in the Anchor Bible version, based on linguistic grounds, that the book was most likely composed “a few decades before the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great in 333 BCE.” The author’s maxims are subversive. Some seem to be “citations of traditional maxims that are challenged or undermined.” This, of course, raises the unanswerable question how all of life can be seen in a book “in such a bleak light, [which] became part of the canon.” Many rabbis suggest that the pious tilt in the book’s epilogue, in 12:9-14, supported the conclusion to include the book in the canon. Alter writes “it is surely attributing far too much naiveté to the ancient readers to imagine that a few dozen words of piety at the end would deflect them from seeing the subversive skepticism emphatically reiterated throughout the book. We might add that it is possible that the book was included, as was Job, because Judaism is not averse to ideas contrary to traditional ones, and the ending was added at the time when the book was included in the canon to make it acceptable to the general public. Alter understandably dislikes, as many other do, the seventeenth century King James translation of hevel as “vanity.” He prefers “futility,” or better yet, the way he translates it “merest breath,” a “flimsy vapor that is exhaled in breathing, invisible except on a cold winter day and in any case immediately dissipating in the air,” for it captures the idea that life and everything connected to it are utterly insubstantial and transient.” He understands, I think correctly, that the author uses the term elohim often as “a stand-in for the cosmic powers-that-be, for fate or the overarching dynamic of reality that is beyond human control,” in other words, the laws or powers of nature. He notes that this is also the meaning of the term frequently in other biblical books, including the Pentateuch. His translation of this biblical book is, as is his translation of other biblical books, excellent. For example, while many translators render 1:14’s description of human activity as “pursuit of the wind,” he has “herding the wind,” which is a futile activity, it cannot be done. His explanations are equally excellent. Verse 2:24’s “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and sate himself with good things through hid toil” is not a contradiction to his view that all activities are futile, pure midst. Although “the simple pleasures of life of the senses here and now are all we have, and we might as well take advantage of them.” The Kohelet author included good advice in his book. Verse 11: 1 is a good example: “Send out your bread upon the waters, for in the long course of time you will find it. Alter agrees with Rashi, ibn Ezra and other medieval commentators that people should “perform acts of beneficence, for you never know when you yourself may benefit from having done so."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mack Hayden

    I’ve heard a lot about Robert Alter over the years, from believers and nonbelievers alike. Admittedly, this isn’t one of his more acclaimed translations / commentaries, but I felt like it didn’t really live up to the hype. He makes some really insightful points throughout (the most impactful being that Proverbs is bookended by texts that contradict and clarify its black and white, good and evil message), but I found most of the commentary less than illuminating and the translation somewhat unrem I’ve heard a lot about Robert Alter over the years, from believers and nonbelievers alike. Admittedly, this isn’t one of his more acclaimed translations / commentaries, but I felt like it didn’t really live up to the hype. He makes some really insightful points throughout (the most impactful being that Proverbs is bookended by texts that contradict and clarify its black and white, good and evil message), but I found most of the commentary less than illuminating and the translation somewhat unremarkable. But this book did confirm yet again that I really, really love Job and Ecclesiastes and hope everyone, of any religious or irreligious persuasion, reads them someday.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gijs Limonard

    The Bible as a literary work of art; Alter’s masterful tour de force is very accessible yet tantalizingly incisive; absolutely brilliant.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joseph R.

