In the Vulgate bible, I encountered the sentence,

Eritque Israel in proverbium, et in fabulam cunctis populis.

And Israel will be a proverb, and a story for all people.

(1 Kings 9:7)

I'm curious to know if this construction with "in" is common. Personally, I don't see a need for the preposition, and am unsure why the nouns "proverbium" and "fabulam" are not put in the nominative.

Furthermore, I'm interested to know how common the adjective "cunctus" is. Is there any difference between "cunctus" and "omnis"? Why choose one over the other?

3 Answers 3


In Hebrew, we often find the verb הָיָה (hāyâ) followed by the preposition ל prefixed to a noun used to indicate that something was made into something (i.q. Latin est factum quiddam in quiddam).

On the verb הָיָה, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius wrote,1

Gesenius, הָיָה, p. 221

For example, in Gen. 2:7, it is written: וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה (wayhî hāʾādām lĕnepeš ḥayyâ)—“and Adam became a living soul.” Since the preposition ל is commonly translated as “into,”2 we English readers may wish to translate the phrase into English as “and Adam became into a living soul,” but of course, we need to accept that it is a Hebrew idiom that does not require such a literal translation into English. The idea is simply that Adam became a living soul. As you might expect, Jerome translated the Hebrew into Latin as et factus est homo in animam viventem.

Yet, Jerome did not always maintain the same rigid syntax elsewhere. For example, in his translation of Num. 26:10, he translated the Hebrew וַיִּהְיוּ לְנֵס (wayyihyû lĕnēs) into Latin as et factum est grande miraculum, thus omitting the preposition in.

Of course, rather than interpreting the Latin as “something became something” (essentially middle voice), it would be acceptable to interpret it as “something was made into something” (passive voice), and that may be what Jerome had in mind when he translated those phrases into Latin with the inclusion of the preposition in.


Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.


1 p. 221
2 p. 422, ל, (A) (3)

  • @TKR. Gesenius 1860 was wrong to describe the complement of הָיָה in Gen. 19,26 and Gen. 4,20-21 as “accusative”.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 11:24
  • @fdb -- I agree.
    – TKR
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 22:16

There are a lot of Hebraisms in Latin and Greek translations of the Old Testament, and I'm guessing this is one of them.

The Hebrew reads (diacritics omitted) we-haya Yisrael le-mashal u-le-shnina be-khol ha-`amim, literally "and Israel will be to/for a proverb and to/for a story in all the nations". The Latin in seems to be an over-literal translation of the Hebrew preposition le. The odd thing is that this Hebrew usage actually has a close Latin parallel in the "double dative" construction, so one might have expected that to be used here: erit proverbio omnibus populis. Why this was not chosen, I don't know.

  • 1
    Thus also in the LXX: καὶ ἔσται Iσραηλ εἰς ἀφανισμὸν καὶ εἰς λάλημα εἰς πάντας τοὺς λαούς. A calque on the Hebrew.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 13:30
  • @TKR, interesting observation. I arrive at this question reflecting on "double dative" in Hebrew, the verse from Numbers 33:55 came to mind (והיו לצנינים בעינייך) - which I view as pretty close "double dative"(DD); but here, too, Vulgate is not using double dative construction ( erunt vobis quasi clavi in oculis). However, the selection of "quasi" might (maybe?) give us a hint as to* why* DD is not used. Which that DD can't be used with concrete nouns (as A&G mentions "abstract nouns") or rather the entire usage of DD is quite limited.
    – d_e
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 8:27
  • that being said, the usage of cordi is an example that in theory the dative of purpose can be used with concrete verbs figuratively - but this seems to be extremely limited
    – d_e
    Commented Jul 25, 2020 at 8:46

The extended context in the Vulgate is

. . . et templum quod sanctificavi nomini meo, projiciam a conspectu meo, eritque Israel in proverbium, et in fabulam cunctis populis.

Although the Vulgate was, and is, regarded as a remarkable and even brilliant work of translation, the result is not always infallible, and the Latin not always exactly classical. Dare I suggest that the insertion of vertum (in agreement with templum and completing the future perfect erit vertum) after proverbium would make the intention more obvious? Using the Revised Version in English of 1898, this becomes

[then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them:] and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be turned into a proverb and a by word among all peoples:

Cunctus differs little from omnis. It may be a little stronger through indicating [objects] in unison, all together, etc. rather than simply 'all' — just as in English we might say for emphasis 'the whole lot together' instead of just 'all of them'.

  • That makes a lot of sense. So you think that vertum, or something like it, might be implied here. Why do you think the translator (St. Jerome, I assume) chose to leave it out? Is it because he wanted to be more faithful to the Hebrew?
    – ktm5124
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 16:06
  • The problem with this suggestion is that there is nothing corresponding to "vertum" in the Hebrew original.
    – fdb
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 17:15
  • vertum is nothing more than my own suggestion to make the intention clearer, for which I claim no authority whatever! (I know nothing of the Hebrew OT). So far as I know, Jerome's actual sources can't be identified, but possibly were the codices in Greek commissioned by the Council of Nicaea. Cranmer, in reviewing the Vulgate, appears to have looked at the Greek and been horrified to find metanoia translated to Latin as poenitentia — a famous example of the supposed inaccuracies in Jerome's translation.
    – Tom Cotton
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 20:26

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