Robert Alter's Narrative style
Here is the passage from Alter which I chose then to demonstrate his narrative style. Gen. 2:4- 7.
- On the day the Lord God made earth and heavens, no shrub of the field being yet on the earth and no plant of the field yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not caused rain to fall on the earth and there was no human to till the soil, and wetness would well from the earth to water all the surface of the soil, then the Lord God fashioned the human, humus from the soil, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature.
When Alter uses alliteration and rhythm and imagery in his translation, he is not catering to the elite. Literary devices are not the exclusive domain of the educated class. Their identification and labeling might be, but an aesthetic appreciation of rhyme and rhythm is one of the first things that a child acquires in learning language.
When I read the text above, it felt natural and flowing as if the consonants were used as colours and chosen deliberately as they so often are in Hebrew. Alliteration is part of the nature and essence of the original text, not a peripheral characteristic.
Another innovation in this text is the use of 'human' as a noun. I mentioned this to a friend a few days ago, and she responded vehemently that 'human' could not be used as a noun. She is over 80 years old and so I have to ask you if this is acceptable today or not.
In the Concise Oxford Dictionary 'human' is listed as a noun and is synonymous with a 'human being'. In various internet dictionaries, some list it as an adjective only and others as a noun.
My own rationale for wanting to use the term human, or possibly human being, are as follows.
In many languages including Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German for starters, there is a word for man and a word for woman and another word for human. If English does not have a word for human then things get tricky.
In Genesis Adam אָדָם is the name of the first human. The English word 'man' came along at some later date, let's not worry about it. Adam, however, had a name which suggests that he was taken from the ground, adamah אֲדָמָה. So let us understand that the nature of the human is that he is gathered from the ground and she is of composed of compost. That is meaning of the word. (the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. Eccl. 12:7)
It is true that a woman can understand the generic 'man' of the King James Bible and other literature belonging to our culture. A woman does not want to speak up and say that she would like to have the dumbed-downed version. So a woman will read what is there to read. But how should a woman write?
Can a woman write about how one must love their 'fellow man' and keep a straight face. Or would she feel hampered by the ambiguity and end up feeling ridiculous?
A woman might more easily write about her fellow human being, a human, a person, a friend. And is that a cultural agenda or clarity, plain and simple?
(Does she look to google for permission? I think not! However, I am used to great google tiffs and once started one myself with the microsoft keyboard guy. I didn't enter the comment zone on google results today but I have played those games before.)
Back to language and agendas. If we can't introduce a new form of expression into our language then we can't translate the Bible into English at all. After all, English did not exist in its present form when the scriptures were written. We either come to a full stop or we keep moving.