    This book is another volume in Robert Alter's ongoing series of bible translations and commentaries. Here he focuses on the Wisdom literature, books that grapple with larger issues or present practical maxims for life. Alter presents Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, though typically Sirach, the Book of Wisdom, The Song of Songs, and the Psalms are included in lists of biblical Wisdom literature. Alter has written a translation and commentary of Psalms (see my review here) and does acknowledge so This book is another volume in Robert Alter's ongoing series of bible translations and commentaries. Here he focuses on the Wisdom literature, books that grapple with larger issues or present practical maxims for life. Alter presents Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, though typically Sirach, the Book of Wisdom, The Song of Songs, and the Psalms are included in lists of biblical Wisdom literature. Alter has written a translation and commentary of Psalms (see my review here) and does acknowledge some psalms fall into the "Wisdom literature" category. Sirach and the Book of Wisdom are deuterocanonical texts which is perhaps why Alter doesn't include them. The Song of Songs is attributed to Solomon (the wisest king of Israel) though it has more the character of the Psalms and is a bit of a biblical odd ball (it's a love poem that can be interpreted theologically). I suppose Alter has material for a sequel if he wants. What of the books he does cover? Job is the classic biblical text that grapples with why good people suffer. Job is an upright and pure servant of God. In the framing story, the Adversary (hasatan in Hebrew, where we get the name Satan from) comes to God's court and challenges Job's uprightness. Take away all the good things you have given him and surely Job will curse you, the Adversary argues. God lets the Adversary take almost everything away, leaving Job covered in sores sitting on a ash pit. With him are three friends who argue the standard pietistic conclusion that Job must have sinned or else why is he punished so grievously? Job continually claims his innocence. The translation is smooth and Alter's notes are very interesting. He considers this some of the finest poetry in the Bible and does his best (which is quite good) to render it into English. Proverbs is an anthology of some longer and shorter wisdom works. Famous parts where Lady Wisdom invites all to take her gifts or the acrostic poem praising a "worthy woman" at the end are stronger poetry than the massive collection of one- and two-line bits of practical advice or moral observation about the world and people. Being shown the discreet units within the book helps to understand them individually and to highlight their differences and similarities. Alter's notes and comments are helpful in comprehending a varied text. Ecclesiastes (which Alter refers to as its Hebrew title Qohelet) includes both a challenge to received wisdom like Job and strings of aphorisms like Proverbs. It is not however a synthesis of the two books, but a search for meaning in life while constanty aware of the brevity and transience of the things and people in this world. Riches and intelligence don't guarantee happiness; folly could be just as valuable as wisdom in bringing relief to life's miseries. Alter re-translates the King James "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," with "Merest breath, all is mere breath." He explains this is technically more accurate (the concrete image of an exhalation or sigh as opposed to the abstract image of emptiness). The switch is jarring in the good way of making the reader think more about the meaning and intent of the words. The only problem I had was that his phrase lost its evocativeness very quickly (since the phrase is repeated constantly in the text). It comes off more like a refrain than reassertion of the fleeting nature of everything described by Qohelet. I think Alter misses the mark here, but even his mistakes are interesting and thought provoking. Overall, Alter's translation and commentary are fascinating to read and helpful to understand the texts in a literary light. SAMPLE QUOTE: Fear the sword, for wrath is a sword-worthy crime, so you may know there is judgment. [Job 19:29]

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mary Overton

    "Wisdom literature is as close as the ancient Near East came to Greek philosophy, which was nearly contemporaneous with the latest Wisdom texts of the Hebrew Bible. It shares with Greek philosophy an inquiry into values and a disposition to reflect on the human condition, but it lacks both the purely theoretical and the systematic impulses of the Greek thinkers. Ethical issues are raised, but there is no real ontology, epistemology, anthropology, or metaphysics, and much of the thrust of Near Ea "Wisdom literature is as close as the ancient Near East came to Greek philosophy, which was nearly contemporaneous with the latest Wisdom texts of the Hebrew Bible. It shares with Greek philosophy an inquiry into values and a disposition to reflect on the human condition, but it lacks both the purely theoretical and the systematic impulses of the Greek thinkers. Ethical issues are raised, but there is no real ontology, epistemology, anthropology, or metaphysics, and much of the thrust of Near Eastern Wisdom is pragmatic and even explicitly didactic. Job, for all its profundity, is a theological rather than a philosophic text. Its author is God-obsessed and never wonders or speculates about God's existence but rather expresses his outrage at the spectacular injustice of a world governed by a purportedly just God. Qohelet [Ecclesiastes], concerned as it is with the structure of reality and how ephemeral human life is locked into that structure, is close to a genuinely philosophic work, though it articulates its philosophy through incantatory language and haunting imagery rather than through systematic thought." location 265 Job's wish comes true: "Would, then, that my words were written, that they were inscribed in a book, with an iron pen and lead to be hewn in rock forever." JOB 19:23-24 The dilemma: "One person dies full of innocence, completely tranquil and at peace. His udders are filled with milk, the marrow of his bones still moist. Another dies with a bitter heart, and he has never enjoyed good. Together in the dust they lie, and the worm will cover them." JOB 21:23-26

