VIDEO—Robert Alter, “The Challenge of Translating the Bible”

02.07.2020 | The Maxwell Institute

Robert Alter’s two guest lectures are now available to watch online, “The Challenge of Translating the Bible,” and “On Writing ‘The Art of Biblical Narrative’


Robert Alter published The Art of Biblical Narrative in 1981—a seismic moment in the history of interpreting the Hebrew Bible. Literary analysis of scripture in the academy took off like never before. Alter’s work showed that biblical authors were not mere primitive scribblers; they were “among the pioneers of prose fiction in the Western tradition” in matters of narrative, character, organization, and so much more. Using the tools of literary criticism, Alter has helped countless readers find countless treasures in these ancient texts.

For nearly a quarter of a century, Alter worked on his own translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was published last year in three volumes of over 3,000 pages. In this special guest lecture, Alter discussed the challenges of translating scripture today.

And in a lecture the following day, Dr. Alter discussed how he came to write The Art of Biblical Narrative, a book that inspired scholars to appreciate the craft and composition of one of the world’s most widely-read texts.

About the Speaker

Robert Alter is Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967. He has written widely on the European novel from the eighteenth century to the present, on contemporary American fiction, and on modern Hebrew literature. He is especially well-known for having written extensively on literary aspects of the Bible. His twenty-two published books include two prize-winning volumes on biblical narrative and poetry and award-winning translations of Genesis and of the Five Books of Moses. In 2019 he published The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary.

This lecture is co-sponsored by BYU’s Department of Ancient Scripture and the Kennedy Center’s Ancient Near Eastern Studies.