Music; Musical Instruments
MUSIC; MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
Words about music are secondary to music itself. This is the dilemma of the historian, whose obligation it is to bring enlightenment and perspective to music making. He is successful only if his work finally draws the reader to music itself, and if he avoids the temptation of allowing word impressions to replace the musical ones.
Music is the most abstract of the arts. Its components: pitch, duration, texture, rhythm, color and ultimately form, speak their own language. The composing experience, which brings these together in a satisfying wholeness, is to be matched in the listening experience, which then must comprehend this wholeness. Hence, the final meaningfulness of music lies in the aural experience. Other experiences are merely adjuncts or glosses on the acoustical event.
All of this is true whether one is dealing with music for its own sake, a comparatively recent phenomenon in Western culture, or music which is inseparable from function as in the case of music in the Bible. In either instance, the primary problem is the hearing and understanding of inherent musical sound as it occurs in its cultural contexts. Furthermore, music is gone as soon as it is made. It is a time art: its sounds do not co-exist as the parts of a painting do; they succeed each other chronorhythmically. Their recapture or repetition does not guarantee entire faithfulness to the original. One cannot return to a performance of a concerto or a folk song the way he can to a painting or an artifact. The advent of electronic media only partially solved this problem. A very important element, the performer, is still missing and total fidelity to the original sound is unattainable even with the most sophisticated equipment.
The historian’s problem is further complicated when the primary data—the music itself—is partly or completely missing, and the secondary data—the historical contexts—are removed by vast cultural and linguistic distances. The success with which these barriers are overcome determines how accurately deductions can be made as to what the music of another culture in another time might have been, what its instrumentations were, as well as what its formulae and functions entailed.
Many recent archeological discoveries, coupled with heightened musicological skills and insights, have clarified much of what had been previously obscure or hyper-romanticized. Still the primary task in the field of Biblical music is to be assumed by the scholar whose insights into Biblical history are coupled with a mastery of the languages of Biblical contexts. The role of the musicologist is to be taken only when judgments are to be made in the presence of musical data which surface one way or another. The danger in such work is apparent. The musician must avoid betraying his amateurism when speaking Biblically or theologically. The Biblical scholar must be careful when attempting to speak musically. Incisive scholarship is often pivotal. It is not necessarily to be equated with a single perspective, but conscientiously used to serve whatever perspective is consistently and honestly searched out. While the first two sections of the present article depend to a great extent on the outstanding researches of such great men as Eric Werner, Abraham Idelsohn and Egon Wellesz, it assumes a different theological and Biblical perspective than theirs.
Music of the OT
Genesis 4:21 mentions Jubal (related to יוּבָ֑ל, ram) as the proto-musician. The distance, both stylistic and chronological between him and the later music making of the Jewish community, can only be a matter of speculation. The real importance of Jubal is in the attention given to music making this far back in sacred history, and further, that such attention is focused on its natural appearance along with other human and cultural activities. Jubal’s brother, Jabal, was a cattle breeder; his half-brother Tubal-cain, the first smith. This is important, for music is first described in a functionally neutral sense. Jubal is the “father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” His music making is not religiously caused or primarily associated with worship, nor is it necessarily an activity which, by contrast, bears only the association of any number of so-called secular activities. Even though Yahweh was to be worshiped in His sanctuary, the earth and all its fullness was also His; and as man’s habitat, and with the command given him to be its steward, the world was to be an arena for praise. Accordingly, the use of music is as much an integral part of the gathering of harvest as the worship in the sanctuary. The uniqueness is that while harvest songs are sung, they are sung to the Lord of the harvest; that while battle songs are sung, Yahweh is to win the battle.
