Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Spiritual Symbolism of Psaltery of the Psalms, and the 10-String Yepes Guitar

I have been editing a gigantic spiritual commentary on the Psalms, which is a new translation that is closer to the Hebrew and contains over a 1000 page commentary from Swedenborg's writings.  As I was going back checking the translation and commentary one musical instrument of the Psalms caught my attention: "psaltery."  I was not exactly sure what it was, and Biblical translators were not exactly sure what it was either.  If we check the definition in Wikipedia's article Psaltery, it says this:
In the King James Version of the Bible, "psaltery", and its plural, "psalteries", are used to translate several words whose meaning is now unknown: the Hebrew keli (כלי) in Psalm 71:22 [sic] and I Chronicles 16:5; nevel (נבל) in I Samuel 10:5; 2 Samuel 6:5; I Kings 10:12; I Chronicles 13:8; 15:16, 20, 28; 25:1, 6; II Chronicles 5:12; 9:11; 20:28; 29:25; Nehemiah 12:27; Psalms 33:2; 57:6; [sic, 71:22]; 81:2; 92:3; 108:2; 144:9; and 150:3; and the Aramaic pesanterin (פסנתרין) in Daniel 3:5, 7, 10, and 15.
Of these, the Aramaic word pesanterin in Daniel is probably from a Greek loan-word psalterion, a harp like instrument.  For that Aramaic word in Daniel psaltery is thus a correct translation.  Here is an picture of it on a Greek vase:

So that is relatively straightforward, but the word of interest for my translation is the Hebrew nevel, which is also translated as "psaltery."  The word psaltery is a mistranslation, and there are many mistranslations within the Psalms which caused me to start this project on the Psalms in the first place.  If we look at the Brown-Driver-Biggs Hebrew lexicon, the word can mean a skin bottle, a jar, or a pitcher.  Some translators thus assume it must mean a lyre, similar to a harp, as it has a similar shape to a jar.  In other cases, it is translated as a viol.  Not initially knowing what nevel was, I initially went with "lyre" even though in many contexts nevel is mentioned right along with a harp.


Swedenborg was shown in his visions that every musical instrument signified something spiritual, depending on the sound it makes.  Stringed instruments, such as the harp, are related to spiritual truth.  Wind instruments, such as the trumpet and shofar, are related to celestial love.  Truth has sharp sounds and love is more flowing.  Then there are cross-over instruments, which are both wind instruments and have sharp notes - an example of this are pipes and flutes.  For flute players of Psalms 87:7, I used the following passage to interpret it:
“That singing and its like signifies what is spiritual has also been evident to me from angelic choirs, which are of two kinds, celestial and spiritual. Spiritual choirs, from their vibratory singing tone, to which the sound of stringed instruments can be compared, are very different from the celestial…“As celestial things are holy things of love and the goods therefrom, so spiritual things are truths and goods of faith; for it is of faith to understand not only what is true, but also what is good. Knowledges of faith involve both. But to be such as faith teaches is celestial. Because faith involves both, they are signified by two instruments, the harp and the pipe. The harp as is well known is a stringed instrument; and it therefore signifies spiritual truth. But the pipe is intermediate between a stringed and a wind instrument; and therefore it signifies spiritual good.” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 418-419)

For harps, in multiple passages Swedenborg states that they represent musical worship from spiritual truth.  But for the word nevel, which Swedenborg also translated as "psaltery," he says something different: instruments of psaltery represent spiritual good.  This means the Hebrew nevel is a cross-over instrument: it must be both a wind and stringed instrument.  That means it is not a lyre or harp.  Perhaps a bagpipe?  I then double-checked the Brown-Driver Biggs lexicon and found this entry for nevel:
A musical instrument, either a portable harp, or a lute, guitar (with bulging resonance-body at lower end); (perhaps = 1. נֵבֶל, and then shape seems to favour lute; perhaps independent word, e.g. Egyptian loan-word, compare nfr, lute, WeHpt 222)
I then realized nevel is not a lyre, it is a lute.  The Hebrew word nevel is probably taken from the Egyptian word nfr which means lute.  A lute has both strings, and makes use of the resonating sound of its interior, which is in the shape of a jar or bottle.  This, of course, was completely unknown in Swedenborg's time as Egyptian hieroglyphs were undeciphered until the 19th century.  I found a few other examples of this, where Swedenborg retained the mistranslation, but from looking at the original Hebrew in his spiritual visions he was given the true spiritual meaning.  This has been an interesting discovery from correcting the translation of the Psalms.  Here is a picture from a tomb of Egyptian women playing on their lutes:


