THE MUSIC OF THE BIBLE - With an account of the Development of Modern Musical Instruments from Ancient Types. By John Stainer, M.A., MUS. DOC.MAGD, COLL., OXON. New Edition. - Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co.: LONDON, PARIS & NEW YORK. 1882. (ALL RIGHTS RESERVED) - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram, 2005.


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THE first instrument mentioned in the Bible is the kinnor, translated "harp" in our [King James/Authorized Version: katapi Ed.] version. Jubal was "the father of such as handle the kinnor and ugab" (Gen.iv.21). Authorities are divided as to whether the kinnor was a harp or a lyre. There have been attempts to show that it was a trigon, or three-cornered harp, specimens of which are depicted on some Egyptian bas-reliefs, and which must have been known to the Romans and Greeks. Nicomachus mentions the trigon as having, been adjusted by Pythagoras after discovering the ratios of consonant harmonics.

Figures 1-3.

The simplest forms of the trigon would be as shown in Figs. 1, 2, and 3 [As given by Blanchinus, "De tribus generibus instrumentorum musicae veterum organicae Dissertatio." (Rontie, 1742.)]. But it is probable that one of the characteristics of the instrument was that there existed only two sides of wooden frame, the third side being formed by the longest string, as shown in the following illustrations (Figs. 4, 5, 6), which were copied from tombs at Thebes and Dekkeh.

Figs. 4-6.

It will be observed that the instrument is not placed upon the ground, but is held under the arm, or is rested on the shoulder.

(see Fig. 7) [Taken from a Pompeian fresco, a copy of which is in the author's possession.] The termination of one of the sides with the head of a bird (probably a goose) would be forbidden among the Jews, who might not make an image of any animal or beast.

The next illustration (Fig. 8) shows a very curious instrument in the museum at Florence. Some authors assert that this instrument had nine strings, others ten. The kinnor had, according to Fetis [Histoire Générale de la. Musique, vol. i., p. 384.], nine strings of camel-gut, but according to Dr. Jebb [A Literal Translation of the Psalms, (Longmans.)  Dissertation ii.], only eight strings. The latter author grounds his decision on the fact that the kinnor is associated with the word Sheminith (see i Chron.xv.21), just as Alamoth is with nebel, and that Sheminith is undoubtedly connected with the number 8, being rendered in the Septuagint ὑπὲρ ς ὀγδοής, "on the eighth." Dr. Jebb thinks Josephus right in saying that the kinnor was played by a plectrum (πλκτρον) or small staff of quill, bone, or ivory, which the ancients often used instead of the tips of their fingers; but Josephus is probably wrong in saying that the kinnor had ten strings and the nebel twelve, for the kinnor had not more than eight or nine strings. [ μέν κινύρα δέκα χορδαῖς ἐξημμένη τύπτεται πλήκτρῳ, δὲ νάβλα δώδεκα ψθόγγους ἔχουσα, τοῖς δακύλοις κρούεται.] But David apparently used no plectrum — that is, if the words, "David took a harp (kinnor), and played with his hand" (i Sam.xvi.23), are to be understood as implying that he used nothing but his hand. top

But natural as was the hypothesis that the kinnor was a simple harp, to those who specially directed their attention to the instruments of the early European nations, further knowledge of Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities led to the suggestion (by Pfeiffer, Winer, and other authors) that the kinnor was, after all, a sort of guitar. This idea was modified by Dr. Kitto, who brought much sound reasoning forward to show that it was a lyre.

Figures 9-12.

Both notions have in all probability the elements of truth in them, for the lyre and guitar are closely allied; in the former the upper portion of the strings remains open, while in the latter the finger-board forms a back or strip of wood behind the strings for their whole length. If this idea be correct, the kinnor may have been very similar in form, perhaps even identical with, the instruments shown in Figs. 9, 10, 11. It was sometimes played in an upright position, as shown in the above illustration (Fig.11).

The arguments in favour of the kinnor being a lyre are based upon certain other representations, the most important of which was discovered by Sir Gardner Wilkinson [Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, vol. ii., p. 296.] in a tomb at Beni Hassan. It is a painting representing the arrival of a company of strangers in Egypt.

The discoverer suggests that these strangers are no less than Joseph's brethren. He describes them thus:

The first figure is an Egyptian scribe, who presents an account of their arrival to a person seated, the owner of the tomb, and one of the principal officers of the reigning Pharaoh. The next, also an Egyptian, ushers them into his presence; and two advance, bringing presents— the wild goat or ibex, and the gazelle, the productions of their country. Four men, carrying bows and clubs, follow, leading an ass, on which two children are placed in panniers, accompanied by a boy and four women; and, last of all, another ass laden, and two men (Fig.12)— one holding a bow and club, the other a lyre, which he plays with the plectrum. ... The lyre is rude, and differs a little in form from those generally used in Egypt.

