Robert Alter  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Robert Alter is a professor of Hebrew language and Comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught since 1967.


Robert Alter earned his bachelor's degree in English (Columbia University, 1957), and his master's (1958) and doctorate degrees (1962) from Harvard University in comparative literature. He started his career as a writer at Commentary Magazine, where he was for many years a contributing editor. Alter has written twenty-three books, and is noted most recently for his translations of sections of the Bible.

Alter lectures on topics varying from Biblical episodes to Kafka's modernism. One of his important contributions is the introduction of the type scene into contemporary scholarly Hebrew Bible studies. An example of a type scene is that of a man meeting a young woman at a well, whom he goes on to marry; this scene occurs twice in Genesis and once in Exodus, and, according to Alter, distortedly in 1 Samuel.

Alter has served as an active member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Council of Scholars of the Library of Congress, and is currently president of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1966 and 1978. He was a Senior Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, and Old Dominion Fellow at Princeton University. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the Jewish Review of Books.


His book The Art of Biblical Narrative won the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Thought. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Robert Kirsch Award (Los Angeles Times) for lifetime contribution to American letters.

Doctor of Humanities, Yale University, 2010.

Selected works

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