That the Hebrews were in ancient times, as they are at the present day, devoted to the study and practice of music is obvious to every reader of the . The references to it are numerous, and are frequently of such a nature as to emphasize its importance. They occur not only in the Psalter, where we might expect them, but in the Historical Books and the Prophets, in narratives and in declamations of the loftiest meaning and most intense seriousness. And the conclusion drawn from a cursory glance is confirmed by a closer study.
The Sole Art Cultivated
The place held by music in the Old Testament is unique. Besides poetry, it is the only art that Art seems to have been cultivated to any extent in ancient Israel. Painting is entirely, sculpture almost entirely, ignored. This may have been due to the prohibition contained in the Second Commandment, but the fidelity with which that was obeyed is remarkable.
A Wide Vocabulary of Musical Terms
From the traces of it extant in the Old Testament, we can infer that the vocabulary of musical terms was far from scanty. This is all the more significant when we consider the condensed and pregnant nature of Hebrew. "Song" in ourof the Bible represents at least half a dozen words in the original.
Place in Social and Personal Life
Universal Language of Emotion
It follows from this that the range of emotion expressed by Hebrew music was anything but limited. In addition to the passages just quoted, we may mention the jeering songs leveled at Job (
This internal evidence is confirmed by other testimony. The Babylonian tyrants demanded one of the famous songs of Zion from their Jewish captives (
Use in Divine Service
By far the most important evidence of the value attached to music by the Hebrews is afforded by the place given to it in Divine service. It is true that nothing is said of it in the Pentateuch in connection with the consecration of the tabernacle, or the institution of the various sacrifices or festivals. But this omission proves nothing. It is not perhaps atoned for by the tradition (18:9) that at the first paschal celebration "the fathers already led the sacred songs of praise," but the rest of the history makes ample amends. In later days, at all events, music formed an essential part of the national worship of Yahweh, and elaborate arrangements were made for its correct and impressive performance. These are detailed in 1 Chronicles. There we are told that the whole body of the temple chorus and orchestra numbered 4,000; that they were trained and conducted, in 24 divisions, by the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun; and that in each group experts and novices were combined, so that the former preserved the correct tradition, and the latter were trained and fitted to take their place. This is, no doubt, a description of the arrangements that were carried out in the Second Temple, but it sheds a reflex, if somewhat uncertain, light on those adopted in the First.
Part at Religious Reformations
We are told by the same authority that every reformation of religion brought with it a reconstruction of the temple chorus and orchestra, and a resumption of their duties. Thus when Hezekiah purged the state and church of the heathenism patronized by Ahaz, "he set the Levites in the house of Yahweh with cymbals, with psalteries, and with harps" (
Theory of Music
Dearth of Technical Information
It is disappointing after all this to have to confess that of the nature of Hebrew music we have no real knowledge. If any system of notation ever existed, it has been entirely lost. Attempts have been made to derive one from the accents, and a German organist once wrote a book on the subject. One tune in our hymnals has been borrowed from that source, but it is an accident, if not worse, and the ingenuity of the German organist was quite misdirected. We know nothing of the scales, or tonal system of the Hebrew, of their intervals or of their method of tuning their instruments. Two terms are supposed by some to refer to pitch, namely, "upon," or "set to `Alamoth," (
Not Necessarily Unimpressive
Our knowledge is, therefore, very meager and largely negative. We need not, however, suppose that Hebrew music was necessarily monotonous and unimpressive, or, to those who heard it, harsh and barbarous. Music, more than any other of the arts, is justified of her own children, and a generation that has slowly learned to enjoy Wagner and Strauss should not rashly condemn the music of the East. No doubt the strains that emanated from the orchestra and chorus of the temple stimulated the religious fervor, and satisfied the aesthetic principles of the Hebrews of old, precisely as the rendering of Bach and Handel excites and soothes the Christian of today.
The musical instruments employed by the Hebrews included representatives of the three groups: string, wind, and percussion. The strings comprised the kinnor, or nebhel or nebhel; the winds: the shophar, or qeren, chatsotserah, chalil, and `ughabh; percussion: toph, metsiltayim, tsltselim, mena`an`im, shalishim. Besides these, we have in Daniel: mashroqitha’, cabbekha’, pecanterin, cumponyah. Further, there are Chaldean forms of qeren and kithara.
We have no exact information as to the materials of which these instruments were made. In
We have no trace of metal strings being used by the ancients. The strings of the Hebrew (minnim) may have consisted of gut. We read of sheep-gut being employed for the purpose in the Odyssey, xxi. 407. Vegetable fiber was also spun into strings. We need only add that bowed instruments were quite unknown; the strings were plucked with the fingers, or struck with a plectrum.
