Bowed Psaltery Origins Continued: Flavius Josephus

  Flavius Josephus was one of the most amazingly successful personalities of his time period, (at least he thought so), His incredible life story, A.D. 37 to 100, is available on wikipedia etc. Among the many volumes of books he wrote to explain Jewish traditions, theology,and history to the Roman world, he states in Book #7 Chapter 12 paragraph 3 of  "Antiquities of the Jews": "And now David being free from wars and dangers and enjoying for the future a profound peace, composed of songs and hymns to God, of several sorts of metre; some of those he made were trimeters, some were pentameters. He also made instruments of music. Now the construction of the instruments was thus: The Viol was an instrument played upon with a Bow, the Psaltery had twelve musical notes, and was played upon with the fingers. And so much shall suffice to be spoken by us about these instruments,that the reader may not be wholly unacquainted with their nature."  I have always found this to be one of the most frustrating quotes, no Flavius, we are not "wholly acquainted with their nature" and we would have appreciated more information.                                                                                                  

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Comment by Gregg E. Schneeman & Jean Gaffey on August 12, 2014 at 10:44am

 Please see "Skye Cave Find Western Europe's Earliest String Instrument."...

Comment by Gregg E. Schneeman & Jean Gaffey on July 26, 2014 at 8:24am

 Please look on Wikipedia under "Bows, Music, History. As it says "This article will give only the predominant opinion." There are minority opinions. It partially depends on where you are saying  "Central Asia"is, even the most conservative definition covers thousands of square miles. Many  civilizations rose and fell in that area over a very long period of time having their legacies past on long before the rise of Mongolia.

Comment by Gregg E. Schneeman & Jean Gaffey on July 24, 2014 at 1:10am

  An excellent reference, Dave, I've enjoyed reading Flavius from your link. Thank you for finding that.

Comment by Gregg E. Schneeman & Jean Gaffey on July 21, 2014 at 10:09am

 Once again Jeremy, I started off my comment by saying that that quote was problematic. I gave reference to finding more about Flavius but tried to be brief. If you look back I discussed the Yacheng also known as the Yatugalig as yet another Mongolian/central asian instrument. "Mongolian" is a generalization as there were many civilizations developing in that area long before the Genghis Khan period. Rosin was well known with many uses since Colophon was a Greek city in Turkey famous for its commercial trade in tree resins. Once again you ignore the Bowed Lyres of the Baltic nations which have more ancient origins than your 10th century date. I and my luthier friend developed from historical examples the first Bowed Psaltery archet style bow because the low tension, wide flat violin horse hair design gets caught on the zither pin and I wanted higher tension and room to wrap my hand around the bow as opposed to holding it with the fingers. We did not do it as a "deliberate falsifcation" that is just rude! You also never addressed the Violin-Zither group. When ever the earliest Bowed Psaltery Designs developed this is for sure, more people play and are aware of the Bowed Psaltery today than ever before and a living tradition has spread world wide. Stone carvings on cathedrals are not newspapers delivering the latest news. They usually represent King David or angels playing instruments at least thought by the builders to be biblical.

Comment by Gregg E. Schneeman & Jean Gaffey on July 21, 2014 at 1:32am

  Jeremy, I notice you reject the translation "Viol" but "played upon with a bow" is plainly described. About that you have no comment.

Comment by Brenda Mangan on July 18, 2014 at 5:37pm

Here is the address of that very psaltery-like looking, kora:

Comment by Brenda Mangan on July 18, 2014 at 5:35pm

Well, I googled the word "kora" images and while many were harp-like sets of strings over gourds, about half way down was this picture.

Comment by Dave Holeton on July 18, 2014 at 7:56am

Thanks for posting this Greg

I decided to review Flavius on Wikipedia and there is a ton of information about him and his writings.  I found chapter 12 in Book III claims Moses is the inventor of the trumpet and it was made of silver.


I found this link where he describes the psaltery and the harp (or the translation describes the psaltery and the harp). 

Link for Antiquities of the Jews by Flavius

It states "The psaltery, nabla, or nebel obtained its name from its resemblance to a bottle or flaggon, and began to be in use in the time of David; ..."

The writing continues into a discussion of number of strings and harsh sound versus good sound. It would have been nice if he would have included sketches or drawings of the Psaltery that is mentioned.  


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