Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-768dbb666b-6zkrn Total loading time: 1.155 Render date: 2023-02-05T08:36:47.377Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Babylonian and Hebrew Musical Terms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 March 2011

S. Langdon
Oxford Folk Lore Society


In the introduction to my Sumerian and Babylonian Psalms was derived, from early rubrics attached to Sumerian songs, the principle that the Sumerians classified their psalms and liturgical services chiefly by the names of the instruments employed in accompaniments. The Babylonians and the Assyrians adopted the Sumerian chants for their own sacred music, and throughout the history of Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian temple music each psalm and liturgy was usually said to the accompaniment of a single instrument. The early Sumerian psalms usually have the title eršemma or melody to the flute. But the drum, balag, Syriac pelaggā, and the kettledrum, liles, Babylonian lilissu, were freely employed in sacred music. The harp was also employed in early Sumer, as we know from a monument of Lagash, but the Sumerian and Babylonian name of the harp is unknown. The Sumerians classified their chants by the names of these instruments.

Copyright © The Royal Asiatic Society 1921

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


page 169 note 1 The lilissu was a kettledrum. The meaning is determined by a drawing of this instrument on a Babylonian, tablet, Revue d'Assyriologie, xiv, 145Google Scholar, reverse.

page 170 note 1 The titles of the liturgies sung to the flute in col. iii, 1–31, are not complete.

page 170 note 2 Obv. iii, 37.

page 170 note 3 The transcription of the Sumerian is given in the list at the end of my Sumerian Grammar. I have changed my system with reference to a few signs for the sake of simplicity. is rendered by gl, I by gr, by gr, by kur, and by kùr. A large number of new values now known since the list was prepared will be dealt with in the second edition.

page 170 note 4 Cf. a-na-šú, Sumerian Liturgies and Psalms, 251, 27Google Scholar; a-na-áš-ám, why is it? Keiser, , Documents of the Ur Dynasty, 116, 7Google Scholar. See Sumerian Grammar, p. 111.Google Scholar

page 170 note 5 parṣu kînu, Meek, No. 75, 7, in BA. x. Cf. Liturgies and Psalms, 263, 15.Google Scholar

page 170 note 6 Postfixed conjugation in an interrogative sentence. See ibid. 294, n. 9, gu for kúr = nakāru.

page 171 note 1 Read maģ-ṭi-ib (?).

page 171 note 2 For nam. m > n before a sibilant.

page 171 note 3 ga for ģo, which supports my statement that Sumerian possessed a velar sonant spirant ģ; see Sumerian Grammar, § 38.

page 171 note 4 Probably the original of nru-gal = urigallu, great brother, a kind of priest; cf. Meissner, SAI. 4588. This melody is employed in a liturgy to the deified king Libit-Ishtar; see PSBA. 1918, 74, 9Google Scholar, where read ú-ru-gal.

page 171 note 5 PSBA. 1918, 74, 8.Google Scholar

page 171 note 6 Ibid., p. 79, 7.

page 171 note 7 Radau, , Sumerian Hymns and Prayers to NIN-IB, p. 54, 38.Google Scholar

page 171 note 8 This passage was ignored by Frank and Holma in their discussions of the meṣu instrument; see ZA. 28, 159. Delitzsch cites K. 4547 on p. 27 of his Handwörterbuch.

page 171 note 9 Langdon, , Babylonian Liturgies, 79, 17.Google Scholar

page 171 note 10 Brünnow, No. 8907.

page 171 note 11 Reisner, SBH. 72, R. 10.

page 171 note 12 Langdon, , SBP. 70, 15Google Scholar. manzû ù lilisi, tambourine and kettledrum, , Shurpu, iii, 79Google Scholar, restored from Ebeling, , Religiöse Texte, No. 41, 34.Google Scholar

page 172 note 1 lu rašše = amel purussî (?).

page 172 note 2 For kalaggi = dannnu (?).

page 173 note 1 The number of these compositions is broken away at the left of the tablet.

page 173 note 2 The rubric bal-bal occurs at the end of several Sumerian psalms, Langdon, Babylonian Liturgies, p. 103, 55; PSBA. 1918, 82, 41; 85, 23; and an unpublished Nippur text (4589) has the rubric bal-bal-e d.Inninikam, a meditation of Innini.

