Heidegger's Bible Handbook: Psalms: Music of the Ancients

8. The music and manner of singing of the ancients. The Titles on the Psalms concerning Music explicated out of Gataker: שירים, שושנים, מזמרים, שיר מזמור, נחילות, נגינות, etc.


As far as the ancient Music and manner of singing is concerned, the Hebrews acknowledge that it has already long been the case that the whole of it perished, and we Christians are not able to deny it. Some have indeed attempted to explain the title occurring on the Davidic Psalms, more specifically the Most Learned Gataker[1] in his Cinno, chapter 10, generally in this manner. Indeed, he says this in a general way, that some hymns were wont to be sung with the unaccompanied voice, others to Musical instruments. The former were called שִׁירִים, ᾠδὰς, songs, refrains (Psalm 7;[2] 18;[3] 46;[4] 88[5]); but the latter מִזְמֺרִים, ψαλμοὺς, psalms, of which sort are the greater number. Again, of the latter some were sung with the voices presented first, in such a way that in the individual verses to be sung the voices precede, and the musical instruments follow, whence the name of שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר, a Song, a Psalm, on Psalms 48; 66; 83; 88; 108: others with the musical instruments presented first, so that the instruments precede and the voices follow, when the name of מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר, a Psalm, a Song, on Psalm 30; 65; 67; 68; 75; 76; 87; 92. Moroever, the organs or instruments of Music, added to the singing of those hymns, were either πνευματικὰ, blown into, called נְחִילוֹת/Nehiloth from נחל, to bore or pierce, Psalm 5, and מָחֲלַת/Mahalath, Psalm 53; 88: or κρουστικὰ καὶ ψηλαφητὰ, striken and touched, beaten, which either are sticken with a stick or a pick, or are touched with the hands or fingers, called נְגִינוֹת/Neginoth from נגן, to beat:[6] to which are to be added שֹׁשַׁנִּים/Shoshannim, a hexachord,[7] Psalm 45; 60; 80. But the manner of modulation is specifically designated, either with respect to the order of singing by turns, alternately, to which is to be referred that לְעַנּוֹת/ Leannoth, to sing responsively,[8] in Psalm 88[9] out of Exodus 15:21;[10] or with respect to tones, and those either individual, toward the acute, עֲלָמוֹת/Alamoth, voices of young women,[11] toward the grave, שְׁמִינִית/Sheminith, thick, low,[12] Psalm 6;[13] 12,[14] toward the middle, or countertenor, עַלְמ֥וּת לַבֵּ֗ן, Almuth labben,[15] Psalm 9;[16] or with respect to all jointly, to which pertains the שִׁגָּיוֹן/Shiggaion, erratic ode,[17] that is, mixed, manifold with respect to singing, which might be sung to all types of Music, which Cicero called Synodia[18] from a Greek term, Psalm 7.[19] But whatever the case may be concerning the signification of those terms, it is certain that the very manner of the ancient music is unknown, and hence it belongs to us now to apply ourselves, that our Music and Melody might be spiritual, of which the instrumental melody of the Old Testament was typical.

[1] Thomas Gataker (1574-1654) was an English churchman, theologian, and critic, of great reputation in his own day. On account of his great learning, he was invited to sit as a member of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster. His abilities as a critic are on display in his commentaries on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentation, found in the English Annotations. [2] Psalm 7 title: “Shiggaion of David, which he sang (שָׁר) unto the Lord, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.” [3] Psalm 18 title: “To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spake unto the Lord the words of this song (הַשִּׁירָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את) in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul: And he said…” [4] Psalm 46 title: “To the chief Musician for the sons of Korah, A Song (שִׁיר) upon Alamoth.” [5] Psalm 88 title: “A Song (שִׁיר) or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth, Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.” [6] Psalms 4; 6; 54; 55; 67; 76. [7]שֵׁשׁ signifies six. [8]עָנָה/anah can signify to sing, or to answer. [9] Psalm 88 title: “A Song or Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth (לְעַנּוֹת), Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.” [10] Exodus 15:21: “And Miriam answered them (וַתַּ֥עַן לָהֶ֖ם מִרְיָ֑ם), Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” [11]עַלְמָה/almah means young woman. [12] Here, שְׁמִינִית/Sheminith is being related, not to שְׁמֹנֶה/eight, but to שֶׁמֶן/fat. [13] Psalm 6 title: “To the chief Musician on Neginoth upon Sheminith (עַל־הַשְּׁמִינִית), A Psalm of David.” [14] Psalm 12 title: “To the chief Musician upon Sheminith (עַל־הַשְּׁמִינִית), A Psalm of David.” [15]עַלְמוּת לַבֵּן, Almuth labben, may signify women’s voices by men, or men singing falsetto. [16] Psalm 9 title: “To the chief Musician upon Muthlabben (עַלְמ֥וּת לַבֵּ֗ן), A Psalm of David.” [17]שִׁגָּיוֹן/Shiggaion may be related to the verbal root שׁגה, to go astray, to reel. [18] A song sung by a number of people together. [19] Psalm 7 title: “Shiggaion (שִׁגָּיוֹן) of David, which he sang unto the Lord, concerning the words of Cush the Benjamite.”

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