Musical Worship at The First Century Feast of Tabernacles

The Feast of Tabernacles at the time of Christ was much like ancient fertility rituals. Jesus refused to go up during the singing, dancing, playing of musical instruments and other rituals while plotting the murder of their Messiah.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that:

After the Exile, the feast was protracted to the twenty-fifth of the month, and two new rites were added to the old ceremonial. Every morning of the celebration a priest went down to the Siloe Fountain, whence he brought in a golden ewer of water which was pored on the alter of holocausts

amidst the singing of the Hallel (Pss, cxii-cxvii) and

the joyful sound of musical instruments.

It was possibly the performance of this ceremony (the institution of which may have been suggested by Is., xii, 3) which afforded to Our Lord the occasion to compare the action of the Holy Ghost in the faithful to a spring of living water (John, vii, 37-39). The other new feature added to the ritual of the feast was the illumination of the women's court, together with the singing of the Psalms of the Degrees (Pss. cxix-cxxxiii) and

the performance of dances or processions in the sacred precincts. On the eighth day a procession went seven times around the alter, the people carrying myrtle-boughs and palms and shouting: "Hosannah!" in memory of the fall of Jericho.

"The archetypes of performance constituted the usual temple ritual. Yet there was one annual event which served as pretext for all kinds of extravagances in music and dance. Again we must, to a certain extent, rely upon the Talmudic description, which however, in this case is confirmed by passages of early rabbinic literature and extensive descriptions by Josephus."

"This, the merriest of all the festivals, was the 'Feast of Drawing water.' It was the most joyous and the most musical of the temple's festivities. Its description in the Mishna text opens with the significant words: 'Whosoever has not seen the joy of the House of Water-drawing has never seen real joy in his life' (M. Suk. 5.1).

After the preparations, which occupied the entire afternoon of the first day of Tabernacles, the 'men of good deeds' began to dance before the people in the temple court with burning torches.

The Levites having stationed themselves upon the fifteen steps leading from the women's court to the Inner Court, took up their harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, pipes, flutes, clarinet, etc., all instruments greatly augmented in number, and intoned the fifteen 'Songs of Ascent.'

Thus, the night passed in dancing, singing, and general merrymaking. At the sound of the first cockcrow, the priests intoned the triple blast upon their ritual trumpets. These signals ended the general frolicking, and the crowd ranged itself into an orderly procession to the well of Siloah. (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, p. 463, Abingdon).

"water drawing festival, was celebrated during the week of Tabernacles with popular games and dances in which even the elders took part, and the streets were so brilliantly illuminated with torches that scarcely an eye was closed in Jerusalem during the week." (Int. Std. Bible Ency., p. 1104)

"Today, this music and dance festival is understood as the one remnant of the old Canaanite fertility rituals, which, in the monotheistic pseudomorphosis of the temple ceremonies, was to ensure an abundant crop of plants, animals, and even human beings."

"This was perhaps the only occasion where popular music-making was allowed to mix with the otherwise sternly guarded prerogative of Levitical music. Consequently, secular, superstitious, even popular licentious elements were here introduced in the performance of the temple's liturgical music." (Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, p. 460, Abingdon). 

The right-side up world of Paul is shown by William Barclay who explained what it meant to reject the Word and seek knowledge or gnosis from a direct operation of the spirit in the music and wine induced charismatic rituals.  He informs us that:

"They made their voices sweet with musical cadences and modulations of tone and echoed resonances. They thought not of what they were saying, but of how they were saying it.  Their thought might be poisonous so long as it was enveloped in honeyed words.  Philostratus tells us that Adrian, the sophist, had such a reputation in Rome, that when his messenger appeared with a notice that he was to lecture, the senate emptied and even the people at the games abandoned them to flock to hear him..

"You might hear many poor wretches of sophists, shouting and abusing each other, and their disciples, as they call them, squabbling; and many writers of books reading their stupid compositions, and many poets singing their poems, and many jugglers (buffons) exhibiting their marvels, and many soothsayers giving the meaning of prodigies, and then a thousand rhetoricians twisting lawsuits, and no small number of traders driving their several trades.

"The Greeks were intoxicated with fine words; and to them the Christian preacher with his blunt message seemed a crude and uncultured figure, to be laughed at and ridiculed rather than to be listened to and respected. (Barclay, William, First Corinthians, p. 19-20)

"Perhaps professor would be a rough modern equivalent to Sophist.  It has a similar range from Professors of Greek to Professors of Phrenology and although some Professors research, all teach, and all are paid which was a great reproach to the Sophists.  Some of them were serious philosophers, educators or scholars; others only cheap-jacks, who professed to teach only the sublime art of getting on.  Did you want to improve your memory: Did you want to be a £1,000-a-year man?  Some Sophist would teach you--for a fee.  Sophists went from city to city, lecturing on their particular subject, some indeed undertaking to lecture on any subject, but always for a fee. (Kitto, The Greeks, p. 168).

See More Details by Clicking Here

Kenneth Sublett

Other Indexes on This Site

Awakening, First, Second, Cane Ridge, Witchcraft


Babylon Near East

Change Agents

Books to Fit These Topics

Church - Doctrine


E-Mail Questions and Answers

Holy Spirit

Jubilee - Messianism - Wineskins Movements

Musical Worship

Restoration Movement