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Am Yisrael sings 24: Even in ancient times, Jewish music was influenced by Greek music

It has already been mentioned several times the brave connection forged between Greek and Hellenistic philosophy and music - the Pythagorean school that attributed a supreme moral value to music, the Platonic school that insisted on the relationship between music and human nature and moral condition, and similarly the Aristotelian school. These philosophies penetrated Judea during the days of Roman rule

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A statue of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Illustration:
A statue of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Illustration:

It has already been mentioned several times the brave connection forged between Greek and Hellenistic philosophy and music - the Pythagorean school that attributed a supreme moral value to music, the Platonic school that insisted on the relationship between music and human nature and moral condition, and similarly the Aristotelian school.

Hellenism, which insisted on the metaphysical-cathartic power of music, saw it as a science like any other science that must be taught according to rational methods, yet emphasized the emotional and moral powers that were invested in music.

It should be noted that there was quite a close relationship between the classes in Judaism and the philosophical schools listed above. And although this assumption does not make them, the above-mentioned classes, experts and skilled in everything related to music, it is clear from all sources that the philosophical schools tore a window for those classes through which one could glimpse all the symbolic wonders of Greek-Hellenistic music.

So much for philosophy. And as for education, with the exception of the musical studio in the Gymnasium and Ephebion, music, both instrumental and vocal, occupied an important place in the education of the Greek boy, even in his pre-gymnasium years and despite the fact that over time it became more and more the domain of professionals, even then it did not cease to be used in the world of education Greek-Hellenistic.

There is no doubting the assumption that the awareness of Greek wisdom, of Greek music, was the property of the Jewish aristocracy, the one that was close to its Hellenistic cousin. This closeness, forged on the foundations of political and economic contacts, produced social evils. Connections that made it easier for the Jewish aristocracy and affluence to adopt a Hellenistic way of life. And as we saw above, the Hasmonean monarchy and the aristocracy did a lot to introduce Hellenism, whether through the main entrance door or through a side door, among the Jewish public.

The influence of Hellenism, especially in its philosophical expressions, was very noticeable in external Jewish literature, literature whose authors were usually among the respectable strata of Jewish society. We will not be able to list all the references here since the sheet would be too short to contain them. And so we will limit ourselves to one representative example: the author of the Hachmat Shlomo essay, when he came to explain the wonders and miracles that occurred in the universe according to accepted laws of nature. With a clear Greek-Hellenistic influence, he noted at the beginning of his words: "Because the elements have changed their order, when the rhythm of the sounds of the harp will change with the change of its strings, although their sound will always remain the same as it was, and this the man will be able to judge correctly by seeing the actions" (18, XNUMX).

The author of the above essay knew how to connect music with phenomena that occurred in nature, and even if he drew this theory from the treasures of Hellenism, this does not mean to cloud his awareness of the symbolic affinity that is of foreign origin. And more than that, the author of the essay did not write his columns in order to store them away in provocative nooks and crannies, but for the purpose of publishing them. His words were intended for the Jewish audience in general and the Jewish aristocracy in particular. If so, the readership of this and others like it, an audience that folded mainly in the Jewish social stratum that was close to the world of Hellenism, is the subject of our concern in this matter.

However, the closeness to the Hellenistic world was not only the property of a few, of the aristocracy. None of the Sages, back in the days of the Second Temple, were at all far from the Merihu base of Hellenism, such as Antigonus Ish Suko in 225 BC, who adhered to the essence of Stoicism. And we can learn about this from the extent of the penetration of the Greek language into the Land of Israel and the use made by the Jewish population. Especially in Judaism which was widespread in the Hellenistic countries.

This last sentence brings us to an examination of one of the interesting cases of the Holocaust generation and beyond, the one that revolved around Homeric poetry.

Homer's poetry, apart from the fact that it was valued as educational poetry, was also usually accompanied, played on musical instruments and sung orally. For we should remember that the classical Greek concept claimed that the main function of vocal poetry is to elevate and strengthen the poetic word, and this through the close connection with the melodic and rhythmic aspects provided by the language. The aforementioned mutual connection was strong to such an extent that the rhythm of the melody adapted itself to the weight of the song.

