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To what extent is the utterance "Let it be [done to me]"—attributed to Mary (Luke 1:38) and translated as "fiat" in the Vulgate—equivalent to the utterance "Let there be [light]"—attributed to God (Gen. 1:3) and translated as "fiat" in the Vulgate?

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  • I would suggest that your question is really about the equivalence of the Hebrew יְהִ֣י, yehi (Let there be)[Genesis 1:3] and the Greek γένοιτό, genoito (may it be) [Luke 1:38] since these are the original languages which the Vulgate translates.
    – Nigel J
    Jan 1, 2020 at 13:07
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    Thank you, Nigel J, for clarifying.
    – Margolis
    Jan 4, 2020 at 16:49

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They are very similar. In the Septuagint, the "let there be"s are translated from Hebrew יְהִי into Greek as γενηθήτω (aorist imperative). In the verse you cited from Luke, the form is γενοιτο (aorist optative).

In both cases, the aorist tense is used which indicates that the action is a single self-contained event (simple aspect).

While modally-speaking, imperative forms have a little more force than optative forms (command verses wish), they are both used for statements that are not yet true (hypotheticals). In Genesis, creation is commanded into existence. But in Luke, Mary is expressing a hoped-for outcome, not a demand.

The reason these are both translated fiat (subjunctive mood) in Latin is that Latin does not have an optative mood, and the imperative mood is only used for 2nd person forms. So 3rd person commands and wishes are both expressed in the subjunctive in Latin.

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  • The optative in Latin is actually a form of the subjunctive, as is also the jussive, however in the poster's NT example the hortatory form is likely more applicable.
    – user21676
    Jan 4, 2020 at 4:47
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    The detailed explanation of pertinent Greek grammar is helpful, esp. using the Septuagint as a common denominator. Just what I was looking for. I am new to this world, but have inferred that using the Septuagint in this way is a common practice. I have "little Latin and less Greek," so appreciate others sharing their learning. Thanks to user21676 for clarifying the applicable Latin grammar. I intend to follow up and refresh my memory.
    – Margolis
    Jan 4, 2020 at 16:57

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