UC-Berkeley Prof. Robert Alter on the Hebrew Bible’s Wide Literary Influence

This week on “The Learning Curve,” co-hosts Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson talk with Dr. Robert Alter, Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, and author of the landmark three-volume book, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary. As Jews around the world celebrate Passover this week, Dr. Alter shares why the Hebrew Bible is probably the most influential book in human history, and the larger lessons 21st century teachers and students should draw from its timeless wisdom. They also discuss the text as a record of the Jewish people, and vital historical lessons of persecution, resilience, and survival. Professor Alter describes how the Psalms and the Book of Exodus’ stories of liberation and Moses’ leadership inspired several of the major figures of the Civil Rights Movement. The interview concludes with Dr. Alter reading from his trilogy.

Stories of the Week: In California, K-12 public school enrollment has declined below 6 million for the first time in over two decades, with COVID accounting for only some of the loss. New Brookings research explores whether major federal aid packages directed to schools during COVID, and after the 2008 Great Recession, have been used for the intended purpose.



Dr. Robert Alter is the Class of 1937 Emeritus Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. He started his career as a writer at Commentary Magazine, where he was for many years a contributing editor. Professor Alter has written twenty-eight books, including The Art of Biblical Narrative (1981); The Art of Biblical Poetry (1985); The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary (2004); The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary (2007); and Ancient Israel: The Former Prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings: A Translation with Commentary (2013). Most recently, he completed the three-volume book, The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary (2018), of which The New York Times wrote, “[Alter’s] achievement is monumental, marked by literary grace and intelligent commentary.” In 2009, he received the Robert Kirsch Award from the Los Angeles Times for lifetime contribution to American letters. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English from Columbia University, and his master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University in comparative literature, as well as being awarded honorary degrees by Yale University and Hebrew University.

The next episode will air on Weds., April 27th, with Dr. Wilfried Schmid, Dwight Parker Robinson Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Harvard University, who played a major role in the drafting of the 2000 Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Framework, and served on the U.S. National Mathematics Advisory Panel in 2008.

Tweet of the Week

News Links

California public school enrollment drops below 6 million mark


Has federal crisis spending for K-12 schools served its intended objectives?


Subscribe to The Learning Curve in Apple Podcasts (and leave a 5-star review, please!), or by RSS feed. For all our podcasts in one place, subscribe to the Ricochet Audio Network Superfeed in Apple Podcasts or by RSS feed.