page 173 note 3 Since giš-sìr means mâlilu, wood flute, it is probable that sìr-gid means long flute. The rubric occurs in Sumerian Liturgical Texts, 138, 29; 140, 54, and at the end of Ni. 11394 (unpublished).

page 173 note 4 Usually written imbubu, Syriac abbūbā.

page 174 note 1 The passage was not comprehended by Jensen, , Texte zur assyrisch-babylonische Religion, p. 102Google Scholar. For ummisallû, a kind of recitation, see also Ebeling, , Religiöse Texte, No. 44, Rev. 14Google Scholar, eme-sal-meš, with kidudû recitations. The word eme-sal is commonly interpreted by woman's tongue, Zimmern in ZA. 30, 204 ff., note on Eb. 44, R. 14. Zimmern has, however, suggested that sal may mean ṣilîtu, prayer, and the root sil has the meaning to sing, cry out; eme-sal = ummisallû may possibly mean “tongue of prayer”.

page 174 note 2 Of. 1. 33 pu-u-ru, same word.

page 174 note 3 Hebrew , an ode of joy and praise in Hebrew and always connected with music. The Sumerian term is ki-sub-gú, Eb. 100, 5, usually a song of sorrow, elegy, in the Sumerian liturgies. Zamar šêri corresponds precisely to the Hebrew mizmōr šîr in the titles to certain Psalms (cf. Psalms lxvii and lxviii).

page 174 note 4 Probably identical with alālu, a hymn of praise, V Raw. 6, 102; King, , Boundary Stones, p. 17, vi, 6Google Scholar; Thureau-Dangin, , Sargon, 207Google Scholar, alālu ṭâbu, a sweet song, and the equivalent of the Hebrew rubric in the heading of Psalm cxlv. On the other hand, from the same root alālu or elēlu = to sing a song of joy, is derived a word alālû, a long wooden flute. Giš-gidim, giš-gi-di = alalû, Meissner, SAI. 5521, and Berlin Assur text, 2559, iv, 44 (unpublished). See below, line 31.

page 174 note 5 Ningišzida, a vegetation deity and form of Tammuz, is not otherwise known as the subject of liturgical compositions. At present none of these ten compositions has been recovered.

page 175 note 1 A number of these royal hymns to deities are known. A prayer of Ašurnaṣirpal to Ishtar, ZA. v, 66–80 = Tammuz and Ishtar, 65–9Google Scholar. A hymn of the same king to Ishtar, , Ebeling, , Religiöse Texte, 107Google Scholar = Ebeling, , Quellen zur Kenntnis der Babylonischen Religion, i, 5862Google Scholar. Two bilingual hymns of Tukulti-Ninurta, Ebeling, Nos. 128, 129 = Ebeling, , Quellen, i, 6273Google Scholar. The Semitic version is probably fundamental, and these two tablets are to be classified as Semitic songs of a king. A hymn of Nebuchadnezzar II to Nebo, PSBA. 1898, 154–62Google Scholar, edited by S. A. Strong, translated also by Jastrow, , Religion, i, 510Google Scholar, and by Zimmern, , Der Alte Orient, vii 3, 89Google Scholar (only lines 9–20 of reverse). A hymn of Nebuchadnezzar I to Marduk on his victory over the Elamites, Hehn, BA. v, 326–9, and a similar hymn, CT. 13, 48 = Winckler, , Forschungen, i, 542Google Scholar. A hymn to Nanā by Sargon, Craig, RT. 54. Here belong probably the hymns of dedication of Ašurbanipal; see Streck, , Assurbanipal, ii, 276–86Google Scholar = Craig, RT. 10–13; Streck, ibid. 287–93 = Craig, RT. ii, 1–2; Streck, ibid. 293–303 = Craig, RT. 76–9; Streck, ibid. 343–51 = Craig, RT. 5–6. See also Jensen, , KB. vi 2, 136–41Google Scholar, who mentions none of his predecessors (Strong, Pinckert, Martin, Zimmern; see Streck, ibid, i, p. lxi). The Catalogue of Assur is earlier than the reign of Asurbanipal, and consequently these twelve hymns must refer to the older Babylonian and Assyrian kings.

