The Alter Bible

By Adam Kirsch for Tablet Magazine

In a landmark new translation, Robert Alter revives the literary power of a Hebrew masterpiece

The Bible is a refractory book, never behaving quite as we expect it to. Indeed, much of the creativity of Jewish tradition has been devoted to harmonizing the actual Bible with Judaism’s changing expectations of what it should be. The rabbinic genre of midrash tries to make sense of the text’s many narrative contradictions and ethical perplexities. The Talmud assumes that every word in the Torah is there to teach a point of halacha, while Maimonides insisted that the Bible actually teaches the same truths as Greek philosophy, though it uses an allegorical method that can easily mislead the ignorant. And the mystical Zohar, written in medieval Spain, says that if all there were to the Torah were its surface meaning, it would be easy to write a better book: It is only the hidden, esoteric content of the Torah that makes it sacred.

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