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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Music And Musical Instruments

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1. Probable character of early Hebrew music . Since the Dispersion, the music of the Jews has always borne the impress of the peoples among whom they have settled. Synagogue ritual thus affords us no clue to the music of early times, and we must accordingly fall back on Scripture and tradition. From these we gather that Hebrew music was of a loud and piercing nature, far removed from the sweetness which modern taste demands. There is no real evidence that the players ever advanced beyond unison in their combinations of notes, apparently reproducing the air on successively rising or falling octaves of the scale. We may suppose, however, that they would hardly fail to discover that certain combinations were pleasing to the ear, and would thus learn to strike them either simultaneously or successively ( arpeggio ). How far, however, they grasped the nature of a chord or of harmony must remain obscure, in spite of the attempts to solve this question, some of them altogether baseless guesses. For example, even the Hebrew accents, though of comparatively late origin, and always confined in Jewish use to acting as guides in the proper recitation of the text, have been pressed into the service, as though employed for the purpose of a kind of’ figured bass,’ and thus indicating an acquaintance with musical harmony. Unfortunately, even those who have maintained this theory differ considerably as to the details of its application.

2. Rendering of Hebrew music . It seems clear at any rate that an antiphonal setting was in use for many of the Psalms ( e.g . 13, 20, 38, 68, 89); but the chanting must not be taken as resembling what we now understand by that term. The account we have in 1 Chronicles 15:16 ff. of the elaborate arrangements for conducting the musical services of the Temple, appears to indicate a somewhat complicated system, and to suggest that there entered a considerable element of flexibility into the composition. It is, for instance, quite possible that the long reciting note which with us may do duty on occasion for as many as twenty, thirty, or even more syllables, played no such monotonous part, but was broken up and varied to an extent suggested by the length of the verse as well as by the character of the sentiment to be conveyed.

3. Occasions on which music was used . Hebrew religious melody had a popular origin, and was thus closely connected with the religious life of the na on. Apart from such references to song as those in Genesis 31:27 and Job 21:12 , we find in the headings of certain Psalms ( e.g . 22, ’Ayyeleth hash-Shahar , ‘the hind of the morning’) traces of what are in all probability in some, if not in all, cases secular songs. So Al Tashheth , ‘Destroy not,’ prefixed to Psalms 57:1-11 ; Psalms 58:1-11 ; Psalms 59:1-17 ; Psalms 75:1-10 , may well be the first words of a vintage song (cf. Isaiah 65:9 ). A parallel may be found in directions prefixed to Gabirol’s hymns and those of other celebrated Jewish poets, when these compositions were adapted to music in the Spanish (Sephardic) ritual (see D. J. Sola, Ancient Melodies, etc ., London, 1857, Pref. p. 13). Amos ( Amos 6:5 ) speaks of music performed at feasts, and in 1 Samuel 18:6 we read of its use in Saul’s time in connexion with processions. As in this last case, so in general it may be supposed that music and dancing were closely connected and had a parallel development. David’s careful elaboration of the Levitical music, vocal and instrumental, was employed, according to 2 Chronicles 5:12 , with impressive effect at the dedication of Solomon’s Temple. The reformations under both Hezekiah and Josiah included the restoring of the musical ritual belonging to David’s time ( 2 Chronicles 29:25 ff; 2 Chronicles 35:15 ). Later, the descendants of Heman and other Levitical leaders of music were among the exiles of the Return from Babylon, and under them the services were reconstituted as of old ( Nehemiah 12:27 ; Nehemiah 12:45 ff.).

4. Hebrew musical instruments . Here our information is somewhat fuller, though involving a good deal of uncertainty in details. We may for clearness’ sake divide under three heads, viz. stringed, wind, and percussion instruments.

(1) Stringed instruments . Chief among these are the kinnôr and the nçbel (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ harp ’ and ‘ psaltery ’), which were evidently favourites among the Jews. It is plain, in spite of doubts which have been expressed upon the point, that the two names were not used indifferently for the same instrument. The LXX [Note: Septuagint.] in nearly all cases is careful to distinguish them ( kithara or kinyra , and psaltçrion, nablç , or nabla respectively). Both, however, were used in the main, and perhaps exclusively, to accompany songs, and those of a joyous nature. (They were unsuitable for times of mourning; see Psalms 137:2 , a passage which further shows that the instrument must have been, unlike a modern harp, easily portable.) They were doubtless the chief, if not the sole, instruments employed in the Temple services. In Solomon’s time they were made from almug (algum) trees, doubtfully identified with sandal wood. The strings, originally of twisted grass or fibres of plants, were afterwards formed of gut, and subsequently from silk or metal.