Hence the importance of knowing the Greek language, its expression and its weight. And apparently in this spirit it is possible to solve the difficulty that was hidden in the original of the Tosefta: "They were permitted, in the house of Rabbi Gamaliel, to teach their children Greek, because they are relatives (another wording - "necessary") to the kingdom" (Tosefta Sota 8:500). This is probably not a casual study of Greek, since this language was common among the sages even in the days of the Temple. And it seems that this is the opening of an internal workshop, on behalf of the presidency and for it - a workshop for Greek culture, since the contacts of the presidency with the Roman government at the time and with the authorities of the Hellenistic cities were considered the need of the hour (especially after the presidency at that time was recognized, at least de facto, by the authorities The Romans, an initial recognition after the destruction, and the son of the above-mentioned president, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamaliel, testified about Abba's house, it is Rabbi Gamaliel's house, where XNUMX boys learned "Greek wisdom". It should be noted, by the way, that the Greek language was somewhat elegant and they spoke it , and at least in official events, the Roman aristocracy and especially in the Roman Senate. Easily for the benefit of diplomacy between the presidency and the Roman authorities.

There is no doubt that contacts with the Roman authorities required, apart from knowledge of the language, also familiarity with Hellenic customs, table manners and honorable hospitality, such that music took an honorable place.

Rabbi Akiva, one of the greats of the generation, did not disapprove of reading Homer's writings for the sake of "logic" as such, in the sense of dialectics, sophistry, progymnestics and even logic. And even if there was a certain reluctance to teach the writings of Homer to the children of Israel (and it should be noted that the reading of the writings of Homer was an important element in the framework of gymnasium education (sports at the time) in the motivated and shaded musical reading). This is not the case for adults, Rabbi Yehoshua pointed out, as someone who was found before and before in Greek philosophy. If so, we may assume that the content of Homer's books, their pronunciation and their weight were well known to certain circles of the Jews of the Land of Israel. And it should be noted that in the Talmudic literature we sometimes encountered and adopted Homeric idioms, and the midrash hinted that one reads the Book of Psalms as one reads the writings of Homer. To teach us that reading the Homeric literature was done, as was customary in Greek customs in music and/or poetry, by the Jewish people, or at least a part of it.

All of the above sources, those that dealt with the degree of Greek influence on the Jews of the Land of Israel, on its captains and leaders, may help us to assume that through the language and customs, through "Greek wisdom", philosophical schools, Greek-Hellenistic, penetrated, and among these a certain influence also emerged and became apparent of the Greek music on the Jews, whether on the practical, actual level, or on the philosophical-symbolic level, as the writings of Homer that were melodious and sung also for reasons of wanting to preserve the way of melodiousness and heaviness.

The extent of the influence of Greek music on the music of the Second Temple was already hinted at in the previous chapters. This influence, although it was not cardinal, since temple music, naturally, sought to find its uniqueness in holiness, without direct foreign influence, it also could not close itself off from foreign influences to one degree or another.

A prominent Greek influence emerges from the study and research on musical instruments, and this case will be discussed, on the merits of each matter later, one that will deal with the musical instruments and their place among the Jews, or it should already be said that foreign influences on these instruments did not amount to only real-professional aspects. Because it seems that along with those technical influences, inner essences from the world of foreign music also penetrated such as rhythm, melody and more.

In this section we will deal with the Dionysian aspects. And in this matter, we have already hinted several times in the previous chapters that dealt with sacred music, about Dionysian influences on Jewish music. And it is not just a musical instrument, through a parable, in the Greco-Roman period the horn of the goat was rejected and pushed in front of the horn of the ram, and it is the shofar that resembles in its shape the drinking horn of the god Dionysus. This is about a surprising similarity, for example, between the ceremony of raising the firstborn, the ceremony of the musical procession and common customs in foreign public religious celebrations. Sages did not rest in the hands of the people. This was a kind of concession to the public, who saw it as "the fulfillment of a mitzvah."

The Roman Plutarch testified to a surprising similarity between the rituals of Sukkot, and especially in the musical effect that stood out in it, and the Mysteries of Dionysus. It seems that there is little more than a mere coincidence here. And this is if we examine the above parallels in the light of the entire Greek influence on the Jewish world. And while bringing up the phenomenon mentioned above, about the professional musical association named after Dionysus. So that if we gather together all the signs of the Greek influence on the music of the temple, which, by the way, also included a touch of the singing of psalms. And also, on the existence of a certain similarity between the singing of psalms and the Greek scale - "tropos spondiakos. And more about the music of the sand, since there is reason to assume that the resemblance between the Dionysian mysteries and musical effects found in Judaism was based on a certain, existing reality.

In fact, I debated whether to associate the next section with the upcoming chapter, the one dealing with musical instruments, or to place it here, in the chapter discussing sand music. Finally, and not without much hesitation, I chose to deal with the case in the current chapter, since it has something to indicate the awareness of Judaism when it comes to foreign music. And even most of the names of the instruments included in the orchestra that will be presented here appeared in the Hebrew sources for the first and last time. Moreover, if it is a special musical composition, then splitting it between all the instruments that will be presented in the next chapter may damage the conclusions that will be presented here.