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rivkah

    I've never seen the Wisdom books before in the way that Robert Alter's footnotes and material frame them. I am simultaneously interested and frustrated--my first feelings towards these books have been validated and my impressions of the text were at least partly correct, but the entire social view and the ones I have been taught have left something to be desired. I believe this stems from a lack of understanding of the actual text and its literary value, so in that sense this book was a total su I've never seen the Wisdom books before in the way that Robert Alter's footnotes and material frame them. I am simultaneously interested and frustrated--my first feelings towards these books have been validated and my impressions of the text were at least partly correct, but the entire social view and the ones I have been taught have left something to be desired. I believe this stems from a lack of understanding of the actual text and its literary value, so in that sense this book was a total success. I am learning new stuff. This is from the introduction, and may be helpful if you are trying to decide whether to read this book: "These strong disparities among the three Wisdom books vividly illustrate how the Hebrew Bible, contrary to popular preconceptions, is not a book but an anthology spanning almost a millennium and incorporating widely different views of human nature, God, history, and even the natural world. This very variety is one of the principal sources of the continuing vitality of the Hebrew Scripture." Note: read this book next time you have an existential crisis or a fit of cynicism lasting more than four hours...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Robbo

    Wow. How does that one even review the Bible? Obviously you know what you're getting yourself into before you start, but Robert has done a great job here. Reading it without his notes is an exercise in confusion but read with his notes makes the books really come alive. Recommended. Wow. How does that one even review the Bible? Obviously you know what you're getting yourself into before you start, but Robert has done a great job here. Reading it without his notes is an exercise in confusion but read with his notes makes the books really come alive. Recommended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Maureen

    This excellent translation of the Wisdom Books makes you appreciate the literary value of this anthology. Once again scholarship matters...

  15. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    A wonderful book to read during Lent (which was why I purchased it)! Mr. Alter is a highly rated translator of Jewish poetry, and the insights he brings to the three works belonging to this volume are marvelous. He shows -- especially in Job and in the introductory chapters of Proverbs -- how extremely clever, agile, and beautiful were the poets who stood behind these works. Anyone who reads this book will have a renewed respect both for the vibrancy of the Hebrew language as well as for the wisdo A wonderful book to read during Lent (which was why I purchased it)! Mr. Alter is a highly rated translator of Jewish poetry, and the insights he brings to the three works belonging to this volume are marvelous. He shows -- especially in Job and in the introductory chapters of Proverbs -- how extremely clever, agile, and beautiful were the poets who stood behind these works. Anyone who reads this book will have a renewed respect both for the vibrancy of the Hebrew language as well as for the wisdom -- true wisdom still relevant and needed for our times -- contained therein. Besides enjoying the rich language, what I most gained from Mr. Alter's translations and abundant, enlightening commentaries that accompanied them, was how UNLIKE the "wisdom" of Jobs and Ecclesiastes actually is compared to the thrust of much of the other wisdom books and portions found throughout the Hebrew (Old/First) Testament. For instance, as is shown abundantly in the Book of Proverbs, this conventional wisdom reads something like: Good things will come to the prudent and wise but only folly and harm to the foolish and evil. Those are the same kind of sensible-seeming principles that many of us were taught when we were children. However, in both Job and Ecclesiastes the central thrust is that while we might WISH that this was how the world shook out, there is abundant proof that this kind of thinking is wrong! Both both repeatedly hammer at the reality that many people who are unkind, foolish, schemers, thieves, and worse actually live lives of luxury and with few cares while, at the same time, many who are virtuous, wise, pious, and mindful of their neighbors suffer dreadfully. In Job his friends (and we should all be spared "friends" such as these), do repeatedly hammer Job with the pious and bland observations of "traditional" wisdom thought: in effect, "Job, we all know that God is just and that he would not punish the innocent. So, the very fact that you have suffered considerable misfortune MEANS that you have somehow sinned, apparently grievously. Repent, and our kind, loving God will forgive you and restore you to righteousness and health." Job repeatedly professes his innocence, and in insisting that he has done nothing wrong consistency illustrates his argument with references to how the unjust often escape punishment while the just suffer and often die early. I clearly believe that one's own happiness is more likely to flow from living a life that is mindful and respectful of others, honest, and caring, but I also acknowledge -- just look at our world around us -- that many people who not only wish people ill but act to harm others often come out "smelling like a rose" as it were. That "the world" is not just is not, however, an excuse for our behaving badly. If nothing else, we owe it to our own best nature to do our best to be the kind of men and women who not only avoid causing harm to others but, equally important, acting positively to spread justice, respect, and peace to all.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Billie Pritchett