( a ) The kinnôr (an onomatopoetic word, derived from the sound of the strings) is the only stringed instrument mentioned in the Hexateuch, where ( Genesis 4:21 ) its invention is attributed to Jubal, son of Lamech. The nebel is first mentioned in 1 Samuel 10:5 , as used by the prophets who went to meet Saul. The kinnôr ( kithara or lyre [in 1Ma 4:54 the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] renders ‘ cithern ,’ RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ harp ’]) consisted of a sound-box at the base, with wooden side-arms and a crossbar connected by the strings with the box below. It was originally an Asiatic instrument, and the earliest known representation is pre-historic, in the form of a rude model found at Telloh in southern Babylonia. There is also a very ancient one shown on a tomb in Egypt, dating from about the 30th cent. b.c. (12th dynasty). A tomb at Thebes in the same country (dating between the 12th and 18th dynasties) exhibits a similar form, which was sometimes modified later in the direction of more artistic construction and sloping of the crossbar downwards, so as to vary the pitch of the strings. Jewish coins of Maccabæan date furnish us with a close resemblance to the Greek kithara . Josephus ( Ant . VII. xii. 3) distinguishes the kinnôr as a ten-stringed instrument struck by a plectrum; the nabla , on the other hand, being, he says, played with the fingers. This need not necessarily conflict, as has been thought by some, with the statement ( 1 Samuel 16:23 ) that David played the kinnôr ‘with his hand’; and Josephus’s evidence in such a matter should carry much weight.

( b ) The nebel . It has been sought to identify this with various instruments; among them, the lute (so RV [Note: Revised Version.] in Isaiah 5:12 [AV [Note: Authorized Version.] viol]; ‘ lute ’ is also RV [Note: Revised Version.] tr. [Note: translate or translation.] of Gr. kinyra in 1Ma 4:54 ), guitar, and dulcimer . In support of the last it is urged that the Arabic name for that instrument, santir , is a corruption of the Greek psaltçrion , by which, as has been said, the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] sometimes render nebel . Having regard, however, to the testimony of Josephus (see above) that the nebel had twelve strings, and was played by the hand without a plectrum, we are safe in taking it to be a kind of harp , an instrument of larger size than the kinnôr , and used ( Amos 6:5 , Isaiah 5:12 ; Isaiah 14:11 ) at the feasts of the rich. We find, on the other hand, that it was not too large to be played by one who was walking (see 1 Samuel 10:5 , 2 Samuel 6:5 ). The above argument from santir = psaltçrion is weakened by the fact that the Greek word was used generically for stringed instruments played with one or hoth hands without a plectrum. We may note further that the nabla (see above for this as a LXX [Note: Septuagint.] rendering of nebel ), known to the Greeks as of Sidonian origin, was played according to Ovid ( Ars Amat . iii. 327) with both hands.

Egyptian monuments show us portable harps, varying in form, bow-shaped, rectangular, or triangular, though all constructed on the same general principle, and having the sound-box above, not, as the kinnôr , below. Seven of these harps, of a triangular shape, and used by a Semitic people in Assyria, are to be seen on a bas-relief found at Kouyunjik. We may add that several early Church writers (Augustine on Psalms 42:1-11 : Jerome on Psalms 149:3 ; Isidore, Etym . iii. 22. 2) support the above identification of nebel with, a harp.

( c ) There is little that can be asserted with confidence as to the nature of other instruments of this class mentioned in the Bible. In Daniel 3:5 ff., besides the psantçrîn (Gr. psaltçrion ) and kitharis (Gr. kithara ) with which we have already dealt, we have the sabbĕkha (Ev sackbut). This is evidently the Greek sambykç , but the latter has been variously described as a large harp of many strings and rich tone, similar to the grand Egyptian harp, and as a very small one of high pitch. After all, both descriptions may be true, if referring to different periods of its existence.

