Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The first note of a Biblical verse

Most verses begin on the tonic. But sometimes not. The three books of poetry (Psalms, Job, and Proverbs) use different opening notes more often than the 21. When the first note of a verse is not the default tonic or home note (e), the music indicates that the verse is somehow related to what has come before it. The nature of the relationship is not specific. We the reader / singer must decide how the opening relates to what has been already.

Here is the graph comparing the two cantilation schemes. When you see a ~, it indicates an ornament on the first note. The notes of the scale are c, d, e, f, g, A, B, C. The f is sharpened in the three books.

In the 3 books, the tonic is preferred 70% of the time. In the 21 books, it is 88%. Leaving out the tonic, the remaining options are distributed as shown in the graph. Clearly, the 3 books have a decided preference for opening on g - nearly half of the remaining 30% of the verses. Verses using the scheme of the 21 books (including the narrator verses in Job) never open on a c or a d. And the 21 book scheme has a slightly higher percentage of openings on a high note, B or C.

Lest all this seem purely theoretical, the last 5 psalms are clearly connected as a group of psalms of praise, the final doxology. Psalms 147 to 150 all begin on an f# clearly linking all these psalms into a unit.

Psalms 1 and 2 have a number of verses beginning on a note other than the tonic:

The first note of the Psalter is f#. There are only four books of the Bible that do not begin on the tonic e: Psalms, Proverbs, Job, and Deuteronomy. Each of these books thus bears a special relationship with all that comes before it. The three books, Psalms, Proverbs, and Job are key to understanding the canonical history and prophecy. Deuteronomy is similarly a commentary on the first 4 books of the Bible.

The high note that begins Psalm 1, verse 2 contrasts the negatives of verse 1 with the joy of the instruction that is from Yahweh.

The opening note of Psalm 2 is g, again showing that this psalm continues the prior psalm. Verse 5 has a dramatic opening linked to verse 4. Verses 6, 9 and 10 reinforce the separation of speaker from verses 7 and 8.

This is new information. I doubt that anyone has reported this result in the literature of the last 1000 years, because no one else uses music for such analysis. The music is encoded into the text via accents which are abbreviated hand-signals. For more understanding of how this is done and what impact it can have on interpretation, see my introductory book on the music of the Bible, The Song in the Night. In it there are hundreds of examples telling the story of the Bible in music.

Psalms 2 Vs Fn Min Max
לָ֭מָּה רָגְשׁ֣וּ גוֹיִ֑ם
וּ֝לְאֻמִּ֗ים יֶהְגּוּ־רִֽיק
1 g Why such a throng of nations?
and tribes in empty muttering?
3e 4B 6
יִ֥תְיַצְּב֨וּ ׀ מַלְכֵי־אֶ֗רֶץ וְרוֹזְנִ֥ים נֽוֹסְדוּ־יָ֑חַד
עַל־יְ֝הוָה וְעַל־מְשִׁיחֽוֹ
2 f# They station themselves, these sovereigns of earth, these rule-makers reasoning as one
over Yahweh and over his anointed:
3e 4A 12
נְֽ֭נַתְּקָה אֶת־מֽוֹסְרוֹתֵ֑ימוֹ
וְנַשְׁלִ֖יכָה מִמֶּ֣נּוּ עֲבֹתֵֽימוֹ
3 Let us snap their bonds
and kiss good-bye to their cords.

3e 4B 8
יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בַּשָּׁמַ֣יִם יִשְׂחָ֑ק
אֲ֝דֹנָ֗י יִלְעַג־לָֽמוֹ
4 The one sitting in the heavens, he laughs.
My Lord derides them.
3e 4B 7
אָ֤ז יְדַבֵּ֣ר אֵלֵ֣ימוֹ בְאַפּ֑וֹ
וּֽבַחֲרוֹנ֥וֹ יְבַהֲלֵֽמוֹ
5 C Then he will speak to them in his anger
and in his burning vex them
3e 4C 10
וַ֭אֲנִי נָסַ֣כְתִּי מַלְכִּ֑י
עַל־צִ֝יּ֗וֹן הַר־קָדְשִֽׁי
6 g I myself have offered as libation my own king
on Zion, my holy hill.

3e 4B 8
אֲסַפְּרָ֗ה אֶֽ֫ל חֹ֥ק
יְֽהוָ֗ה אָמַ֘ר אֵלַ֥י בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה
אֲ֝נִ֗י הַיּ֥וֹם יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ
7 I will recount the decree.
Yahweh promised to me: You are my son.
I myself this day gave birth to you.
3e 4A 5
שְׁאַ֤ל מִמֶּ֗נִּי וְאֶתְּנָ֣ה ג֭וֹיִם נַחֲלָתֶ֑ךָ
וַ֝אֲחֻזָּתְךָ֗ אַפְסֵי־אָֽרֶץ
8 Ask me and I give the nations as your legacy,
and as yours to hold fast, the ends of the earth.
3e 4C 15
תְּ֭רֹעֵם בְּשֵׁ֣בֶט בַּרְזֶ֑ל
כִּכְלִ֖י יוֹצֵ֣ר תְּנַפְּצֵֽם
9 g You will injure them with an iron sceptre.
Like fashioned vessels, you will smash them.

3e 4B 8
וְ֭עַתָּה מְלָכִ֣ים הַשְׂכִּ֑ילוּ
הִ֝וָּסְר֗וּ שֹׁ֣פְטֵי אָֽרֶץ
10 g So now, you sovereigns, let there be insight.
Be warned you who judge on earth.
3e 4B 9
עִבְד֣וּ אֶת־יְהוָ֣ה בְּיִרְאָ֑ה
וְ֝גִ֗ילוּ בִּרְעָדָֽה
11 Serve Yahweh in fear,
and rejoice in trembling.
3e 4B 8
נַשְּׁקוּ־בַ֡ר פֶּן־יֶאֱנַ֤ף ׀ וְתֹ֬אבְדוּ דֶ֗רֶךְ כִּֽי־יִבְעַ֣ר כִּמְעַ֣ט אַפּ֑וֹ
אַ֝שְׁרֵ֗י כָּל־ח֥וֹסֵי בֽוֹ
12 Kiss, each of you - pure lest he be angry and you perish in the way,
for he kindles as a hint of his anger. Happy are all who take refuge in him.
3e 4C 19