    This book is a new translation of the three books of the Bible called the Wisdom books, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Robert Alter's purpose with this new translation is to bring to life the poetry of the original. The Book of Job might be the oldest tale in the Bible and concerns a man named Job whom God thought was perfect, but one day, Satan approaches God and says, "Why don't you take away his family and his property? Then you'll really see if he's devoted to you." So God destroys Job's f This book is a new translation of the three books of the Bible called the Wisdom books, Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Robert Alter's purpose with this new translation is to bring to life the poetry of the original. The Book of Job might be the oldest tale in the Bible and concerns a man named Job whom God thought was perfect, but one day, Satan approaches God and says, "Why don't you take away his family and his property? Then you'll really see if he's devoted to you." So God destroys Job's family and his property. Then Satan says, "People can withstand losing everything outside of them, but they can't stand it when it's their own literal skin in the game." So then God makes Job's skin break out with leprosy. The boils are so bad and itching that Job takes shards of porcelain and scrapes at his skin. He calls out to God, asking "Why?" and his four friends gather and try to provide answers for why he might be suffering. When people think of the Bible, they probably don't think of the Wisdom books, but they're important works of literature, especially for the fact that they wrestle with these questions about the meaning of life but do not provide complete answers. In Job, after all the argumentation between Job and his friends, God comes down in a whirlwind and says, "How dare you question me and my justice. Do you know how to make the world? Slay the leviathan?" Job is humbled, and then God gives him a new family. So much for those who passed away, and so much for an answer to "Why me?" In Ecclesiastes, there is no answer other than perhaps "There is no deeper meaning, trust in God, and deal with the problems before you." Even then, the "trust in God" part is almost an afterthought. You might think Proverbs will provide answers but a lot of it is just about not doing obviously bad things. Though we may spend several restless days trying to come to terms with issues of deeper significance, it's important to remind ourselves that people have wrestled with these issues for centuries. And if people haven't solved these issues for centuries, then neither will we on a grumpy morning. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't ask the questions, or that we can stop.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Luke T

    On the day that the guards of the house will quake and the stalwart men be twisted, and the maids who grind grow idle, for they are now few, and those who look from casements go dark. And the double doors close in the market as the sound of the mill sinks down, and the sound of the bird arises, and all the songstresses are bowed. Of the very height they are afraid, and terror is in the road. And the almond blossoms, and the locust tree is laden, and the caper-fruit falls apart. For man is going to his On the day that the guards of the house will quake and the stalwart men be twisted, and the maids who grind grow idle, for they are now few, and those who look from casements go dark. And the double doors close in the market as the sound of the mill sinks down, and the sound of the bird arises, and all the songstresses are bowed. Of the very height they are afraid, and terror is in the road. And the almond blossoms, and the locust tree is laden, and the caper-fruit falls apart. For man is going to his everlasting house, and the mourners tun round in the market. Until the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is smashed, and the pitcher is broken against the well, and the jug is smashed at the pit. And dust returns to the earth as it was, and the life-breath returns to God Who gave it. Merest breath, said Qohelet. All is mere breath. (Qohelet 12: 3-8) Robert Alter has proven himself to be a translator of the utmost excellence. Aesthetically speaking, his work stands shoulder to shoulder with the KJV. The Wisdom Books makes the already magnificent books of Job and Ecclesiastes (Qohelet) feel new. This is a book I would surely turn to in times of struggle. And those times will come. Qohelet assures me of this. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Started: May 21, 2018 Finished: May 24, 2018 Time: 785 minutes (13.08 hours)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Henry Sturcke