page 175 note 2 The titles of these eleven tušgû songs were given at the top of Rev. iii. This word occurs as teš-ku-u on K. 2030a, Obv. 13 (in press) = K. 11190 (CT. 19, 39), 3, akkil = ikkillum ša ṣêri: teš-ku-u, wailing of the plain, i.e. lower world, i.e. the Tammuz waitings. K. 2030a, Rev. 23–5, has Sum. il-dúg-ga and gù-dúb = teśkû, lamentation. The form tušgû from šagû, to lament, is original, and has the same sense as the more ordinary šigû, the Sumerian eršagģunga, penitential psalm.

page 176 note 1 Var. Rev. iii, 11Google Scholar, ki-ir-ri-e-tu. On kirêtu, kirrêtu, feast, from to invite to a feast, hence the “Invitation”, see Landsberger, , Der Kultische Kalendar, 14Google Scholar. Usually of a religious feast, RA. 12, 81, 28. A synonym is mudulu, Yale Vocabulary, 185Google Scholar, ŠÉŠ (adkin) = mu-du-lu: ki-ri-e-tū, var. K. 8284 kir-ri-e-tu. Mudulu is clearly connected with dalālu, to serve, dullu, religious service. Mudulu, religious service, feast, occurs also in Legrain, , Le Temps des Rois d'Ur, 116, 2Google Scholar; 117, 6, sacrifices of sheep for the mudulum and šir-tu. Sheep are called the sá-dúg, fixed offering of the mudulu, 356, 2Google Scholar; širtu, song service, is the cognate of Hebrew , song, ballad. Note also Legrain, ibid. 322, 1, fat rams for the šir naḳ me, song service of the pouring of water, that is, the libations for the souls of the dead. See also ibid. 323, 9; 341, 9; CT. 32, 16, i, 6, and Landsberger, , Der Kultische Kalendar, 31Google Scholar, n. 2.

page 176 note 2 Cf. Eb. 144, Rev. 1.

page 176 note 3 E'irtu, from to be wakeful ? ē ir* > êru, participle? The root occurs in Eb. 58, R. 15, ana e-ri u ṣalli, for the waking and the sleeping. As verb eratina, ye are watching, ibid., 1. 13. For the adj. fem. pl. êrâti, see 1. 12. A reading enitu = entu, lady, is hardly possible.

page 176 note 4 Ammartu;.cf. the title of Ishtar ammarat kal nišê, Eb. 158, obv. i, 26, and ii, 30, am-ma-ra-ta. The cognate at-mar-ti iluIgigi seems to indicate a root amāru, to see, hence the observer, the overseer.

page 177 note 1 Gangiṭṭu is the loan-word from GI(ḳan)-gid, which is also rendered by mālilu, flute. The Sumerian word for reed was gi(n) and gan, whence the loan-word ḳanû.

page 177 note 2 Probably from a hitherto unidentified root in Assyrian Hebrew

page 177 note 3 Nûru is probably connected with the verb na'āru, Hebrew cry, shriek, whence youthfulness. See the references to this root in Assyrian in Babylonian Liturgies, p. xxviiGoogle Scholar. The Sumerian value nar of the sign LUL = nâru, zammeru, singer, is a Semitic loan-word. See RA. 14, 84, 12 and nar-gal = na-ar-gallûm, chief singer, Poebel, , PBS. v, 141, 8.Google Scholar

page 177 note 4 Cf. ṭâbūtu illaku ša na-pi-šu, they burn sweet things of good odour, Zimmern, , Zum Babylonischen Neujahrfest, p. 141, 8Google Scholar. See also nipšu, Muss-Arnolt, , Lexicon, 711.Google Scholar

page 178 note 1 Šadrutu is probably the true reading, not nadrutu or kurrutu, and from the same root as šidru and mašdaru discussed above, p. 6. The verb šadāru, which I take to mean “recite in a monotone”, is otherwise unknown and has no Semitic cognate. A root šadāru, to command, is not proven for Assyrian, but cf. aššum mimma šudduru, ZK. ii, 83, 12.Google Scholar

page 178 note 2 Or šeṭu, negligence, then the result of negligence, trouble. Cf. K. 8396 in Bezold, 's Catalogue, ukattimanni šit-tuGoogle Scholar, trouble has covered me. In case atlaki (cf. iv, R. 56, i, 15; Eb. No. 96, Rev. 26, labirûta itallak, go unto decay) means “go away”, šittu, disgrace, trouble, must be assumed here. On the other hand, if atlaki means “come”, šittu, sleep, is certain. Cf. Eb. 58, Rev. 36, atlak ana Ekur, come unto Ekur. In either case šittu is personified, and there is one example of šittu, trouble, personified in Maḳlu iii, 184.Google Scholar

page 178 note 3 The meaning of this line is obscure and will remain so until the text itself is recovered. For māru in the sense of beloved, or man, see below on Rev. ii, 48.Google Scholar

page 178 note 4 This title of Ishtar usually refers to her as the planet Venus.

