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Robert Alter - Ancient IsraelMichael Krasny  interviewed Robert Alter on his KQED public radio programme, Forum, on 3 April 2013. Alter is professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at UC Berkeley. The main subject of the interview was Alter’s latest instalment of his ongoing translation of the Hebrew Bible, Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary (New York: W.W. Norton, 2013).

You can listen to the interview on KQED’s YouTube channel:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

Looking at Alter’s translation of Joshua 14:15, I see that he has rendered ענקים ( ‘anaqim) as “giants”:

And the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-Arba – he was the biggest person among the giants.

Alter comments, “The narrative context makes clear that the Hebrew ‘anaqim is not in this instance a gentilic (‘Anakites’) but means ‘giants,’ the adversaries of daunting proportions before whom the ten fearful spies felt themselves to be like grasshoppers.”

Possibly. And yet, the closest intertextual relationship concerning Josh. 14:5-16  is not with Num. 13 (which includes the comparison between the Israelites and the sons of Anak involving an analogy to grasshoppers). The closest relationship is instead with Deut. 1:19-46, in particular to Deut. 1:28 and 1:36. These verses alone, without any direct parallel in Num. 13, account for phrases like, “my brothers … caused my heart to faint”, “the land on which my foot went”, the inheritance “and to your sons”, “Anakim” (as distinct from “sons of Anak”).

And in Deut. 1:28; 2:10-12, 20-23; 3:13b, the Anakim are indeed described as entire peoples who occupy the land of Palestine and neighbouring countries.

So rather than “the biggest person among the giants”, I’d opt for “greatest man among the Anakites/Anakim”. They may be giants as well, if you read it in light of Deut. 1-3, but you would not in fact know that from the immediate context of Joshua 14-15.

Update: Jim Davila (PaleoJudaica) notes further media reaction to Alter’s Deuteronomist.