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In the Vulgate Bible, I came across this sentence.

Vivit Dominus Deus Israel, in cuius conspectu sto, si erit annis his ros et pluvia, nisi iuxta oris mei verba.

[As] the Lord God of Israel lives, in whose sight I stand, there will not be dew and rain these years, unless according to the words of my mouth.

1 Kings 17:1

The translation makes sense, but I don't understand the si...nisi construction. I know the basics of conditionals, but I haven't seen these two words used in combination before. Could anyone explain? Also, where do we get the "not" adverb in the clause, "there will not be dew and rain"?

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I found this in an online version of Plater & White's A grammar of the Vulgate:

In emphatic speech, especially in adjurations, si = a negative

Here are some of the attestations:

'semel iuraui in sancto meo, si Dauid mentiar' (=I will not lie unto David) Ps. 89. 34 (88. 36), 'si introibunt in requiem meam' (= they shall not enter into my rest)

If this is true, the function of the Vivit Dominus Deus Israel is to frame the speech as an oath. That's what the translation is trying to convey by adding an 'As' at the beginning.

The Plater and White entry goes on to give an explanation for this behavior:

This si is not really a negative. The 'not' comes from a suppressed clause, 'if... (then my oath will be in vain', which in the case of God it cannot be).

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  • Nice find. I wonder if it's because of the Hebrew, though that it's found in Hebrews is surprising (Mark not so much). Is it found in pre-Vulgate vulgar Latin?
    – cmw
    Jan 3 '17 at 3:41
  • 1
    Not sure about vulgar Latin, but now that I think of it, there is something similar in classical Latin, where an oath or asseveration + si effectively represents a negative – for example, moriar si magis gauderem si id mihi accidisset (Cic. Att. 8.6.3), 'May I die if I could be more glad if that had happened to me' = 'I couldn't be more glad if that had happened to me.'
    – cnread
    Jan 3 '17 at 5:38
  • The negative implicitness of the clause never clicked in my head before. It's not quite the same construction, but it's an interesting parallel. Neat!
    – cmw
    Jan 3 '17 at 5:49
  • I've understood the oath to have an implied curse clause: "may God curse me." So, "iuravi ... si Dauid mentiar" = "I swore an oath, that if I should lie to David, may God curse me" = I swore not to lie to David. Nov 13 '19 at 18:05
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It doesn't make any sense because it's not a Latin construction. The Latin appears to be a translation of the Greek:

εἰ ἔσται τὰ ἔτη ταῦτα δρόσος καὶ ὑετὸς ὅτι εἰ μὴ διὰ στόματος λόγου μου.

This is in turn is a rather literal "translation" of the Hebrew:

אִם־יִהְיֶה הַשָּׁנִים הָאֵלֶּה טַל וּמָטָר כִּי אִם־לְפִי דְבָרִי

You'll notice the parallel construction: εἰ...εἰ μὴ || אִם...אִם

In Hebrew, אִם is a conjunction that covers a range of meanings, and of course it (and Hebrew in general) doesn't work the same as Latin, Greek, or English.

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This is conditional sentence, and 'si' is the sign of the conditional here; 'Si', (if) with 'nisi' (unless) , the negative ni- refers to the principal clause, which is thus denied, if the conditional clause is accepted; (Gildersleeve & Lodge) There is also said, the negative of 'si' is 'si non' or 'nisi'.

Mind there are no similar examples given so it must be as C. M. Weimer said, 'not a Latin construction'.

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