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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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It seems probable that music is the oldest of all the fine arts. It is more than any other an immediate work of nature. Hence we find it among all nations, even those which are totally ignorant of every other art. Some instruments of music are in Scripture named even before the deluge, as being invented by Jubal, one of Cain's descendants (); and some will regard this as confirmed by the common opinion of the Orientals. Chardin relates that the Persians and Arabians call musicians and singers Kayne, or 'descendants from Cain.' The instruments invented by Jubal seem to have remained in use after the flood, or at least the names were still in use, and occur in the latest books of the Old Testament. Music, in practical use, is almost constantly mentioned in connection with the song and the dance (; ), and was doubtless employed to elevate the former and regulate the latter. Women especially are seen to have employed it in this connection from the earliest times (;; ). At a later period we trace the appearance of foreign girls in Palestine, as in Greece and Italy, who visited the towns like the Bayaderes of the present day (). Music was also through all periods used in social meetings, and in public rejoicings (;;;;;;; ). By David music was variously and conspicuously connected with the temple worship (); in particular, the Levites, in their several choirs, performed their music divided into different classes at the great sacrifices (;; ). The prophets also appear to have regarded music as necessary to their services (); and they used it sometimes for the purpose, apparently, of bringing their minds into the frame suited for prophetic inspirations (). In the case of David playing before Saul, we have marked and interesting evidence that the effect of music in soothing the perturbations of a disordered intellect was well known among the Hebrews ().

With respect to the nature of the Hebrew music, it was doubtless of the same essential character as that of other ancient nations, and of all the present Oriental nations; consisting not so much in harmony (in the modern sense of the term) as in unison or melody.

The old, the young, maidens, etc., appear to have sung one part. The instruments by which, in singing, this melody was accompanied, occupied the part of a sustained base; and, if we are disposed to apply in this case what Niebuhr has told us, the beauty of the concerts consisted in this—that other persons repeated the music which had just been sung, three, four, or five notes, lower or higher. Such, for instance, was the concert which Miriam held with her musical fellows, and to which the 'toph,' or tabret, furnished the continued base. To this mode of performance belongs to Psalms 24, which rests altogether upon the varied representation; in like manner, also, Psalms 20; Psalms 21. This was all the change it admitted; and although it is very possible that this monotonous, or rather unisonous music, might not be interesting to ears tuned to musical progressions, modulations, and cadences, there is something in it with which the Orientals are well pleased.

A music of this description could easily dispense with the compositions which mark the time by notes; and the Hebrews do not appear to have known anything of musical notation; for that the accents served that purpose is a position which yet remains to be proved. At the best the accent must have been a very imperfect instrument for this purpose, however high its antiquity.

The Hebrew music is judged to have been of a shrill character; for this would result from the nature of the instruments—harps, flutes, and cymbals—which were employed in the temple service.

The manner of singing single songs was, it seems, ruled by that of others in the same measure, and it is usually supposed that many of the titles of the Psalms are intended to indicate the names of other songs according to which these were to be sung [PSALMS, BOOK OF].

The allusions to music in the Scriptures are so incidental and concise, that it will never be possible to form out of them a complete or connected view of the state of musical science among the ancient Hebrews. The little knowledge which has been realized on the subject has been obtained chiefly through the patient labors and minute investigations of Calmet, Forkel, Pfeiffer, Jahn, Winer, DeWette, and other authors.

It is less difficult to determine the general character of the Hebrew instruments of music, than to identify the particular instruments which are named in the Hebrew Scriptures. We see certain instruments different from our own in use among the modern Orientals, and we infer that the Hebrew instruments were probably not unlike these. When, however, we endeavor to identify with these a particular instrument named by the Hebrews, our difficulty begins; because the Hebrew names are seldom to be recognized in those which they now bear, and because the Scripture affords us little information respecting the form of the instruments which it mentions.

The matter naturally arranges itself under the following heads—

Stringed Instruments

Wind Instruments

Instruments of Percussion

Stringed Instruments

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Music'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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