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Music in Biblical Times


We present here a topic that needs further study as we only present some tidbits to pique your curiosity on the topic.  We cannot reproduce the graphs or drawings that are included with each article.

#1. The Music of the Old Testament Reconsidered by T. C. Mitchell

Surviving examples of musical instruments and representations of them show that during the first

half of the first millennium B.C. a considerable range of types was in use in Mesopotamia and

Egypt, as well as in north Syria and south-east Asia Minor. Since there are numerous references

in the Old Testament to music and musicians it is a reasonable assumption that, though there are

few representations from Palestine, similar types were in use. The corpus derived from outside

sources comprises: I. Strings: (a) harp, (b) lyre, (c) lute; II. Wind: (d) vertical flute (end blown

like the modern recorder), (e) double-pipe, (f) horn, (g) trumpet; III. Percussion: (h) drum, (i)

tambour (like a tambourine without the jingles), (j) cymbals, (k) clappers, (l) sistrum, (m) vibroframe

(see Wegner 1959 with useful folding chart illustrating instruments by date and area;

Mitchell and Joyce 1965, 20-22; Pritchard 1969, nos. 191-211; Stauder 1975; Rashid 1984; and

Hickman 1961 for Egypt and Wegner 1963 for Greece).


The range of instruments attested from Mesopotamia may be seen most conveniently in the book

by S. A. Rashid (1984). The types represented are tabulated below by his figure numbers. The

third and second millennium evidence is included since individual types may have ‘hibernated’,

so to speak, and might still have been present without being represented in the first millennium

record. The types are grouped in four major periods representing: A. The Early Dynastic period,

c. 2500 B.C.; B. The Akkadian, Neo-Sumerian and Old Babylonian periods, c. 2330-1600 B.C.;

C. The Middle Assyrian period, c. 1400-1200 B.C.; D. The Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian

periods, c. 900-539 B.C.

The types known in Egypt and Greece are well illustrated in works by H. Hickman (1961) and M.

Wegner (1963) respectively and are not separately specified here. Those from the Near East other

than Mesopotamia and Palestine are tabulated below, the numbers referring,to the list which

follows. In this tabulation ‘Syria’ embraces the area of north Syria and south-east Asia Minor,

notably Tell Halaf, Carchemish, Zincirli and Karatepe, and also (nos. 11, 24, 37) the so-called

‘Lyre-Player group’ of seals, which have been found as far afield as Greece and Italy, but which

were probably made in Syria or Cilicia in the eighth century B.C. (Buchner and Boardman 1966,

especially 48-50). ‘Anatolia’ refers to the remainder of Asia Minor.

In 1965 (Mitchell and Joyce 1965, 22 n. 15) 1 referred to, but did not identify, a rectangular

instrument with strings of equal length across its shorter dimension, two examples of which are

depicted on a Syrian ivory of the ninth or eighth century B.C. from Nimrud (British Museum

WA. 118179; Galpin 1937, pl. VIII.5; Barnett 1975, pls. XVI, XVII; 1982, pl. 45c, p. 43;

Rimmer 1969, pl. VIIa; Rashid 1984, fig. 122). Galpin (1937, 36) had identified this as a

‘psaltery’, and connected it with the pĕsantērîn mentioned in the book of Daniel (on which see

below), but Wegner (1950, 37), rightly pointing out that the cross-pieces were both too short and

too similar in length for it to represent a convincing stringed instrument, suggested that the crosspieces

were more likely to have been something like wood or metal rods, placing it more in the

sistrum family. He also specifically rejected Galpin’s ‘psaltery’ identification (Wegner 1950, 62

n. 27).

The stringed instrument interpretation was still maintained by Rimmer (1969, 40) who identified

the object as a ‘zither’, and by Rashid (1984, 108), who favours ‘Psalterien’. Possible

illumination of this type of instrument is supplied by two flat bronze rectangular objects (with

simple spiral ornamentation at the corners), probably of the eighth or seventh century B.C., one

from Macchiabate near Francavilla Maritima in modern Calabria (ancient Bruttium), the toe of

Italy, and the other of unknown provenance, measuring 19.8 x 11.3 cm. and 17.5 x 13 cm., and

originally with 15 and 13 wooden cross-pieces respectively, bound round with bronze spirals

(Montuoro 1977, 27-40, quoting several other similar fragments; Gehrig and Niemeyer 1990, no.

128 with colour photograph; and see Trendall and Cambitoglou 1978, 315). Another possible

example is an object usually assumed to be a pectoral, now in the British Museum (GR.1872.6-

4.1005), dating from about 700 B.C., from an Etruscan tomb at Praeneste (Garrucci 1867, 205 no.

2, pl. 7.1; Marshall 1911, 108 no. 1256, pl. XV; Strom 1971, 63, fig. 45; De Puma 1986, 384,

figs. 11, 12). This measures 21 x 10.2 cm., but differs from the examples mentioned above in

apparently lacking a complete rectangular frame and comprising two side members (decorated

with embossed sheet silver) joined only by 15 cross pieces. These cross pieces originally

consisted of copper tubes, formed of bent-round sheet, with silver wire wound round them in

spirals, and possibly containing rods of some other material, perhaps wood.


Of the above listed instrument types a small number are attested by representations from

Palestine. A clear depiction of a twelve-stringed lyre occurs on a Hebrew seal of the eighth

century B.C. (fig. 1; Avigad 1985, 9 and fig. 3), the painted decoration on an inscribed pottery

vessel of the ninth to eighth century B.C. from Kuntillet Ajrud shows a lyrist (fig. 2; Meshel

1978, fig. 12), and a very crude clay figurine of the eighth century from Ashdod shows a lyre

player from this closely adjacent Philistine city (fig. 3; Dothan 1975, 115). A bas-relief from

Nineveh depicts what may be three Judean captives playing simple five-stringed oblique lyres

(British Museum WA. 124947; Gadd 1936, 176, pl. 20; Pritchard 1969, no. 191; Rimmer 1969,

pl. XI; Wafler 1975, 61-62, pl. 3.3; Rashid 1984, fig. 142). A number of terracotta figurines

depict women playing what appear to be hand-drums or tambours, that is to say circular hoops

with membranes, probably of leather, stretched over them (fig. 4; e.g. Macalister 1912, II, 414

and fig. 499;III, pl. CCXXI.2; May 1935, pl. XXVIII, p. 30; Crowfoot 1957, pl. XI, p. 79 no. 6;

Elgavish 1978, 1103 = Weippert 1988, fig. 4.67; and in general Mazar 1990, 501-02). Other

representational evidence comes from a much later date, and though the possibility of changes in tradition arising from Hellenistic and Roman influence means that care must be taken in using this

material as an indication of what was in use in earlier times, it is worth mentioning.

The carved relief of the first century A.D. on the Arch of Titus in Rome illustrates, among the Temple

treasure taken when he sacked Jerusalem in A.D. 70, two long bell-mouthed trumpets,

presumably of metal (fig. 5; Hanfmann 1967, pl. 295; Driver 1911, 273 [eighteenth-century line

illustration]). In that these trumpets were so closely connected with the Temple it is probably safe

to take them as an earlier type continuing in use. What were probably the same trumpets are

represented in more stylised form, but with distinctly represented mouthpieces, perhaps adapted

to assist the player to obtain his note with vibrating lips, on Jewish coins of the Second Revolt,

A.D. 132-35 (fig. 6; Hill 1914, pls. XXXIV.15-16; XXXV.5-8). That this kind of mouthpiece

was known at an earlier period is shown by a Greek seal of about the fifth century B.C., which

depicts two mouthpieces like those of a modern trumpet with ridged stems for insertion into the

tubular portion of the instrument (Boardman 1970, fig. 206 (p. 199), p.283).

The identification of the Hebrew names of instruments in the Old Testament with those

represented in the actual corpus is inevitably a matter of uncertainty (see bibliography in Rowley

1967, 207 n. 4). Taking them in descending order of probability, it is reasonable to start from the

likelihood, derived from representations, that metal trumpets played some part in the cultus of the

Temple. According to the Old Testament the h»a†s»oŠs»eOEra‚, in the Septuagint most commonly salpinx, ‘trumpet’ (English renderings of Greek terms are here taken from Mountford and Winnington-

Ingram 1970, 709-10), and nearly always referred to in the plural, was made of hammered silver

(Numbers 10.2) and was used by priests (2 Chron. 5.12; 13.14), so its identification as a metal

trumpet is plausible, and this is indeed assumed by Josephus, who describes what he calls the

asōsra as like a silver trumpet (salpinx; Antiquities 3.291; see in general Finesinger 1926, 61-63;

and Yadin 1962, 87-113; Koehler, Baumgartner and Stamm 1967-90, 1, 331). There can be little

doubt that a related instrument was the sOEo‚paŠr or shofar, which was made from a curved animal’s

horn. This is clear from the mention sOEo‚peOEro‚t hayyo‚beOElîm, ‘horn of rams’ (Josh. 6.4, 6, 8, 13), in a context which also refers to them by the designation qeren yo‚beŠl (Josh, 6.5; cf. Finesinger 1926,

22, 56-61).

The wooden construction of the kinnôr is further attested in an

Akkadian text from Ugarit listing the names of gods, one of whom is ki-na-rum, written with the

determinative used with objects of wood. A parallel tablet inscribed in alphabetic cuneiform

listing the same gods in the same order gives the spelling knr (Nougayrol 1968, 45, 59). The

cognate form kinnāru only occurs rarely in Akkadian texts, evidently as a foreign loan-word

(Oppenheim 1971, 387; von Soden 1959-79, 480), the probable Akkadian words for ‘lyre’ (and

‘harp’) being quite different (Stauder 1975,214-18; Schmidt-Colinet 1981, 24-25). Josephus

describes both kinnôr and nēbel as stringed instruments (Antiquities 7.305-06), and this is also

indicated in the Old Testament, by implication of the kinnôr (1 Sam. 16.23), and specifically of

the nēbel (Ps. 33.2; 14.4.9). The Septuagint renders kinnôr most frequently by kithara, ‘lyre’ (20

times out of 42; and the transliteration kinura 17 times), and nēbel most frequently by the

transliteration nabla (14 times out of 27; psalterion 8 times, on which see below). It seems clear,

therefore, that both were stringed instruments, and though some doubt must exist as to whether

the Septuagint translators really understood what the Hebrew names represented, there is a fair

possibility that the Septuagint translation of kinnôr as kithara, ‘lyre’, preserves a correct tradition,

and that nēbel may reasonably be rendered ‘harp’ (cf. Finesinger 1926, 22, 26-4.4; Koehler, Baumgartner and Stamm 1967-90, 4.60-61, 627).

Of the other instruments, the h»ālîl is rendered by the Septuagint in five of its six Old Testament

occurrences by aulos, ‘double-pipe’, and is equated by implication, in the second to third century

A.D. Mishnah, with the ’abûb which is there described as existing in ‘bronze’ (nh»št) and ‘reed’

(qnh) varieties (Arak. 2.3; Danby 1933, 545; Hebrew text conveniently quoted in Finesinger

1926, 49n.46), suggesting wind instruments. On this basis a very tentative identification as

‘double-pipe’ is plausible (see in general Finesinger 1926, 48-52; and Koehler, Baumgartner and

Stamm 1967-90, 305 [where, however, a doubtful connection is made with Akkadian h®alh®allatu,

a percussion instrument] ).

Two other instruments, the ‘ûgāb and the šālišîm, are mentioned in the Old Testament, the former

four times and the latter only once, in contexts which show they were used for music, but which

give insufficient evidence for identification (Finesinger 1926, 52-53, 68-69; see however on

‘ûgāb Koehler, Baumgartner and Stamm 1967-90, 751).

These very tentative identifications suggest that the Hebrews used seven or possibly eight of the

twelve instruments mentioned above as the types known in the ancient blear East in general,

namely: (a) harp―nēbel, (b) lyre―kinnôr, (e) double-pipe―h»ālîl, (f) born―šôpār, (g)

trumpet―h»ăs»os»ĕrâ, (i) tambour―tōp, (j) cymbals―mĕs»iltayim/s»els»ĕlîm, and possibly (l)


It will be useful here to set these possible identifications out in tabular form, with the degree of

probability indicated by stars: **** for most and * for least likely.

There is no clear biblical evidence for the use of the other instruments, the lute (c), the vertical

flute (d), the drum (h), the clappers (k) or the vibro-frame (m), in ancient Israel. But, while there

was a clear cultural break between the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages in Palestine, the

linguistic and literary links between Canaanite and Hebrew culture, evident from the Ugaritic

texts (see Fisher 1972; 1975; Rummell 1981), and certain indications of continuity in pottery

types (Amiran 1969, 191-92) suggest that the same might apply even in such a specialized field

as music. With this in mind a Ugaritic text describing the instruments played by Had, a minor

deity, is possibly significant. The text mentions the knr (lyre), tp (tambour), and ms»ltm (cymbals),

and also a tlb and mrqdm (Tablet RS.24.252; Virolleaud 1968, 551-53 no. 2; de Moor 1969, 167-

88; Dietrich, Loretz and Sanmartin 1976, 115-16, no. 1.108; Gibson 1978, 137-38)- On the basis

of the cognate Akkadian šulpu, ‘straw, tube’ or the like, tlb can be taken, plausibly, as ‘vertical

flute’ (de Moor 1969, 177; von Soden 1959-79, 1269; Gibson 1978, 160), and it has been

suggested that the mrqdm (a plural form), which are described as made of ‘ivory’ (šn), be taken

as ‘castanets’ (Caquot, Sznycer and Herdner 1974, 455, n.t; Gibson 1978, 152), or probably

better and less anachronistically ‘clappers’ ((k) in the listing above).

While there is evidence in the Old Testament that music, particularly singing, was used on

secular occasions (Rowley 1967, 203-04), the majority of references suggest it played a

significant part in religion, particularly in the worship of the Jerusalem Temple (Rowley 7967,


The actual music played on the instruments available to the ancient Hebrews and sung to their

accompaniment is largely unknown (see Werner 1962, 457-66, 469), but some passages in the

Old Testament show that they were on occasion used in groups or consorts. According to 1

Samuel 10.5 Saul encountered a group of prophets following a nēbel, a kinnôr, a h»ālîl, and a tōp.

In various accounts of David’s bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, the nēbel and kinnôr are grouped

either with the tōp, s»els»ĕlîm and mĕs»iltayim (2 Sam. 6.5), with the h»ăs»os»ĕrâ, tōp and mĕs»iltayim

(1 Chron. 13.8) or with the šôpār, h»ăs»os»ĕrâ and mĕs»iltayim (1 Chron 15.28), in the latter two

instances together with singing.

The monochord, said to have been invented by Pythagoras in the sixth century B.C.,

which is mentioned as early evidence of this type of instrument (Remnant 1978, 27), is scarcely

relevant since even if it does date from that time, it had only a single string and was intended for

experiment and demonstration. The alleged evidence for an early bagpipe is a Hittite relief of

about the fourteenth century B.C. from Alaca Hoyuk in Asia Minor, showing a man holding an

animal-shaped object in front of his face (Garstang 1929, 137 and pl. XXX lower; Wegner 1950,

pl. 10.a). The figure might appear to be a musician, playing the animal-shaped object, so to

speak; because he is shown between a lutenist and a man with an object to his lips which has

been taken by some to be a wind instrument. The latter has an incurving crescentic end, however,

and is better interpreted as a dagger, thereby reducing the likelihood of the middle figure being a

musician, and K. Bittel is probably right in interpreting the figures as a sword-swallower and the

bearer of an offering in the form of an animal-shaped vessel (Bittel 1976, pis. 218, 219, and p.

201; Cf. Galpin, 1937, 19, ‘a performing bear cub’). Apart from this sculpture, there is no

evidence for the bagpipe before the beginning of the Christian era (Remnant 1978, 135). It may

therefore likewise be eliminated from consideration.

That the Philistines had musical instruments is demonstrated by the eleventh-century pottery

offering stand decorated with players of the lyre, double-pipes, tambour and cymbals, and the

eighth century terracotta showing a lyre player, mentioned above, both from Ashdod, about ten

miles from Ashkelon. It is thus clear that there were foreign musicians, perhaps with their own

instruments, at that time in Babylon, and the fact that nabla, probably sambukē and possibly

tumpanon (from Semitic tp, Yamauchi 1981, 45; Braun 1982, 26) were loan-words into Greek

suggests some kind of interchange of instrument types.

Maas and Snyder (1989, 153-54), while recognizing that the harp does not appear in the Greek

sources until the late fifth century, point out that it was apparently a woman’s instrument and was

therefore seldom represented. They further suggest that one type of harp with no apparent Near

Eastern antecedents might have been in use for some time, even centuries, before it is first

represented in the monuments. It is doubtful whether this is relevant in the present context,

however, since, if it was used mainly by women in seclusion, it is unlikely to have been a type

borrowed abroad.

He acknowledges the rarity of lute-type instruments in the

Greek world, where they do not seem to appear before the late fourth century B.C. (Higgins and

Winnington-Ingram 1965; Maas and Snyder 1989, 185-86), a problem which also applies, though

less so, to the harp. If the triangular shape was a particularly significant feature, this seems to

point more to a harp than a lute. Landels wisely ends on a ‘note of regrettable uncertainty’, and

this must be the conclusion. It was clearly a stringed instrument, perhaps a harp.

In the versions, apart from ‘dulcimer’ and ‘zither’, which I have argued are anachronistic,

‘triangle’, if it is intended to indicate some kind of harp, is simply misleading because it refers

properly to a plain metal triangle struck with a beater, which was not known until the second

millennium A.D. (Remnant 1978, 170). ‘Oboe’ is also an anachronistic term since it is an

instrument not known until the seventeenth century A.D. (Remnant 1978, 124), though its use is

perhaps not so inappropriate in the TEV as it would be in other versions, since the aim was to be

comprehensible to those without any academic background


QUESTIONS* by Joachim Braun

Of all pre-Christian cultures, none has a music

history burdened by preconceived ideas as that of

ancient Israel/Palestine. Until the middle of the

twentieth century, the entire assessment of the music

of ancient Israel/Palestine was based on a single source

- the Bible. Regardless of its mythological nature, the

theological significance of this source elevated it to the

status of an historical document. This one-sided focus

prompted an attitude of fetishism with regard to what

the Bible actually recounts about musical instruments,

musical events, and the local musical culture.

A decade or so ago it became quite clear that we

should apply to music the general dictum expressed

by Othmar Keel on the study of history of religion:

‘Eine Rekonstruktion der Religionsgeschichte Palästinas/

Israels…braucht Primärquellen. Solche aber sind nicht in

den biblishcnen Schriften zu finden, sondern nur von der

Archäologie zu erwarten.‘1 The genuinely new character

of the history of music in this region emerged only at

the end of the twentieth century and led to the birth

of what I would call ‘The New Historiography of

Music of Ancient Israel/Palestine’.2

This discipline,

primarily based on archaeological sources, makes use

of an interdisciplinary approach which embodies a

number of secondary disciplines and sources, such as

iconographic, written and comparative geographical,

chronological and ethnic sources. It is only natural that

in the case of AIP the written biblical sources, and the

latest developments in biblical exegesis, are decisive for

the study of musical culture.

The conflict between biblical texts and factual

archaeological data have recently reached unique

pungency as result of abundant archaeological

information in recent decades, on one hand, and new

developments in biblical studies, on the other. This has

given rise to mutual verification, and to the examination

of each and every mosaic-stone, which may or may not

fit into the overall picture of the musical past or of

certain aspects of it. Let me present some examples of

this problem.

The appearance and questionable disappearance

of the harp in AIP can perhaps be illustrated best by

retracing the history of the triangular frame harp. We

can view an early, if not the earliest depiction of the

triangular harp on a floor stone etching from Megiddo

(see Fig. 1), dated into the years 3,300-3,000 BC (XXXIX


The discovered floor-stones with carved human

figures belong to an interior courtyard surrounded

by several rooms, one of which contained an altar as

part of a shrine or sanctuary. The nine figures include

warriors or hunters, dancers, a female harpist and possibly

a drummer. Several features of these figures also

suggest that they were part of the magical environment

of a cult, perhaps even part of a sacrificial rite.

But the drawing from Megiddo unmistakably

depicts a triangular frame harp.7 Its clearly discernible

resonator forms the instrument’s horizontal basis.