Although this is not the place to discuss this problem at great length it is necessary to mention a few distinctions which speak to both the Biblical and the contemporary issues. First, music already has been seen to have accompanied all of Jewish life. Therefore it may be assumed that there is a difference between that which accompanies an event and that which causes it. Second, the parallel practices in other religious systems are only relevant if the basic perspectives of these systems are parallel to the system under discussion. This is patently not the case. Third, the uniqueness of the Jewish religion is seen in the fact that Yahweh is the one who calls all things into being and controls all events. Furthermore, He calls and controls purposefully in terms of which people, places and things are instruments of His purpose. Therefore, God brings walls down while people and their activities participate in the event. Fourth, the fact that music, among other created and cultural things, is purported by primitives and sophisticates alike to have power is more a matter of the dislocation of priorities than anything else. It would be easy to substantiate this by bringing the NT, particularly Romans 14, to bear. But this is unfair to a discussion of OT subject material. Even so, it is possible to sense in the earliest parts of Scripture that the created order is to be subject to the dominion of man and that it is good. Man is to be sovereign over it and not the reverse; the goodness of creation is a reflection of God’s handiwork, but it is a goodness not in the sense of inherently causing good, otherwise it would be sovereign over man and the cultural mandate would be irrelevant. In addition, even though creation has been ravished by Satan, this does not mean that it has become intrinsically bad in the morally-causing sense. Ultimately the Judeo-Christian perspective maintains that man is interiorly wrong and that until he is right he will place the blame for his condition outside himself. Hence, he will assume that created things or activities, as is often the case with music, have power over him and his activitiy. Consequently the parallels which are drawn in comparative religious studies, between Judaism and its contemporary systems, are in fundamental error because fundamental perspectives are overlooked.
Temple and synagogue.
The idea of special creative skills in cultic worship occurs long before the advent of professional musicians. In the building of the Tabernacle, men were chosen to “devise artistic designs,” and were given the Exod 35:30-36:2). The ability to devise these works is interestingly related to intelligence, knowledge, and finally craftsmanship. Although the mention of music is minimal in the matter of worship in the Tabernacle, Exodus 28:34, 35 describes a golden bell attached to the lower hem of Aaron’s robe which sounds as he goes into the holy place.
The trained musicians which eventually appear around the time of David and Solomon mark a distinctive change in the history of Jewish music. Before this time much of the music was made by women. Miriam led a group of her own sex in singing and dancing which followed the song of Moses and the children of Israel, celebrating the overthrow of the Egyptians (Exod 15:1-21); women sang, danced and played for the conquering David (1 Sam 18:6, 7); Jephthah’s daughter met her father with timbrels and dance upon his return from battle (Judg 11:34).
The parallel between this rich array and the existence of professional guilds of musicians in the neighboring kingdoms of Egypt and Assyria is obvious. In the transition from an unsettled, nomadic life, to one of a centralized monarchy there was the opportunity for training and the regulation of a musical system which would serve the needs of the royal court and the worship in the Temple. No efforts, it seems, were spared in the full realization of this. The importation of musical instruments and musical systems were no doubt carried out. The normal cultural intercourse during Israel’s sojourn was formalized in the monarchy. The Midrash alludes to a tradition in which King Solomon’s Egyp. wife included 1,000 musical instruments in her dowry. More concrete archeological evidence makes it clear that the instruments of the ancient world were similar from culture to culture. This would imply a similarity of musical systems although it would not rule out the possibility of indigenous change.
There have been many highly romanticized and exaggerated speculations about a never-to-be-repeated musical situation in the Temple. These have distorted a true contextual sense of what might have happened, and since there is no precise knowledge of the full musical style one must remain content with the central concept of a solemn yet exuberant mode of worship. Moreover, it is important to remember that though these musical activities were quantitatively and qualitatively professional, the matter of functionality mentioned earlier still prevailed. The central importance in Temple ritual was sacrificial. All else served this centrality. The system of daily sacrifices, morning and evening, was minutely regulated. The liturgical activities were complex and cumulative. The Mishnah gives the number of instruments in the Temple, during the Common Era as follows: Nevel, minimum two, maximum six; Kinnor, minimum nine, maximum limitless; Cymbal, one only; Halil, minimum two, maximum twelve.
