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Outline ReviewThere are countless good reasons to read The David Story, Robert Alter's new translation of the story of King David (beginning in I Samuel and ending in I Kings 2). In the book's introduction, Alter contends that the story of David is "probably the greatest single narrative representation in antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped and altered by the pressures of political life, public institutions, family, the impulses of body and spirit, the eventual sad decay of the flesh. It also provides the most unflinching insight into the cruel processes of history and into human behavior warped by the pursuit of power." Alter's translation is more literal than the King James version, which makes his rendering of Scripture newly immediate and jarring. (When Samuel anoints David in I Samuel 16, for instance, "the spirit of the LORD gripped David from that day onward.") This David Story is worth reading for the footnotes alone, which describe in vivid detail the mechanics of sheep-shearing festivals, sacrificial feasts, and other cultural phenomena that add depth and life to this familiar story. --Michael Joseph Gross
A chilling account of political intrigue, illicit sex, murder, war, and human frailty that could only have come from the Bible. The story of David is the greatest single narrative representation in antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped by the pressures of political life and family, the impulses of body and spirit, and the eventual sad decay of the flesh. In its main character, it provides the first full-length portrait of a Machiavellian prince in Western literature. The beautiful, musical David, resourceful slayer of Goliath, loved by all, reveals himself as a calculating political animal. To advance his own cause, he becomes a collaborator with the archenemies of Israel, the Philistines. Later he commits adultery with Bathsheba, and compounds the betrayal with murder. He exposes himself repeatedly to humiliation, oscillates between noble sentiment and harsh vindictiveness, and with his dying breath charges his son Solomon to wreak bloody vengeance on his enemies. Historical personage and full-blooded imagining, David is the creation of a literary artist comparable to the Shakespeare of the history plays.
Robert Alter's brilliant translation and commentary enable a great work of literature to emerge from the Bible and stand on its own.
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