A Fresh Look at the Psalms

Alter ShakespeareEvery time I preach and teach, I remind folks that the Bible was not written in English; we are reading a translation.  Nowhere is this more evident than in portions of the Bible that are poetry, where much of the meter and musicality is lost in the translation.  Perhaps Robert Alter is on to something with his new translation of the Psalms, that strives to give us the flavor of the poetry within its Hebrew context.Slate magazine has an article about Alter’s translation, from which I took the following excerpt:

If many of the Psalms express a powerful longing for the divine presence, they register it as an acute somatic experience, the whole body thirsting for the experience of closeness to God. Psalm 63, as I have rendered it, begins: “God, my God, for You I search./ My throat thirsts for You./ My flesh yearns for You/ in a land waste and parched, with no water.” The King James version, which many modern translators have followed, has soul instead of throat. This phrasing is perhaps more dignified, but, as I have argued, soul is a rather suspect equivalent for nefesh. And the parallelism between this line and the next, where the word flesh is evoked in a desert setting, suggests that both lines refer to the body. The speaker, with every cell of his physical being, throat and flesh, thirsts for God like a man stranded in a dry, hot desert.

Although I don’t agree with his ideas on the authorship of many of the Psalms, Alter’s translation is really interesting and intriguing.

Here are links to his translation, and a link to audio of Alter reading Psalm 19

One Response to A Fresh Look at the Psalms

  1. Echo_ohcE says:

    Well, I don’t know about his translation, since he disagrees with the Hebrew I am learning now (we have learned that nefesh does in fact mean soul); but I like the importance given here in your post to the Psalms. We would all do well to sing more of them. Not exclusively as a rule, I don’t think, but the Psalms are wonderful things to sing. Give us more Psalms! You know they CAN’T be theologically wrong, where a hymn might be.


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