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
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.)