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Masoretic  Te’amim and  other  musical  notations of  the  Ancient  Near  East

Senate House, University of London, 15 and 16 December 2015, room 264.


Tuesday December 15


Tuesday December 15

10:00 Registration in Room 264

10:15 Introduction by Richard Dumbrill and Irving Finkel

1045: Bruno de Florence: Some General Semiotic Remarks on Music Notation

Musical notation may appear simple, and yet seems to be made of multiple inter-connecting layers: code, message, index, icon, symbol, sign, graph, analogue, digital, etc… I shall therefore attempt at describing what I regard as forming a complexity.

11:15 Questions and discussion

 11:30 David Mitchell: Prolegomena to the Masoretic te’amim

12:30 Questions and discussion

13:00 Lunch break

14:00 Theodore W. Burgh: Creating Music in Iron Age Israel.

Archaeological and textual data demonstrate that ancient cultures shared many distinct similarities and differences. Architecture, pottery, iconography, and figurines are a part of the lives of most peoples of the past, but they also help to define specific aspects of these enigmatic groups. Scholars work diligently with fragmented, complex puzzle pieces to better understand subtle and overt intricacies in these areas. Music is too one of those fascinating, yet challenging realms. Suzanne Haik-Vantoura, Anne Kilmer, Richard Crocker and others have put forth in depth analysis regarding musical notation in ancient texts. Although the precise sounds of music from the past are lost to us, archaeological and textual data show that ancient Near Eastern cultures possessed distinct characteristics and differences in musical instruments and performance. This paper offers unique questions to the available sources in an effort to further our understanding of musical practices in antiquity among these complex cultures. Employing examples from the above-mentioned data, this work will briefly explore two queries regarding potential musical practices Iron Age Israel: 1) Did musicians perform known melodies and possibly interject them with regional or cultural flavor? 2) Did musicians improvise during musical performances?

15:00 Questions and discussion

15:30 Break

16:00 Max Stern: Transferring Knowledge from Generation to Generation:  Teaching Masoretic Te’amim in the Yemenite Cheder.

For nearly two years, almost four decades ago, I attended a Yemenite cheder in Jerusalem. My classmates were children between the ages of 4-11, while I, an adult, already a mature professional musician, on a few occasions, taped our sessions.  This lecture is based on this field recording as well as personal recollections, reflections, impressions, observations, insights and understandings of the traditional process of teaching Masoretic Te’amim in the Yemenite cheder.

17:00 Questions and discussion


Wednesday December 16

09:00 Raymond de Hoop: The Te`amim between Music and Punctuation.

In the discussion on the function of the te`amim, the Masoretic Text, as found in the authoritative Tiberian codices, is taken as point of departure. In that sense the function of the te`amim is described on the basis of the final product, not on the basis of its historical development.

In this paper I will discuss the historical development of the te`amim as it is found in the ancient documents in order to arrive at a more solid definition of the original purpose and function of the te`amim. It will be concluded that the original purpose of these signs was to indicate where a moment of rest was needed during the recitation. In this sense their function was close to what we call punctuation, though it might be closer to the interval in music. In texts the punctuation has an obvious syntactical function. In the music of a song the interval is not always found at a syntactically logical position, but, in general, at a position that will help to experience the contents and the beauty of the text much better. Yet to state that the te`amim are musical signs is certainly a bridge too far.

10:00 Questions and discussion

10:30 Coffee break

11:00 Victor Tunkel: Recovering the Lost Music of the Psalms

The Tiberian ‘prose’ t’amim, their function and syntax, is well understood and realised musically. But the music of the ‘poetic’ system of Psalms, Proverbs and Job remains a mystery. This paper will consider some recent attempts at its recovery.

12:00 Questions and discussion

12:30 Lunch break

14:00 Hirsh Cashdan: Music and Meaning in Torah Cantillation

The te’amim that provide the means of the cantillation of the Torah, through their role in delineating the phrasing, clearly play a part in the interpretation of the text. But there are multiple ways the te’amim can achieve an identical phrasing while the particular choice of te’amim for the phrase sounds quite different.  In this paper I explore the questions “can it be shown that the choice of te’amim indicates an intention to express meaning and to what extent is there a deliberate pattern in so doing?”

