Inspired by this question:

Perhaps the oldest "song" in Tana"ch is the "Song of the Sea" (Ex. 15:1-17).

Since trope (cantillation) notes are believed to have been transmitted by Moses, and part of its function is musical, was the Song of the Sea sung using trope?

I am using *Song of the Sea" as a sample. The same question would apply to any "song" such as:

  • Song of the well (Num. 21:17-18)
  • Ha'azinu (Deut. 32:1-43)
  • Song of Devorah (Judges 5)
  • Song of Chanah (I Sam. 2)
  • Song of David (II Sam. 32)
  • 1
    The te'amim systematically divide the verse into sections. Originally, the Bible was written with no punctuation. The division of the verses, and of the verses into further subdivisions, was a late invention, and was by no means universal (see Kidushin 30a: במערבא פסקי ליה להאי קרא לתלתא פסוקי). The Septuagint, for instance, often has a different division of passages into verses than we do. Hebrew poetry is often divided differently from the way the te'amim divide the verses.
    – b a
    Jan 8, 2017 at 0:38

1 Answer 1


These songs were not sung to the tune of te'amim (trope is Yiddish, so let's bring it all back to Hebrew so that all Jews can feel included :D, or use the English word of Cantillation)

While there are varying beliefs on how/when the Biblical books were written, i think most people would agree that the Prophetic books were not written before the actual events. So in other words, when Devorah sang her song, it was written down AFTER it was already a song. Therefore it would be a stretch to have the song's development be limited to te'amim.

The same is with the song of the sea by Miryam. Even the strictest believers to the Rambam's 13 principles of faith would say that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. Which means that since Miryam sung her song at the sea before they reached Mount Sinai, her song also existed as a musical piece before Moshe wrote down the Torah, and therefore it would be unlikely that it was sung according to the te'amim.

In the case of Dawid's psalms, they were often designed to be played with musical instruments, and to be sung by groups of people. Since te'amim are not played with musical instruments, and are not done with groups of people, it makes the most sense that the psalms were not sung according to the te'amim.

Also, since the majority of the readers here are of Ashkenazi origin, a few notes will have to be made.

The Ashkenazim are unique in having a very long tradition of having all of their te'amim be musical. The rest of the Jewish world did not have this development until very recently. For the rest of the Jewish world, most of the te'amim symbols have no musical value, they only serve as grammatical indicators for readers. The Yemenites to this day have only 8 musical motifs for their entire cantillation system. The Karaites also don't have a musical tradition for all the te'amim til this very day.

In the 14th century it was noted by Simon Duran in his book Magen Avot: "For the teren chutrin the same motive is used for the tevir, except that it is considerably lengethened, but we know no musical difference between the two...we [also] know no difference in the melody of the revia, qadma, azla, gershayim/shnei gereshin, and zaqeif gadol."

Even into the 1500s it was noted by the scholar Elias Levitas in his book Tuv Te'am that only the Ashkenazim had musical motifs for all the te'amim.

enter image description hereImage from Idehlson's Thesaurus of Oriental Hebrew Melodies

Since it's most likely that most of the te'amim were not originally musical, nor were ever intended to be musical, it would stand to reason that ancient Biblical songs would not be based on a mostly non musical system.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Dec 9, 2015 at 2:29
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    I have a hard time believing that the number of musical motifs increased to match the teamim. Ben Asher alludes to different teamim (including conjunctives) having distinct musical motifs, including conjunctives: "אזלא, לעולם עולה", "שישלא (=דרגא), פעם יורדת ופעם עולה" &c.
    – Argon
    Jun 10, 2016 at 7:49
  • @Argon Can you give a more direct source in Ben Asher's work where he says that?
    – Aaron
    Jun 10, 2016 at 8:09
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    Some more if you aren't convinced: Ben-Asher describes the Pazer as "מגביה וחוזר ובלשון" (It goes up and returns and is scattered with the tongue) and says generally "זה כלל הטעמים ומשרתים נעימות מגולים ולא סתומים" (This is the principle of the teʿamim and conjunctives, their tunes are revealed and not hidden); In BT Megilla 32a, we have also "אמר רבי יוחנן: כל הקורא בלא נעימה ... עליו הכתוב אומר: וגם אני נתתי להם חקים לא טובים" (Rabbi Yohanan said: Anyone who reads without a melody . . ., of him it is said, “I gave them laws that were not good[?]”).
    – Argon
    Aug 30, 2016 at 13:27
  • 1
    @Aaron It just means they likely descend from a non-Tiberian system. Babylonian MSS, for example, mark only disjunctives.
    – Argon
    Aug 30, 2016 at 22:08

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