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Ancient Israel

The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary

Robert Alter (Author, University of California, Berkeley)


Robert Alter’s award-winning translation of the Hebrew Bible continues with the stirring narrative of Israel’s ancient history.

To read the books of the Former Prophets in this riveting Robert Alter translation is to discover an entertaining amalgam of hair-raising action and high literary achievement. Samson, the vigilante superhero of Judges, slaughters thousands of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. David, the Machiavellian prince of Samuel and Kings, is one of the great literary figures of antiquity. A ruthless monarch, David embodies a life in full dimension as it moves from brilliant youth through vigorous prime to failing old age.

Samson and David play emblematic roles in the rise and fall of ancient Israel, a nation beset by internal divisions and external threats. A scattering of contentious desert tribes joined by faith in a special covenant with God, Israel emerges through the bloody massacres of Canaanite populations recounted in Joshua and the anarchic violence of Judges. The resourceful David consolidates national power, but it is power rooted in conspiracy, and David dies bitterly isolated in his court, surrounded by enemies. His successor, Solomon, maintains national unity through his legendary wisdom, wealth, and grand public vision, but after his death Israel succumbs to internal discord and foreign conquest. Near its end, the saga of ancient Israel returns to the supernatural. In Elijah’s fiery ascent to heaven many would find the harbinger of a messiah coming to save his people in their time of need.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • April 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-393-08269-2
  • 6.6 × 9.6 in / 880 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverAncient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary


Endorsements & Reviews

“One of the most ambitious literary projects of this or any age.” — Adam Kirsch, Tablet

“Alter’s translation can be fairly described as a godsend…Immediately readable, immensely learned, an education and a restitution.” — Seamus Heaney, Times Literary Supplement

“The poets will rejoice. Alter’s language ascends to a rare purity through a plainness that equals the plainness of the Hebrew.” — Cynthia Ozick, New Republic

“Alter takes us back to the essence of the meaning…Everything is clearer, seeming to have been rinsed not in the baptismal waters of the New Testament but in the life-giving water of the desert.” — James Wood, The New Yorker

“A considerable achievement…Alter holds me to his darkly economical texts.” — Harold Bloom, New York Review of Books

“You think you know these texts, or you do until you read Alter, who reignites their beauty in bracing and unexpected ways.” — Malcolm Jones, Newsweek

“Thrilling and constantly illuminating. After the still, small voices of so many tepid modern translations, here is a whirlwind.” — Michael Dirda, Washington Post

“Alter has achieved the significant feat of refreshing English by taking it back to one of its sources of strength.” — Peter Ackroyd, Times (London)

“Alter the commentator deserves as much attention as Alter the translator… The strengths of his commentary are its wealth of short, pithy formulations, rich descriptions of translation issues, and historical and literary discussions… Alter is an eloquent popularizer.” — John Hobbins, Los Angeles Review of Books

Also by Robert Alter All

  1. Book CoverThe Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary


  2. Book CoverThe David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel


  3. Book CoverThe Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary