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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(κιθάρα, also κιθαρίζειν, ‘to harp,’ and κιθαρῳδός [κιθαρ + ἀοιδός] ‘a harper’)

The word and its two derivatives occur only in 1 Corinthians and Revelation. In 1 Corinthians 14:7 : ‘Even things without life, giving a voice, whether pipe or harp, if they give not a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?’ St. Paul by this musical illustration criticizes a prevalent and unedifying speaking with tongues, though, in the light of the phrase eandem cantilenam recinere, his figure of ‘harping’ has come in colloquial use to represent rather monotonous persistency. In Revelation 5:8 the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders who abased themselves before the Lamb have each of them a harp; and the voice which was heard, as the Lamb and the hundred and forty and four thousand stood on Mount Zion, is described as that of ‘harpers harping with their harps’ (Revelation 14:2). The victors over the beast, his image, and his mark, who stand by ‘the glassy sea mingled with fire’ and sing the the song of Moses, have ‘harps of God’ to sing His praise (Revelation 15:2). In Revelation 18:22 the angel who doomed the great city of Babylon declared that it would hear no more the voice of harpers (cf. Isaiah 23:16).

When we attempt to describe exactly the design and manipulation of musical instruments in use throughout the Apostolic Age, we are met with almost insuperable difficulties. The apocalyptic character of the book, which, as we have seen, contains, with but one exception, the references to harps, turns one to Jewish music; but, though there is much relevant information in Chronicles and other OT writings, it is lacking in precision. It is easier to describe the instruments of ancient Egypt and Assyria, for we are helped by sculptures and pictures, the like of which have not been found in Palestine. We must rely, therefore, on analogy guided by our inexact OT descriptions.

‘To accompany singing, or at all events sacred singing, stringed instruments only were used, and never wind instruments’ (Appendix to Wellhausen’s ‘Psalms’ [Haupt’s PB [Note: B Polychrome Bible.] , 1898]). It may be too much to say that they were the only accompanying instruments, but they were certainly the principal. In the OT there is mention of only two stringed instruments (if we except the curious list which appears in Daniel), and these are the כִּנּוֹר and נֶבֶל. The former is the older, and tradition points to Jubal as its inventor (Genesis 4:21); while the second does not appear before 1 Samuel 10:5. These are translated in the English Version as ‘harp’ and ‘psaltery’ respectively. From 1 Kings 10:12 we learn that their framework was made of almug or algum; from 2 Chronicles 20:28 that both were portable, and from many OT passages that they were much used at religious and festive gatherings. It is difficult to determine with exactness the difference between these stringed instruments; but, although later tradition confused them, they were certainly not identical, nor were their names used indifferently to denote the same instrument. There are several reasons, however, for the belief that the כִּנּוֹר resembled a lyre, and that the נֶבֶל was a form of harp (the question is discussed in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 458f.). Amongst these are (1) the fact that in the Septuagint κιθάρα, or its equivalent κινύρα, is the almost invariable translation of כִּנּוֹר; (2) the evidence of Jewish coins pointing to a decided similarity of כִּנּוֹר and κιθάρα (see F. W. Madden, Coins of the Jews2, 1885, pp. 231, 243); and (3) the distinction emphasized by early Christian writers between instruments which had a resonance-frame beneath the strings and those which had it above (see St. Augustine on Psalms 42). Josephus, who has a description of the frame-work and strings of these instruments is Ant. viii. iii. 8, distinguished the κινύρα as ten-stringed and struck with a plectrum from the νάβλα as twelve-stringed and played with the hand.* [Note: See S. R. Driver, Joel and Amos (Cambridge Bible, 1898), p. 234 ff.]

The κιθάρα was the traditional instrument of psalmody, and the κιθαρῳδός, along with the αὐλητής, performed at the festive seasons of Hebrew life (cf. H. B. Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John2, 1907, pp. 80, 239). Being lighter in weight than the נֶבֶל, the lyre was much played in processions, and, as we learn from Psalms 137:2, it could be hung on the poplar trees of Babylon when the Hebrew exiles were in no mood for songs of rejoicing. The κιθάρα was of Asiatic origin, and was probably introduced into Egypt by Semites. The earliest representation of a stringed instrument is that excavated at Telloh in South Babylonia, which in size resembles a harp but is shaped like a lyre, i.e. it has a resonance-body on which are set two almost perpendicular posts between which are the strings, upright and fastened to a cross-bar. A picture which better illustrates the ordinary lyre is that of three Semitic captives guarded by an Assyrian warrior while they played; but perhaps the best illustration is that on the Jewish coins mentioned above.

Archibald Main.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Harp'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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