12 April 2016

The Choir, Updated

I was reading the other day about Miriam (the sister of Aaron) and her chorus of female musicians and dancers who celebrated after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea/Sea of Reeds.  Miriam leads a group of women who are carrying frame drums (tof) and dancing which is similar to women celebrating David's victory in 1 Samuel 18 and Jephthah's daughter's doomed celebration of her father's victory in Judges 11 (and also, likely, Deborah's song in Judges 5 and a mention of Philistine women singing to celebrate a military victory in 2 Samuel 1).  It's also reminiscent of Jeremiah 31:4, "Again you shall take your tambourines [hand drums], and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers." The reference to Philistine women performing musical celebrations, and quite a bit of archaeological evidence that shows women as the primary players of hand-drums throughout the Mediterranean suggests that playing these instruments was a specifically female role in the ancient Near East.

So, if this assumption that the tof was a woman's instrument is accurate, it implies that women were present when that instrument is mentioned.  For example, Psalms 68:25 ("The singers in front, the musicians last, between them girls playing tambourines...") uses a grammatically feminine construction for the drum players.  Psalms 81:2, 149:3, and 150:4 likely include women since they all refer to the tof.  All of these psalms aren't merely hymns or nice-sounding collections, but part of Israelite ritual processions and celebrations in praise of Yahweh.  

The point here is that it appears that this is another piece of evidence (and I was sure I'd written somewhere about women serving in the temple in ancient Israel but I cannot find it so I'll link to that later) that women were part of public religious events in ancient Israel.  "Gathering to rehearse, compose, and perform provided women with the opportunity to experience leadership and camaraderie, as well as the esteem of their colleagues and also of their audiences. Such experience is empowering." (Carol Meyers)

It was that quote that reminded me strongly of the choir that sang at the Women's Meeting a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn't just a nice group of people to listen to, their performance allowed those women to do all the things Meyers mentions, plus give them the opportunity to take a prominent part in a major religious observance.  It would not have been the same without them and their role was as necessary as anyone else's.

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