15:00 Questions and discussion

15:30 Viktor Golinets: Meteg, Mercha, Tifcha and Silluq – One Stroke with Four Functions within the Tiberan Accentuation system.

The lecture investigates the graphical form of the accent signs Meteg, Mercha, Tifcha and Silluq in Hebrew manuscripts. These signs have clear-cut forms in printed edition but their forms in manuscripts vary greatly. The tilt of the signs Mercha, Tifcha and Silluq is not absolute. The form of Mercha is influenced by the form of Tifcha, and both Tifcha and Mercha influence the form of Silluq. It means that the graphical form of these strokes is not immanent, but the function of a stroke – and, accordingly, its name as an accent sign – is conditioned by the relation between the neighbouring strokes/accents.

16:30 Questions and discussion

17:00 Fr Shafiq Abouzayd and Ahmed Mukhtar: a musical conclusion


Please send your abstracts before November 15 to rdumbrill@iconea.org

Advance registration: £70, concessions £35, payable to:
Richard Dumbrill: IBAN: GB68NWBK60051418136958

Payment of registration on the day in cash only.

Information about Hotels near Senate House:


ICONEA 2014 Conference


Arithmetical Subjectivism or Unconscious Knowledge?

Sonic Systems of the Ancient Near East and beyond.

Are the sources for music theory, in the Ancient Near East, principally, and in the Ancient and Primitive Worlds, generally, the consequence of either the emergence of numeracy and its conventional metrology or do we find its roots in the unconscious knowledge, or both?

There is no restriction on the length of contributions which however, should not exceed one hour. (Power point projection and sound system available). Please send papers/abstracts to rdumbrill@iconea.org.

ICONEA 2014 

The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford

Pusey lane


 With financial contribution of the Institute of Musical Research, School of Advance Study, University of London


Wednesday December 10, 2014

1400:Welcome speech by Abuna Shafiq AbuZayd

Presentation of the Conference by Richard Dumbrill and Irving Finkel

14:30 – Leon Crickmore: The Ubiquity of the Diatonic Scale

There are an infinite number of possible pitches within any octave. Why is it, then, that in so many different cultures and ages musicians have chosen to divide the octave into some kind of diatonic scale? This paper seeks to demonstrate the ubiquity of the diatonic scale, and also to reflect on some possible reasons why this should be so.

15:15 – Gilles de Rosny:  Expression of the constitution of Aristoxenus’ musical scales in terms of mathematical functions.

Aristoxenus, unlike the Pythagoreans, neither used numbers, to quantify pitches, nor ratios, to express their relationship. Nevertheless, on the basis of audition alone, he proposed a classification of pitches relative to each other implying that the set was fully ordered. He characterised relations between two pitches using ‘intervals’ delimited by these pitches. We interpret these intervals in terms of functions acting on pitches. It is shown that the set of functions involved in the construction of pitches, by the ‘method of concords’ constitutes a commutative group allowing for an easy determination of pitch sets able to be tuned with this method, from a given pitch. However, it is noticed, many pitches proposed by Aristoxenus cannot be tuned in this manner. A way to express Aristoxenus’ scales in terms of sound frequencies is proposed.

16:00 – Coffee break

16:30 – Richard Heath: The Harmonically Numerical Form of Creation (and why it used to matter)

The Bible, Homer and other myths were largely written down long after their inception, as memorable oral narratives composed by a type of author who was not a writer. Though Plato’s Republic argued for a replacement of oral cultural norms, by introducing childhood literacy, Plato also saved the number science implicit in oral works from extinction through including it in his own literary output. A number science can develop without arithmetic through using only geometric procedures and these are to be found in the terminal Stone Age, famous for its enduring megalithic monuments. The talk will illustrate the structure of this harmonic science as it is found within historical texts and monuments, whilst suggesting that the harmonic ratios between astronomical periods would most simply explain why our oldest myths were orally composed cosmographies, skilfully woven around the invariant structure of numerical harmony and the sky, these being taken as responsible for creating the world.

