I'm working my way through the Vulgate and in Genesis 7:10, the text is:

cumque transissent septem dies aquae diluvii inundaverunt super terram

transissent here is third-person plural pluperfect active subjunctive, but why? Why not transierant instead?

1 Answer 1


(Disclaimer: The answer to Vulgate questions is often found in the original text. I know no Hebrew and will just attempt an answer from an inner Latin point of view.)

In historical narration, if an indicative follows after cum, the subordinate clause specifies the time of the events in the main clause, with there being no further relationship between the events in both clauses. A subjunctive on the other hand should follow when the events in the subordinate clause somehow affect or at least form the circumstances of the events in the main clause.

For example:

(Eo tempore) cum Columbus in Americam pervenit, Martinus Luther Latine discere coepit.
(At the time) when Columbus arrived in America, Martin Luther started learning Latin.

Obviously these events are completely unrelated, and the author does not wish to suggest otherwise. On the other hand:

Cum Columbus in Americam perveniret, Indiam invenisse putavit.
When Columbus arrived in America, he thought he had found India.

These events are related, therefore we use the subjunctive.

With that in mind, I think you will agree it would be surprising to find the indicative in your example from Genesis: The flood started because the announced period had elapsed. It did not coincidentally start when an unrelated seven-day-period happened to be over.

  • In this case, the Hebrew wouldn't be the reason for the subjunctive—there is no subjunctive mood in Hebrew. I've not looked at the LXX text for this verse to see what the Greek does, but your answer seems to be spot on. I'd note that I've found places where Jerome makes some deviations from the source text in surprising ways, notably varying the phrasing for “XXX lived” in the genealogies in Gen 5. Dec 7, 2020 at 1:46
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    @DonaldHosek I can't comment on that, it has just been my experience on this website that any weirdness in the Vulgate seems to end up being explained as a literal translation from this or that Hebrew or Greek original ;-) Dec 7, 2020 at 2:12
  • Fair enough. In this case though, it's gaps in my Latin (it's been three decades since I was studying it in college).As I make my way through the text if I have further questions I'll indicate that I've checked the Hebrew and the Greek. I've got some distance to traverse in the meantime. Dec 7, 2020 at 3:00

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