The Aramaic Question -- By: Herbert W. Magoun

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 093:369 (Jan 1936)
Article: The Aramaic Question
Author: Herbert W. Magoun


The Aramaic Question

Herbert W. Magoun

This is an age of surmises. It is also an age of vast researches, especially in material things. And yet it is not an age of profound thinking. Men are content with brilliance and do not strive for depth. Over-hasty generalization is the natural result, and it is fairly common. Even the most learned are apt to be affected by this tendency. A few words of explanation are needed, if this last statement is not to seem unwarranted.

In my forty years of research many strange things have come to light, and no exception to the above statement has been encountered. Only a few items can be mentioned. For example, the Greek musical scale was not an octave, as has been erroneously assumed, but a tetrachord, and it had six different forms or modes, only one of which, the Severe Diatonic, is found in modern music, and even then it is unlike modern musical scales, being only a part of a Minor scale like the intervals B, C, D, E. The A below was not a part of the scale but an extra, or added-on-tone, a Proslambanomenos. Moreover, three of the modes involved fragmentary tones, all of them unknown to modern music. They could be produced on a violin or a slide trombone, if previously measured, but not otherwise. The first or Enharmonic contains quarter-tones.1

Our Greek and Latin grammars teach that there were

“common syllables” that were either long or short; but the native grammarians teach no such thing. They teach that “ordinary” syllables were neither long nor short but intermediate. Some call them “means” exactly as they are. Environment made them appear like shorts in one place and like longs in another. It was a question of averages. Furthermore, the two quantities used in Metrics became six in Rhythmics, with “near-rational” and “irrational” syllables added for good measure. Some syllables were “shorter than shorts,” some were “well-rounded” with the value 3, some were “superabundant” with the value 4.

Many modern hymns are written in 6/8 time, but they are not so sung. If they were, the result would be scandalous. By common but unconscious consent the dotted quarternote is substituted for the quarter-notes, and the jig movement is altered to 4/4 so that the rhythm is appropriate. Musicians have denied this; but an orguinette proved it beyond a peradventure, and many years of close observation have failed to find a single exception apart from two occasions in Oberlin, Ohio, when “Sweet Hour of Prayer” was sung exactly as it is written. The effect was so bad that one felt like departing without ceremony. We have lost our sense...

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