Music and Dance in the Bible (Genesis chap. 4, verse 21)

And his brother’s name was Jubal: he was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.

Verses 20-22 describe the type of society outside the city that takes the name of Enoch. This nomadic society was composed by people who lived in tents and who moved together with flocks looking for grazing (see verse 19). Sometimes this people gathered to sing and to dance around a fire. Parties were enlivened by players of harp and flute. It was not the harp of the courts, but the most rudimentary and small ones that could easily be transported from one place to another, as well as the flutes.

Music is a privileged channel for expressing emotions and inner moods that are difficult to represent on the outside through speech. In the Bible, music had a therapeutic character, as is clearly shown in the so-called story from the ascent of David to the throne (1 Sam 16 – 2 Sam 5). David played the harp and so placated Saul’s bad mood, which was possessed by an evil spirit (1 Sam 4: 16-23).

Music also had a strong prophetic connotation. Groups of prophets rang and danced to enter a state of ecstasy, and then prophesy (see 1 Sam 10). According to the biblical tradition, David was a composer of Psalms (Ps 22), many of which were sung with the accompaniment of cetre and cymbals. Iubal is the progenitor of those who – for various reasons – play the flute and the zither.

Obviously, the biblical author wanted to indicate here the origin of music and the light heartedness that often accompanies it. A carelessness that, according to the author’s view, was part of the cheerful decadence of the human race, before the flood.

Simone Venturini


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