The choir consisted of a minimum of twelve adult male singers, the maximum limitless. The singers served between the age of thirty and fifty with a five-year training period preceding this. The lack of mention of a large percussion group as well as the absence of a corps of dancers might indicate an attempt to evade a similarity to pagan forms of worship, although this can only be conjecture. It certainly has to be balanced with those occasions in which dance is mentioned as a legitimate way of praise elsewhere in the OT (2 Sam 6:14; Pss 149:3; 150:4).
Although a good part of the musical performance must have been left to the trained singers and players, the congregation was also musically involved. There is record in the 1st cent. of three forms of public singing of the Scriptures including the Psalms, each based on the response principle. First Form. The leader intoned the first half v., repeated by the congregation. The leader then sang each succeeding half line, but the congregation responded with the same first half-line. This became a refrain throughout the entire song. Second Form. The leader sang a half-line at a time and the congregation immediately repeated what had just been sung. Third Form. The leader would sing the whole first line. The congregation would answer with the second line of the v. This type was true responsorial singing.
Not long after the destruction of the Temple instrumental music fell into disuse and for some reason or other was never revived. Vocal tradition and practice however continued, and as such became the central musical feature of synagogue worship.
In contrast to the Temple with its system of sacrifice, the synagogue was primarily for public worship and instruction as well as secular assemblage. It was and is in Werner’s terms a “layman’s institution,” in which the Torah, its study and interpretation, readings from the Scriptures, and devotional prayers took the place of the sacrificial ceremonies of the Temple. There was only one Temple but numberless synagogues. The Talmud states that there were 394 synagogues alone in Jerusalem at the time of the destruction of the Temple. The quantity of synagogues as contrasted to the unique singularity of the Temple is explained not only “theologically,” in that there was but one place for sacrifice and many places for instruction. It was also logistical. b.c., and that its eventual complexity and organization was the result of hundreds of years of crystallization.
For a full and informative treatment of this particular subject, the reader is referred esp. to Idelsohn and Werner to whom much of the following is in debt. The crucial task in determining matters of style is one of identifying relationships which are found in available music and which can be shown to have also been present in music which is not available. Through a combination of linguistics, history of culture and comparative musicology, discoveries have been made which make this possible to quite some extent. Excavations have produced ancient instruments from Ur, Kara-Tepe, Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as from Israel. Liturgies, whole or in part, from Sumer, Akkad, Egypt and Ugarit, have been reconstructed. Finally, comparative musicology has endeavored to examine the most ancient melodic elements of the Near E and to set forth criteria for their age and locale.
As a result of all these efforts certain distinguishing characteristics of Sem. Oriental music are identified by Idelsohn. 1) Modality. This is not to be confused with the later Western use of the term. A mode comprises a number of motives within a certain scale, each of which has different functions. The resulting composition is an arrangement and combination of these motives. 2) Ornamentation. The modes and their motivic partials are, within the arrangements of (1), subject to ornamentation and decoration, often very florid and extended. To a large extent this depends upon the skill and training of the singer, whose object it is to keep within the perimeters of the mode itself while at the same time enhancing its basic profile with ornaments. The contour of such ornamentation is basically step-wise; skips of more than a third are rare. Thus the style is eminently vocal. 3) Rhythm. Idelsohn incorrectly uses the term unrhythmical to describe Jewish chant. However, all music is rhythmic in the sense that its sequence of tones is subject to virtually infinite temporal variations. Metrical music is that which is subject to regularly recurring, equally divided measures. Within each of these, rhythmic development takes place. The characteristic of Sem. music is its lack of regularly recurring meters. Nonetheless it is freely and richly rhythmic; its rhythmic structure is as complex as its ornamentation. In fact, it may be said that rhythm is to meter what ornamentation is to scale. 4) Scale. The general nature of melody is diatonic, although this is mixed with a certain feeling for quarter tones, a distinctive which is foreign to most Occidental music. 5) Monophony. Jewish music is unharmonized and depends for its beauty on elaborate ornamentation of the melody alone. Occasionally in group singing intervals of fourths or fifths appear, more out of limitation in vocal range than an inherent harmonic vocabulary. However, it prob. is true that the natural acoustical compatibility of these intervals allows for departure from the unison and by virtue of this, gives room for speculation as to the relation of this kind of primitive harmony to the development of harmonic procedures. When vocal music was instrumentally accompanied, heterophony (a way of embellishing the basic melodic line; a concurrent decoration) was often employed. 6) Improvisation. The performer and composer were the same person. The modal formulae were elaborated upon as seen in (1) and (2). A combination of long training and inherent ability were necessary to accomplish this.
