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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Pipe Flute

(αὐλός, from αὐεῖν ‘to blow’)

The word and its cognate forms appear five times in the NT. Two of these have been noted under art._ Minstrels, where it is pointed out that αὐλητής in Matthew 9:23 is translated ‘minstrel’ and in Revelation 18:22 ‘piper,’ though in each case the RV_ has the more correct ‘flute-player.’ αὐλός and αὐλούμενον occur in 1 Corinthians 14:7 : ‘… whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?’ By this musical illustration St. Paul expounds his teaching regarding the apostolic gift of speaking with tongues. αὐλέω occurs in Matthew 11:17 and its parallel in Luke 7:32 : ‘we have piped unto you, and ye have not danced …’

The three traditional wind instruments of Hebrew music (which must guide us in a discussion of the instruments of the Apostolic Age) were the flute, horn, and trumpet; and of these the flute was most often used. From very early days the ‘peaceful flute’ had an important part in the observance of Jewish ritual. As we learn from Isaiah 30:29, it was played during the procession to the Temple of the pilgrims who kept the Feast of Tabernacles, and its use at other national festivals can be proved. On the more domestic occasions of rejoicing, such as marriages and dances, the flute-player was also considered necessary for their proper celebration; and Matthew 11:17 shows that the musical accompaniment of festivity was continued in NT times. But the flute was also the characteristic instrument in the ritual of mourning. Evidence of this may be found in the literature of most ancient nations. Amongst the Romans the designator and his lictores made the tibicines and other musicians take the forefront of the funeral processions. As Ovid, in Fasti vi. 657 ff., wrote:

‘Temporibus veterum tibicinis usus avorum

Magnus, et in magno semper honore fuit.

Cantahat fanis, cantabat tibia ludis,

Cantabat maestis tibia funeribus.’

In Jeremiah 48:36 there is allusion to funereal flute-playing, and there were minstrels, as we have seen, at the raising of Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:23). In the time of Christ even the poorest households provided flute-players at the funerals of their dead. Perhaps the best instance of this use of the flute is given by J. Wellhausen in his Appendix to Psalms (Haupt’s PB_, 1898, p. 219), where he cites the Jewish lamentation at the fall of Jotapata as recorded in Josephus, BJ_ III. ix. 5.

When we attempt to describe these flutes, we must not think of the modern keyed flute introduced by Theodore Bcehm, but of something much more primitive. Yet there were in the earliest times several distinct varieties of flute-like instruments which roughly correspond to the flûte à bec and the flûte traversière. These were made of reed and wood, though in later times bone and ivory were used; and they varied in length as in the number of their finger-holes. Ancient monuments, Egyptian and Assyrian, have representations of the long flute blown at one end-a type that has developed into the flageolet-and of the kind that had a lateral hole near the end of the instrument. Double flutes are also depicted, i.e. a variety that consisted of two fairly long tubes united at the one mouthpiece, which probably made possible notes of considerable compass.

It cannot be said with certainty which types are represented by the çÈiÄéi and the òåÌâÈá of the Jews. According to tradition, the latter was in the form of a Pan’s pipe.

Archibald Main.

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

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