The Old Testament gives us no clue to the form or nature of the kinnor, except that it was portable, comparatively light, and could be played while it was carried in processions or dances. The earliest authority to which we can refer on the subject is the Septuagint. While in some of the books kinnor is rendered by kinnura, or kinura--evidently a transliteration--in others it is translated by kithara. We cannot discuss here the question of the trustworthiness of the Septuagint as an authority for Hebrew antiquities, but considering the conservatism of the East, especially in matters of ritual, it seems at least hasty to say offhand, as Wellhausen does, that by the date of its production the whole tradition of ancient music had been lost. The translation, at all events, supplies us with an instrument of which the Hebrews could hardly have been ignorant. The kithara, which in its general outlines resembled the lyre, consisted of a rectilinear-shaped sound box from which rose two arms, connected above by a crossbar; the strings ran down from the latter to the sound-box, to which, or to a bridge on which, they were attached.
The most ancient copy of a kithara in Egypt was found in a grave of the XIIth Dynasty. It is carried by one of a company of immigrant captive Semites, who holds it close to his breast, striking the strings with a plectrum held in his right hand, and plucking them with the fingers of the left. The instrument is very primitive; it resembles a schoolboy’s slate with the upper three-fourths of the slate broken out of the frame; but it nevertheless possesses the distinctive characteristics of the kithara. In a grave at Thebes of a somewhat later date, three players are depicted, one of whom plays a kithara, also primitive in form, but with slenderer arms. Gradually, as time advanced, the simple board-like frame assumed a shape more like that afterward elaborated by the Greeks. Numerous examples have been found in Asia Minor, but further developed, especially as regards the sound-box. It may be noted that, in the Assyrian monuments, the kithara is played along with the harp, as the kinnor was with the nebhel.
The evidence furnished by Jewish coins must not be overlooked. Those stamped with representations of lyre-shaped instruments have been assigned to 142-135 BC, or to 66-70 AD. On one side we have a kithara-like instrument of 3 or more strings, with a sound-box resembling a kettle. It is true that these coins are of a late date, and the form of the instruments shown on them has obviously been modified by Greek taste, but so conservative a people as the Jews would hardly be likely to adopt an essentially foreign object for their coinage.
One objection raised by Wellhausen to the identification of the kithara with the kinnor may be noted. Josephus undoubtedly says (Ant., VII, xii) that the kinnura was played with a plectrum, and in
Since the ancient VSS, then, render kinnor by kithara, and the kithara, though subsequently developed and beautified by the Greeks, was originally a Semitic instrument, it is exceedingly probable, as Riehm says, "that we have to regard the ancient Hebrew kinnor, which is designated a kithara, as a still simpler form of the latter instrument. The stringed instruments on the Jewish coins are later, beautified forms of the kinnor, intermediate stage Egyptian modifications represent the intermediate stage."
The nebhel has been identified with many instruments. The literal meaning of the word, "wine-skin," has suggested that it was the bagpipe! Others have thought that it was the lute, and this is supported by reference to the Egyptian nfr, which denotes a lute-like instrument frequently depicted on the monuments. The derivation of "nbl" from "nfr" is, however, now abandoned; and no long-necked instrument has been found depicted in the possession of a Semite. The kissar was favored by Pfeiffer. Its resonance-box is made of wood, and, the upper side, being covered tightly by a skin, closely resembles a drum. From this rise two arms, connected toward the top by a crossbar; and to the latter the strings are attached. The kissar has, however, only 5 strings, as opposed to 12 ascribed by Josephus to the nebhel, and the soundbox, instead of being above, as stated by the Fathers, is situated below the strings.
The supposition that the nebhel was a dulcimer is not without some justification. The dulcimer was well known in the East. An extremely interesting and important bas-relief in the palace at Kouyunjik represents a company of 28 musicians, of whom 11 are instrumentalists and 15 singers. The procession is headed by 5 men, 3 carrying harps, one a double flute, and one a dulcimer. Two of the harpists and the dulcimer-player appear to be dancing or skipping. Then follow 6 women; 4 have harps, one a double flute, and one a small drum which is fixed upright at the belt, and is played with the fingers of both hands. Besides the players, we see 15 singers, 9 being children, who clap their hands to mark the rhythm. One of the women is holding her throat, perhaps to produce the shrill vibrate affected by Persian and Arabian women at the present day. The dulcimer in this picture has been regarded by several Orientalists as the nebhel. Wettstein, e.g., says "This instrument can fairly be so designated, if the statement of so many witnesses is correct, that nablium and psalterium are one and the same thing. For the latter corresponds to the Arabic santir, which is derived from the Hebrew pecanterin, a transliteration of the Greek psalterion." And the santir is a kind of dulcimer.
This is not conclusive. The word psalterion was not always restricted to a particular instrument, but sometimes embraced a whole class of stringed instruments. Ovid also regarded the nabla as a harp, not a dulcimer, when he said (Ars Am. iii.329): "Learn to sweep the pleasant nabla with both hands." And, lastly, Josephus tells us (Ant., VII, xii) that the nebhel was played without a plectrum. The translation of nebhel by psalterion does not, therefore, shut us up to the conclusion that it was a dulcimer; on the contrary, it rather leads to the belief that it was a harp.