17:15 – Tolga Zafer Özdemir: Harmonic Scale and Heptatonicism in Ancient Near Eastern Music

This presentation focuses on the usage of the Circle of Fifths in a chosen set of Ancient Near Eastern music tablets. Numerology reveals the identical sequence of harmonic scale (flat-sharp order) which is the main note placement order of Circle of Fifths.

  Thursday December 11, 2014

 09:00 – Howard Barry Schatz: The Mathematical Foundation of Greek Humanism & the Religious Levant: The Sefer Yetzirah; the Torah (Pentateuch); the Kabbalistic Tradition; Greek Humanism & the Religious Levant 

 09:45 – Rosy Azar Beyhom: Ibn aṭ-Ṭaḥḥān’s manuscript

This treatise abounds with music theory, tales and wisdom stemming from many sources. Whenever Ṭaḥḥān was unsure of a provenance or if he did not  know whence from it came, he would ascribe it to anyone. Oral tradition was still prominent in his times but did not constitute the only documental source for his writings. It is worth noting that collective knowledge about music theory and practice was common but that it seemed unconscious or pretended so to be at times, either for a purpose, or that it would be totally opened to suggestion. This presentation will discuss the status of musical knowledge and its many purposes according to Ṭaḥḥān.

 10:30 – Coffee Break

 11:00 – Bruno de Florence: Ignorance is a Passion

Within a short historical timeline, Copernicus threw away the earth from the centre of the universe, Darwin showed that we are the mere product of chance genetic mutations, and Sigmund Freud taught that there is knowledge which is not known. We shall explore the consequences of such a position with respect to what it is possible to know within the fields of aesthetics and science. 

 11:45 – Antony Perrot: Indications of Sonic System in the Psalms’ Headings?

While it is certain that the headings of certain Psalms gave musical indications, there is an ongoing heated debate about their value. Some of the Dead Sea scrolls seem to support the traditional Masoretic signs which nevertheless remain obscure and are real cruces interpretum. How should one interpret logia such as “For the director of music”, “Lament”, “The eighth” or “On soprano voice”? Where do they come from? Should they be linked to the Hurrian musical instructions such as those from Ugarit? Is it possible to recover the Sitz im Leben of these musical expressions through archaeomusicology?

 12:30 – Lunch Break

 14:00 – Pétur Halldórsson: The measure of the Cosmos

The programme introduced here is based on the research of the Icelandic scholar Einar Pálsson. (1925-1996) It examines the roots of Icelandic culture based on deciphering the philosophy of numbers in Icelandic parchments.

 14:45 – Theo J.H. Krispijn: Sumero-Babylonian music philology

Some cuneiform documents play an essential role in the reconstruction of ancient Near-Eastern musical theory and its mathematical background such as the tuning text fragments: UET VII no. 74 (U.7/80) and UET 6/3 899; the lexical texts: the 32nd tablet of the lexical series SIG7-ALAN = Nabnītu (MSL 16, pp. 251-254); and the list of strings and string combinations CBS 10996 (Kilmer, OrNS 29 (1960), 273-308). In my paper I will present a philological discussion of these documents in order to invite the musicologists to give their view on the musicological meaning of these texts. After this discussion we will look once again at the famous ‘Hymn of Ugarit’ (RS 15.30+ Laroche, Ugaritica 5 (1968), 447-544). I include the PDF my article in Hickmann, E.; Kilmer, A.D.; Eichmann, R. (ed.), Studien zur Musikarchäologie III, Orient Archäologie Band 10, Raden (2002), 465-479, as an introduction to my paper.

 15:30 – Amine Beyhom: A conscious forgery or an unconscious desire? The myth of ditonism in medieval Byzantine chant. 

 16:15 – Coffee Break

 16:45 – Margaux Bousquet: Shaping Music: an exploration of mathematical paradigms, from geometry to music in Ancient Near East

Very little  can be said about proto-literate music in the Ancient Near East. Undoubtedly, sonic orders preceded literacy. This paper will consider geometrical shapes, as evidence of unconscious mathematical concepts, and attempt at exploring musical possibilities through mathematical schemes based on this cognitive framework.

