Ashir Shirim (Ancient Babylonian Jewish Wedding Song, Arranged For Replica 3000 Year Old Biblical "Nevel" Lyre)

from by Michael Levy



This ancient Babylonian Jewish wedding song, "I Will Sing Songs To God," was preserved almost a century ago by the musicologist A.Z. Idelsohn:

"Ashir shirim laél beviath hag-goél. Ayuma temima bathe ne‘ima — Hish geal na geal. Eliyahu yavo yighal, yighal."

The translation of the song is:

"I will sing songs to God at the coming of the redeemer.This terrified,innocent,& fair daughter - hurry to redeem her now. Elijah will come & she will be redeemed"

The song is in the timeless "Ahava Raba" Mode. The traditional music of the Babylonian Jews is unique, as it may well be the "Invisible Baggage" of the Jews who were sent into exile there, after the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadrezzar II, in 586BC! These melodies therefore, may be representative of the very earliest aural memory of Jewish music...from the almost Legendary Era of the Ark of the Covenant, & King Solomon's Temple!

In this song, the bride is depicted as a metaphor for Israel - just as the bridegroom "redeems" the bride by fulfilling his promise to her, so will God redeem Israel when the prophet Elijah returns to annonce the comig of the Messiah.

The tune is played on a replica of the 3000 year old Biblical Lyre referred to throughout the Biblical Text is the “Nevel” (in ancient Hebrew: נבל). It is mistranslated in the Old Testament as “harp” – however, there is absoutely no archeaological evidence that harp was used in ancient Israel after the end of the Copper Age, around 3200BCE. The harp as totally replaced by the more portable lyre during the Biblical Era (from about 1900BCE). This transition from the bulky harp to the portable lyre was no doubt brought about by the fact that the anciestors of the ancient Hebrews were nomadic...

This piece originally featured on my album dedicated to the Biblcial Nevel: "The Ancient Biblical Lyre". My other albums, "King David's Lyre; Echoes of Ancient Israel" & "Lyre of the Levites", are dedicated to restoring the sounds of the other type of Lyre which was also played in the Levitical Ensemble in the Temple of Jerusalem - the ancient Biblical "Kinnor."


The Biblical "Nevel" is mentioned in 1 Samual 10:5, 2 Samual 6:5, Kings 10:12, Isiah 5:12, 14:11, Amos 5:23, 6:5, Psalm 33:2, 57:9, 71:22, 81:3, 92:4, 108:3, 144:9, Chronicles 13:8, 15:16, 20, 28; 16:5, 25:1, 6; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 9:11; 20:28; 29:25, Neh. 12:27.


The exact meaning of the word “Nevel” is ambiguous, as the Hebrew root “nvl” (נבל ) can be pronounced in two different ways – either “naval” or “nevel”.

In the Hebrew language, only the consonants are written down - the vowels are added by the speaker...whih causes no end of problems once the original pronunciation of an ancient Hebrew word is lost in the mists of time! John Wheeler explains:

"Nevel is such a difficult instrument to understand precisely because

1) leather was used for soundboards both for some harps and for some lyres;

2) the root word itself has several different meanings. The name could just as well refer to a wineskin used for a soundbox, and while we don't have anything that I know of earlier than bar Kokhba illustrating that for the Hebrews, it's certainly possible given how animals' stomachs were used for other instruments"


1) If "NVL" is pronounced “Naval”, in Hebrew this can mean “carcass”, implying that the Biblical Nevel was a lyre with a skin membrane as a soundboard (similar to the ancient Greek “Lyra” – the lyre with a tortoise shell resonator, over which was stretched a soundboard of taut animal skin).

2) The alternative interpretation, if the word is pronounced “Nevel”, means “Skin bottle”. This could mean a lyre with a regular wooden soundboard, but shaped like a skin bottle.

I believe that it is more likely that meaning (1) seems more likely from the available evidence, as discussed below - that the elusive Biblical Nevel may have been a skin-membrane lyre. The replica lyre upon which I am playing, as made by Mid East Ethnic Instruments is based on this interpretation.


The Nevel was made of the same materials as the Kinnor (the other Biblical Lyre played in the Temple of Jerusalem), namely Almug wood, (Kings 10:5), and was plucked by hand, as opposed to being plucked with a plectrum, as in the case of the Kinnor – we know this from the writings of Josephus Flavius (Antiquities vii 12.3) and the Biblical text (Amos 6:5). Josephus also describes the Nevel as having 12 strings, whereas the Kinnor had 10 strings.


from Ancient Landscapes, released May 9, 2011


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Michael Levy UK

Michael Levy is a prolific composer for the recreated lyres of antiquity, whose musical mission is to create an entirely new musical genre, which could best be described as a 'New Ancestral Music' - dedicated to reintroducing the recreated lyres, ancient musical modes and intonations, back into the modern musical world.. ... more

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