Harps of various sizes are very numerous on the Egyptian monuments. There is the large and elaborate kind with a well-developed sound-box, that served also as a pediment, at its base. This could not be the nebhel, which, as we have seen, was early portable. Then we have a variety of smear instruments that, while light and easily carried, would scarcely have been sonorous enough for the work assigned to the nebhel in the temple services. Berries, the more we learn of the relations of Egypt and Israel, the more dearly do we perceive how little the latter was influenced by the former. But the evidence of the Fathers, which need not be disregarded in a matter of this kind, is decisive against Egyptian harps of every shape and size. These have without exception the sound-box at the base, and Augustine (on
All the evidence points to the nebhel having been the Assyrian harp, of which we have numerous examples in the ruins. We have already referred at length to the bas-relief at Kouyunjik in which it is played by 3 men and 4 women. It is portable, triangular, or, roughly, delta-shaped; it has a sound-box above that slants upward away from the player, and a horizontal bar to which the strings are attached about three-fourths of their length down. The number of the strings on the Assyrian harp ranges from 16 upward, but there may quite well have been fewer in some cases.
The word gittith is found in the titles of
Shalishim occurs in
Among the instruments mentioned in
The word neghinoth occurs in the title of 6 psalms, and in the singular in two others; it is also found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Derived from naghan, "to touch," especially to play on a stringed instrument (compare
The first mention of a wind instrument occurs in
The chalil is first mentioned in
As we should expect from the simplicity of its construction, and the commonness of its material, the flute or pipe was the most ancient and most widely popular of all musical instruments.
Reeds, cane, bone, afterward ivory, were the materials; it was the easiest thing in the world to drill out the center, to pierce a few holes in the rind or bark, and, for the mouthpiece, to compress the tube at one end. The simple rustic pattern was soon improved upon. Of course, nothing like the modern flute with its complicated mechanism was ever achieved, but, especially on the Egyptian monuments, a variety of patterns is found. There we see the obliquely held flute, evidently played, like the Arabic nay, by blowing through a very slight paring of the lips against the edge of the orifice of the tube. Besides this, there are double flutes, which, though apparently an advance on the single flute, are very ancient. These double flutes are either of equal or unequal length, and are connected near the mouth by a piece of leather, or enter the frame of the mouthpiece.
Though the flutes of the East and West resembled each other more closely than the strings, it is to the Assyrian monuments that we must turn for the prototypes of the chalil. The Greeks, as their myths show, regarded Asia Minor as the birthplace of the flute, and no doubt the Hebrews brought it with them from their Assyrian home. In the Kouyunjik bas-relief we see players performing on the double flute. It is apparently furnished with a beaked mouthpiece; like that of the clarinet or flageolet. We cannot determine whether the Israelites used the flute with a mouthpiece, or one like the nay; and it is futile to guess. It is enough to say that they had opportunities of becoming acquainted with both kinds, and may have adopted both.
Nechiloth occurs only in the title of Ps 5. The context suggests that it is a musical term, and we explain neginoth as a general term for strings, this word may comprehend the wood-winds. the Revised Version margin renders "wind instruments."
Mashroqitha’, found in
Cumponyah (in Chaldaic sumponia) is another name for a musical instrument found in
The Shophar Qeren
The shophar was a trumpet, curved at the end like a horn (qeren), and no doubt originally was a horn. The two words shophar and qeren are used synonymously in
We are told (
The principal percussion instrument, the toph, is represented in English Versions of the Bible by "tabret" and "timbre," two words of different origin. "Tabret" is derived from Arabic tanbur, the name of a sort of mandolin. "Timbre" comes from Latin-Greek tympanum, through the French timbre, a small tambourine. The Arabs of today possess an instrument called the duf, a name that corresponds to the Hebrew toph. The duf is a circle of thin wood 11 inches in diameter and 2 inches in depth. Over this is tightly stretched a piece of skim, and in the wood are 5 openings in which thin metal disks are hung loosely; these jingle when the duf is struck by the hand. The toph probably resembled the duf.
Other drums are shown on the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments. In the Kouyunjik bas-relief the second last performer beats with his hands a small, barrel-like drum fixed at his waist. In the Old Testament the drum is used on festive occasions; it is not mentioned in connection with Divine service. It was generally played by women, and marked the time at dances or processions (
Cylindrical staves slightly bent at one end were also used in Egyptian processions. Villoteau, quoted by J. Weiss, describes a bas-relief in which three musicians are seen, of whom one plays the harp, a second the double flute, while a third appears to be marking time by striking two short rods together; this was a method of conducting practiced regularly by other ancient nations.