These five late biblical books offer readers a range of pleasures not usually associated with the Bible. They are artful, entertaining literary works-innovative, even startling. Women often stand centre stage. The Song of Songs, a celebration of young love, frankly sensuous, with no reference to God, offers some of the most beautiful love poems of the ancient world. The story of Esther's shrewd triumph is a secular entertainment that mixes farce with sly sexual comedy. The character of Ruth embodies the virtues of loyalty, love and charity in a harmonious world. Enigma replaces harmony in Daniel, whose feverish dreams envision the end of time. And the traditions of prophecy are recast in the tale of a fish that swallows Jonah. Alter's translation restores the original power of these popular books.
Robert Alter's ongoing translation of the Hebrew Bible, the magnificent capstone to a lifetime of distinguished scholarly work, has won the PEN Center Literary Award for Translation. His immense achievements in scholarship ranging from the eighteenth-century European novel to contemporary Hebrew and American literature earned Alter the Robert Kirsch Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Los Angeles Times. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, Alter is the Class of 1937 Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.