Robert Alter says he was on a mission to preserve the syntax of the original Hebrew, which he says modern translators haven't attempted to do.
It took St. Jerome about 23 years to translate the Bible into Latin, giving us the Vulgate edition. Martin Luther spent the better part of his adult life rendering the Bible into German and perfecting the translation. It took 47 members of the Anglican Church to produce the much-loved King James Version in 1611.
There have been countless translations of the Bible over the centuries, but these days, a translation done by just one person is unheard of. Almost. In 2018, Robert Alter, a scholar at the University of California at Berkeley became the first person to complete a major English-language translation of the entire Old Testament on his own.
The Jewish News of Northern California explained the uniqueness of Alter’s project, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation With Commentary. “There are two common approaches to the Bible: It’s either a sacred revelation whose existence is to be taken at face value, or a historical artifact to be dissected and contextualized,” the newspaper said. “But in Alter’s first writing on the subject in 1981, ‘The Art of Biblical Narrative,’ he proposed a third way: Analyze the Bible as an interconnected series of works of literature, using the tools of literary analysis, as he had been doing with Western novels in his career to that point. At the time, it was revolutionary. He looked at the Bible not as sacred, not as historical — but as artistic.”