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 and Hebrew literature. 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 and in the Book of Ruth.
Alter has served as an active member of 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 elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1986. 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.
Translations of the Hebrew Bible
- The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel, 1999, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-32077-4
- The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, 2004, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-01955-1
- The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, 2007, W.W. Norton, ISBN 978-0-393-06226-7
- The Book of Genesis, translation by Robert Alter, illustrated by R. Crumb, 2009, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-06102-7
- The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes: A Translation with Commentary, 2010, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-06812-9
- Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary, 2013, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-08269-5
- Rogue's Progress: Studies in the Picaresque Novel, 1965, Harvard University Press
- The Art of Biblical Narrative, 1981, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00427-X
- Motives for Fiction, 1984, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-58762-5
- The Art of Biblical Poetry, 1985, Basic Books, ISBN 0-465-00431-8
- A Lion for Love: A Critical Biography of Stendhal, in collaboration with Carol Cosman, 1986, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-53575-6
- The Literary Guide to the Bible Edited by Alter and Frank Kermode, 1987, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-87531-9
- The Invention of Hebrew Prose: Modern Fiction and the Language Revolution, 1988, University of Washington Press.
- Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age, 1990, W.W. Norton, ISBN 0-393-31499-5
- Necessary Angels: Tradition and Modernity in Kafka, Benjamin, and Scholem, 1991, Harvard University Press, ISBN 978-0-674-60663-0
- Imagined Cities: Urban Experience and the Novel, 2005, Yale University Press, ISBN 0-300-10802-8
- Pen of Iron: American Prose and the King James Bible, 2010, Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-12881-2
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
- "UC Berkeley Department of Near Eastern Literature". Retrieved 2010-09-25.
- Alter, Robert (1981). The Art of Biblical Narrative. New York: Basic Books. p. 60. ISBN 0-465-00427-X.
- "John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation A Fellows Page". Archived from the original on 2007-11-20. Retrieved 2008-02-09.
- "Robert Alter". Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved 2009-05-08.[dead link]
- "Poetic Master of Biblical Translation Receives Award". University of California, Berkeley. 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2009-05-08.[dead link]
- "Poetic Master of Biblical Translation Receives Award". Jewish Journal. 2009-04-22. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
- CV on UCBerkeley's website
- Biography at Washington University in St. Louis
- The Five Books of Moses review at The New Yorker
- The Five Books of Moses review at The Washington Post
- The Five Books of Moses review by Alan Jacobs in First Things (Aug/Sept. 2005)
- The Book of Psalms review at The New Yorker
- Audio interview with Robert Alter
- Robert Alter's articles in the London Review of Books
- Sample chapter of Alter's translation of Genesis