 17:30 – Pete Dello: An investigation of how man first began to seriously ‘play’ with numbers, and how, in third millennium Sumer, the results of  King Shulgi’s  ‘think tank’ changed everything.

The discovery of the sexagesimal system with its floating place value system, so intuitively explored by Professor Ernest McClain’s matrices, deeply influenced everything that followed, in music, geometry, astronomy, time keeping and mathematics; and how it had a such deep affect on surrounding cultures, including Plato and the Greeks. 

 20:00 – Lebanese Dinner at Aram House

 Friday December 12

 09:00 – Irving Finkel: Origins of list-making

 10:00 – Coffee Break

10:30 – Richard Dumbrill: Isotonism as forerunner of anhemitonism and diatonism in Ancient Mesopotamia

11:30 – Conclusions














Richard Dumbrill and Irving Finkel invited at Harvard University

Course name and term:
Ancient Lives (Harvard College/GSAS 65695, NELC ANE103).
Interactive Lecture-Concert:

The proposal for the Elson Family Arts Initiative is to fund a lecture/concert for the students of ‘Ancient Lives’ with archaeo-musicologist and expert in ancient Mesopotamian music, Prof. Richard Dumbrill of the Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, and Assistant Curator at the British Museum, Dr. Irving Finkel. The former is the world’s leading authority on ancient music, and author of The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East (2005). The latter is a recognized musician and archaeo-musicologist, and perhaps the best-known interpreter of the ancient Near-East in the written and electronic media – a sort of David Attenborough of the ancient history. Together, Dumbrill and Finkel direct the ICONEA center that coordinates international scholarship and hosts annual conferences on ancient music.
Students will meet the guests at an evening event held in the 3rd-floor galleries of the Harvard Semitic Museum. There they will be introduced to the world’s oldest surviving music (19th – 14th c. BCE) and have the possibility to interact with reconstructed musical instruments brought by the professors (hands-on/kinetic learning).
A video recording of the event will be made for use in future iterations of the course. The concert/lecture can be turned into a semi-public performance for the benefit of the wider Harvard community. It has the support of the Museum leadership, and will be part of an effort for the collections to enhance the NELC Department’s pedagogical mission, while NELC provides academic support for the Museum’s new public strategy


 Ahmed Mukhtar, John Macginnis and Richard Dumbrill just back from Iraq

where they attended the fourth Babylon Festival for Arts and Culture. Kuluna Babyliun, meaning ‘we are all Babylonians’.









The festival, instigated by Dr Ali ash-Shallah, MP and director of Iraqi Media, included lectures on poetry, plays, films, art exhibitions, music, archaeology. The closing ceremony included a concert by the Iraqi National Symphony orchestra which attracted a crowd of about 1,500 gathered in the Hellenistic theatre at the site of Babylon.


Richard Dumbrill, John Macginnis and Ahmed Mukhtar gave a lecture at the site of Babylon, for students of the University of Babylon, in the museum courtyard about the tragic destruction of archaeological sites and museums in Northern Iraq and about the musical heritage of the country.








Richard John and Ahmed were invited to speak at the University of Babylon where they were greeted by the Chancellor, Professor Dr Adel H. al-Baghdadi









We visited Borsippa and Kish









and attended a concert in Dar Babylon (Babylon House, in Old Baghdad, a beautiful Late Ottoman house restored by the foundation. This house will hosts international students who will able to study there in a serene environment.









Richard Dumbrill went to Beirut to attend the Global Week for Syria where concerts and lectures were organised by Hannibal Saad to raise money for Syrian refugees. Richard Dumbrill, Jean During from the Sorbonne and Laurent Aubert from Geneva spoke about the Syrian Musical Heritage.


Laurent and Jean gave a great recital












wish you all a prosperous academic new year with loads of cuneiform tablets of musical theory, of wonderful iconographic pieces and seals, and loads of extant instruments dug out from the sands of Mesopotamia and around – in our dreams!

