By: Emil G. Hirsch
Musical instruments of percussion. The term is used in the A. V. in all passages except one (Zech. xiv. 20) as the rendering of the Hebrew "ẓelẓelim" and "meẓiltayim." Known to most nations of antiquity, cymbals served to mark time or rhythm at dances or for singers and other musical performers. This is also their function in the Bible. In Ezra iii. 10 they accompany "ḥaẓoẓerot" (trumpets) only; but elsewhere they are mentioned in connection with several other instruments. They were prominent in the music at religious ceremonies (I Chron. xv. 16, 19; II Chron. v. 13, xxix. 25; Neh. xii. 27). Levites were set apart as cymbalists (I Chron. xvi. 42).One Pair in the Temple.
Cymbals were made of brass (I Chron. xv. 19; Josephus, "Ant." vii. 12, § 3; Yer. Suk. v., end), or of copper with a slight admixture of silver, to judge from a pair found in an Egyptian tomb. They varied considerably in size. Among the Arabs two different sets are in use: one, of a large diameter, at religious ceremonies; the other, of smaller size, to accompany the dance. A similar difference seems to be indicated by the several qualifications of the cymbals mentioned in Ps. cl. 5; viz., "high sounding" ("ẓilẓele teru'ah") and "loud" ("ẓilẓele shema'"). The fact that Josephus (l. c.) describes only one kind, πλατέα and μεγάλα ("broad" and "large"), has not been without weight in shaping the opinion that, as among the Arabs, so among the Hebrews, only the broad sort—i.e., those of large diameter—were per mitted at holy offices. The Mishnah, too ('Ar. 13a; compare Gem. 13b), is emphatic in stating that only one pair was used in the Temple. The "loud" (shema') cymbals have, in consequence, been explained as castanets, i.e., four small plates fastened to the thumbs and forefingers of both hands (=κρέμβαλα, "seistra"; see Pfeiffer, "Ueber die Musik der Hebräer," p. 54)—but there is no warrant for the assumption (see illustrations in "Psalms," ed. Haupt, "S. B. O. T." pp. 232, 233).
The cymbals in use in the Second Temple were credited by the Rabbis of the Talmud with great antiquity, and had undergone repairs impairing the quality of the tone (Yer. Suk. v., end). Still their loud and far-carrying sound was also remembered (ib. 55c, below; Tamid 30b). The Temple cymbals were in charge of a special officer: Ben Arza is mentioned in this capacity (Sheḳ. v. 1; Yer. Sheḳ. 48a). His instruments gave the signal for the Levites to chant the psalms (Tamid vii. 3, 4). The verb used to denote playing on the cymbals is "hiḳḳish" (), which, in connection with the preposition "upon" () occurring in some passages (where, however, other readings have ב = "with"), may possibly indicate that the instrument in the Temple consisted of only one plate, which was stationary, and was beaten by the performer with a clapper or hammer. In confirmation of this view the fact may be considered that, while in Biblical Hebrew the name is a plural (?) or a dual, in later Mishnaic it occurs as a singular.
In Zech. xiv. 20 the Authorized Version renders the Hebrew words "meẓillot ha-sus" by "bells," while the Septuagint has "bridles" (see Bridle), and the Targum translates them as "blankets"; i.e., caparisons. Rashi explains that reference is here made to ("clappers," or clapper-like, globe-shaped balls of metal), which, as he suggests by his translation into French, "tinter," emit a jingling sound—an explanation which Ḳimḥi, quoting Rabbi Eleazar b. Pedath (Bab. Pesaḥim 50a), accepts. The use of such contrivances to ornament horses' trappings is common in the Orient. In fact, "ẓilẓol," in Talmudic Hebrew, is the name of a belt (hence the LXX. "bridle") ornamented with such clappers, worn by women of ill repute and indicative of their trade (Midr. R. to Esther i. 11; Soṭah 9a).
Perhaps the allusion in I Cor. xiii. 1 is also to this custom. The κύμβαλον ἀλαλάςον, taken as denoting such an attachment to a belt of this kind and purpose, expresses most strongly and strikingly the underlying thought of the passage.
- Nowack, Hebräische Archäologie, i. 270;
- Benzinger, Arch. p. 271;
- John Stainer, Music of the Bible, London, without date;
- Riehm, Handwörterbuch, 2d ed., s.v. Becken.