ASK Monthly Newsletters
April 2008 

Dear Associates, Students and Friends:

The title of this month’s article is “Psalms, Music, and Prophecy.” It is compiled from information by Dr. Ernest Martin, transcribed and edited from 1997/1998 audiotapes. 1 Music was extremely important in ancient Israel. It was an integral part of the Temple ritual, particularly during the feast days. As Dr. Martin notes, passages from the Book of Psalms were not sung or performed in synagogues, but only in the Temple. Yet the Psalms were studied and discussed widely in the synagogues. Indeed, as the apostle Paul disputed daily in the synagogues and marketplaces with his fellow Jews, the Psalms provided powerful biblical support to help him prove that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah (Acts 17:17).

We are told that instrumental music had an inventor. His name was Jubal, grandson of Enoch, son of Lamech, “Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ” (Genesis 4:21). Nothing is mentioned about him except that he was the first to make those stringed and wind instruments. Since that time music has had an important role in man’s relationship to God. Music and song can be used by groups (Psalm 149:1) and individuals (Psalm 42:8). Music can be used to express feeling to God about our experiences (Psalm 74). The subject of this month’s article is the role of music in the Book of Psalms to communicate and to teach mankind about God, and God’s messages to man about the future.

A Breakthrough for Music of the Bible?

Today we have forms of musical notation, symbols, like letters, that can be read so that anyone can understand and perform the music by reading those notations. Data about the musical notation of ancient times when the Temple existed (both before and after the exile to Babylon) is sadly lacking except in tantalizing bits and pieces. Various ideas have been put forth to guess about the nature of music in the Bible. 2

Perhaps the most provocative work has been that of musicologist Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura (d. 2000 at age 88) who studied the biblical Hebrew texts for many decades. She claimed to have solved the “code,” so to speak, for the musical notations contained in Hebrew texts. She discovered that the accent marks are actually musical indicators, like notes, having nothing to do with spoken accents or chanting. Accent marks in Hebrew are substantially different from vowel marks, and both began to appear together in Hebrew manuscripts dating from the 4th to 7th centuries AD. Ms. Haïk-Vantoura’s solution is therefore speculative and unsubstantiated at this time, but nonetheless provocative. Importantly Ms. Haïk-Vantoura’s solution makes musical sense in an elegant way and conforms to the use of ancient instruments.

Ms. Haïk-Vantoura published her findings in a book in French in 1976 with an updated edition in 1978. The original French editions received considerable positive notice and interest from Jewish scholars, rabbis, and historians of music in Europe. 3 The English translation is available, The Music of the Bible Revealed, trans. Dennis Weber, ed. John Wheeler (BIBAL Press, 1991).

If Ms. Haïk-Vantoura’s solution is correct, it would indeed be a proper form of a “Bible code” that would honor the written text (unlike the so-called Bible codes dependent upon equidistant letter counting). 4 Confirmation of solution to the musical notation would tell us a great deal about life and society in ancient times and surely reveal the sophistication of the biblical writers and composers, particularly King David, Solomon, Hezekiah, and Jeremiah. If Ms. Haïk-Vantoura is not correct, certainly something similar to her solution, just as simple, would be reasonable. Such information would be part of the “times of refreshing” and “the restitution of all things” mentioned by the apostle Peter in Acts 3:17–26. The music accompanying the performance of the Psalms in a rebuilt Temple should be part of that “refreshing” and “restitution.”

For various interesting elements about the Book of Psalms such as descriptions of acrostics in psalms, or a listing of psalms quoted in the New Testament, see Dr. E.W. Bullinger’s “Appendix 63: The Book of Psalms, Miscellaneous Phenomena” at http://www.levendwater.org/companion/append63.html.

The Message of the Book of Psalms

This article focuses primarily on the Book of Psalms and the use of music in communicating the messages of God. Jesus made it clear that in His day the Book of Psalms was a single unit, a single book: “… David himself said in the book of Psalms” (Luke 20:42). This unitary work was divided into divisions which scholars have long recognized and which is made clear in Dr. Martin’s excellent “Appendix 1, Preliminary Suggestions for the Structure of Psalms” at http://www.askelm.com/restoring/res040.htm.

The first Hebrew words of the Book of Psalms are “Blessed is the man” (ish in Hebrew, not adam, Psalm 1:1) and the last words are “Praise Yah,” meaning YHWH (Psalm 150:6). All the words and thoughts of all the Psalms in the current canonical Psalter have one or both of these two topics as their eventual goal and object: YHWH blessing man and man praising YHWH. These are two major results of creation.

As Dr. Martin makes clear, we should try to understand the sequence of events in individual prophecies, as well as sequences of events in linked and interwoven prophecies (such as comparing Daniel with Revelation). Learning about the Book of Psalms can help us understand the proper sequence(s) of prophetic events. By doing this we avoid the insidious foolishness of setting dates, which our Savior specifically said was impossible to do. But we are encouraged to watch, not knowing the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36, 25:13; Mark 13:33) and to consider the times and the seasons which were not for the apostles in their time (Acts 1:6–7), but will be for those alive before Christ returns (1 Thessalonians 5:1–11). 5

Thank You

Your communications to ASK are like “music” to us because they communicate that you comprehend the material we publish and produce. We truly appreciate the prayers so many of you present to God, as well as the contributions and notes you give to us. We depend on your monthly donations, and I must say they have decreased the last few months. Nevertheless, you who rejoice in the real knowledge of what the Holy Scripture teaches and that we work to provide, should cheerfully support our efforts as the apostle Paul said God the Father expects of His children (2 Corinthians 9:7). This is a way of helping other people know the truths you are privileged to learn. Thank you so much for your help in every way you provide it.

David W. Sielaff
David@askelm.com


1 “Psalms and Prophecy, tapes 1–4.”  DWS

2 See Abraham Idelsohn’s Jewish Music: Its Historical Development (New York: Dover, 1929 [1992]). Because the musical notations of the biblical psalms have been lost, the Jews developed the various styles of chants of biblical readings that are sung by cantors in Jewish synagogues today. Part of the purpose of such chanting was to provide aid in memorization.  DWS

3 See a Wikipedia article on Ms. Haïk-Vantoura’s work at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzanne_Ha%C3%AFk-Vantoura. For a 1986 NPR Morning Edition audio program (about 6 minutes long) with several music renditions using Ms. Haïk-Vantoura’s work, goto http://www.rakkav.com/biblemusic/index.htmDWS

4 See Dr. Martin’s article “Bible Codes — Are They True?” at http://askelm.com/prophecy/p970902.htm. Equidistant letter codes, in my opinion, appear to be intended to draw people away from the meaning of the text. They offer nothing to explain the text. It makes the Bible into a magical or prophetic oracle. Scripture was never intended to be used in that manner.  DWS

5 The patterns of prophetic comparison should be: [1] scripture sequences (comparing the 5 divisions of the Law, of the Psalms, of the Megilloth, of Isaiah, of Lamentations, of the Minor Prophets, of the Gospels, etc.), [2] repetition sequences (types and archetypes), [3] time sequences (holy day symbolism, sabbatical periods), and [4] Space sequences (the Tabernacle/Temple space relationships).  DWS

Go to ASK Home Page •  Print Page

© 1976-2014 Associates for Scriptural Knowledge - ASK is supported by freewill contributions