In the book of Daniel, a number of musical instruments are listed in a certain and interesting order: "Carna, mashrukita, kitzurus, sabacha, piano, symphony and all kinds of singers" (Daniel 5:7). This list with minor changes ("Shabka" under "Sabka" and "Pasantrin" under "Psanthrin") and while keeping the place of the "Somphonia". are listed later in the passage (ibid., 562:604). This orchestra was raised as the orchestra of King Nebuchadnezzar (XNUMX-XNUMX BC) which is not religious but the orchestra of the king's court.

Before we examine the orchestra in its general order, let us examine the meaning of each instrument separately: "Karna" - this is the horn with an Aramaic suffix; "Mashrukita" - from the flute family. Lest it be a kind of "Syrinx" which is the flute of the Greek Pan; "Kithros" is a hollow wooden instrument like a violin but differs from it in shape and structure. The name is derived from the Greek - "Kitara; "Sabka" - this is a stringed instrument with 4 or 20 strings, and some say it is the harp with many strings, or with 7 strings; "Pasantrine" - a stringed instrument that according to one researcher is the original Hebrew harp. The Septuagint translation translated it as "platerion" which means harpy. This instrument is mentioned by Joseph ben Mattathias, and there are those who believe that the kythros, the "kithara", was perceived as an earthly, carnal instrument, while the "passantrine" was a heavenly instrument; "Somponia" - some believe that it is a kind of flute music. However, the examiner of the meaning of the Greek word "symphony" immediately notices that it is a harmony or unison of sound. That is, a term used to describe the sonic character of the orchestra. And from this we can understand the function of the one in the second list in the book of Daniel. On the other hand, the appearance of the "Symphony" in the Mishnah makes the above a little more difficult, since it appears there alongside "Halil Shlemathach". That is, it is a type of flute, and perhaps a pan-flute (syrinx) is nothing more than an instrument consisting of a number of flutes held together by a band, of different lengths, gradual from which many sounds were produced, a sort of modern pan flute or a sort of Hamat flute.

And now as for the orchestra. The researchers all agree that this is a Babylonian orchestra, the orchestra of King Nebuchadnezzar. And some of them even point to the influence of Greek music in Babylon, after the Macedonian conquest somewhere in the fourth century BC - a fact that stands out even in the list of instruments, some of which had a Greek name or a Greek phonetic derivation.

However, lest we hypothesize otherwise. This relies on Prof. Efron's research in the Hellenistic period. This researcher opined that the story of Daniel and his three companions did not contain any symptomatic signs or hallmarks of Babylonian or Persian types, but flashed in it a record of the current problems from the days of the flood of Hellenistic culture, the currents of Greekization in Jerusalem and the decrees of Antiochus "Epiphanes". Nebuchadnezzar was only according to the version of Prof. Efron Antiochus IV, "Epiphanes" between 175 BC and 164 BC (Prof. Yehoshua Efron, Hasmonean Period Studies, p. 87).

So we have before us a Hellenistic royal orchestra, or an aristocratic court orchestra, with a special composition: first wind instruments (carna and shrukita). Then stringed instruments (kythros, sabkha and pesantrine) and the "symphony" in it. If it is a pan-flute, it was a separate instrument that was used in Dionysian ceremonies and its place was, usually, absent from a regular and common small orchestra.

And so, even the Semitic names that described some of the musical instruments, although of Semitic origin, were well absorbed in Greek and Hellenistic music, such as the "sabkha", the "sambuka", as an instrument that appeared in Greek sources beginning in the third century BC as an instrument of Eastern origin and more.

This phenomenon of the "Hellenistic orchestra" may be explained against the background of the fact that local kings, who were previously kings or a sort of Mizrahi belonging, such as the House of Tobiah, purged many of the sources of Hellenistic influence, while adapting the Hellenistic culture to their royal court.

This culture undoubtedly included music, and here at the meeting between Semitic music and Hellenistic music, there was a two-sided influence (what's more, it is known that Oriental-Celestial musical instruments were acclimatized in Greece long before the Hellenistic era. Which facilitated the meeting between these two musical cultures ), one of whose fruits is embodied, so it seems, in the orchestra that appears in the book of Daniel.

These and other orchestras influenced the Jews. And it is believed that such were in the courts of the Hasmonean kings and the House of Herod, and they even existed in close proximity in the style of Greece, held in the luxurious villas of the members of the Jewish aristocracy.

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