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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Flute-Players

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FLUTE-PLAYERS.—Flute-playing is referred to twice in the Gospels: once in the narrative as an expression of sorrow (Matthew 9:23 αὐλητάς, Authorized Version ‘minstrels,’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘flute-players’); and once in the Lord’s teaching as an expression of gladness (ηὐλήσαμεν Matthew 11:17 with the parallel passage Luke 7:32 ‘we [have] piped’). The latter use, which is referred to several times in the OT and the Apocrypha (1 Kings 1:40, Isaiah 5:12; Isaiah 30:29, Sirach 40:21, 1 Maccabees 3:45), is attested for the later Jews by the mention in the Mishna of ‘flutes for a bride’ (Baba Mezia vi. 1). The other use, the employment of flutes for mourning, seems to have been widely diffused and of great antiquity, for it is clearly alluded to by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 48:36); and can be traced over a large part of the Gentile world—Phœnicians, Carians, Greeks, Romans, and probably Assyrians. In Greek society (or at least some sections of it) the custom was so general that the flute-player at funerals was described by a special term (τυμβαύλης aelian. Var. Hist. xii. 43). For the Jewish life of the 1James , 2 nd cents. a.d. there is ample evidence in the Mishna and elsewhere. ‘Flutes for a corpse’ are mentioned in Baba Mezia vi. 1, and in Kethuboth iv. 4 is the often cited rule that a man who had lost his wife must engage, no matter how poor he might be, not fewer than two flute-players and one wailing woman. A remarkable historical illustration is supplied by Josephus (BJ iii. ix. 5). When the news of the capture of Jotapata by the Romans in the summer of 67 a.d. reached Jerusalem, ‘most people engaged flute-players to lead their lamentations.’ Another illustration comes from Roman history. At the funeral of the Emperor Claudius in 54 a.d. there were flute-players in the procession. These funeral musicians seem to have been generally, if not always, professionals, and to have been held in very low esteem. The class seems to be unknown to modern Syrian society. The wailing woman remains, but the funeral flautist has gone (Bauer, Volksleben im Lande der Bibel, 1903, p. 213).

Literature.—Note of Wetstein on Matthew 9:23; Wünsche, Neue Beiträge zur Erlauterung der Evangelien aus Talmud und Midrasch, p. 125; Levy, Chaldäisches Worterbuch, 261a; art. ‘Music’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible iii. 461.

W. Taylor Smith.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Flute-Players'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/f/flute-players.html. 1906-1918.

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