Two side arms, one fairly straight and the other

elegantly curved in toward the first, are attached to this

base and together delineate a three-corner frame. The

shorter strings are on the side furthest from the player,

a feature incompatible with the bowed harp or angular

harp, but certainly typical of the triangular frame

harp (reconstruction of Prof. John Kenny, Edinburgh

University see Fig. 2). The drawing does not bear a

single feature associated with the lyre (for example, the

most notable part of the lyre - the yoke - is absent).

A direct continuation of this chordophone type

appears at the end of the third millennium within the

Cycladic cultural sphere as the triangular classic threecornered

harp in the hands of a seated performer. It is

rendered here with a characteristic swan’s head (Fig.

3).8 A similar harp player, dated into the late third

millennium, was recently discovered in Anatolia.9

During the following millennium we have no indication

of the triangular frame harp, until the 8th century CE,

when in Christian iconography we find evidence of the

so called European frame harp with front pillar. While

this type of harp became the main form of the harp

in Europe, the ancient triangular frame harp of the

Megiddo type can not be substantiated before the late

second millennium. In fact, only in the 19th century in

the Caucasus in northeastern Siberia we find evidence

of instruments shaped and constructed identically to

the ancient triangular frame harp (with the shorter

strings on the far side of the musician).

These, however, are ethnic folk-instruments,

such as the ayum’a of Abchasia, northwestern

Caucasus (Fig. 4a),10 or the similar Georgian changi,

an instrument that still has features of an animal’s

head at the upper end, analogous to the swan’s beak

on the Cycladic harp.11 This particular type includes

the top-sapl-yukh (literally, ‘wooden crane-neck’) from

Yakutia in northeastern Siberia, an instrument usually

constructed with a bird’s head (here with a slight

indication of the birds beak, Fig. 4b) and played as the

instrument of the Cycladic marble players more then

three thousand years ago.12

While harp instruments in general continued to

be in use in the neighboring Near Eastern countries,

it was only on the Ancient Israel/Palestine territory

that there was a total disappearance of any evidence of

harps, including the triangular frame harp.13

How are we to explain this phenomenon?

During the millennia of absence in AIP the triangular

frame harp underwent a transformation in the neighboring

countries and changed from the

ancient professional elite musical instrument, to an

ethnic folk instrument. This instrument may well have

originated locally, but did not naturalize in AIP.

The Megiddo harp, one of the earliest depictions

of a harp instrument, seems to be another example of

the developed artistic tradition indigenous to AIP that

evolved from the urbanization processes in the Early

Bronze Age

Bronze cymbals, along with clay rattles, were

the most common musical instruments found in

archaeological excavations of Ancient Israel/Palestine.

The unearthed cymbals are of two different sizes (Ø

7-12 and 3-6cm, see Fig. 5 and 6) and they belong to

two distant chronological periods (the larger size

belong to the 14th-12th century BC and the small ones

to the Hellenistic-Roman time). Like the clay rattle,

the bronze cymbals bridged the transition between the

Canaanite and Israelite cultures.

Most scholars have thought cymbals to be the

primary instrument used in worship during the time

of the First and Second Temple.19

However, archaeological evidence confronts us

with a puzzling chronological situation insofar as not

a single example has been found that dates reliably to

the Iron Age and Babylonian/Persian period. Even the

five pairs usually associated with the Iron Age actually

date to the earliest stage of this period or more correct

to the Late Bronze Age, around the twelfth-eleventh

century BC.20 How is this evidence, or lack thereof, to

be explained?

The Hebrew term for cymbals, mtsiltayim,

mentioned in Ugaritic sources as early as the 14th

century BC, does not appear in the Old Testament

until the post-exilic period. In three passages (Ezra

3:10, Nehemiah and the Chronicles) the instrument is

associated with the loftiest cultic events, and as such it

is considered as one of the most important ceremonial

cultic instruments, the instruments of the Levites, of

the Davidic musicians and especially the Asaphites.

