The Origin Of The Music Of The Temple -- By: John Wheeler

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 02:4 (Autumn 1989)
Article: The Origin Of The Music Of The Temple
Author: John Wheeler


The Origin Of The Music Of The Temple

John Wheelera

Is it really possible that we could sing today melodies known by Moses? Melodies perhaps inspired by God Himself? Could the melody of the “Song of Moses” (De 32), to be sung by the saints (Rv 15:3), be actually preserved in the Hebrew Bible we have today?

In the Winter 1989 issue of A&BR I discussed the implications of the work of French composer and music theorist Suzanne Haik-Vantoura (The Music of the Bible -Revealed). Haik-Vantoura believes that the accents or te’amim of the Hebrew Old Testament text authoritative in the synagogue -the “Masoretic Text” - preserve the melodies to which the Psalms and prose texts were sung at the Temple in Jerusalem. In her various publications, the author has amassed a great deal of textual, musical, and historical evidence to support her claims (much of which was mentioned in passing in my last article). Hers is the first decipherment to fully account for all the notation in

every verse of the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament.

Those who are not musicians may find the musical evidences Haik-Vantoura offers difficult to grasp. For them, the historical links between the music of the Temple and the accents found in the Masoretic Text may be of greater value.

It is these historical links that are the subject of this article.

There are a number of questions to answer: 1) Who created the original musical system upon-which the accentation was based? 2) How was the music based upon it preserved by the Levites - and 3) how was it passed down after the destruction of the Second Temple to the ninth-century Masoretes? Much of the evidence Haik-Vantoura presented in her book on the latter point was by necessity indirect. That the link between the first and ninth centuries was not strictly oral is evident from the internal evidence of the Biblical text itself; a melody transmitted by purely oral means could not have remained the flawless mirror of the text and its meaning that the revived Biblical chant actually is. What precisely that link was, Haik-Vantoura could not definitively prove.

We now have enough evidence to give a plausible picture of the origins and transmission of Biblical chant from Israel’s beginnings to the present. What I am presenting here is my own hypothesis (which may or may not agree with Haik-Vantoura’s views).

Origin of the Melodic System

We saw in the Winter 1989 issue of A&BR

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