For several centuries musicians sensed an essential identity between archetypes of Christian chant and Heb. counterparts, but were unable to substantiate this until recently. The French musicologist Amédée Gastoué established the first concrete evidence and support of this. Then Idelsohn was able to establish the essential identity of certain melodic archetypes in the Yemenite tradition with the earliest Gregorian chant. The significance of this is that the Yemenites had left Pal. during the beginnings of Christianity and had remained isolated from contact with the Church ever since. In addition to the work of Gastoué, Idelsohn and Werner, the names of Peter Wagner and Egon Wellesz are important in the furtherance of such studies.
Music in the NT
Actual instances of music making.
Although there is debate as to the exact nature of the Last Supper with regard to its full content and relation to Jewish traditions and practices, as well as the attendant possibilities of adaptation and change by Jesus Himself, it prob. is true that the words and music which were used were traditional. This is the only specific mention in the NT of Jesus Himself singing, although it is certainly probable that when He read in the synagogue (Luke 4:16-20) He did so in the accustomed vocal manner. The other two passages in the gospels mention instrumental music and dance: the mourning for the death of a girl (Matt 9:23) and the merriment upon the return of the prodigal son of Jesus’ parable (Luke 15:25). Finally, when Paul and Silas were jailed for their activities, they spent some of the time singing (Acts 16:25). It can be readily seen that in all these examples nothing is said about how the music was performed or how much music was performed. Nevertheless, the basic concept present in the OT still obtains: that music accompanied the varied activities in the Jewish community.
Instructions having to do with music making.
These are found in the epistles and are embedded in the general instructions and principles which were set forth for the various churches. All but one are given by Paul. They are conceptual rather than literally musical. In 1 Corinthians 14:15, Paul seems to be calling for a balance between ecstasy and discipline in music making (as well as praying) by asking that singing be done with the mind (or understanding) as well as in the spirit. He asks also that singing (as well as teaching, revelations, and speaking in tongues) be done for edification (1 Cor 14:26). Two other passages (Eph 5:19 and Col 3:16) are somewhat similar. The Ephesians are encouraged to address one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs as a sign of being filled with the Spirit. The Colossians are encouraged to do the same as a sign of being indwelt by the Word of Christ. The Apostle James insists that cheerfulness should lead to singing (James 5:13).
Though Paul brings three terms together with particular force (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs) it is almost impossible to determine any musical or textual difference among them. The safest conclusion would be that of considering psalms to be those of the OT, although not without the possibility of Christian additions. Hymns, or songs of praise, would perhaps be those newly composed texts directed to Christ. Songs, the most general of the types, comprising all kinds of songs, secular or sacred, accompanied or unaccompanied, are distinguished by the adjective spiritual, which seems to set these apart from all other general kinds of songs as inspired by the Spirit, and perhaps composed spontaneously.
Supernatural and eschatological mentions of music.
The bulk of these have to do with the trumpet sound of the Lord at the raising of the dead (1 Cor 15:52; 1 Thess 4:16), or the gathering of the elect (Matt 24:31). They certainly are extensions of the many associations of musical sounds accompanying specific acts of God which appear throughout the OT. The ultimate instances of this are found throughout Revelation in which the final, cumulative acts in history are announced by trumpet sounds, and where singing would seem to be a part of the eternal round of praise to be rendered to God. If any light can be gathered from these eschatological passages it would be that the literary style of the utterances (as well as other poetic utterances found in the epistles) would give a clue to the actual style of the composed and spontaneous texts which were actually sung by the new church.
