Click to see instruments at end of this page
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.
It's also difficult to be certain about the words used to describe instruments in the Bible. Some terms, for example Nębel (harp) and Kinnôr (lyre), are used interchangeably in the earlier translations, 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:
-- trumpet; the trumpets from Herod’s temple, shown on the Arch of Titus
These last two non-Semitic names appear only in the description of Nebuchadrezzar‘s court in Daniel. The same book also mentions the word 'sampôneyah'. This was thought to be an instrument rather like Irish/Scottish bagpipes (see right), but recently it has appeared that it was a more generic term, like the modern 'symphony' or 'ensemble'.
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.
Tôph - a frame drum. Potsdam Public Museum
-- the sistrum, an Egyptian instrument made of a metal frame
Metziltăyim or tseltselîm -- cymbals, Roman mosaic
Shôfăr or keren yobél -- a ram or goat’s horn
űgăb -- the ﬂute
The mashrôkętă -- double oboe
Keren -- the horn or trumpet, metal, late Roman, from Spain and Italy
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
Pesantęrin -- psaltery, a stringed instrument triangular in shape, or dulcimer. Potsdam Public Museum
lyre strings are struck with a wooden baton, rather than plucked with a plectrum
Kătrôs -- the cithara, as played by this Roman woman, 1st century AD
Sabkă -- a harp shaped like a ladder on a boat. Potsdam Public Museum
Study Resource for Archaeology: Musical instruments, percussion, wind,