Robert Alter has no soul

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In a piece from Slate last month, renowned bible translator Robert Alter describes the process of translating Psalms, for his latest book:

For me these extraordinary Hebrew poems are words that sing, using a concrete imagery keyed to our physical existence, in ways you would scarcely guess from the existing English versions. (MORE)

He finds that the Psalms’ rhymes and musicality as well as their compact phrasing are near impossible to represent in the English. Alter also notes centuries of misinterpretations:

A key term that has led to fundamental misconceptions is nefesh, which the 1611 translators generally rendered as soul, a choice that is still often followed by their various modern successors. Although it may at first disconcert some pious readers, I have rigorously excluded the word soul from my version of Psalms.

Posted on October 11, 2007

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