Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On the use of instruments in early Judaic worship

I recently read this fairly good article, regarding Orthodox Music.

However, in defending the exclusive vocality of Orthodox Sacred Music, it makes a statement (fourth footnote) that I see fairly consistently whenever such a discussion comes up.  It states,
Conversely, the Psalms that mention mankind (and not the angels) praising God with musical instruments are generally understood by the Church Fathers as possessing a spiritual rather than a literal meaning. It is well known among Judaic scholars that the use of musical instruments was proscribed from ancient Temple worship just as it is still forbidden in the Orthodox Church today.
Additionally, the top commenter adds:
I especially am grateful for the paragraph regarding the Psalm mentioning use of instruments “Praise him with timbrel and harp,etc” as not being literal.
This is an attitude that is pervasive these days in Orthodox musical circles: that the use of instruments was forbidden in Judaic worship, and that the Psalms referring to instruments are "not literal", that they "possess a spiritual rather than a literal meaning".

The top commenter continues:
 I’ll get challenged with that by Protestants and Romans alike, and tell them that in pre-diaspora Judaism the only thing they used was the shofar to signal the start of Sabbath. No instruments!
The problem is: this is simply not the case.  The Scriptures record, as a historical matter, the explicit use of instruments in the worship of God, under David.  The Chronicles record[1] that:

[David] appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel.  Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God.
With them were Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.  Heman and Jeduthun had trumpets and cymbals for the music and instruments for sacred song.

And that these were officially set over "the service of song", and not just common people who in their enthusiasm busted out their instruments to play along, is further evidenced by earlier in the same book[2]:

These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the LORD after the ark rested there.  They ministered with song before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting until Solomon built the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they performed their service according to their order.  These are the men who served and their sons. Of the sons of the Kohathites: Heman the singer the son of Joel...and his brother Asaph, who stood on his right hand, namely, Asaph the son of Berechiah....  On the left hand were their brothers, the sons of Merari: Ethan the son of Kishi....

And again, afterwards[3]:
David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.
They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king.  The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the LORD, all who were skillful, was 288.
Again, 2 Sam. 6:5, cf. I Chr. 13:8, shows that instruments were a key part of Israelite worship.

And lest you say, "Well, that was only prior to Temple worship", no, I Kings 10:12 shows that king Solomon provided instruments for use in the Temple as well.  It reads:
And the king made of the almug wood supports for the house of the LORD and for the king's house, also lyres and harps for the singers.
And this cannot be a mystical meaning referring to their voices, because he made the instruments.  In fact, he gave those instruments over to the very same people his father had appointed[4]:
Thus all the work that Solomon made for the house of the LORD was finished: and Solomon brought in all the things that David his father had dedicated; and the silver, and the gold, and all the instruments, put he among the treasures of the house of God.
(...and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever," the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.
Nor was all of this merely David's idea.  2 Chr. 29:25 and 26 says that it was the LORD's command by his prophets:

And he stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres, according to the commandment of David and of Gad the king's seer and of Nathan the prophet, for the commandment was from the LORD through his prophets.  The Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

This is also evidenced by the fact that the practice was renewed in second temple worship.  The book of  Nehemiah records that -- see chapter 12.

I have no problem admitting that the angelic song is vocal.  However, please don't try to tell me that the Judaic Temple worship was without instruments, and that the Psalms are referring to some mystical meaning and NOT (as opposed to in addition to) literal instruments.  Because that's just plain false.

If I were to speculate on the reason this (false) dichotomy between the spiritual and literal meanings of the references to instruments is so popular, I suspect it is due to several factors, including these two:
  1. The desire to repudiate Protestant and post-Vatican II Roman Catholic worship forms, and
  2. A lack of knowledge of the Scriptural statements about the matter (hopefully this post will fix that)
As for #1, I think that holding a polemic stance towards those worship forms is not necessarily healthy, and speaks more to our own insecurities as either former Protestants and Vatican II Roman Catholics, or as living in a "gestalt" that is currently dealing with an influx of these.

We don't need to make up arguments based on false premises in order to "repudiate" those forms.  Rather, the best way, IMHO, to do this is to do worship the Orthodox way, and make no apologies (or polemics) for it.  When the people who worship with instruments are ready, they will understand; but they won't before that.  I should know: I was one.


[1] I Chr. 16:5, 6, 42
[2] I Chr. 6:31-33, 39, 44
[3] I Chr. 25:1, 6, 7
[4] 2 Chr. 5:1, 12-14, emphasis mine
[5] Neh. 12:27

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On the refutation of arguments...

I am still very busy, as I said in my last post.  However, I would like to take a moment to point out something  that has been bugging me for quite some time, which has application to discussions everywhere.

One of the most popular logical fallacies these days (in my experience, anyway) is a particular rhetorical tool known as "denying the antecedent."  Wikipedia describes this as:
[T]he consequent in an indicative conditional is claimed to be false because the antecedent is false; if A, then B; not A, therefore not B.
Let me give an example.  Say you and I are having a debate, and you build your conclusion on the existence of purple polka-dotted people-eaters.  In this case, I have one of several options: I can

1) Ignore your argument entirely, and attack your conclusion from a completely different angle, and show why such a conclusion is impossible, or

2) Accept the logical deduction of your conclusion from the existence of purple polka-dotted people-eaters, but attack the existence of such creatures, or

3) Attack the logical steps by which you get from PPDPE's to your conclusion.

Responses 2 and 3 are wonderful rhetorical tools.  They win debates.  Why?  Because people then assume that the conclusion is therefore false, committing the fallacy mentioned above.

However, the only way that that could be the case is if it can be shown that the argument is "if and only if A, then B".  In other words, that "not A, then necessarily not B" is actually the case.  However, in most debates that is extremely hard to prove.

This fallacy has many and subtle forms to it.  Frequently, "armchair atheists" will be very guilty of this.  They may say, "Prove God's existence to me."  Then, they shoot down each argument that they receive.  They then assume that God does not exist.  They think, because no one can prove it to my satisfaction, then it must not Be.

Also, Christians can be guilty of this as well, with their own argumentation from Scripture.  For example, the article that prompted this post contains a quote from Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson (an openly practicing homosexual):
We have allowed the Bible to be taken hostage, and it is being wielded by folks who would use it to hit us over the head,” he said. “The sin of Sodom had nothing to do with homosexual sex but was a failure to care for the poor, the widows and the orphans. Scripture is not as plainspoken as some would have us believe.
Ok, let's assume that that is in fact the case.  Let's grant the point.  He has pointed out that "A" -- the argument against homosexuality from the "sin of Sodom" -- is invalid.  Let's grant the point, for the sake of argument.  He has encountered the argument "If A, then B" -- where "B" is the Christian assertion that homosexuality is a sin.  To which he has replied "not A".  But his conclusion ("therefore, not B") is the fallacy we've been discussing.

The very best his "not A" assertion can do is to reset the discussion back to the raw assertions -- "B" for Christianity, and "not B" for him.   In order for his argument of "not A, therefore not B" to be valid, he would have to show that "B iff A" (that is, "B if and only if A").  This he has not done.
(NB: Lest I fall into the same fallacy -- I should mention that proving his argument false does not make his assertion of "not B" necessarily incorrect.  It just means that his assertion is in no way proven or not proven.  I disagree with his conclusion that homosexuality is not a sin.  But it is on other bases that I do not agree, not based on the sin of Sodom.)