Translation commentary on Wisdom 2:7

Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes: The problem in this line is finding the right verb or verbs to go with wine and perfumes. Take our fill can go with wine, but hardly with perfumes, in spite of several English translations. Good News Translation uses two verbs, which are both obvious choices, and most translators will find this the proper course. Technically, costly goes only with wine, not with perfumes, but Good News Translation is not wrong in applying it to both (“most expensive wines and … finest perfumes”); this is clearly implied. Wine is an alcoholic drink made by fermenting grape juice. If wine is not known, translators can use a local alcoholic beverage, such as “palm wine,” or a descriptive phrase, such as “fermented fruit juice.” Perfumes could refer to sweet-smelling cosmetic oils as well as to sweet-scented substances used only in small amounts for the fragrance alone.

And let no flower of spring pass by us: This line and the next verse have the purpose of expressing an invitation to carefree living, unburdened by ethical concerns. Flowers and “rosebuds” (verse 8) are used as metaphors, so translators are free to be creative in conveying the idea underlying them. Probably this line is a figurative reference to youth, as in the previous verse. In this case, the meaning would be “let us take full advantage of our youth” or “While we are young, let’s enjoy life to the fullest.”

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.

Translation commentary on Wisdom 3:18

If they die young, they will have no hope and no consolation in the day of decision: The day of decision refers to the final judgment, that is, “Judgment Day” (Good News Translation). See verse 13, where a different expression is used in Greek, but where the meaning is the same. Good News Translation offers a good model. Contemporary English Version is also good:

• And if they die in their youth,
they will be without hope
on the day of judgment.

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.

Translation commentary on Wisdom 5:11

Or as, when a bird flies through the air, no evidence of its passage is found: Again, this is a statement in Good News Translation, which has “A bird flies through the air, but leaves no sign that it has been there.”

The light air, lashed by the beat of its pinions and pierced by the force of its rushing flight, is traversed by the movement of its wings: In its own way, Revised Standard Version is a fine translation of these lines. The words lashed, pinions, pierced, rushing, and traversed are high-level terms that would not be used in normal prose unless the author was striving for effect, as is true here. For instance, pinions, a very rare word for “wings,” translates a Greek word that is likewise used rarely. Compare New English Bible “but with the stroke of her pinions she lashes the insubstantial breeze and parts it with the whirr and the rush of her beating wings, and so she passes through it” and New Jerusalem Bible “it whips the light air with the stroke of its pinions, tears it apart in its whirring rush, drives its way onward with sweeping wing.” Good News Translation of course is simpler, and it expresses the meaning quite well, but without any particularly striking use of language. Good translators will know how high a level of language they can afford to use; but in any case, all translators should make some effort to convey an impression of a bird in flight, using its muscle power to split the thin air with beating wings. An alternative model is “It speeds along, beating its wings to force a way through the thin [or, light] air.”

And afterward no sign of its coming is found there: There, of course, refers to the air. Just as the ship leaves no track in the water, the bird leaves no track in the air. This line for the most part repeats what has been said in the second line of the verse (no evidence of its passage is found), but it is needed here. Translators may want to consider phrasing this in such a way so as to echo the last line of verse 10 and verse 12 in translation. The lines are not identical in Greek, but repetition of the same phrase, if possible, might help the reader follow the logic of the passage. For instance, looking back at our suggestions for verse 10, translators might say here:

• A bird flies through the air, but leaves no sign that it has been there. It beats its wings against the thin [or, light] air and slices its way through as it soars on its way, leaving nothing to show it was ever there.

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.

Translation commentary on Wisdom 6:20

So the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom: The difficulty here is that the author is deliberately ambiguous in giving kingdom a double meaning. On the one hand, he is saying that the desire for wisdom leads a person into the presence of God, into God’s own kingdom (previous verse). But on the other, he is saying that earthly kings, who are being addressed here, must honor wisdom if they expect to remain in power (see the next verse). Good News Translation translates in such a way that the reader sees only the second possibility. Translators should try not to exclude either, if at all possible. If it is not possible, the best course would be to concentrate on earthly rule, as Good News Translation has done, and hope the reader can sense the other meaning from the previous verse. Perhaps this verse could be rendered as follows:

• So no one can be a king, or be in God’s kingdom, without a desire for wisdom.

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.

Translation commentary on Wisdom 7:28

For God loves nothing so much as the man who lives with wisdom: The connector For may be omitted. Good News Translation “people who are at home with Wisdom” is a good translation, but it uses the idiom “at home,” which may be strange to many translators. Revised Standard Version who lives with wisdom will be a more natural style in many languages; compare Revised English Bible: “the person who makes his home with wisdom.” The author is talking about a person who knows what the wise thing to do is, and who tries to live wisely. Perhaps we may translate as follows:

• God’s favorite people are those who live with Wisdom [or, live wisely].

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.

Translation commentary on Wisdom 9:9

With thee is wisdom, who knows thy works: Here, and through verse 11, Wisdom is personified, that is, referred to as a (female) person. The picture is of Wisdom living with God, and translators may say “Wisdom lives with you….” In languages where it will be difficult to personify Wisdom, translators may include a footnote explaining to readers that the author is personifying Wisdom as a female. Then, if possible, the term Wisdom should be capitalized. Thy works refers primarily to God’s creation, not to his actions in history, as Good News Translation might suggest. We suggest that this line be combined with the following one (see the model below).

And was present when thou didst make the world may be rendered “She was present when you made the world.” The first two lines may be combined as suggested above: “Wisdom was with you when you created the world, and she is familiar with [or, she knows] all you made.”

And who understands what is pleasing in thy sight and what is right according to thy commandments: Wisdom not only understands the world and how it works, but knows God’s will for human conduct. Someone who is wise is therefore in a better position to know God’s will. These lines will be best dealt with as a separate sentence. Contemporary English Version has a helpful model: “Wisdom knows what pleases you, and she knows what is right according to your commands.” But we may also translate “… and she knows how to follow your commands correctly.”

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.

Translation commentary on Wisdom 11:3

They withstood their enemies and fought off their foes: Enemies and foes have exactly the same meaning, and refer to such groups as the Amalekites and Midianites (Exo 17.8-16; Num 31.1-12) who opposed the Israelites during their forty year journey through the Sinai wilderness. Withstood and fought off are also very similar in meaning. Both Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation keep both words, but in some languages it will be helpful to combine the nouns and verbs as Contemporary English Version does with “They defeated their enemies.” Or we may even say something like “No enemy was able to defeat them.”

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.

Translation commentary on Wisdom 12:13

For neither is there any god besides thee, whose care is for all men, to whom thou shouldst prove that thou hast not judged unjustly: Not only does God not have to answer to any person, there is not even any other god to challenge his decisions. The clause whose care is for all men is ambiguous in Greek. It is not clear whether it refers back to any god or to the Lord (thee), but it makes more sense in this context to assume it is speaking of any god. All men may, as the Revised Standard Version footnote indicates, be translated “all things.” Good News Translation has done this, but we prefer the Revised Standard Version interpretation all men, which means “all people”; compare verse 15, where it is clear. A translation model for this verse is:

• And there is certainly no other god who cares for everyone [or, everything], no other to whom you must prove that what you do is right.

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.