In addition to the foregoing there are a few other passages which have to do with the mentions of music in a metaphorical way, as in 1 Corinthians 13:1, where lovelessness is equated with sounding brass or tinkling cymbals (KJV). This passage has caused some critics to draw the conclusion that there is some prejudice against instrumental music in Paul’s thinking, if not in the Church itself. This seems a bit flimsy in view of Paul’s directness and outspokenness in cases where he felt that a vital principle was at stake. The Corinthian passage is too oblique to be considered this way.
Temple and synagogue worship in early Christianity.
The NT Christians did not consider Christianity antithetical to Judaism, but its fulfillment. Acts 2:46; 9:2, 20). Their purpose, in addition to worship, was obviously to complete the fulfillment of Christ, with regard to the forms of worship indigenous to these places, by the exposition and debating which issued from the centrality of Christ and His Gospel. There is every reason to believe that except for the rejection of this Gospel and its witnesses by the rulers of the Temple and synagogue, these places would have become “churches.” Instead the Christians were forced to worship and speak of Jesus elsewhere, and for some time, the home, the open air, or any other available place became the forums for worship and witness.
The change of locale however did not preempt the influences of the musical and liturgical activities to which the Jewish Christians had been long accustomed. The entire vocabulary of such activities is familiar to the NT. The OT was still the only Scripture from which one could teach. Certainly the prayers were not forgotten. To quote Oesterley: “Nobody, in reading the pre-Christian forms of prayer in the Jewish liturgy and the prayers of the early Church can fail to notice the similarity of atmosphere of each, or to recognize that both proceed from the same mold. Even when one perceives, as often happens, variety in the latter form, the genus is unmistakable” (W. Oesterley, The Jewish Background of the Christian Liturgy , p. 125).
In the discussion on musical style (see B. 3) the important discovery of Idelsohn regarding the similarity of early Gregorian chant and Jewish music was mentioned. The significance of this is heightened not only in light of the similarities in prayer forms just mentioned, but in the matter of the cantillation of Scripture, in which a common ground is again struck between Judaism and Christianity. Whatever else the Church eventually developed on her own, liturgically, scripturally, and musically, these early bonds cannot be denied. The chief strata, as Werner identifies them, of liturgical music in church and synagogue are: a) the scriptural lesson; b) the vast field of psalmody (not only singing of psalms, but of any text sung in the fashion of psalms); c) the litany, or congregational prayers of supplication and intercession; d) the chanted prayer of priest or precentor. These together form the primary areas of liturgical music to this day.
The importance of the NT perspective.
If one were to take the position that only those things which Scripture specifically allows are allowable and those which Scripture does not specifically mention are prohibited then the perimeters of musical practice in the NT would be severely limited. There are two basic reasons why this cannot be the case and why the “philosophy” of church music in the NT is, in fact, exceedingly broad.
First, the OT was still considered the scriptural authority for the Early Church (2 Tim 3:16, 17). Hence its broad principles and practices were normative, though now Christcentered. Second, by maintaining the perspectives on righteousness, faith and lawfulness inherent in God’s revelation throughout the OT, the writers of the NT are careful to maintain these by extension. Hence Paul’s conclusion in Romans 14 that nothing is impure in itself is an extension and a further filling out of the concept of the goodness of creation found early in Genesis. To Paul, the ultimate right was to avoid the offense of one’s own conscience or that of his neighbor, by the superiority of quality of life over categories of creation. The uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian world view lies in its refusal to locate moral causation in the created order and to place responsibility squarely within the heart of man. For this reason, the doctrine of ethos, whether in the sophisticated nuances of Gr. thought, or in related forms in the multitudinous non-Christian religions, which ultimately says that either or both the creative and the created order has an inherent power, and which implicitly allows man to locate virture or its opposite in the created order, is by principle out of place in the Judeo-Christian world view. Therefore, what the NT leaves unsaid about music, among other things, has a healthy quality.
