Translation commentary on Wisdom 1:1

Love righteousness: Both the noun and the verb present problems for translators. The noun translated righteousness may refer to the quality of personal goodness, to things that are right and proper, or to justice. Since the rulers called on here are literally called “judges,” “justice” is the proper sense for this word. Rulers were called on to judge people and their actions, to reward those in the right and punish those in the wrong. If they did this properly, they were administering “justice.” In some languages (and English is one of them), Love is a strange choice of a verb to go with “justice” or righteousness. The meaning is that the ruler should value justice above all other things, should take his duty to render justice more seriously than any other task, and should want to be remembered for his sense of justice. Translators could try “Make justice your goal,” “Be determined to always judge people fairly,” or even “Consider that justice is more important than all other things.”

You rulers of the earth is literally “you who judge the earth,” a phrase used in the Greek of Psa 2.10. It refers to rulers in general, whether kings, princes, chiefs, or local governors of any kind. Compare 6.1, where “kings” are addressed, and 6.21 with “monarchs.” The same people are in mind in all three references. (Having Solomon address the world’s rulers is a figure of speech; the author’s real audience is the Jewish people.) People today are accustomed to thinking of judges as distinct from rulers, but in ancient days rulers themselves functioned as judges. The ancient reader would have known this, but readers today may need to have this made clear, even at the cost of wordiness. Since the focus in this verse seems to be on rendering fair judgments, it may be better to emphasize the aspect of judging rather than ruling. We should think of a situation in which someone recognized by the community is called on to decide between two people and the cases they present, and where the decision of this person will be considered binding. (King Solomon, of course, was highly regarded for the wisdom of his legal judgments; see 1Kgs 3.16-28.)

Both Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation follow the Greek in placing this line, the address to the rulers, after the preceding clause. For some translators, however, it may be more natural to begin with this phrase. It may also prove helpful to insert some phrase such as “Listen to what I say.” The first phrase of the book, whatever it is, should be strong and command attention. An alternative model is “Listen to what I say, all of you everywhere that have the duty of serving as judges. Make justice your goal.”

Think of the Lord with uprightness: New Revised Standard Version is more literal with “think of the Lord in goodness.” The problem here is how to interpret the phrase “in goodness.” Good News Translation has “sincerely,” the New English Bible (New English Bible) “as is your duty,” and the Revised English Bible (Revised English Bible) “in the right way.” Any of these are possible, but none of them may be the real meaning. It is worth observing that the word translated “goodness” is a very rare word. In all of biblical literature it occurs only four times, three of them in this book. In each of these three occurrences the word refers to God’s goodness. In 12.22 it is used in a context strikingly like this one: “so that we may meditate upon thy goodness when we judge.” (The other usage is 7.26.) This suggests that the meaning here is “think of how fair the Lord is when he judges,” that is, think of how good and just God is when he judges. Lord (kurios in Greek) is the equivalent of the Hebrew word ʾadonay, which means “one who rules” or “master.” In some languages the word for Lord is also the word used to translate “chief” and so the word “God” is added to make it clear who is being referred to; for example, “the Chief God.” However, in some languages it will be better to simply use “God.”

And seek him with sincerity of heart: Good News Translation has translated the idea of “seek God” in various places as “pray to God,” “come to God,” and other expressions. Here an equivalent must be found that can be reflected in the translation of verse 2, which has “he is found” and “manifests himself.” One possibility might be “try to find his will with all sincerity” or “try, sincerely and honestly, to find out what God wants you to do [or, find out his will].” This is in keeping with the sense suggested for the preceding line.

The verse might be rendered:

• Hear what I have to say, all of you anywhere who have the duty of serving as judges: Make justice your goal. Think of how fair the Lord is when he judges, and try, sincerely and honestly, to find out what he wants you to do [or, his will].

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on The Wisdom of Solomon. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 2004. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

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