There seems to be a flagrant discrepancy between

the biblical descriptions and archaeological finds with

respect to the musical culture of the Babylonian/

Persian and early Hellenistic Periods, (late 6th-3ed

cent.), the time of the Second Temple.21

According to biblical sources after the collapse

of the Babylonian Empire (539 BC) many Judeans

returned to their homeland and received permission to

rebuild the Temple. During the following decades the

province of Jehuda continued to develop economically

and culturally. From historians we know that for this

period general sources can be viewed as ‘ausgesprochen

gut,’22 and that with the rebuilding of the Temple, the

historical circumstances for cultural and economical

developments of the Jewish culture was especially

favorable.23 Historians of music gladly accepted this

general view. Indeed, a picture of musical splendor

emerges from Biblical sources - the Books of Ezra

and Nehemiah (4th-3rd c. BC). We are told about a

surprisingly high number of cult-musicians among

those who returned from the exile: over 4000 kohanim

- priests who blew the trumpets, 74 levites - musicians

who played the cymbals, lyres and other instruments,

over 100 mešorerim - Temple singers and poets, and

some 200 to 250 choir singers.

The biblical text describes

huge processions of singers and musicians marching

through the city to celebrate such events as putting the

cornerstone of the Temple or building the city-walls of

Jerusalem.24 Josephus Flavius, more or less, confirms

the descriptions of the Bible.25 The later canonical

sources – the Mishnah and the Talmud (2nd-6th c.) – even

go into details: the Temple orchestra allegedly included

from two to six nevalim (tenor or bass lyres), from

two to twelve halilim (aulos type instruments), at least

nine kinnorot (discant lyres) and an infinite number of

hatcotcserot (trumpets).26

It is not surprising, that many

studies rely on these descriptions and claim that ‘we

are remarkably well informed’27 about the music of

the Second Temple or that ‘the information is often

very precise.’28 Furthermore the legend was enriched

and gained musicological reliability: according to wellknown

ancient music experts, at this time chordophones

dominated the temple, the ten-string harp was newly

introduced and cymbals were beaten in great numbers

outside and inside the Temple.29

In contrast to the rich amount of finds related

to music from the Iron Age (some 170) and the

Hellenistic-Roman period (more than 230) we may

hardly consider a small handful of musical finds (most

of them of uncertain origin), to be decisive regarding the

Babylonian/Persian and early Hellenistic periods.30

Even if we take into consideration the

comparatively short time of this period and the possibly

increasing iconoclastic tendencies at that time - it is

difficult to explain the striking contradiction between

the Biblical descriptions of the musical splendor of the

Temple and the total lack of archaeological evidence.

Is this an argumentum ex silentio?

Or is it the case,

were absence of evidence does not mean evidence of

absence? So long as we lack a clear explanation for this

contradiction, we can hardly rely on the descriptions

of musical activity in the Books of Ezra, Nehemiah

and Chronicles or the descriptions in the Mishnah and

Talmud and consider them as historical reality.

The problem of Samaritan music instruments of

pre-Islamic times was for both the Samaritan community

and scholarship easily solved: the Samaritans have no

music instruments today and never had them in the

past due to the indirect Biblical prohibition of musical


Although it is true that the contemporary

Samaritan liturgical music does not have any

instrumental component and even the shofar is not

used, we still do not know when exactly the prohibition

against playing music instruments actually took effect.

Apart from the uniqueness of such strange

phenomenon in general, the a priori acceptance of

an ancient music tradition, such as the Samaritan,

void of musical instruments seems to be an unlikely

assumption, especially, if we consider the overall

cultural environment of AIP. Indeed, archaeology

tells us, that the people who accepted the religion now

called Samaritanism, populated the geographical area

of Samaria at least from the 7th century BC and Samaritan

culture blossomed between the 4th-2nd

centuries BC, when the Jewish-Samaritan shism and

Samaritan self-identification reached its classic form. It

was probably at this time that the Samaritan people

absorbed a rich instrumental music.32

We cannot go here into the complex pro et

contra arguments regarding the presence of Samaritan

instrumental music. The corpus of archaeological finds

safely identified as belonging to Samaritan culture,

probably, does not allow an unequivocal statement.

However, in the context of all that has been said above,

we cannot deny the possibility that Samaritans of this

time did use musical instruments both in secular and

cultic activities.

The musical artifacts mentioned here, have autochthon

features, musical meaning and artistic style differing

from other local musical finds. It is of special

significance that we find most of the Samaritan artifacts

in a liturgical context. All this may considerably change

our assessment of the ancient Samaritan musical culture

on the territory of Ancient Israel/Palestine.

