Question: I picked up a book entitled "The Music of the Bible Revealed" by Suzanne Haik-Vantoura. It is pretty extensive, but it claims to have deciphered a musical notation system from the cantillation signs in the Old Testament. I was wondering if you'd heard of this and if there was any validity to it.


Answer: You raise an excellent question that seldom comes up in Christian discussions.  Haik-Vantoura was a French-born musician who lived from 1912 to 2000.  She studied at a reputable conservatory, was a performer of note, won a number of national awards, and published a number of books.  Unfortunately for her thesis, the musical notes (called ta'amay HaMikra, te'ameem, or nigunim in Hebrew and trop in Yiddish) can only be traced back as far as the middle ages.  Neither they nor the vowels nor the punctuation was a part of the original texts of Scripture.  This is easily demonstrated by reference to ancient inscriptions, the earliest biblical manuscripts contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even the modern scrolls used in synagogue worship (which are not permitted to contain ANY of the above-mentioned elements).  Further, the trop appears differently and is interpreted differently in various Jewish traditions including that of the Ashkenazic, Sefardic, Italian, and Yemeni Jewish communities. Lastly, A withering critique of her conclusions was provided by P.T. Daniels in an article  in the Journal of the American Oriental Society (Vol. 112, No. 3 [Jul. - Sep., 1992], p. 499), who noted that, among other problems, Haik-Vantoura's work was plagued by western preconceptions, historical inaccuracies, and subjective conclusions.

This serves as an excellent example of individuals who have incredible accomplishments and expertise in certain areas who when operating outside those areas of expertise can make incredible methodological mistakes that lead them to the most bizarre conclusions and yet they still succeed in receiving a hearing and develop a following.


Wave Nunnally, Ph.D.

(Endorsed also by William P. Griffin, Ph.D.)