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Asbury Bible Commentary – B. Technical-Musical Notation
B. Technical-Musical Notation

B. Technical-Musical Notation

Our lack of adequate information about these superscriptions is particularly obvious in what appear to be the technical and musical notations. Already obscure to the LXX translators, they are sometimes simply transliterated (as opposed to being translated) in the KJV and ASV. Even so, some contours of meaning seem likely. Some notes appear to designate tunes, some instrumentation, some technical musical or liturgical information. Nearly all of the interpretations given here must be tentative.

Tunes. Although the structure and nature of Canaanite/Israelite music is not know to us, the following appear to name known tunes, songs (cf. 137:3), or cantilation patterns according to which a given poem would be sung: 'ayyeleṯ haššaḥar, “The Doe of the Dawn” (Ps 22); 'al-tašḥēṯ, “Do Not Destroy” (Pss 57, 58, 59, 75), perhaps a reference to the promise in Isa 65:8; hagittîṯ, “The Gittite [Tune]” or “The Winepress” (Pss 8, 81, 84); yônaṯ 'ēlim reḥōqîm, “The Dove of the Distant Terebinth Trees” (Ps 56); mût labbēn, “Death for the Son” (Ps 9, perhaps Ps 46); šōšannîm, “Lilies” (Pss 45, 69); šûšan 'ēḏûṯ and šôšannîm 'ēḏûṯ, “Shushan/Lillies—A Testimony” (?) (Pss 60, 80).

Technical Notation. Some expressions appear to designate instrumentation (“musical instruments,” e.g., Am 6:5): binegînôṯ, “with stringed accompaniment” (Pss 4, 6, 54, 55, 61, 67, 76); 'el-hanneḥîlôṯ, “for flute” (Ps 5); 'al-haššemînîṯ, “for the eight-stringed (instrument)” (Pss 6, 12); 'al-šōšannîm and 'al-šûšān may refer to six-sided or six-stringed instrumentation (Pss 45, 69, and 60, 80, respectively); 'al-māḥalaṯ, perhaps related to flute or dance (Ps 53, 88). “Selah” clearly gives some technical musical or more likely liturgical direction, perhaps for an interlude, or for repetition, or for a posture like bowing.