Psalm 113 in the Dohany Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary.(Yaffa Phillips/Flickr)

When Robert Alter undertook to translate books of the Bible into English, he was bound to ruffle feathers; after all, many readers take the King James and Jewish Publication Society Bibles to be faithful to the ancient text. For Alter, however, those versions, though eloquent, are inadequate, their often purple prose masking essential characteristics of the Hebrew.

In his latest undertaking, a translation of the Book of Psalms, Alter, a professor of Hebrew and comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, seeks to restore the cadences and concision of the biblical poetry. His version is now out from W.W. Norton and he speaks with Nextbook about the project.