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May 29 • 2014
walk in the woods feels like
a lovely solitary pleasure.
An alert, knowledgeable
companion, though, can show you
fascinating animals and plants you
would never notice on your own.
The experience becomes so much
richer with the ideal companion.
Reading stories seems like the
ultimate solitary pleasure. No doubt,
though, the right companion can
point out fascinating aspects you
would never notice on your own.
American scholar Robert Alter is
tus professor of
Hebrew and com-
at the University
of California at
Berkeley, will be
scholar in residence
for the fifth annual
Event at Congregation Beth Shalom
in Oak Park June 11-12.
Already considered an outstanding
guide to modern English, French and
Hebrew stories, Alter then turned his
professional attention to the Hebrew
Bible 35 years ago. His essays on
Biblical narrative, first published
in Commentary, electrified readers,
who demanded he expand them into
a book, The Art of Biblical Narrative.
He then produced a steady stream
of works on the Hebrew Bible, includ-
ing his own translations of much of
the Bible, with his own commentary,
essays on literary techniques in the
Bible and, with Frank Kermode, A
Literary Guide to the Bible.
Now, anyone interested in the sto-
ries and poetry of the Bible has to
read Alter. Corinne Stavish, a profes-
sional storyteller who heads technical
and professional communication at
Lawrence Technological University in
Southfield, teaches Bible at LTU. Her
required reading list includes several
of Alter's books, and her recommend-
ed reading list includes many more.
Michael Scrivener, distinguished
professor of English at Wayne State
University, teaches a class in the
Bible as Literature at Wayne. "Alter
has so many useful things to say
about the style, the structure, the
word play and the concentrated
expression of a narrative or a poetic
piece," he said. "My copy of his
translation with commentary of the
Pentateuch is almost falling apart
from my using it so much."
With Alter's guidance, Scrivener
says, students "are able to read the
text in a new way."
Some scholars primarily work
at dividing the Hebrew Bible into
constituent documents, trying to
reconstruct the history of the texts.
Others see their main task as deriv-
ing inspiring religious messages.
But Alter does something different,
according to Judith Shulevitz in the
New York Times: "What Alter does
with the Bible instead is read it, with
erudition and rigor and respect for
the intelligence of the editor or edi-
tors who stitched it together and —
most thrillingly — with the keenest
receptivity to its darker undertones."
In writing and in person, Alter
comes across as a modest, friendly
companion. Rather than trying to
impress, he walks through the woods
with us, making the most interesting
observations of what he sees that we
did not happen to notice. We could
not ask for a better guide.
Robert Alter will be scholar in residence for the fifth annual Nelson
Legacy Event at Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park. His keynote
address at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 11, will be "Reading Biblical
Narrative." A dessert reception will follow. Cost is $12 in advance, $15
at the door. At 8:30 a.m., Thursday, June 12, he will speak on "Hebrew
in American Culture" at the Max M. Fisher Federation Building in
Bloomfield Township, co-sponsored by the Cohn/Haddow Center at
Wayne State University and Federation's Alliance for Jewish Education.
No charge. At 12:30 p.m. that day, he will give a lunch and learn program
at Beth Shalom on "The Challenge of Translating the Bible." The cost is
$15, and reservations are a must. Contact the synagogue office at (248)
547-7970 or email email@example.com .