The Hebrew Bible – Alter

Robert Alter’s new three-volume work, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary is going to be a key source for my comments about Genesis. Alter begins with an extended look at the seeming reality that “translation is betrayal” or, within a religious tradition, “heresy.”

A part of the tension scripture reveals is a distinction between written and oral traditions. There is a temptation to smash these two together in an unhelpful or unholy amalgam that can no longer distinguish past articulations and present need—which delays the arrival of a future with a larger present than our current one.

This confusion is found in an appeal to sola scriptura as interpreted by some “holy” spirit. Not allowing scripture to be a record of previous revelations keeps it from playing its part in present questions, even those simply rephrased from the past. Every generation needs to add to a scriptural base and be exempted from it.

Giving scripture its due, but not more, opens us to clarify the questions and revelations of today while also leaving room for glimmers of tomorrow to be planted in today. When these three beginning states (past, present, future) can be engaged on both personal and social life-layers we find a different order of energy not only welling up but overflowing beyond an explanation of a particular translation or interpretation of either an etiology or teleology. Alphas and Omegas become mere metonymies of a fullness of life where we go beyond signing-in to signing-up to choose life in its interface with death.

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