#3. Music in the Bible by Lilianne Doukhan Professor of Music, Andrews University

The Bible does not provide us with a treatise or a chapter

on music. In order to gain insight into the biblical view of music, we must glean

information along the way, as we encounter various events

and happenings in the life of Israel. Music in the Bible always

accompanies an event. It is not seen as an occupation to be pursued

per se—art for the sake of art—for the sheer enjoyment of

itself, but it is rather functional.

As music is always an expression of a culture, we will find that

the development of music in the Bible will reflect the various

stages of the development of the people of Israel.

Music played a prominent part in the life of the Israelites

and accompanied them in manifold venues. As early as Genesis

4:21, we find out that the father of musical instruments

was Jubal the son of Lamech,1 seven generations after Adam.

He invented the lyre (kinnor) and the flute (ugav). Already

the name of Jubal (yuval = ram’s horn) carries in itself a reference

to one of the most prominent instruments in Israel, namely,

the shofar (ram’s horn). Jubal had a brother, Tubal-Cain,

who is known to us as the one who manufactured tools out of

bronze and iron. It has been generally assumed that he probably

also tried his hand at the first brass instruments, such as

the trumpet.

The instruments encountered so far (with the exception of

the trumpet) were typical of a nomadic context. They were

small and portable, and made out of materials easily found in

the geographical and economic settings of nomadism: reeds, animal

skins, wood, tortoise shells, etc. They were either played

as solo instruments or used to accompany singing.

During the patriarchal period, musical instruments were also

an important means of communication.

Exclamations or acclamations were used to signal

or celebrate, e.g., the discovery of a well (Num 21:17-18), or

to mark allegiance to a tribe, chief, or banner (Exod 17:15;

Judg 7:18). Later in the history of Israel, during their sojourn

in the wilderness, signals by the long silver trumpets (hatsotserah)

made from the precious metal brought from Egypt

(Exod 12:35, 36) and manufactured according to God’s

instructions (Num 10:2), will communicate the various camp

activities, such as gathering, setting out, assembly, war, and

feasts and celebrations (Num 10:3-10).

Welcoming heroes was celebrated by singing, playing

the tambourine, and dancing. Repeatedly, we encounter

scenes in the Bible where a group of women or young girls

acknowledge victory or victors in this way: Miriam and the

Israelite women after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod 15);

Jephtah’s daughter welcoming her father after his victory over

the Philistines (Judg 11:34); the young women celebrating

David’s victory over Goliath (1 Sam 18:6), etc.

Music-making in the Bible is also associated with healing

and inspiration. David played the harp before Saul to soothe

his agitated spirit (1 Sam 16:23) and the prophet Elisha asked to

play before him to bring about inspiration (2 Kgs 3:15). During

the time of the nevi’im (tenth century B.C.E.), we see bands of

prophets roaming through the country playing instruments,

singing, dancing, and prophesying (1 Sam 10:5).

We might ask ourselves what this music must have sounded

like and whether we have any clues as to how it was composed,

performed, and transmitted. There are, indeed, indicators

that the scale used by the ancient Israelites was our

modern diatonic scale made up of seven pitches (the heptachord),

rather than the pentatonic scale prominent today in the Middle East.

Evidence for this has come to light by way

of ancient Ugaritic tablets that contain treatises which explain

the way harps were being tuned in those times.2 This is corroborated

by the mention, in some of the Psalm superscripts, of “playing

in octaves” (al-hasseminit, Ps 6:1, Heb.; Eng., in superscript).

The way the music sounded would probably not have been

strange to our ears.

Music in the Bible certainly was perceived as a gift received

from God that was to be returned to Him with awe, that is, performed

with awe and respect, as an offering pleasing to God. It

was not art for art’s sake, but art for God. To the biblical musician,

the highest attainment of his/her art consisted in singing

and playing to the Lord as an offering of oneself, acceptable

to Him. Psalm 137, which relates the story of the Hebrew

musicians taken into exile, illustrates this attitude in a very

vivid manner and at the same time summarizes the biblical

view of music: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when

we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps,

for there our captor asked us for songs. . . . How can we sing

the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O

Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue

cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do

not consider Jerusalem my highest joy” (Ps 137:1-6).