page 179 note 1 Cf. šumaritu, Obv. ii, 21.Google Scholar

page 179 note 2 For ṣillulu cf. Keilschrifttexte aus Boghazköi, i, 42, ii, 6Google Scholar, á-bad = zillulu in a section with ṣillu. See also Weidner, , Studienzur Hethitischen Sprachwissenschaft, p. 63.Google Scholar

page 179 note 3 Gu-še-e-a, gù-ša- a is a corruption of gù-de-a, cry, shout, and a title of Ishtar, ša tanûḳāti; see Tammuz and Ishtar, p. 113,. n. 1Google Scholar, and RA. 13, 107, n. 10. Hence the Semiticized title gušatu, i.e. Ishtar, the moaning goddess, the loud crying, as queen of battle. A variant is A-gu-še-e-a, who summons to conflict, BA. iii, 287, 11. In a long hymn to Ishtar as goddess of battle she is called Saltu, “Hostility,” and Agušaa, “The loud crying,” Scheil, and Zimmern, , RA. 15, 159–82.Google Scholar

page 180 note 1 A word araḫḫu, storehouse, syn. našpaku, and probably loan-word from [a-ra-] = E-UŠ-GID-DA, is known from Poebel, , PBS. v, 106, iv, 11.Google Scholar

page 180 note 2 Uncertain. The word is here derived on the analogy of ašarîdu, from ḳattan, thin string (?), and êdu, one. Read šutanidû?

page 180 note 3 Name of an instrument? Or šiḳḳatu, triumph, victory, songs of victory?

page 180 note 4 This is the ordinary word for “one-third”, but the Semitic word formed regularly as a ḳatul ordinal occurs, šaluštu, šaluš.

page 180 note 5 Found by Captain Willock at Barsippa.

page 181 note 1 An instrument; see below on line 46.

page 182 note 1 Hehn, , BA. v, 309–119Google Scholar; Jensen, , KB. vi2, 108–17.Google Scholar

page 182 note 2 King, , Magic, No. 5, 10.Google Scholar

page 182 note 3 Scheil, , RA. 15, 170–82Google Scholar, and Zimmern, , Ishtar und ṢaltuGoogle Scholar. Cf. the hymn to Marduk in a New Year Festival, RA. 8, 43, lidbub ḳurdi-ku, 1. 14.Google Scholar

page 183 note 1 GAB-MEŠ, rendered i-ra-tu, Rev. ii, 6.Google Scholar

page 183 note 2 Ṣe'u, ṣû, from Arabic ṣaģi a, to incline to, give ear to, and Arb. saģ un, favour, love.

page 184 note 1 Ḫânu, part of the body and of animals a sacrificial part, certainly part of the inwards; see Holma, , Körperteile, 153Google Scholar. But what is me ḫa-ni? Text may not be in order.

page 184 note 2 With the root katāmu, to cover, is certainly connected the difficult Hebrew rubric Babylonian derived a word for treasure, katimtu, from this root, precisely parallel to the Hebrew gold. For katimtu, treasure, see Sargon Annals, 196, katimti šadê, and ZA. iv, 31, 28, bā'ir katimti, he that hunts for secret treasure. Hence katimtu, secret wisdom, niṣirta katimtu, the treasure of secret wisdom, Streck, , Assurbanipal, ii, 254, 13Google Scholar, and niṣirta amur-ma katimtu, the mystery I saw even the secret wisdom, Epic of Gilgamish, i, 5Google Scholar. When Eben Esra connected the Hebrew miktam with the word kéthem, gold, he was at any rate inspired. Other explanations of miktam which have come down through the LXX translators, the Targums and the Latin versions only show how completely the rubric had been forgotten. Philologically miktam corresponds to the Babylonian naktamu, lid, metal cover for a vessel, and the Hebrew word may denote an instrument of percussion like the tambourine or cymbal.

page 185 note 1 An expression for “a lover” which is not found in any other Semitic language.

