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 (Job 30:9). But the music that could be used to interpret or accompany the Psalms with any degree of fitness must have been capable of expressing a great variety of moods and feelings. Not only the broadly marked antitheses of joy and sorrow, hope and fear, faith and doubt, but every shade and quality of sentiment are found there. It is hardly possible to suppose that the people who originated all that wealth of emotional utterance should have been without a corresponding ability to invent diversified melodies, or should have been content with the bald and colorless recitative usually attributed to them.
This internal evidence is confirmed by other testimony. The Babylonian tyrants demanded one of the famous songs of Zion from their Jewish captives (Ps 137:3), and among the presents sent by Hezekiah to Sennacherib there were included male and female musicians. In later times Latin writers attest the influence of the East in matters musical. We need only refer to Juvenal iii.62 ff.
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 (
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" (2Ch 29:25). The same thing took place under Josiah (2Ch 34). After the restoration--at the dedication of the Temple (Ezr 3:10) and of the walls of Jerusalem (Ne 12:17)--music played a great part. In Nehemiah’s time the descendants of the ancient choral guilds drew together, and their maintenance was secured to them out of the public funds in return for their services.
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," (Ps 46), and "upon," or "set to the Sheminith" (Pss 6; 12; compare also 1Ch 15:19-21). The former has been taken to mean "in the manner of maidens," i.e. soprano; the latter "on the lower octave," i.e. tenor or bass. This is plausible, but it is far from convincing. It is hardly probable that the Hebrews had anticipated our modern division of the scale; and the word sheminith or "eighth" may refer to the number of the mode, while `alamoth is also translated "with Elamite instruments" (Wellhausen). Of one feature of Hebrew music we may be tolerably sure: it was rendered in unison. It was destitute of harmony or counterpoint. For its effect it would depend on contrast in quality of tone, on the participation of a larger or smaller number of singers, on antiphonal singing, so clearly indicated in many of the Psalms, and on the coloring imparted by the orchestra. That the latter occasionally played short passages alone has been inferred from the term celah, a word that occurs 71 times in the Psalms. It is rendered in the Septuagint by diapsalmos, which either means louder playing, forte, or, more probably, an instrumental interlude.
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 2Sa 6:5 the King James Version, mention is made of "instruments made of fir wood" (the English Revised Version "cypress"), but the text is probably corrupt, and the reading in 1Ch 13:8 is preferable. According to 1Ki 10:11 f, Hiram’s fleet brought from Ophir quantities of ’almugh (2Ch 2:8; 9:10, ’algum) wood, from which, among other things, the kinnor and nebhel were made. Probably this was red sandal-wood. Josephus (Ant., VIII, iii) includes among articles made by Solomon for the temple nebhalim and kinnoroth of electrum. Whether we understand this to have been the mixed metal so named or amber, the frame of the instrument could not have been constructed of it. It may have been used for ornamentation.
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 1Sa 16:23 David plays the kinnor "with his hand." But even if this excludes the use of the plectrum in the particular case, it need not be held to disprove the identity of kinnor and kinnura. Both methods may have been in use. In paintings discovered at Herculaneum there are several instances of the lyre being played with the hand; and there is no reason for supposing that the Hebrews were restricted to one method of showing their skill, when we know that Greeks and Latins were not.
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 Ps 42) says expressly that the psalterium had its sound-box above. This is confirmed by statements of Jerome, Isidore, and others, who contrast two classes of instruments according to the position above or below of the sound-box, Jerome, further, likens the nebhel to the captial Greek letter delta.
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.
In Ps 33:2; 144:9, "the psaltery of ten strings" is given as the rendering of nebhel ’asor; while in Ps 91:3 ’asor is translated "instrument of ten strings." No doubt, as we have just said above, there were harps of less and greater compass--the mention of the number of strings in two or three instances does not necessarily imply different kinds of harps.
The word gittith is found in the titles of Ps 8; 81; 84. It is a feminine adjective derived from Gath, but its meaning is quite uncertain. It has been explained to denote (i) some Gittite instrument; the Targum, on Ps 8, gives "on the kithara which was brought from Gath"; or (ii) a melody or march popular in Gath. The Septuagint renders "concerning the vintage," and may have regarded these psalms as having been sung to a popular melody. See above.
Shalishim occurs in 1Sa 18:6, where it is rendered "instruments of music," the Revised Version margin "triangles, or three stringed instruments." The word seems from the context to represent a musical instrument of some sort, but which is very uncertain. Etymology points to a term involving the number three. The small triangular harp, or trigon, has been suggested, but it would hardly have made its presence felt among a number of drums or tambourines. If the shalishim was a harp, it might very well be the nebhel, which was also triangular. There is no evidence that the triangle was used by Semitic people, or we might have taken it to be the instrument referred to. If it was a percussion instrument, it might possibly be a three-ringed or three-stringed sistrum.
Among the instruments mentioned in Da 3:5,7,10 occurs the cabbekha’ translated in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "sackbut," i.e. a trombone, why, it is impossible to say. The Septuagint renders the word by sambuke, and this is an instrument frequently mentioned by Greek and Latin writers. Though it is nowhere described, it was no doubt a harp, probably of high pitch. It was a favorite of dissolute women, and we frequently see in their hands in mural pictures a small triangular harp, possibly of a higher range than the trigon.
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 Ps 68:25, where the players, noghenim, are contrasted with the singers, harim), it evidently means stringed instruments in general.
The first mention of a wind instrument occurs in Ge 4:21, where we are told that Jubal was the "father of all such as handle the harp and pipe." The Hebrew word here translated "pipe" is `ughabh. It occurs in 3 other places: Job 21:12; 30:31; Ps 150:4. In the Hebrew version of Da 3:5 it is given as the rendering of sumponyah, i.e. "bagpipe." Jerome translations by organon. The `ughabh was probably a primitive shepherd’s pipe or panpipe, though some take it as a general term for instruments of the flute kind, a meaning that suits all the passages cited.
The chalil is first mentioned in 1Sa 10:5, where it is played by members of the band of prophets. It was used (1Ki 1:40) at Solomon’s accession to the throne; its strains added to the exhilaration of convivial parties (Isa 5:12), accompanied worshippers on their joyous march the sanctuary (Isa 30:29), or, in turn, echoed the feelings of mourners (Jer 48:36). In 1 Macc 3:45, one of the features of the desolation of the temple consisted in the cessation of the sound of the pipe. From this we see that Ewald’s assertion that the flute took no part in the music of the temple is incorrect, at least for the Second the Temple.
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."
In Eze 28:13 the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American), neqabhim is rendered pipes. This translation is supported by Fetis: the double flute; Ambros: large flutes; and by Jahn: the nay or Arab flute. It is now, however abandoned, and Jerome’s explanation that neqebh means the "setting" of precious stones is generally adopted.
Mashroqitha’, found in Da 3:5, etc., is also referred to the wood-winds. The word is derived from sharaq, "to hiss" (compare Isa 5:26, where God hisses to summon the Gentiles). The Septuagint translates surigx or panpipes, and this is most probably the meaning.
Cumponyah (in Chaldaic sumponia) is another name for a musical instrument found in Da 3:5, etc. It is generally supposed to have been the bagpipe, an instrument that at one time was exceedingly popular, even among highly civilized peoples. Nero is said to have been desirous of renown as a piper.
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 Jos 6:4,5, where we read shophar ha-yobhelim and qeren ha-yobhel. With regard to the meaning of hayobhel, there is some difference of opinion. The Revised Version (British and American) renders in text "ram’s horn," in the margin "jubilee." The former depends on a statement in the Talmud that yobhel is Arabic for "ram’s horn," but no trace of such a word has been found in Arabic. A suggestion of Pfeiffer’s that yobhel does not designate the instrument, but the manner of blowing, is advocated by J. Weiss. It gives a good sense in the passages in which yobhel occurs in connection with shophar or qeren. Thus in Jos 6:5, we would translate, "when the priests blow triumph on the horn."
We are told (Nu 10:2 ) that Moses was commanded to make two silver trumpets which should serve to summon the people to the door of the tabernacle; give the signal for breaking up the camp; or call to arms. These instruments were the hatsotseroth, which differed from the shophar in that they were straight, not curved, were always made of metal, and were only blown by the priests. They are shown on the Arch of Titus and on Jewish coins, and are described by Josephus (Ant., III, xii, 6). The latter says: "In length it was not quite a yard. It was composed of a narrow tube somewhat thicker than a flute, widened slightly at the mouth to catch the breath, and ended in the form of a bell, like the common trumpets."
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 (Ex 15:20; Jud 11:34; 1Sa 18:6; Jer 31:4; Ps 150:4). At banquets (Isa 24:8; 30:32; Job 21:12) and at marriages (1 Macc 9:39) it accompanied the kinnor and nebhel. In solemn processions it was also occasionally played by men.
In 1Ch 15:19 we read that "Heman, Asaph, and Ethan, were appointed, with cymbals of brass to sound aloud." These cymbals are the metsiltayim (in two places tseltselim). They were very popular in Egypt. A pair made of copper and silver has been found in a grave in Thebes. They are about 5 inches in diameter and have handles fixed in the center. In the Kouyunjik bas-relief we see cymbals of another pattern. These are conical, and provided with handles.
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.
Lastly in 2Sa 6:5 we meet with a word that occurs nowhere else, and whose meaning is quite uncertain. the King James Version translates "cornets," the Revised Version (British and American) "castanets," and in the margin "sistra." The mena`an`im may have been the sistrum, an instrument formed of two thin, longish plates, bent together at the top so as to form an oval frame, and supplied with a handle at the lower end. One or more bars were fixed across this frame, and rings or disks loosely strung on these made a jingling noise when the instrument was shaken. This interpretation is supported by the derivation of the word, the Vulgate, and the rabbins.