Of Hammered Dulcimers and Bagpipes

early bagpipeYears ago I read somewhere that the dulcimer mentioned in the bible might not have been an early form of the hammered dulcimer. The writer thought that the instrument referred to as a dulcimer in the bible may have in fact been a bagpipe.

When searching Google Books for the word “dulcimer” I came across “Eastern Arts and Antiquities Mentioned in The Sacred Scriptures” circa 1840 and found the following:

“DULCIMER – The Hebrew sumponjah, mentioned Dan. iii. 10, is the same word as the symphonia of the Greek, which instrument is described by Servius as a sort of bagpipe; a description which is in remarkable conformity with the Hebrew writers, who say that the sumponjah, which in our translation is rendered dulcimer, was a bagpipe, consisting of two pipes thrust through a leathern bag, and affording a melancholy sound. For this cause some writers conclude that the dulcimer was the bagpipe ; and the known antiquity of the instrument, and the fact of its existence still in the East, favours the conclusion.

The oriental bagpipe, at the present day, is a most primitive instrument, both in its materials and its construction. It is composed of a goat’s skin, usually with the hair on, and in the natural form, save that it is deprived of the head, tail, and legs, after the same manner as an oriental water bottle : the pipes are usually of reed tipped with cows’ horns, slightly curved. The instrument is of the pneumatic kind. The wind is communicated to the pipes by compressing the bag under the arm, the mouth piece of each pipe being fixed in the bag. Its compass, in an European-made instrument, is three octaves.

ancient harpOther instruments have been offered as the dulcimer of Scripture, but none has a greater mass of probability in its favour than the bagpipe.”

Whether or not this is true in no way affects my life in any significant way, musically or theologically.

The bagpipe has been around for a very long time but so has the hammered dulcimer in one form or another. From what I have read the Persian santur has been around for at least 2000 years. I could imagine that simple forms of the santur may have existed at an earlier time, perhaps a simple hand-held zither or harp that was struck with a stick.

You be the judge!

Now if only someone could figure out if the kazoo is truly of extraterrestrial origin!