In Mark 5:41, Jesus speaks in Aramaic as he resurrects a young girl:

Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

Other translations render the Aramaic talitha koum, talita kumi, and talitha cum. Mark's translation into Greek of the recipient of the command is generally translated into English as little girl or girl. But recently I heard that an alternative translation is possible or preferable: lamb or little lamb (see this, for example). Wikipedia, however, doesn't mention this option.

Would lamb or little lamb be a better or "more literal" translation of the person Jesus is talking to when he says talitha cumi? Or is Mark's translation more accurate, and the lamb option simply incorrect or less coherent than little girl?


5 Answers 5


Hasting's dictionary is an old book and it does not reflect current scholarly opinion about Semitic languages.

The Aramaic word ṭalyā, feminine ṭlīṯā is an adjective meaning “young”, and then a noun meaning “boy/girl” and “servant”. It is etymologically related to Hebrew ṭāle, Arabic ṭalā, which mean “young animal” and specifically “lamb”, but this is not its meaning in Aramaic. To understand the passage in Mark you need to look at the meaning of the Aramaic words cited there and not their cognates in other languages. The words mean “girl, stand up” and do not allude to lambs.

Reference: Brockelmann, Lexicon syriacum p. 276.


James Hastings' (ed), Dictionary of of Christ and the Gospels (1906) says the following:

TALITHA CUMI (for Greek ταλιθὰ κούμι, which, in turn, is a transliteration of the Aram. Aramaic טְלִיחָא קוּמִי ‘Maiden, arise’).—The words occur in Mark 5:41, and were uttered by our Saviour over the daughter of the Jewish ruler, Jairus. The Aram. Aramaic noun is טַלַי = ‘lamb.’ This has its emphatic form, masc. טַלְיְתִא, fem. טַלְיְתָא; or, according to the analogy of Edessene Aram. Aramaic preserved in the ̣̣̣Peshitta, טְלְיחָא. It is interesting to note that in Palestinian Aram. Aramaic the word טְלֵי passes from meaning ‘lamb’ to being a term of endearment for a ‘child.’ We thus reproduce the words of Jesus accurately, if we render them, ‘Lambkin, arise.’ In the Gr. of Mark 5:41 the Aram. Aramaic words are translated τὸ κοράσιον, ἔγειρε. The ‘articular nominative’ is in NT used sixty times for the vocative case (Moulton, Gram. of NT Gr. p. 70). In Luke 8:54 we have ἡ παῖς, ἔγειρε. [J.T. Marshall]

Many sources I've read online seem to suggest that Jesus is calling the girl lamb or pet lamb, which is a term of endearment. Mark's interprets the term of endearment to actually refer to the little girl. It's not a literal translation, but it gets to the actual meaning of what Jesus said.

  • 5
    I suppose the value of having the Hastings' entry in this Q&A is that it at least demonstrates one source for the ideas that OP encountered in popular form ("popular" in a qualified sense: like OP, I had never heard of this interpretation before either).
    – Dɑvïd
    Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 11:08

There are three issues to cover in this question:

  • the textual variant
  • the "lamb" issue
  • the meaning of the imperatival phrase

first, As BDB shows, (cited below), "lamb" and "child/girl" have a bunch of semantic overlap.

Second: the variant.

There are two options for the variant:

  • ⲕⲟⲩⲙ (קוּם): The masculine, singular imperative for "stand."
  • ⲕⲟⲩⲙⲉⲓ (קוּמִי) the feminine, sg. imv. for "stand."

The lexicon, BDB has this verse as a specific example where the masculine does double duty as a feminine:

2924, 2922 † טָלֶה n. m. lamb (NH id., lamb; Aram. ‏טַלְיָא lamb, youth, ‏טַלְיְתָא girl, ‏ܛܰܠܝܳܐ boy, youth, ܛܠܺܝܬܳܐ girl (cf. Mk 5:41 𝔖);

<BDB, s.v. “טלה,” 378.>

So, either variant you go with has the same meaning in the end: a singular imperative.

Meaning: While "lamb" would be a good/decent place to start, the better choice in context is "girl"—both by the usage of Aramaic in that age/stage of history and by the parallel usage in Luke 8:54, where "ἡ παῖς, ἔγειρε" (child, get up) is used.


In the USA parents often call their offspring their "kids". "Kid" is also the name of a baby goat. But is "kid" how you say "child" or is it simply that it is endearing/insulting slang way of addressing your child(ren)? I'm of the opinion that it may have started out as an endearing way to refer to one's child but over time it lost the "meaning" of "dear" and retained the meaning of "child".

This, of course would be beyond my interest or ability to prove however I believe that the fact that we see it in the English language means that it is not unprecedented:

Before sending her son off for his first day at school, Mrs. Cohen hugged him and said: "Good luck, my sweet bubbeleh. Be good, dear bubbeleh, and work hard. "And remember, my bubbeleh, at lunch time eat all of your food and play nicely with the other children. Oh, bubbueleh, I'm so proud of you!" That afternoon, when little Cohen returned home, his mother cried: "Bubbeleh, my sweet bubbeleh, give your mother a hug! So, tell me, what did you learn at school today?"

"Well," said the boy, "to start with, I learned that my name is Aaron."



I have read that “Talitha kumi” is an idiomatic Hebrew expression meaning “Little girl in the tallitt, arise. The tallit refers to the prayer shawl that according to Hebrew tradition was also used to wrap a person for burial. There are those who claim that the original “New Testament” may have actually been written first in Aramaic and then later was translated into Greek. This may account why so often there are words in the NT that when translated into Greek, those who did the translating did not have sufficient understanding of Hebrew and so could not properly render particular phrases such as “Talitha kumi” into Greek but left it in its original language.

  • 3
    There is no connection between טְלִיתָא a Syrian Aramaic word meaning "a little girl" and the Hebrew word טַלִּית, meaning a blanket-like outer garment. The concept of "prayer shawl" is a non-Jewish misunderstanding of the significance of talit, which is like a suit jacket in Western culture, worn during any formal occasion, prayer or not . טליתא קומי is not a Hebrew idiomatic expression. This answer is fundamentally mistaken at the linguistic and cultural level. Please consider deleting it.
    – user17080
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 10:07

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