So, the "psaltery" of the Psalms are lutes.  I then noticed that in three cases, the lute (Hebrew nevel) is mentioned with an instrument of 10 strings.  Here are the passages as translated in the King James Version:
Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. (Ps. 33:2)
Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; upon the harp with a solemn sound. (Ps. 92:3)
I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee. (Ps. 144:9)
The word "instrument of ten strings" in Hebrew is simply the number 10.  However, notice how the KJV translators added the word "and" in Ps. 33:2 and 144:9.  It is not there in the original.  For Psalm 33:2, here is the corrected translation:
Confess Jehovah with harp,Make music to Him with a lute of ten strings. (Ps. 33:2)
And another corrected translation:
Upon ten strings and upon a lute,Upon a harp with meditation. (Ps. 92:3)
And another corrected translation:
God, I will sing a new song to You:Upon a lute of ten strings I will make music to You. (Ps. 144:9)
In other words, by adding the word "and" the translators have completely missed the point that Ps. 33:2 and 144:9 are both definitely talking about a lute of 10 strings.  As for Ps. 92:3, that is also probably talking about a lute of 10 strings but it is worded separately to correspond with its parallel line.  This is the only case in scripture where it is pointed out that the musical instrument has 10 strings.  I then asked the question: is the number 10 important in music?  Is there something significant to a 10 stringed lute?


After searching around, I discovered a rather interesting modern musical invention: the 10 string classical guitar of Yepes.  Normal guitars have 6 strings.  Yepes found this insufficient, and in 1963 invented a guitar of 10 strings.  There were earlier 10 string guitars of the 18th and 19th centuries, but the Yepes guitar 10 string classical guitar of Yepes is different.  It was not designed randomly, but out of necessity:
Unlike earlier 6- or 10-stringed guitars, the normal tuning of the strings Yepes added "also incorporates all the natural resonance that the instrument lacked in eight of twelve notes of the equal tempered scale". As Yepes explains, the tuning of the Romantic ten-stringed guitars is "not exactly the same, because the tuning that I use is also for the resonance"
Here is a diagram of the tuning of the 10 string Yepes guitar:

"In the first place, the four supplementary strings [C2, Bb2, G#2, F#2] give it a balanced sound which the six-string guitar is far from having. In fact, at the moment of playing a note on one string, another begins to vibrate by sympathetic resonance. On the six- string guitar this phenomenon is produced only on four notes [E, B, A and D], while on mine the twelve notes of the scale each have their sympathetic resonance. Thus the lopsided sonority of the six-string guitar is transformed into a wider and equal sonority on a ten-string guitar.
Here is the other reason for the 10 string guitar - with it, it is easier to play Baroque lute music:
'Another reason for the 10-string is that guitarists are always playing music written for the Renaissance or the Baroque luteWe can say that the lute is to the guitar as the harpsichord is to the piano. And if this is true, how can we take the music written for these eight, nine, or 10-course instruments - even [eleven,] thirteen and fourteen courses, in the case of the baroque lute - and transcribe it for a guitar, which has only six strings? [...] I want to be able to make "legitimate" transcriptions in which the music loses nothing, but rather improves in quality.'
What is sympathetic resonance?  Here is a brief description:
Sympathetic resonance or sympathetic vibration is a harmonic phenomenon wherein a formerly passive string or vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness. The classic example is demonstrated with two similar tuning-forks of which one is mounted on a wooden box. If the other one is struck and then placed on the box, then muted, the un-struck mounted fork will be heard. In similar fashion, strings will respond to the external vibrations of a tuning-fork when sufficient harmonic relations exist between the respective vibratory modes. A unison or octave will provoke the largest response as there is maximum likeness in vibratory motion. Other links through shared resonances occur at the fifth and, though with much less effect, at the major third. The principle of sympathetic resonance has been applied in musical instruments from many cultures and times.
Seeing is believing, but in this case hearing is believing - here someone goes through a six string guitar notes and then goes through the notes on a 10 string guitar.  The difference is obvious:

Here is a video of Narciso Yepes playing Romance Anonimo:

Here is another of Yepes playing Marcha Irlandesa (Siglo XI):

Was the 10 string lute tuned in this manner?  We have no way of knowing, as much of the original music of the ancient world has been lost.  But the principle of resonance can be heard by all skilled musicians, and has been used since ancient times.  The oldest song in the world is a Hurrian hymn, dating to 1400 B.C., and was made for a nine-stringed lyre or harp on a heptonic scale.  It even contained instructions for tuning the harp.  Here is a rendition of the notes found on the cuneiform tablet:


Let's assume for the moment that in ancient times, they followed the principle of resonance and tuned a 10 stringed lute in such a manner.  In the Yepes guitar, some strings are played and others are passive which resonate.  From Ten-string guitar:
The use of the ten-string classical guitar is similar to that of the harp guitar:
  • Six-string guitar music can be played on the first six strings, but with added resonance from the extra strings. This was Yepes' original intention and the reason for the design.
  • Music specifically arranged for the instrument can make use of the extra strings directly, thus:
  • Music originally written for instruments with more than six strings can be more faithfully transcribed. Music written by Bach and his contemporaries for lute is of particular interest in this regard. The bass strings can be appropriately tuned.
  • New music specifically written for the ten-string guitar can make use of the extra strings however the composer might wish.
Unlike the harp guitar, the extended-range classical guitar has a single neck and allows all strings to be fretted.
The first point is interesting: 6 strings are played, while the other 4 strings are just passive and resonate in sympathetic vibration.  For the Jews, this is significant: each of the 10 strings can be seen to correspond to the 10 commandments.  Moreover, the first 4 commandments relate to love of the Lord, and the last 6 concern love of the neighbour.  Inasmuch as we follow the commandments to the best of our ability, so the Lord will flow into us through Divine influx.  In other words, we will resonate with the Lord in sympathetic vibration by following the commandments.  We act, God reacts.  A covenant relationship, in sympathetic vibration.  The law or the 10 commandments is also known as the "testimony" - truth is confirmed in good, and good in truth:

“That a witness means confirmation of good by truth, and of truth by good, and that hence a testimony means good from which truth is, and truth which is from good, may be evident from the Word in other passages… That a testimony is good from which is truth, and truth which is from good, follows from the above, and also from this, that the ten precepts of the decalogue written upon the tables of stone are called in one word the testimony — as in Moses: Jehovah gave unto Moses, when He had made an end of speaking with him upon mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God (Exod. xxxi. 18). ...The precepts of the decalogue were therefore called the testimony, because they were of the covenant, and thus of conjunction between the Lord and man; which conjunction cannot exist unless man keeps the precepts, not only in external form, but also in internal. ...Because this is so, the tables were also called the tables of the covenant, and the ark the ark of the covenant. From this it is now manifest what is signified in the genuine sense by testimony in the Word (as in Deut. iv. 45; vi. 17, 20; Isa. viii. 16; 2 Kings xvii. 15; Ps. xix. 7; xxv. 10; lxxviii. 5; xciii. 5; cxix. 2, 22, 24, 59, 79, 88, 138, 167; cxxii. 3, 4; Apoc. vi. 9; xii. 17; xix. 10).” (Heavenly Arcana, n. 4197.8-9)



  1. For the 10 string lute, and its relationship to the 10 commandments, I forgot to mention this. In the Yepes tuning, the four extra strings provide the following resonance:

    (7) supplies the C and G resonances.

    (8) supplies the A# (or Bb) and F resonances.

    (9) supplies the G# (or Ab) and D# (or Eb) resonances.

    (10) supplies the F# (or Gb) and C# (or Db) resonances.

    What is interesting, is that long before I thought about musical notes or sympathetic vibrations, I studied the symbolism of the 10 commandments, how the first 4 commandments correspond to the second 6: The symbolism of the 10 commandments

  2. This blog worth reading. Since this blog tackles about strings I recommend this link This site offers all types of guitars and aside from that they to class and tutorials.


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