First, if ethos were an integral part of Paul’s world view (and he in his brilliance and education prob. understood it as well as any of his contemporaries), he certainly would have insisted upon the use of music as a power source in the overwhelming task of witness and persuasion which the Church took upon itself. Instead, men were to be persuaded alone by the words and actions of men and ultimately the Holy Spirit. The Gospel was to be preached as the “power of God unto salvation.” It seems obvious that Paul intended to keep clear of anything which to the presuppositions of the unsaved, would have a power of its own and by virtue of this, tincture the primary, essential power of the Gospel.
In the second place, however, the Church is instructed to use music; to address itself (one another) in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. If there are omissions concerning instrumental music or the dance, they need not necessarily be construed, as some would, as a sign that since these were used in the orgiastic Gr. mystery rites, or for that matter, in the worship of the now hostile Jewish cult, they were wrong. For one thing, the primitive Church was transient, temporarily quartered in homes, ships, beaches and public squares. It often was hidden away from those who tried to stamp it out. It had no time for anything but the most simple musical devices and activities in its own worship.
More important, certain types of music might have been avoided, not because of an intrinsic wrongness, but by the strong associations in the minds of some which were brought from pre-Christian experiences, either Jewish or pagan. However, the radically Christian principle which ruled was that that which was to be avoided was because it could offend a weak conscience, not because it was intrinsically empowered to change behavior. The distinction therefore between the pagan concept of the empowerment of things and the Christian concept of discernment among things, none of which are impure in themselves (Rom 14:14) and are not empowered, overrides any opinion which states that the Early Church set a standard in music which was rigid, unchangeable and limited. The range of musical practice is rather to be construed as broadly as possible because it is based on a principle which speaks to a total way of life, including music.
The problem is one of correlating the terms apparently denoting musical instruments with the archeological data in the form of actual artifacts or artistic representations of them on coins, seals, monuments, MSS, etc. Particular caution must be exercised so as not to read modern forms of instruments into the Biblical terms. Attention throughout is given to Sachs’ terminology.
Idiophones (made of naturally sonorous materials).
Terms relating to performance
The most problematical term is זָמַר, H2376, (zimmer). The etymological evidence is not clear (Ugaritic ḍmr presupposes a Proto-Sem. root ḍmr while Arab. zmr, “play a reed” presupposes a root zmr). The LXX nearly always renders it and its derivatives by ψάλλω, G6010, (psallō) and its derivatives. This argues for the meaning “play a stringed instrument; sing to the accompaniment of strings” (see Lexica, esp. TWNT, Lampe). Possibly etymological support for this can be found in Arab. ḍmr “excite.” However, the term has usually been taken to have a more general meaning, “make music.” Whatever is represented by זָמַר, H2376, (zamar), it is usualy directed to God. 1 Samuel 16:16-23 implies that the lyre was played either with a plectrum or by the hand (for more soothing effect).
Musical terms in Psalm superscriptions
Types of songs.
Names of melodies.
Other musical terms introduced by עַל (’al).
Remaining musical terms in the superscriptions.
֭לַמְנַצֵּחַ (Lamnaṩṩēaḥ), used in fifty-five superscriptions and in Habakkuk 3:19, is to be interpreted by 1 Chronicles 15:21, where the verb נָצַח, H5904, (naṩaḥ) is applied to certain men playing stringed instruments. It does not designate the general directing of the music since that is the function of the three cymbalists (v. 19). Rather, it would describe those who provided the musical introduction and accompaniment and thus “led” the singing. If this passage is relied on, the term in the Psalms could mean “to be begun by an accompanist.” In this connection, it should be noted that all of the superscriptions containing an indication of the accompaniment (musical instrument or tune; about thirty) have this term, nearly always as the first element. Usually, however, ֭לַמְנַצֵּחַ (lamnaṩṩēaḥ) is taken to mean “to the director” in the sense of the one head of the music in the Israelite nation or in a local worshiping community, with several possibilities for the preposition לְ (la). Some understand “for the director” but one wonders why psalms would have to be thus designated since this would be a matter of course and would be an appropriate designation for many that are not given this term. Others understand “from the director’s collection” but it is not clear why such information would be pertinent. None of these interpretations are supported by the ancient VSS, which give meaning like “to the end,” “to the conqueror, conquering.”
C. Sachs, The History of