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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ONCE only is this word met with in Holy Scripture—in 2;

And David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of fir-wood, even on harps, and on psalteries, and on timbrels, and on cornets, and on manghanghim.


Although translated here "cymbals," the root of the word in Hebrew points to the old Latin root nuo, whence nuto, "to sway to and fro, to vibrate." Now, the word sistrum (σειστρον) comes from a Greek verb σείω, having an almost identical meaning. There is, therefore, a very good reason for believing that the word manghanghim refers to an instrument which vibrated when shaken or rattled.

 One of the two classes of sistrums exactly answers to this description. Through an upright frame of metal, supported on a handle, several metal rods are passed and fixed in their position, generally by bending the extremities. On them are placed loose metallic rings. Fig. 90 shows two examples of this instrument which are preserved in the Berlin Museum. The position of the rings in this illustration may perhaps lead to the supposition that they are fixed by the centre; this is not the case. They, of course, should lie loosely on the bars.

Figure 91, 91a. Figure 92.

Fig. 91 shows Egyptian priestesses in the act of playing on this kind of sistrum at a religious ceremony. The second kind of sistrum, above mentioned, had metallic bars, without rings. Hence, it has been thought by some that the bars were of graduated length, and gave a series of musical sounds when struck by some hard substance held in the other hand of the player.

Fig. 92 represents two of these. Their Egyptian name is doubtful, but the word kem-kem is thought to apply to them, although the Coptic version translates the " sounding brass" of i Cor.i.1 by kem-kem. Others think it applies to the tambour. Rosellini has deciphered the word sescesch, and interprets it as "sistrum." If the rods were really in proportional lengths, and were struck, the tones of a sistrum of this class would be more determinate than those of cymbals. The Romans used it, or at least were aware of its existence and uses; fairly true representations of it being found on some of their medals. This may have been the aerum crepitaculum of their poets. As the sistrum often, among the Egyptians, accompanied rites of a very wanton and lascivious character, there is something intensely sarcastic in Virgil's description of Cleopatra leading her forces to battle to the sound of the sistrum—

Regina in mediis patrio vocat agmina sistro. (Virgil, AEneld, viii. 696.)

The close connection between musical instruments of apparently very divergent species has been often before remarked; it is not surprising, therefore, to find a link between cymbals and the sistrum. Fig. 93 shows two such ornamental bars of metal held, one in each hand of the performer, which, when struck together, produce a loud clanging sound to mark the rhythm of a dancer. The fact that they are clashed together gives them a relation to cymbals, while their form — that of vibrating rods— renders it difficult to place them otherwise than under the head "sistrum."

The word shalish occurs only in i Sam.xviii.6. It has been variously described as a triangle, a sistrum, and by some—a fiddle! The root implies the numerical value of three.¬†

And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with shalishim (margin, "three-stringed instruments").

Whatever may be the antiquity of the viol family, it is difficult to believe that an instrument, which must have been in very common use— as the people flocked together who could play it, "from all cities of Israel"— should be only incidentally mentioned once in the whole course of Jewish chronicle. The notion that all the women of Israel were experts on a three-stringed fiddle is certainly novel, but, to say the least, very absurd. A triangle it might have been, but it is more probable that it was a sistrum, either with three rings on each bar, as in Fig. 90, or with three vibrating bars, as in Fig. 92. top

Fortunately there is but little doubt as to the nature of the toph. It was a tambour, timbrel, or hand-drum. All nations seem to have possessed drums of various kinds, but always of a comparatively small size. It remained for modern Europeans to produce the gigantic specimens which are to be found in our orchestras. Few, who have been present, can forget the huge upright drum, far exceeding the height of its upstanding player, that adds its deep rolling bass note to the mass of sounds which are heard at the Handel Festivals in the Crystal Palace. Such drums were never dreamt of by the ancients. The necessity for having portable instruments would have excluded them from use, even if their presence had been thought desirable. Modern tambours, or tambourines, as we more usually term them, are invariably round in shape; those of the ancients, especially of the Egyptians, were sometimes oblong or square.

Fig. 94 exhibits both kinds in use. They were one of the chief ingredients of their funeral lamentations, which seem to us to have been strangely prolonged. It is said that such ceremonies, when a prince died, lasted as many as seventy days. They then sang, or uttered their mournful cries, to a tambour accompaniment.

But the Egyptians also had drums of two other kinds. One consisted of a wood or copper cylinder covered at both ends with parchment; which was beaten at both ends with the hands, just as the tom-tom of India is played.

The Egyptian "long-drum," as it may be called, was, both as to size and shape, very similar to this tom-tom, which is not unfrequently to be seen in the hand of some poor wanderer from our distant empire, who is begging about the streets of London. Fig. 95 shows the manner in which it was carried and beaten. The other instrument of this class is peculiarly interesting, as being evidently the prototype of our modern kettle-drum.

It was called darabooka, and was formed by stretching parchment over the open end of a basin of metal or earthenware. When, as was the case in ancient times, this kind of drum was small and easily carried, the termination of the hollow bowl by a handle was ingenious and useful.

