Mindy J. Anderson and Dr. Stephen D Ricks, Asian and Near Eastern Languages
Music was an important part of the ancient Israelite worship experience. The Hebrew Bible includes multiple references to music, including verses which specifically associate music with prophecy and temple ritual. Within the Israelite religious hierarchy, certain Levites were set apart as musicians to aid worshippers in keeping divine commands to remember and offer thanksgiving to the LORD. A Levitical choir and orchestra, composed of lyres, harps, cymbals, and trumpets accompanied the daily sacrifices at the temple. The psalms accompanied these ritual acts as the Israelites gathered in holy places and invoked the name of the LORD. Israelite worshippers sang songs of ascent as they journeyed up to the house of the LORD as well as joined with the Levitical choir in shouts of praise at the conclusion of the sacrifices. Music was a medium through which the Israelites were able to worship, expressing thanks and praise. The musical experience served as a conduit of communication between the LORD and his children.
In the course of my research I used Hebrew and other ancient texts as well as reports of archeological remains to piece together a dialogue on ancient music. However, the number of archaeological remains from Israel are few and only represent music in pictorial form: coins, carved ivories, and clay figurines. Though these remains provide evidence for the instruments played by the Levitical orchestra: harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets, this was not sufficient. In order to determine the nature and structure of biblical instruments scholars have had to look to neighboring cultures. In order to more correctly understand ancient Israelite music I also had to study the culture in context with others. The British Museum houses a large ancient Near Eastern collection, of which included several important pieces for my research. I was able to study several items at the museum in April 2002. Among the highlights were the bas-reliefs from Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh. The best archaeological remnant for my research was the relief which shows three Semitic captives (probably Israelite) playing lyres. I also was able to examine lyres from Ur, harps from Egypt, and texts from Babylonia.
Along with these archaeological remains I used Hebrew verbal analyses to better understand how music was used. The five verbal roots most often connected to the performance of music were studied: nb’, to prophecy; šrt, to minister; zkr, to invoke; hll, to praise; ydh to give thanks. Each root has several layers of meaning and I learned what it is like to be a scholar of the ancient Near East and try to extract information and hypothesize about the past from a few references scattered here or there. In these verbal analyses I studied the particular form the verb was found in verses which related to music. I looked at how frequently the verb was attested and then tried to construct a conclusion as to why they were used to describe some aspect of music.
This research was performed in conjunction with my honors thesis, entitled: Sing Unto the Lord With Instrument and Voice: The Ritual Use of Music in Ancient Israelite Worship. Through this entire process and as I had various faculty members review my work I realized that it was perfectly acceptable to disagree with established scholarship. As my research progressed, particularly with my Hebrew root studies, I agreed less and less with the authors I had though introduced some worthwhile new concepts.
This research project and subsequent thesis have influenced my future educational experience. I am now thinking of ways to expand my research and pursue this topic further in a masters thesis. I will begin graduate studies in Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern history at Harvard Divinity School in September 2002.