Robert Alter to speak on challenges of translating the Bible

Few texts pose as many challenges to the modern translator as the Hebrew Bible, with its rich and complex language, syntax and style.

Robert Alter, whose translations of Genesis and The Five Books of Moses have received wide acclaim, knows these challenges well. Alter will describe his struggle to produce a faithful and elegant English rendering of the ancient narratives in a Neubauer Collegium Director’s Lecture.


“The Challenges of Translating the Bible” will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8 in Mandel Hall. The event is free and open to the public.


Undergraduate students enrolled in the “Human Being and Citizen” Core course, who are reading Alter’s Genesis this term, will be attending the lecture.


Jonathan Lear, the Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor at the Committee on Social Thought and in Philosophy and the College, will deliver opening remarks.

“A translator gives us a gift no one else can: the ability to read and savor a great work written in a language we do not (yet) understand. Robert Alter is one of the great translators of our time, and I am delighted he will continue the distinguished legacy of the Neubauer Collegium Director’s Lecture,” Lear said.

In addition to his Biblical translations, Alter has written widely on the European novel from the 18th century to the present, contemporary American fiction, and modern Hebrew literature. He has devoted book-length studies to Fielding, Stendhal, and the self-reflexive tradition in the novel.

His books have been translated into eight different languages. In 2009, he received the Robert Kirsch Award from the Los Angeles Times for lifetime contribution to American letters. He teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.

Alter’s lecture is part of the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary celebration. For a full listing of anniversary events, visit the UChicago 125 website.