August 1, 2005

“Talitha, cumi!” (Mark 5:41)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

In Mark 5:41, Jesus says to Jairus’s dead daughter, “Talitha, cumi!” for which Mark provides the translation “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” Interestingly, as Donahue and Harrington point out, while that is indeed the gist of what Jesus is saying, the Aramaic could more literally be translated “Little lamb, arise!” And that is particularly interesting given that this section of Mark reveals Jesus as a shepherd, who, for instance, causes the sheep to sit down in green pastures (Mark 6:39).

But it’s also interesting that here Mark quotes Jesus in Aramaic, given that almost everywhere else in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ words are recorded in Greek. Either Jesus normally spoke Greek but here chose to speak Aramaic or Jesus normally spoke Aramaic and Mark normally translates it into Greek with a couple of exceptions, of which this is one. Either way, we ought to ask why this statement is in Aramaic, not Greek.

One answer is that Mark is simply recording what Jesus said on this occasion, but that isn’t a satisfactory answer. Another answer is that by recording Jesus’ words in Aramaic Mark’s narrative has the character of an eyewitness account (i.e, the account of Peter who was there), but again that answer isn’t satisfactory. Why not record other statements in Aramaic, then?

Perhaps Mark records the Aramaic because he wants his readers to think about the significance of the Aramaic words themselves. Mark could have translated “Talitha, cumi” as “Little lamb, arise!” but he chooses to give the gist of them instead. But readers who know Aramaic can dig more deeply and figure out more of the puzzle of who Jesus is. He’s the shepherd who brings this little lamb through the valley of the shadow of death.

Any other suggestions?

Posted by John Barach @ 7:20 pm | Discuss (0)

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