A shofar, the ‘trumpet’ that brought down the walls of Jericho
Annoyingly, there are no images or carvings of musical instruments in Israel. So we have to rely on Egyptian, Assyrian and Aramean or Greek pictures and sculptures to get an idea of how they looked.
To add to the problem, it’s hard to be certain about the words used to describe instruments in the Bible. Some terms, for example Nêbel (harp) and Kinnôr (lyre), are used interchangeably, although originally they described distinctions in size or in the number of strings.
On the other hand, many statements or explanations offered by later writers are clearly unreliable. The Jewish historian Josephus, for example, solemnly states that there were 500,000 musicians in Palestine, clearly a wild exaggeration.
Egyptian wall painting of musicians with percussion and wind instruments
ln general, the instruments mentioned in Hebrew writings can be classiﬁed into familar moderns groups:
Ancient statuette of a woman playing a timbrel. Cyprus 6th century BC
Tôph – a frame drum
Menae’im — a sistrum
Metziltãyim or tseltselîm — cymbals
Pã‘amonim — bells or jingles
Hãlîl ~ oboe
Shôfãr or keren yobél — ram or goat’s horn
Ugãb — ﬂute
Mashrôkêtã — double oboe
Keren — horn or trumpet.
Hãtsotserah — trumpet; the trumpets from Herod’s temple, shown on the Arch of Titus
Other coins of the period show lyres, usually in pairs as in the instructions given to Moses in Numbers 10:2-10. They were played by priests during Temple worship. See pictures of these below.
Bronze female figurine playing the lute, heighth 15.5 cm. Beat Shean, 15-13th century BC, Haifa Museum. Instrument resembling bagpipes
Kinnôr — lyre
Nébel – harp
Asôr — zither
Pesantêrin — psaltery (a stringed instrument triangular in shape, or dulcimer)
Kãtrôs — cithara
Sabkã — harp shaped like a ladder on a boat. See pictures of these below.
Other coins of the period picture lyres. An interesting thing is that they come in pairs as in the instructions given to Moses (Numbers 10:2-10). They were played by priests either in unison or antiphonally during Temple worship.
Pictures of ancient instruments
Seven of the images below are from the Potsdam Public Museum at the recommended website http://www.potsdampublicmuseum.org/pages/68/10/ancient-musical-instruments.
This website describes the painstaking recreation of ancient instruments by Charles N. and Harriett Lanphere of Potsdam, New York, in the late 19th century. They reconstructed instruments from the Bible, Egypt, Chaldea, Assyria and Palestine, using images from rock sculptures, tomb paintings, and coins.
Percussion Instruments – images
Tôph – a frame drum. Potsdam Public Museum
Menne’îm — the sistrum, an Egyptian instrument made of a metal frame with transverse metal rods that tinkled or rattled when shaken. Potsdam Public Museum
Metziltãyim or tseltselîm — cymbals, Roman mosaic
Wind Instruments – images
Shôfãr or keren yobél — a ram or goat’s horn
ûgãb — the ﬂute
The mashrôkêtã — double oboe
Keren — the horn or trumpet, metal, late Roman, from Spain and Italy
Stringed Instruments – images
Copy of the small Hebrew harp on the Beni Hasan mural, Egypt, 1800BC. Potsdam Public Museum
Kinnôr — lyre. This one is an Egyptian horse-headed Lyre. Potsdam Public Museum
Nébel – harp. This is thought to have been the main instrument accompanying Psalms in the Temple. Potsdam Public Museum
Simple Greek harp without soundbox
Pesantêrin — psaltery, a stringed instrument triangular in shape, or dulcimer. Potsdam Public Museum
In this bas relief from the palace at Nineveh, circa 700BC, lyre strings are struck with a wooden baton, rather than plucked with a plectrum
Kãtrôs — the cithara, as played by this Roman woman, 1st century AD
Sabkã — a harp shaped like a ladder on a boat. Potsdam Public Museum