The Psalms Psalm Transcriptions Methodology The Instruments of the Bible Reference Section About


Within the Hebrew texts there are two similar, yet unique systems of cantillation symbols. The first system is associated with the literary portions of the Bible1 and the second system with the Psalm manuscripts, the book of Job and Proverbs.

There are also two schools of thought regarding these systems. The traditional premise is that the symbols of both cantillation systems represent specific vocal articulations that are used to the intone2 the texts over traditional melodies, the execution of which varies from religious community-to-religious community. The second school of thought is that the cantillation symbols found within the Psalm manuscripts represent specific fixed pitches on which the texts were sung, the methodology of which to decode them presumably lost in antiquity. It is the premise of this book that that this methodology has been not lost, merely hidden within the pages of the Bible.

Within the book of Psalms there are a series of ten symbols3 which when properly deciphered enable the various manuscripts in the Psalms to be transcribed and written in contemporary musical notation. The DAVIDIC CIPHER, as it will be referred to in this book, is the Rosetta Stone that provides the key that enables the following three elements to be linked together:

The ten cantillation symbols of the Psalm manuscripts
cantillation symbols, trope, te'amim

The twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alephbet4
Twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alephbet

Twenty-four tones of an ascending quartertone Scale
ascending quartertone scale

The initial procedure in this methodology is to associate or map the letters of the Hebrew alephbet with our traditional music system of notation. This is accomplished by applying the principles of a simple atbash cipher5 to the letters of the Hebrew alephbet and the tones of a quartertone scale. As shown below, this is accomplished by associating the letters of the Hebrew alephbet (read right-to-left) with an ascending quartertone scale (read left-to-right).6

atbash cipher with associated quartertone scale
atbash cipher and quartertone scale

Just as our own system of music notation utilizes a unique set of symbols to represent the notes that are to be played, the Hebrew system uses a set of symbols (i.e., the cantillation symbols) that would not visually conflict with the Hebrew letters and vowels. The next step is to associate these ten symbols with our initial mapping between the Hebrew alephbet and the quartertone scale.

Association of the Hebrew alephbet, quartertone scale and the cantillation symbols
linked alephbet, quartertone scale and cantillation symbols

Playing the Name of God

1 e.g., Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, etc.
2 i.e., chant
3 "On ten, and on a harp. On meditation with a lyre." - Psalm 92:4 (92:3 KJV)
4 alephbet - the Hebrew equivalent of our alphabet
5 the atbash cipher is a basic substitution cipher used by the early Hebrew writers of the Bible to encrypt the original word (see Jeremiah 25:26, 51:11, 51:41). In a traditional atbash cipher, the alephbet is applied in reverse to itself. In relation to the musical system of the Psalms, the alephbet is applied as read (right-to-left) to the tones of an ascending quartertone scale (read left-to-right).
6 the quartertones between the tritone F and B and their note's of resolution (i.e., F-to-E and B-to-C and notated with small x note heads) are omitted and not associated with the Hebrew alephbet.