    I continue to be impressed with Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew scriptures. He combines wide knowledge of both Hebrew and English and brings to both languages a poet’s ear. He is respectful of the traditional Masoretic text but judiciously corrects it when variant Hebrew manuscripts, the Greek translation, or other sources help resolve an unclear (or clearly muddled) passage. He is also generous in acknowledging his debt to earlier translations, from the venerable King James Version, wh I continue to be impressed with Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew scriptures. He combines wide knowledge of both Hebrew and English and brings to both languages a poet’s ear. He is respectful of the traditional Masoretic text but judiciously corrects it when variant Hebrew manuscripts, the Greek translation, or other sources help resolve an unclear (or clearly muddled) passage. He is also generous in acknowledging his debt to earlier translations, from the venerable King James Version, which he considers still one of the best, to more recent work by Fox, Pope, Gordis, and others. This volume gathers three writings, commonly referred to as the wisdom books, a designation Alter retains. Yet they are not the uniform product of a wisdom school. Job and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes) are two outliers in the anthology of writings we call the Bible. Their bitter observations often run counter to the pious platitudes of other writings, especially the third of the books collected here, Proverbs. Along with an elegant translation, Alter offers helpful comments. Many of these are about textual matters, explaining the reason for the solutions he adopts for knotty or unclear passages. But, since understanding begins in a careful reading of the text, they often save one having to take time to refer to a full commentary. If you want to see for yourself the power of these writings, both the ancients texts themselves and the quality of Alter’s renderings, you could begin by reading the nineteenth chapter of Job aloud. A bellowing lament equal to anything Shakespeare put into the mouth of Lear.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Emily Richards

    The Book of Job will challenge your view of the entire Bible (Jewish or Christian). It, like many of the parables told by Yeshua (Jesus), was meant to do just that. Robert Alter calls it easily the best poetry in the Bible. God laughs and tells Job "I don't do deals. Deal with that." That's the last thing Job's friends (jurors, actually) want to hear. Also the last thing we want to hear. Job's God will not be domesticated or rendered predictable. Job can't hold God to account: "I did my part, wh The Book of Job will challenge your view of the entire Bible (Jewish or Christian). It, like many of the parables told by Yeshua (Jesus), was meant to do just that. Robert Alter calls it easily the best poetry in the Bible. God laughs and tells Job "I don't do deals. Deal with that." That's the last thing Job's friends (jurors, actually) want to hear. Also the last thing we want to hear. Job's God will not be domesticated or rendered predictable. Job can't hold God to account: "I did my part, what about you?" Job complains "I didn't deserve this" and God laughs "Who said you did? Deserving is your idea, not mine." As Yeshua would later say (Matthew 5.45), there is only one law, and it is a law like gravity: "Love like the sun and the rain, that come to the deserving and the undeserving alike." Gravity: the attraction between masses, that draws them together. Love: that attraction between living beings....

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dana Kraft

    I've committed myself to reading all of Alter's translations. I read Job in the past but had not read Proverbs or Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes). The introductory material to each is fascinating. For example, I had never heard that Job doesn't ever directly refer to the God of Israel (the words used for 'god' are more general). Proverbs was less interesting and thought-provoking than I expected. I kept waiting for what I would consider a lightning bolt of wisdom but those were few and far between. In g I've committed myself to reading all of Alter's translations. I read Job in the past but had not read Proverbs or Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes). The introductory material to each is fascinating. For example, I had never heard that Job doesn't ever directly refer to the God of Israel (the words used for 'god' are more general). Proverbs was less interesting and thought-provoking than I expected. I kept waiting for what I would consider a lightning bolt of wisdom but those were few and far between. In general, I feel like all three of these books built off Job's dilemma. The three non-Job characters who are quick to assume that he must be a sinner because he is suffering are a perfect match with the rather superficial bite-sized sayings in Proverbs. How quick we are to judge and how easy we think it is! Qoheleth is then the voice of an old man who is more informed by hard experience than wisdom studies or ideas about what a life "should" be about.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nanette

    Awesome translation of the Wisdom Books of the Hebrew Bible. Alter brings literary insights to these books that reinforce their genius and sheds new light on their international (nondenominational and non-national) historicity, origins, and value. As a lifelong student of the Bible and other sacred texts, I am grateful for this newer and learned perspective that compliments and complicates my previous understandings. As a reader of the Bible as literature, Alter’s literary analysis of poetic str Awesome translation of the Wisdom Books of the Hebrew Bible. Alter brings literary insights to these books that reinforce their genius and sheds new light on their international (nondenominational and non-national) historicity, origins, and value. As a lifelong student of the Bible and other sacred texts, I am grateful for this newer and learned perspective that compliments and complicates my previous understandings. As a reader of the Bible as literature, Alter’s literary analysis of poetic structure and linguistic nuances deepen my appreciation for these books. Eminently interesting and provocative.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marilyn