The authenticity of the above picture, as representing the arrival of the sons of Jacob, would set the question of the shape of the kinnor at rest for ever; but, unfortunately, it remains only a probability.

The other representation which has been brought forward as evidence as to the shape of the kinnor is a bas-relief in the British Museum, on which is shown an Assyrian in charge of captives who are playing on lyres (Fig.13).

If Layard is right in supposing these to be Jewish captives, it is certain that the kinnor was a lyre, because it was their kinnors which they mournfully hung up in the trees over­hanging the "rivers of Babylon."

We hanged our kinnors upon the willows in the midst thereof. (Ps.cxx.xvii.2).

But M. Fetis gives very good reasons for believing that these captives are not Jews, but Barabras or Berbers, for they are, he says, performing on the kissar, or Ethiopian lyre. Here is a kissar (Fig. 14). This illustration shows one of the specimens given by the Viceroy of Egypt to the South Kensington Museum. It has strings of camel-gut (as had also the kinnor ), and a plectrum made of horn is used by itself, or with the fingers, or alternately, by the player. Engel says that the kissar is certainly one of the most ancient string instruments known.

Considering the great likeness between the outline of the kissar and the kinnors in some of the illustrations, it is not surprising that some authors have confused them. There is, however, one more reason why they should not be kinnors in Fig.13— namely, the outer part of the frame­work is terminated at each end with the head of a bird or snake, which, as has been before remarked, would not be found on Jewish instruments.

Two very elegant Egyptian lyres are depicted on p.19 — one from the Leyden collection, the other from that at Berlin (Figs.15, 16).

The kinnor was made of wood— David made it of berosh, but it is recorded that Solomon made some of almug wood for use in the Temple (i Kings x.12). Whatever be the exact wood signified by almug, the value of it was evidently very great. [Josephus speaks of kinnors made of electrum (ἤλεκτρον), a mixed metal, not amber— a meaning this word also had. Probably the pegs only or other small details were made of this material. See note, p. 32.] The kinnor was one of the instruments mentioned by Laban the Syrian, as before noticed, a fact which goes far to prove its Syrian origin, although it seems to have been considered Phoenician by some of the ancients. The name is traced to a Syrian root—kinroth. The instrument was used on joyous occasions —on the bringing back of the ark (i Chron.xvi.5), the account of which shows the importance attached to proficiency on the part of the performers.

And he appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, and to record, and to thank the Lord God of Israel ... Jeiel with psalteries and kinnors; but Asaph made a sound with cymbals; Benaiah also and Jahaziel the priests with trumpets continually before the ark of the covenant of God.

Again, in i Chron.xxv.3, the kinnor was ordered to be used by high and important families, as an accompaniment to their prophecy. The sons of Jeduthun are mentioned as prophesying with a kinnor. It was also the instrument carried by wandering female minstrels— Bayaderes—whose character was bad, if one may judge from the allusion to them in Isa.xi.16, where the prophet utters thoughts of indignant irony against Tyre.

Take a kinnor, go about the city, thou harlot that hast been forgotten; make sweet melody, sing many songs, that thou mayest be remembered.

The people under Jehoshaphat, returning with joy to Jerusalem, after overcoming the Moabites, made joyful sounds with psalteries and kinnors and trumpets. (2 Chron.xx.28).

The carrying of the kinnor by the captives in Babylon has before been alluded to. It was also the instrument which, touched by the hand of the youthful and God-beloved David, drove away the wicked spirit of Saul:

And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took a kinnor, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. (i Sam.xvi.23).

The reader will by this time have balanced the probabilities as to the nature and construction of the kinnor; and most likely he will be led to think that it was either a guitar or lyre, a belief which seems to be gaining ground, on account of the aptitude of such instruments for the uses to which the kinnor was devoted.

As there is often much confusion amongst non-musicians as to the real distinction between a lyre and a lute (or a guitar) two figures are appended, one (Fig.17) showing a youth playing on a lyre, the other (Fig.18) showing a man playing on a lute. From these illustrations it will be distinctly understood that there is nothing behind the upper portion of the strings of a lyre; while, on the contrary, the strings of guitars and lutes are carried upwards beyond the body or resonance-box, over a piece of wood called the neck, on which is fastened the smooth piece of wood called the finger-board, because on to its surface the fingers press the strings when playing. It will be observed that a guitar and lute only vary with regard to the shape or length of the body and neck; both instruments are of one family.