Nĕgînôth has sometimes been taken as the name of an instrument, but is much more probably a general term for stringed music. So in Psalms 68:25 (Heb. 26), we have a contrast between the singers ( shârîm ) and the players on strings ( nôgĕnîm ).

Gittîth , the heading of Psalms 8:1-9 ; Psalms 81:1-16 ; Psalms 84:1-12 , has also, but somewhat doubtfully, been referred to instruments named after Gath: so the early Jewish paraphrase (Targum), ‘the harp which David brought from Gath.’

(2) Wind instruments . ( a ) The châlîl (EV [Note: English Version.] pipe) seems to have been the instrument of this class in most common use. It was played in coming from and going to the high place ( 1 Samuel 10:5 , 1 Kings 1:40 ). It accompanied festal processions of pilgrims ( Isaiah 30:29 ). It was used in mourning ( Jeremiah 48:36 , cf. Matthew 9:23 ), and in the ritual of twelve solemn annual occasions. According to Isaiah 5:12 , the feasts of the drunkards were enlivened by it. It may have been a simple flute , i.e . a mere tube with holes, played by blowing either into one end or into a hole in the side. It is possible, on the other hand, that it may have been a reed instrument, either, as the modern oboe, with a double and vibrating tongue, or, as the clarinet, with a single tongue. Neighbouring nations were, we know, familiar with reed pipes, as they also were with double flutes, which, for anything we know to the contrary, the châlîl may have been. On the other hand, the keyed flute is of decidedly later origin, and in the times with which we are dealing the Fingers must have done all the work.

( b ) The ‘ûgâb , rendered uniformly in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] as ‘ organ ,’ an instrument which was not known even in rudimentary form in OT days, seems to have become an obsolete word even in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] times, as shown by the variety of renderings which it has there received. The instrument known as ‘Pan’s pipes’ (Gr. syrinx , Lat. fistula ) is perhaps the best conjecture that can be offered. ( c ) The mashrôkîtha (EV [Note: English Version.] fluts) may have been similar; while ( d ) the sumpônya (cf. the Italian zampugna or sampogna for ‘bagpipes’) may well have corresponded to the modern bagpipes , as developed from the double flute. ( e ) The shôphâr ( 1 Chronicles 15:28 , 2 Chronicles 15:14 , Psalms 98:6 , Hosea 5:8 , EV [Note: English Version.] cornet; the ‘cornets’ of 2 Samuel 6:5 [AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ; RV [Note: Revised Version.] castanets’] are probably best represented by RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘sistra’; see (3) ( c ) below) was a curved horn of a cow or ram, used mainly, and till later OT times exclusively, for secdiar purposes, such as to give signals in war ( e.g . Judges 3:27 ) or to announce important events ( e.g . 1 Kings 1:34 ; 1 Kings 1:39 ). It is still employed by the Jews at solemn festivals. The hatsôtsĕrâh , on the other hand the one instrument of which we have an undoubtedly authentic representation, viz. on the Arch of Titus at Rome in front of the table of shewbread was a long, straight, metal trumpet , used mainly for religious purposes, especially in later times ( 2 Kings 12:13 , 1 Chronicles 13:8 ).

(3) Percussion instruments . ( a ) The tôph , ‘ tabret ’ or timbrel , was a small hand-drum, represented on Egyptian and Assyrian monuments. In these instruments, unlike the modern drum, the parchment was probably rigidly fixed, and thus incapable of being tightened or loosened so as to regulate the pitch. ( b ) mĕtsiltaim and tseltsĕlîm were cymbals . Two shapes are found in Egypt and Assyria, the one consisting of two flat plates, played by being clashed together sideways, the other of two cones with handles at the peak, one cone being brought down on top of the other. ( c ) mĕna‘anîm (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘ castanets ,’ marg. sistra , 2 Samuel 6:5 ) were formed of two thin metal plates with holes, through which were passed rods with loose metallic rings at their ends. ( d ) shâlïshîm in 1 Samuel 18:6 (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘triangles, or three-stringed instruments’) has been thought, from the apparent connexion of the word with the third Heb. numeral, to be a triangle, but this is quite uncertain. It is more probable that it was a particular kind of sistrum .

A. W. Streane.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Music And Musical Instruments'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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