page 185 note 2 Apparently a clear example of the particle i with the imperative; see also Luckenbill, AJSL. 32, 270, and Knudtzon, , Amarna Tafeln, p. 586, 138.Google Scholar

page 185 note 3 False plural of šimtu, the t being incorporated in the word. One is reminded of the expression for dying, alāku ana šimat mûši, but this idea is hardly to be expected in songs of passion. A word šimtu, evening shadows (v, R. 39, 33 and 31), exists, whence the dual šimtān, evening, ii, R. 7, 28, and the false plural + dual šîmêtān, evening. Šimtu, evening, and šmêtān are surely connected with Arabic suwai'atun, moment, suwā'un, first vigil of the night; see Driver's Notes in this volume.

page 185 note 4 The form as a permansive is incomprehensible. Perhaps a denominative from a noun ušamšû. Cf. šamšâ, šumšû, evening, JRAS. 1920, 570, n. 2.Google Scholar

page 185 note 5 Exclamation?

page 185 note 6 False for ela- āti; cf. CT. 15, 35, 5.

page 185 note 7 Apparently an example of the subjective pi'el describing the state of the subject.

page 186 note 1 For timšaš? The root mašāšu, stroke, Arabic massa, exists in Assyrian; cf. Holma, , Kleine Beiträge, 16.Google Scholar

page 186 note 2 For kippu = kappu, wing, cf. kib-be tubḳat arba'i, Messerschmidt, KTA. 16, 5, and for kappi êni, “wing of the eye,” eyelid, see Holma, , Körperteile, 17.Google Scholar

page 186 note 3 See above, 1. 15.

page 186 note 4 Certainly identical with nit libbi, womb, Holma, , Körperteile, 109.Google Scholar

page 186 note 5 Semen virilis.

page 187 note 1 Hardly the same word as iššaṣ, it shall be plundered (?) in omens, Klauber, , Politisch-Religiöse Texte, p. 132, 13Google Scholar; CT. 20, 31, 24; 32, 74 f., and išaṣ, CT. 28, 3, 3; Boissier, , Hilprecht Anniversary Volume, 358, 14.Google Scholar

page 187 note 2 Dadānu, breast, Syn. labānu, Sum. uzu-sa-gù and gú-sa, Sumerian Grammatical Texts, p. 10Google Scholar. Cf. di-a-da-a-nu, Poebel, , PBS. v, 137, 6.Google Scholar

page 187 note 3 Melilu occurs also in ZA. 10, 298, 45.

page 187 note 4 Uncertain. Unnu from south Semitic is to be expected in Assyrian over against the Canaanitish înu, grapes, wine. A root with the same sense as nagāšu exists. Cf. guāšu = alāku, CT. 18, 6, 48, and gûšanni, hasten unto me, Eb. 25, ii, 22. Note also the form gêšu, syn. of nagāšu, Meissner, , SAI. 2195, 97Google Scholar. Ṣiḫati is here regarded as a noun from ṣaḫātu, to press grapes.

page 188 note 1 Atḫāti > atḫatti? by analogy with athû, brothers, v, R. 31, 34Google Scholar; Creat. 1, 21.

page 188 note 2 An adverb?

page 188 note 3 Error for ?

page 188 note 4 Locative ending? cf. ebirtān, elān, matitān.

page 188 note 5 For the idea cf. Thureau-Dangin, , Sargon, 246Google Scholar, and for iziḳ, present, Boissier, DA. 232, 40.

page 188 note 6 Temple of Shamash at Ellasar.

page 188 note 7 Literally “her heart bore song”. Mertu, maiden, refers to the virgin Ishtar, Obv. ii, 22, as patroness of love ballads. Šuara is probably the same word that occurs in Creation i, 24, ina šu'aru lib? … a iluKingu, with shouting Kingu …, restored from Ebeling, No. 118. Obv. 23; šu'āru is derived from the middle wav form of , šîru. strophe.

page 189 note 1 Cf. Arabic raģab, love, from raģiba, to hunger for.

page 189 note 2 “King” is employed in 11. 28 and 50 in the sense of lover.

page 189 note 3 For ḫamāru = , be blind see Holma, Personennamen, 56 (after Landsberger); and so this famous saying is Assyrian!

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Babylonian and Hebrew Musical Terms
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Babylonian and Hebrew Musical Terms
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Babylonian and Hebrew Musical Terms
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *