ANCIENT JUDAISM and MUSIC
For more information on the music and culture of Judaism, Click on the following Links
|Abraham||Bible Gateway||Chronology of Ancient Israel||Fall of Jericho||Judaism|
|Listen to a Shofar||Musical Score for Song of Ruth||Psalms & Dead Sea Scrolls||Shofar||Song of Sacrifice|
|Tabernacle in the Wilderness||Torah||The Wilderness Journey||Psalms (Translation)||What Jews Believe?|
|Lyrics (Text)||Listening Examples (MP3)|
|Hisbati Etchem||Hisbati Etchem (Song of Songs)|
|Kol Dodi||Kol Dodi|
|The word Religion literally refers to the "binding together" of several important elements, of which three are most important: Beliefs, Rituals, and Standards of Conduct (oral/written). Beliefs are statements or actions of the practitioners of a religion. For example, in Judaism, the ancient Hebrews were monotheistic- they believed in one God (Yahweh), and they believed that Jews hold a Covenant with God. Ritual practices vary from religion to religion, but many include both daily and seasonal acts of devotion. Many religions, for example, demand that believers carry out a pilgrimage to a sacred place (Jerusalem, Mecca, Varanasi) as a demonstration of faith or belief. Standards of conduct are passed on in oral and written traditions as a form of wisdom (Ten Commandments, Dammapada) for leading an ethical and moral life in this world. Among the ancient Hebrews, adherence to the Mosaic Code were based upon the writings of the torah and the Ten Commandments brought down from Mt. Sinai.|
The Hebrews and the River
The Hebrews were first identified in the Bible when Terah (who traced his genealogy to Shem, the son of Noah) took his son Abraham, his grandson Lot, and Abraham's wife Sarah out of Ur in ancient Babylonia. From that time, the Hebrews were known as "those who crossed over" or "people from the other side of the river" (The Jordan River).
Historically we know that Abraham made a covenant (a formal blood covenant, sealed by circumcision) with God (Jehovah). The terms of the covenant were that if Abraham followed the commandment of God, then He would make the descendants of Abraham His chosen people and place them under His protection. Thus, the Jews are the last remnants of the Hebrews (descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and the Israelites (people of the northern kingdom who never reestablished their homeland). The term Jew is a modification of the word Judea. The ancient Judeans, who form part of this ancient Hebrew group, populated the southern kingdom and successfully reestablished themselves in their old land. All three terms (Hebrew, Israelite, and Judean) are used interchangeably to describe those who identify with, or are identified by others, as part of Judaic culture.
The ancient Hebrews followed the Mosaic Code, which included the Ten Commandments brought down from Mt. Sinai by Moses, and the five books of the Torah (known as the Pentateuch), the first truly judicial, written code encompassing humanism, passion for justice and love of democracy.
Characteristics of Early Judaic Culture
|A belief in one God (monotheism)|
|A belief that the Jews had a covenant with God, and that they could "progress" as Hebrews|
|A belief that their God created the world and sought to establish freedom and justice in the world.|
|That the Jews are commanded by God "to do justice and love mercy, and walk humbly with their God".|
|Adherence to the Mosaic code (rules of conduct).|
|Unlike other cultures of their time who believed that life was an endless cycle (i.e. birth to death), the ancient Hebrews saw time and space as linear, as having a beginning and an end. Life was a narrative, whose triumphal conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a world view of men and women as individuals with unique destinies bound up in progress and self improvement. Early Christianity shared the concept of communal meals, similar notions of baptism, and ownership of property. Perhaps even more interestingly, early Christians and Hebrews had parallel organizational structures: the sectarians dividing themselves into twelve tribes lead by twelve chiefs, similar to the structure of the early Christian Church, with twelve Apostles, who, according to Jesus, would sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.|
Hebrew Concept of Sacred Time
According to Rudolf Otto in his book, The Idea of the Holy, the Hebrew concept of "sacred space" and "sacred time" begins with a historical record of experiences and encounters with God as they were practiced in Hebraic-Christian religion. One distinction to be made is that between persons, images, objects, events, and places that are said to be holy and those which were called profane. The most abstract, yet distinctive notion of the Holy is "that which is set apart from what is ordinary in life", because early tradition suggested that the Holy was powerful, sometimes dangerous (i.e. Old Testament) important, precious, yet meant to be dealt with in a ritual context where the experience of the holy (worship in the Synagogue) is ritually marked off from everyday time and space. This demarcation of sacred time was traditionally marked off by the performance of music (sometimes instrumental, sometimes vocal). This clearly demarcated the holy from the profane, which was, by contrast, "ordinary, obvious, and devoid of power. There was little sense of mystery in the profane. Unlike other cultures of their time who believed that life was an endless cycle (i.e. birth to death), the ancient Hebrews saw time and space as linear, as having a beginning and an end. Life was a narrative, whose triumphal conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a world view of men and women as individuals with unique destinies bound up in progress and self improvement. Early Christianity shared the concept of communal meals, similar notions of baptism, and ownership of property. Perhaps even more interestingly, early Christians and Hebrews had similar systems for oreganization: the sectarians dividing themselves into twelve tribes lead by twelve chiefs, similar to the structure of the early Christian Church, with twelve Apostles, who, according to Jesus, would sit on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
Early services in the Judaic tradition, were created for the early Hebrews to better understand the experience of the "Holy". To get at the significance of music performed in Hebraic worship, one must first come to an understanding of the historical development of the Judeo-Christian concept of God as an object of supreme devotion and worship. The Old Testament documents this well. The ancient Hebrews, like other early societies move from sacred moments ("encounters with the Holy") in time and space to a developed notion of God. Celebration or ceremony, typically today, as in the ancient past, is, and was, an attempt to preserve and intensify the importance of this experience of the Holy. The Judeo-Christian notion that music was not a creation of man, but of God, began in ancient Christian (Jewish) times and extended all the way into the theology of the Middle Ages. Thus, "sacred time", as it occurred in the early Synagogue service developed as a liturgy of prayers, commentary, scripture reading, and the singing of Psalms and hymns. Sacred time had to be marked off by the presence of music at the "Beginning" and "End" of the liturgy to separate "sacred time" from the "profane" (common). Music had the "power" to help mark off their notion of sacred time.
The idea of music as an agreeable (pleasing) sensation was foreign to music in early Hebraic and Christian religious practice. "Beauty" as an aesthetic concept, had not yet established the connection between "sounding beautiful" and their understanding of "moral good". The Greek doctrine of "ethos" was akin to the attitude of many early Christian writers towards the use of music. The concept of opposing qualities of beauty and ugliness was set into the context of holiness and profane. Indeed, the exhortation of Psalm 29 to "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness" indicated an identification of beauty with moral or spiritual good, which dominated the Christian viewpoint. The appropriateness of music to express that which was good depended in part upon its performance at the proper time and place. The holiness aspect of "ethos" was combined with a strict regard for the order in which musical selections were sung in the early Christian service, and for their (eventual) connection with certain times of the day (Christian Vigils).
There are numerous
Old Testament references associating aspects of Hebrew music with power
Power of Healing
The Temple (Tabernacle) became the most important locus for music in Jewish communities. Remember that for forty years the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tent. The ancient Hebrews yearned for a "sacred place". The idea of a sacred place where the "walls" and "laws" of the temporal world may dissolve to reveal a wonder is apparently as old as the human race itself. Take, for example, the story of Jacob's Ladder found in Genesis 28:10-14, 18-19.
Model of Tabernacle
Historically, there were two distinct temple periods. During the First Temple Period (950-587 BCE), instruments were used extensively at the court and in the temple for royal or religious occasions. However, the singing of the 150 Psalms, especially the Psalms of King David were most popular. Psalm 150 mentions the shofar, and kinnor as early instruments. Also, other Old Testament references to musical instruments (psaltery, harp, lyres. During the Second Temple Period (514 BC- 70 AD), music was used for religious services only. The Temple was a house of learning where most common people came to worship. The origin of early Christian liturgy came from temple worship, and was comprised of scripture readings, commentary, prayers, and the singing of psalms. By this time there were two styles, or techniques in practice for Psalm singing: Responsorial - the choral response to a soloist, and Antiphonal, the alternation of lines or verses by two choirs.
The Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament comprised three parts: the Pentateuch or Torah (laws), the Prophets, and the Hagiographa (writings). The Hagiographa include what we know as the sacred music of Juancient Judaism including the Psalms (150 Book of Psalms). The temple service revolved around the public recitation of prayers, eventually that were liturgically organized on the basis of a yearly cycle. Temple songs were divided into four categories, each with a distinct liturgical status: prayers, cantillation, psalmody, and hymns. The Book of Psalms was actually a Psalter, an Old Testament hymnbook reflecting the history of Jewish worship. Most of the Psalms were composed between the 10th century B.C.E. and the 2nd century C.E.. Many of the Psalms were designed to fulfill a specific purpose in temple rituals, and all were sung as an early form of Hymn. The German Biblical scholar, Herman Gunkel has classified and divided the 150 Psalms into five categories: Hymns of Praise (i.e. Psalm 8), Communal Laments (i.e. Psalm 137), Royal Psalms of King David, Individual Laments, and individual Psalms of Thanksgiving.
The origins of early Christian
liturgy came from the basic format of early Hebrew Temple worship, and
included Scripture readings, Commentary, Prayers, and the singing of Psalms.
Prayers were not read from written texts but sung from memory in a
melodic and metrically free manner. The older traditional singing styles of
the day included both responsorial (group responding to a lead singer) and
antiphonal (group responding or
alternating with a group). All melodies were monophonic (single melody, no
parts or harmony), and constructed (or
improvised) according to known melodic formulas with vocal ornamentation
added. This type of artistic performance was basically the same throughout the entire Mediterranean area
and known to the Greeks,
Romans, and other early cultures of the Old Testament era. Psalmody was also
a simple type of cantillation
applied to the Book of Psalms. Hebraic Psalmody, like Christian Psalmody,
mirrored the bipartite structure of Psalm versification: each half
verse was sung to a reciting tone, and melodic inflections mark the
midpoint, and end of each line. The Hebrews used an early notion of musical
modes borrowed from earlier cultures
Most ancient Judaic music was monophonic, and there was considerable latitude for improvisation within a system of modes. Songs sung in the Synagogue were done exclusively by men and boys in solo, responsorial, and antiphonal styles of performance. All songs were based on pre-existing melodic fragments or phrases or pre-existing ways of "constructing new songs" by formulaic processes. Cantillation is the sung recitation of Biblical texts. Jewish Psalmody and cantillation is the direct ancestor of early Christian liturgical music, both the psalmody of the Eastern Church and of Gregorian chant in the West. In cantillation, texts were chanted in free rhythm and the use of higher and lower pitches varied according to accent marks written into the text. Most phrases are sung on a reciting tone (pitch), with melodic inflections at the beginning, midpoint, and end of each line of text. These inflections are ruled by the applicable mode. A mode is a hierarchically ordered set of pitches, a group of melodic formulas or motifs, and a characteristic melodic course. Within a mode, the singer was free to a considerable extent to improvise a tune for given text and occasion.
By the Eleventh century BCE, the era of King David and Solomon, professional musicians were organized into schools supported by the King. Both David and Solomon supported professional court musicians, and David, a musician himself, organized the first official body of musicians for the Temple that was to build. David summoned Chenaniah, the head of the Levites, to send musicians to sing and play before the Ark of the Covenant when it was transported to Jerusalem. He chose Asaph, Heman and Ethan to play cymbals, with other Levites to play the "nevel"( a type of psaltery or harp), six to play lyres, and seven priests to play trumpets before the altar. David selected 4000 Levites as students of an actual academy of religious music. They were divided into twenty four groups, each group being taught by twelve masters.
A clear parallel between Jewish and Christian practices may be noted in their manner of chanting psalms. The style of chanting chosen for a particular psalm often depended upon its familiarity to that congregation. The cantor might sing alone, except for an occasional congregational response (amen, selah, hallelujah, or hosanna). In congregations where Jewish heritage was strong and the language of the psalm was their own vernacular tongue, broad participation in the singing of psalm was likely to occur. After the building of the Temple by King Solomon, congregations tended to leave the singing of psalms to the established professional choirs , limiting themselves to simpler responses and hymns as their contribution to the liturgy. One remnant of early Jewish practice that is commonly done today in Christian churches is the retention of the two part response of an ancient blessing: "Peace be to you all", evoked from the worshipers, "And with they spirit." The increased usage of formulas resulted in a continuous musical dialogue between the priest and the people.
The first two Biblical references to musical instruments appear in Genesis (4:21). "Jubal, Lamech's son, was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ." The Genesis text also refers to the kinnor and the ugab, a type of vertical flute made from wood or clay. Probably the best known instrument of this era was the kinnor, an instrument which later King David excelled at playing. Erroneously referred to as "King David's harp", the kinnor was actually a type of wooden (Cypress tree) lyre, similar to the Egyptian knn'r and the Greek kithara. The Vulgate, St. Jerome's Latin version of the Bible (ca. 400 A.D.) Uses the term kithara in thirty-seven Biblical references to the kinnor. A twelfth century commentary on the Book of Daniel referred to the kinnor had the shape of the Candelabrum, with it's parallel branches arranged in a semicircle. The ten strings (made of sheep gut) of the kinnor were played with a small plectrum. The melodies of the kinnor were joyful and gay, and "without sorrow". In Psalm 139, a song about the Babylonian Exile in Egypt, the Hebrews "hang up their lyres upon the Willows" and refuse to play them or sing (Psalm 137- "how should they sing the Lord's song in a strange land?").
The Bible describes "loud music" being played on kinnorot and nevalim -- a remarkable comment, since rams' horns, trumpets and cymbals sometimes accompanied them (1 Chronicles 15:28).
Kinnorots played by Levite Psalmists at the Second Temple
This means that their strings (nevalim) would have been high in tension, relative to their light frameworks. They seem to have been made mostly of softwoods like fir (2 Samuel 6:5), though Solomon used algum or almug (possibly a type of teak wood) to create special versions (1 Kings 10:12; 1 Chronicles 9:11). They were played in religious contexts (1 Chronicles 25:1-6) as well as secular ones (Isaiah 5:11, etc.). They could accompany both song and dance, and they could play instrumental solos as well. In psalm-singing they accompanied soloists and choirs alike, depending on the requirements of the text being sung.
The symbolic significance of the circle as a shape (i.e. drum) had great symbolic meaning in this era. The Hebrew word for "curcuit" (as a circular revolution), came from the verb meaning "to turn" or "to turn in a circle" and represented Eternity and that of a perpetual series of new beginnings. Theologians and philosophers considered the circular shape as symbolic of God as the creation, goodness, and consummation of all things (i.e. Alpha and Omega). This is one of the reasons why drums were made (and continue to be made) in circular shapes. Another musical reference in the Book of Genesis (31:27) tells of Laban of Aramea reproaching Jacob, his son-in-law, for his flight with Rachel and Leah. In this text, Laban tells Jacob that, had he known of their leaving, he would have escorted them "away with mirth, and with songs, with tupim and kinnorot. The word "tupim" is the plural of the Hebrew word tof, a word which corresponds to the Arabic word duff (this drum is still in use today) and the Greek word, typanon meaning a "circular" frame drum (large tambourine) of ancient Semitic origins. The tof (without any jingles) was played almost exclusively by Hebrew women when they danced.
"And Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel (tof) in her hand; and all the women went out after her, with
Psalm 150 mentions the
and the shofar
as early instruments of the Old Testament. The kinnor came originally
from ancient India, but was used by the early Hebrew people as a generic name for stringed instruments. Generally,
it referred to the trapezoidal shaped lyre of the ancient Hebrews. The Vulgate (ca.400 C.E.) translates kinnor as kithara
(a more advanced form of the lyre cultivated by the ancient Greeks. The ancient book, the Septuagint, translated
kinnor as kinyra or psalterion, actually the harp of King David (ca.1000 BCE). The kinyra was related to the knr, a harp
of the Temple, but also used for secular performance. It was made of wood and strung with sheep gut for the strings.
The term, kinnara was the ancient Arabic name for the lyre.