Ancient musical instruments
Bible Study Resource
Annoyingly, there are no images or carvings of musical instruments in Israel. So we have to rely on Egyptian, Assyrian and Aramean, Greek or Roman pictures and sculptures to get an idea of how they looked.
To add to the problem, it’s hard to be certain about the words used to describe instruments in the Bible. Some terms, for example Nêbel (harp) and Kinnôr (lyre), are used interchangeably, although originally they described distinctions in size or in the number of strings.
On the other hand, many statements or explanations offered by later writers are clearly unreliable. The Jewish historian Josephus, for example, solemnly states that there were 500,000 musicians in Palestine, clearly a wild exaggeration.
ln general, the instruments mentioned in Hebrew writings can be classiﬁed into familar moderns groups:
- Tôph – a frame drum
- Menae’im — a sistrum
- Metziltãyim or tseltselîm — cymbals
- Pã‘amonim — bells or jingles
- Hãlîl ~ oboe
- Shôfãr or keren yobél — ram or goat’s horn
- Ugãb — ﬂute
- Mashrôkêtã — double oboe
- Keren — horn or trumpet.
Other coins of the period show lyres, usually in pairs as in the instructions given to Moses in Numbers 10:2-10. They were played by priests during Temple worship. See pictures of these below.
- Kinnôr — lyre
- Nébel – harp
- Asôr — zither
- Pesantêrin — psaltery (a stringed instrument triangular in shape, or dulcimer)
- Kãtrôs — cithara
- Sabkã — harp shaped like a ladder on a boat. See pictures of these below.
Other coins of the period picture lyres. An interesting thing is that they come in pairs as in the instructions given to Moses (Numbers 10:2-10). They were played by priests either in unison or antiphonally during Temple worship.
Pictures of ancient instruments
Seven of the images below are from the Potsdam Public Museum at the recommended website http://www.potsdampublicmuseum.org/pages/68/10/ancient-musical-instruments.
This website describes the painstaking recreation of ancient instruments by Charles N. and Harriett Lanphere of Potsdam, New York, in the late 19th century. They reconstructed instruments from the Bible, and from Egypt, Chaldea, Assyria and Palestine, using images from rock sculptures, tomb paintings, and coins.
Percussion Instruments – images
Wind Instruments – images
Stringed Instruments – images
Sabkã — a harp shaped like a ladder on a boat. Potsdam Public Museum[/caption]
Bible Study Resource for Archaeology
Musical instruments, percussion, wind, strings, illustrations
Musical instruments – links