Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary
טלל טול נטל טלה טלא
These five forms are morphologically related and after some close scrutiny appear to be related in meaning as well:
The verb טלל (talal I) is not used in the Bible but in cognate languages it means to moisten or fall gently (of rain or dew). The derivative טל (tal), meaning dew, occurs much more frequently in Scriptures (Deuteronomy 33:28, Song of Solomon 5:2, Isaiah 18:4).
The second root טלל (talal II) does occur as verb in the Bible, and it means to cover over or roof. This verb occurs only in Genesis 19:8 and Nehemiah 3:15, which suggests that this verb describes a particular kind of roofing, perhaps in idea akin to the English verb to overcast.
According to BDB Theological Dictionary, this word is an Aramaic loan-word but perhaps it was so readily incorporated into Hebrew on account of the indigenous identical root that speaks of a covering of dew, mist or fine rain. This verb has no derivatives.
Note that the assumed homophone תלל (talal) means to pile up layer upon layer, and yields the familiar derivative תל (tel); the artificial mount created by covering over the ruins of a destroyed settlement.
The verb טול (tul) seems to also describe a falling, but in a more forceful way, and is usually translated with to hurl or to cast. But at second glance this verb appears to be a specification not of falling but of extending (this verb actually means to be extended or elongated in Arabic), or rather as a being spread out over a large area. This in turn suggests that light rain and dew were not seen as phenomena that were falling, but rather phenomena that extended something or simply spread out over a large area (dew, after all, doesn't fall).
The prophet Isaiah declares to Shebna: "YHWH hurls you with a hurling (מטלטלך טלטלה) and grabs you with a grabbing," and foretells that YHWH will roll him up and throw him like a ball into a foreign country (Isaiah 22:17 and something similar is on the lips of Jeremiah; Jeremiah 16:13, 22:26). But note that if we would translate these occurrences of טול (tul) with to hurl or cast, the Lord would first hurl and then grab his victim. More sensical would be to first stretch Shebna thin over a large area, then grab him, then roll him up like a ball and throw him.
To thwart Jonah, the Lord hurled/stretched out a great wind on the sea, and Jonah was cast out of the boat (Jonah 1:4, 1:15). Saul hurled (or jabbed/extended?) a spear at David (1 Samuel 18:11) and one at Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:33). YHWH not simply hurled the primordial sea monster onto land, he left pieces of it all over the place; he spread it out over a large area (Ezekiel 32:4).
At the sight of Leviathan, a man is not hurled away but rather spread thin (concluding that being spread thin is a mark of weakness or defeat ; Job 41:9), and similarly, the steps of a man are established by the Lord; when he falls, he will not be spread thin (Psalm 37:24). Proverbs 16:33 speaks of the casting of a lot using our verb (more common would be the verb ירה, yara), which probably does not describe the journey of the lots from the thrower's hand or cup towards the ground, but rather the spreading out of multiple tokens after they hit the floor.
Our verb comes with only one derivative, namely the feminine noun טלטלה (taltela), meaning a hurling, or rather a spreading out, as used in Isaiah 22:17.
The form נטל (ntl) may result from the above forms via certain common grammatical constructions, but it's also its own verb: נטל (natal), meaning to lift or bear. It occurs a little over half a dozen times in the Bible: 2 Samuel 24:12, Isaiah 40:15, Lamentations 3:28. It has two derivatives:
- The masculine noun נטל (netel), meaning burden or weight (Proverbs 27:3 only).
- The adjective נטיל (natil), meaning laden (Zephaniah 1:11 only).
The assumed verb טלה (tlh) isn't used in the Bible and also doesn't appear to exist in cognate languages (any cognate verbs appear to be denominative from the equivalents of the following noun). Its only derivative is the masculine noun טלה (taleh), meaning young (of a sheep, goat or deer) and that suggests that there is no root טלה (tlh) and that our noun טלה (taleh) derives from the above.
It doesn't take much imagination to connect the action of spreading out over a large area with one sheep that becomes many sheep via giving birth, and a perhaps anti-intuitive connection between throwing or hurling and animal parturition also exists in Dutch and German in the verb werpen/ werfen (to throw and to give birth by an animal).
Our noun is used a mere three times in the Bible (not counting the related Aramaic word talita; Mark 5:41): Right before the battle against the Philistines at Mizpah, after which Samuel erected the famous stone Ebenezer, Samuel offered a טלה (taleh) to YHWH (1 Samuel 7:9); Isaiah famously predicted that the wolf and the טלה (taleh) would graze together (Isaiah 65:25), and evenly famous that YHWH would lead his people like a shepherd his flock and carry the טלאים (tal'im) on his arm (Isaiah 40:11). Note that this plural form is identical to the plural form of טלא (tl'), see next.
The verb טלא (tala') primarily denotes a pattern of coloration in smaller herd animals (Genesis 30:32-39). Judging from the above, this word probably denoted a homogeneous spreading of little spots, which would be typical of a deer fawn, and which would explain Isaiah's usage of the form טלאים (tal'im). The same plural form means "spotted ones" in Genesis 30:35-39, and the word may have been synonymous for being childish or perhaps "forever young" (when applied to adult animals).
Our word is also used to describe a quality of worn-out sandals (Joshua 9:5), which is commonly interpreted as being patched, but (why would a sandal be patched?) which denotes more likely being covered in moldy, mildewy spots.
In Ezekiel 16:16 it's used in a highly symbolic context to describe the quality of places of pagan worship made from the bride's clothes, which probably describes the vista of a mountainous area in which the white of countless billowing banners and such can be seen from afar as dancing specks of white against the darker hills.