Music of the Bible
As noted below, this work is controversial. Its author makes a
good case for her work, but many other scholars do not accept
We do not consider ourselves qualified to decide one way or
another. We present this work here only for its interest, not because we
believe that it is (or isn't) what its creator claims.
French composer/scholar Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura believes that
she has deciphered musical notations in the original text of the Bible. The
notations are found in what are called "te'amin," which are accent
marks found above and below the main text in all Hebrew manuscripts.
Ms. Haïk-Vantoura began working on deciphering these
symbols around 1970. It was a slow, laborious process, involving much trial
and error. One important part of her work revolved around the ancient art of
chironomy, an ancient method in which hand signs are used to transmit music.
Ms. Haïk-Vantoura reports that once she began to look at the te'amin as
possibly representing graphical representations of chirometric hand signs, a
key to deciphering the the Biblical notation began to emerge from her work.
Eventually she created a deciphering key in which each of the Biblical symbols
can be translated into notes on a scale.
One interesting thing about Ms. Haïk-Vantoura's
deciphering key is that, when applied to the Biblical notation, it always
yields coherent music, not music sometimes and noise another. Also, the music
is always well suited to the mood of the words it accompanies in the
Ms. Haïk-Vantoura's work has been acclaimed by some
scholars as a definite breakthrough, but is rejected by other scholars as
still leaving too much room for subjective interpretation.
Most of the Psalms have now been deciphered using Ms.
Haïk-Vantoura's key, and several recordings of the resulting music have been
made. Below are some samples of those recordings.
Some listening notes:
As you listen to these recordings it is a good idea to have your Bible
open to the appropriate Psalm. The language is Hebrew, which few of us are
accustomed to hearing even in speech, let alone sung, so it will be difficult
to follow along unless you have something to help you know what is being sung.
"Checkpoints" - there are some things you
can listen for to help you keep your place in the Psalm.
The most prominent is the word "Adonai.,"
which is used wherever you see the uppercase "LORD" in your English
Bible. The actual text will contain the tetragrammaton -- YHWH -- which Jewish
practice would never have sung. Instead, the name "Adonai" has been
substituted. This word is easily distinguishable in the singing, and you can
use its occurrences to help you know where the singer is in the Psalm
Another noticeable feature is a distinct pause at the
end of each phrase or verse. Sometimes the pause is only enough for a quick
breath, but it will be noticable.
Every selection includes the short preface we see in
the Bible -- "A Psalm of David," "A Song of Ascents, of
We have noted beside each selection some other words
you might distinguish in the performance.
The following selections require the Real Audio player.
If you do not have the player, you can download a free copy of it here:
Selections: all selections (except the second version of Psalm 150) are
from "La Musique de la Bible Revelee" - Harmonia Mundi, HMA190989.
This CD can be ordered from several online CD stores.
||Link now fixed - was previously linked to a modern
version of the Psalm.
As you listen to this Psalm, try to imagine David singing
to Saul to soothe his troubled spirit. "Adonai" is prominent
at both the beginning and end. You may also notice a distinct change in
the mood of the music as he sings about walking in the valley of the
shadow of death.
||Very messianic. The tone very much reflects the
expectation of a conquering Messiah. The last part of this Psalm sings
about the "gates," and in Jewish belief refers to the East
gate into Jerusalem, through which they believe Messiah will enter the
city. The present day Arabs have bricked up that gate to prevent His
Here you will very clearly hear the "Selah"
at the ends of verses 6 and 10. You may also hear "elohim" and
"Adonai elohim" if you listen carefully enough.
The Psalm is sung as a series of
statements or questions and responses from alternating groups of
singers. You will very clearly hear the switch in mood at verse 7.
||One of the Psalms of Ascents.
These were sung during the Fall Festivals, by the priests on the
steps of the temple, They would stand on the bottom step and sing the
first Psalm of Ascent, then they would move up a step and sing the next
These were also sung by families on their way
"up to Jerusalem" to keep the Feast. This setting is
reminiscent of such a setting. One family member begins the Psalm, then
Here you will hear several familiar words, if
you listen carefully. Jerusalem is mentioned more than once. (yeruwshalaim).
Also very noticeable is Israel (ysraiel), "Jah" ,
"name of Jehova" (shem Adonai), and "Peace of
Jerusalem" (shalowm yeruwshalaim).
We think that the end of the Psalm, singing about the peace
of Jerusalem, is especially beautiful.
||The great Hallelujah that concludes the Book of
Here is a second
performance of this Psalm, sung by Esther Lamandier, who has
recorded a CD with 26 different Psalms from Haki-Vantoura's work. (CD is
Alienor AL 1041. We found it at a Dutch internet music store, but
you may be able to order it through a US site as well.)
We want to thank Ron Dart of CEM
Ministeries, for passing along information that led us to locate these CD's.
We had been aware of the existence of Ms. Haïk-Vantoura's work, but had not
located any samples of it until Ron passed along some information that allowed
us to locate the recordings and a book.
Haïk-Vantoura published a book in 1978 describing her work and what she
discovered. The original book is in French, but an English translation has been
made and can be ordered from most major online bookstores. The title is "The
Music of the Bible Revealed," Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura, BIBAL Press,
Berkeley, CA and King David's Harp, Inc, San Francisco, CA