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The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary

Alter, Robert

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"My heart is astir with a goodly word. I speak what I’ve made to the king. My tongue is the pen of a rapid scribe.

So sings the poet in Psalm 45, celebrating his own art; his joy would be multiple to find his words so put, their quickness and compact power restored.

These goodly words set our hearts astir too. Robert Alter’s unfolding rendition of the Hebrew Bible has been widely celebrated as a magnificent achievement in translation and scholarship. His Five Books of Moses earned widespread critical and popular acclaim and won the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Translation in 2005. The citation called it “the most important reworking of a masterpiece that we have encountered.”

Now Alter turns his talents to another cornerstone of the scriptural canon. The Book of Psalms has been a source of solace and joy for countless readers through several millennia. Composed over hundreds of years beginning as early as the tenth century BC, these poems were often sung in temple and church and treasured as spiritual expressions by people of all beliefs. The cleansing purity of their images invites reflection and offers comfort in times of sorrow. The musicality of their powerful rhythms moves readers to celebration of good tidings. So today as throughout our past, this is a book to be cherished as a spiritual grounding for our daily lives.

This timeless poetry is beautifully wrought in Alter’s new translation. He captures this ancient and elusive text in a vigorous English that restores the eloquence and coiled power of the original. As with his other translations, Alter’s learned, insightful commentary set directly beneath the text gently informs and explains as one reads.

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