But as their size increased, the handle had to give place to three feet, and the metal bowl could be rounded—a form greatly to the advantage of free vibration. Our kettledrum is therefore little else than a very large darabooka, standing on a tripod, instead of terminating with a handle. The darabooka is shown in Fig. 96. top

The Assyrians appear to have used the tambour, and also a drum, suspended by a cord round the neck (see Figs. 97 and 98). But the instrument they thus carried seems not to have been beaten, like the Egyptian long-drum and the Indian tom-tom, at both ends, but only at its upper surface.

Two questions arise with regard to ancient drums and tambours. Was the parchment or head of the drum rigidly fixed, or was it capable of being tuned? The reader is no doubt well aware that to the edges of the head of a modern drum is attached, in the case of a side-drum, a series of cords, and in the kettledrum a metal ring, by means of which the parchment can be tightened or loosened, and consequently a power of regulating the pitch is obtained. Probably the head was fixed, and the ancient drums and tambours could not be tuned. The lines which cross the long-drum of the Egyptians in Fig. 95 look very much like the cords which cross the cylinders of our side-drums, but these cross-bars are evidently only a rude attempt at ornamentation. The second question is, had the ancient tambours little bells, plates of metal, or castanets inserted in the rim, as we have in our tambourines? Probably they had.

Fig. 99 shows an Arabian tambour called bendyr. There are holes in the rim of this which unmistakably suggest the probable insertion of some sort of pulsatile contrivance or other. Moreover, it is known that such appendages were not strange to the Greeks.

The bendyr also contains five strings stretched across the inner surface of the head, as seen in the illustration, for the purpose of reinforcing its tone. Such a construction seems to have been introduced in comparatively late times. Stretched strings were formerly used for a like purpose in instruments of several other kinds, notably in the stringed instrument called viola d' amore, in which metal strings were stretched under those of catgut, passing under the finger-board and through the middle of the bridge, which was pierced to receive them. The Arabs have three varieties of tambour, besides that called bendyr. One of them, the mazhar, smaller than the bendyr, has no reverberating strings, and has metal rings instead of castanets. Another, the tar, has, like the mazhar, no stretched strings, but has four copper castanets. The fourth kind has only two castanets. Goat ­skins generally form the head of these Arabian tambours, which are chiefly played by women, as was the case among the ancient Egyptians.

The Arabians have drums, not unlike kettledrums, and they may be seen playing them on horse-back or camel-back, just as the kettledrums are carried and played by the bands of our cavalry regiments. Fig. 100 shows a very beautiful specimen of an old tambour, exhibited in the Kensington Museum, which has not only castanets in the rim, but bells suspended in the interior.

It is impossible to say whether the Hebrews used the drum as well as the tambour. Most probably the latter only was known to them. Its antiquity is proved by the fact that mention is made of it in conjunction with the kinnor, in the passage once before quoted (Gen.xxxi.27), where Laban rebukes Jacob for having left him stealthily, whereas an honourable departure would have been accompanied with songs, toph, and kinnor.

It was a toph which Miriam took in her hand when she led the song and dance on that wondrous day when Israel saw the "great work" which God had done, and thankfulness burst forth from side to side as they answered one another—

Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously (Exod. xv. i).

Very different were the feelings which filled the breast of Jephthah when his only child came forth with toph in hand to welcome his victorious return from unequal fight with Ammon.

Among the instruments which the company of prophets bare, who met the future King Saul, was a toph (i Sam.x.5), and the same instrument was ere long to be a source of jealousy and chagrin to him when the women of Israel praised the youthful hero David on his return from slaying the giant; and it was part of the music which graced the return of the ark from Kirjath-jearim. That the use of the timbrel was not limited to religious ceremonies, is plain from the allusion in Isa.v.12. It seems not to have been carried in warfare. On the contrary, in the following passage from Isaiah (xxx.32) its mention is apparently intended to show the cheerful peace which should everywhere follow on the smiting of the Assyrian —

And in every place where the grounded staff shall pass, which the Lord shall lay upon him, it shall be with tabrets and harps.

The tabret has now been excluded from sacred buildings, having given place to the more solemn and imposing drum.

It may perhaps be said that in speaking of the probable nature of the kinnor and nebel, too much reliance has been placed on the argument that people have a tendency to use light portable instruments when travelling, and larger instruments in religious and civil ceremonies.

If, however, we consider the habits of the present day in this respect, we shall find more support of the argument than might at first be supposed. For example, street-singers, who travel from place to place over long distances, have more or less adopted the portable banjo as an accompaniment to the voice, leaving the full-sized guitar and the large harp either to the concert-room or to street-musicians who remain in large cities. Then, again, although the two once well-defined classes of portative and positive organs have merged or died out, there still remains the positive organ in our churches and halls, and the portative barrel-organ whose existence can be verified by the sad experience of all lovers of quiet.

As regards drums, we certainly possess the light tambourine, and the large kettle-drums of concert use. The portable violin, called kit in England, has nearly become obsolete, but its French name pochette fully points out the fact that its popularity was owing to its convenience as a pocket-fiddle. The same remark may be applied to the pianoforte, for although large instruments mechanically played are now wheeled about our great cities, there was formerly a marked distinction between the portative pianoforte played by gipsy women and the heavy instrument placed in drawing-rooms.

It would seem justifiable, therefore, to assume that nomadic tribes would use small, simple types of instruments, while the inhabitants of great cities would also use instruments of more elaborate construction and of greater capabilities in their worship or court-ceremonies. top