    I bought and read this book for a class on Job and found Alter’s translation and notes instructive and illuminating. As helpful was my instructor’s commentary, analysis, and explanations along with the instructor’s use of artwork (Blake and others) which added to my understanding. All that being said, Job is a difficult book with interesting scholarly analyses. I found Proverbs more accessible and straightforward. The book is worth reading but I’m glad I read Job with an instructor to guide my u I bought and read this book for a class on Job and found Alter’s translation and notes instructive and illuminating. As helpful was my instructor’s commentary, analysis, and explanations along with the instructor’s use of artwork (Blake and others) which added to my understanding. All that being said, Job is a difficult book with interesting scholarly analyses. I found Proverbs more accessible and straightforward. The book is worth reading but I’m glad I read Job with an instructor to guide my understanding and thinking.

  23. 4 out of 5

    M Christopher

    A fine new translation of these three Old Testament books. While I've long been fascinated by Job and loved Ecclesiastes, I've never had much time for Proverbs. Alter's commentary gave me new reasons to read and enjoy the book I'd previously thought of as "creaky" and "trite." Meanwhile, his commentaries on Job and Qoheleth added to my understanding of those difficult books. Highly recommended. A fine new translation of these three Old Testament books. While I've long been fascinated by Job and loved Ecclesiastes, I've never had much time for Proverbs. Alter's commentary gave me new reasons to read and enjoy the book I'd previously thought of as "creaky" and "trite." Meanwhile, his commentaries on Job and Qoheleth added to my understanding of those difficult books. Highly recommended.

  24. 4 out of 5

    5greenway

    4.5 Probably a bit weird, and a bit much, to read cover to cover, not least what was a bit of a chore, sifting out the arresting images (relatively few) among the sea of sayings in Proverbs. However, reading them all together put across the subversive strengths of Job & Qohelet ('Ecclesiastes') within the Wisdom tradition. Engaging translations, copious notes and good intros. 4.5 Probably a bit weird, and a bit much, to read cover to cover, not least what was a bit of a chore, sifting out the arresting images (relatively few) among the sea of sayings in Proverbs. However, reading them all together put across the subversive strengths of Job & Qohelet ('Ecclesiastes') within the Wisdom tradition. Engaging translations, copious notes and good intros.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A thought-provoking slice of Biblical literature For all of the issues with applying Biblical teaching in the modern world, there is something refreshing about its Wisdom literature. And, of course, Robert Alter's translations and commentary were a pleasure to read, continually providing me with new ways of looking at particular verses/passages, and also a wealth of background information and plenty of English vocabulary to look up. It's scholarly without being tedious. This particular collection A thought-provoking slice of Biblical literature For all of the issues with applying Biblical teaching in the modern world, there is something refreshing about its Wisdom literature. And, of course, Robert Alter's translations and commentary were a pleasure to read, continually providing me with new ways of looking at particular verses/passages, and also a wealth of background information and plenty of English vocabulary to look up. It's scholarly without being tedious. This particular collection contains Job, Proverbs, and Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). Each of them had their own unique style, but also key similarities. In particular, Job and Qohelet espouse a more nuanced, realistic perspective of how the world works. Proverbs was still as dry and full of platitudes as I remembered, but there was the occasional pearl of wisdom, so to speak. My only issue with the book, the Kindle version, is that there aren't direct links to the notes, so I would have to read the chapter and then read the notes instead of going back and forth. Otherwise, this is a great book worthy of your time and money.

  26. 5 out of 5

    David Doel

    This book offers translations of Job, Proverbs and Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes). The translation of Job is especially readable. This is a book where you want to read the footnotes; they indicate the passages whose interpretations are debatable and often help to clarify the meaning.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chet Lee Kowalski

    Solid interpretation and commentary on important books of the Bible. Did not think initially i would gain anything from it, but i did. As any reader should. Worth checking out if you are looking to gain for wisdom. Pun intended.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    If you are interested in the Old Testament as literature and poetry, there is no better translator than Robert Alter. His translation of the Psalms is brilliant. This book contains Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiates, or Qohelet, also brilliant.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christopher TobeChukwu Okolo

    Timeless and ageless ancient wisdom whose maxims still resonate till this day.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kendall

    I really enjoyed Alter’s translation. His commentary on Job was great, especially his analysis of the poetry itself. The commentary on Proverbs was good while the commentary on Ecclesiastes was okay.

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