The past year has been very busy with Richard Dumbrill’s missions in Iraq and Lebanon and conferences in other locations. ICONEA 2014 was by far the most animated as diverging views clashed at the Oriental Institute and resulted in stimulating further research.

ICONEA 2014 hosted BIBAL scholars who came to celebrate the late Professor McClain’s long and prolific life. Amine Beyhom concluded his comprehensive book on Byzantine Music, certainly the most reliable to date for which we all congratulate him.

I wish particularly to welcome Julia Katarina in the ICONEA team. Julia is an Arabist, studied archaeology, she is a musician, singer, cellist and oudist, as well as specialised in music psychology and has many more hidden talents which I discover everyday. Both Julia and myself will be carrying field work in the Near East during the next years, as well as research work in the UK..Julia will be my co-editor for ICONEA publications and other musical and organological productions. You can contact Julia on jkatarina@iconea.org







Dear ICONEA-NEMO Members, fellows, friends and supporters,

We are pleased to inform you that we are now hosted at the FACULTY OF ORIENTAL STUDIES at the University of Oxford, affiliated to the ARAM SOCIETY FOR SYRO-MESOPOTAMIAN STUDIES founded by Dr. Shafiq Abouzayd. Our seminars and conferences will be held, principally at the Faculty. ICONEA-NEMO retains its affiliations with other institutions such as the Sorbonne in Paris, Harvard in the USA, AUB in Beirut, and at the Institute of Musical Research of the University of London and other institutions.


Our new coordinates are now: ARAM – ICONEA – NEMO – UK, FACULTY OF ORIENTAL STUDIES, University of Oxford, Pusey Lane, Oxford OX1 2LE – UK

Tel: +44 20 7751 5770; Mobile: +44 07930 150 600

rdumbrill@iconea.org; www.iconea.org

All postal mail to be addressed to: Richard Dumbrill 10 Tadema Road, LONDON SW10 0NU – UK



Illo Humphrey – Ph. D. | HDR | was elected the 28th of June, 2014, Fellow and Member of the Board of ICONEA-NEMO at the Faculty of Oriental Studies of the University of Oxford, Pusey Lane, Oxford OX1 2LE – UK: http://www.iconea.org/?cat=23.

ICONEA-NEMO are honoured by Illo Humphrey’s acceptance to be a Fellow and a Member of our research groups. Dr. Illo Humphrey, Mediaevalist | Musicologist | Proto-Philologist, earned, on the 23rd of June 2014, at the University of Paris X-Nanterre (since 2007: Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense), his post Doctoral Habilitation Degree to conduct Graduate, Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Research, under the Direction of Professor Iegor Reznikoff. The Defense Jury was composed of Pr. Dr. Frédéric Billiet (Université Paris IV-Sorbonne); Pr. Dr. Richard J. Dumbrill (University of London); Pr. Dr. Maurice Sachot (Université Marc Bloch-Strasbourg); Pr. Dr. Iégor Reznikoff (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense); Pr. Dr. Fabio Troncarelli (Università degli Studi della Tuscia-Viterbo); Pr. Dr. Étienne Wolff (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense); the Pre-Rapporteurs were: Pr. Dr. Richard J. Dumbrill (University of London), Dr. James Grier (University of Western Ontario), Pr. Dr. Massimo Privitera (Università degli Studi di Palermo).

Dr. Humphrey’s Habilitation degree was unanimously approved by all members of the jury who all recognized Illo Humphrey’s mastery of Boethius, of Ancient and Mediaeval Musicology, of Proto-Philology (i. e. ecdotic sciences including: the study of main texts, glosses, punctuation signs, notae sententiarum, that is to say diacritical cross-reference and omission signs, etc.), Latin Stenography (i. e. Tironian Notes), palaeography, codicology, etc.

Dr. Humphrey’s Habilitation thesis, based on fundamental research exploring the influence of the philosophy of numbers and proportions (ἡ toῦ riqmoὺ osίa: Platon, Timaios¶ 35-36  |  substantia numeri: Boethius, De arithmetica I,2) and the philosophy of musical intervals and musical sound (ϕθόγγος, -ου: Platon, Timaios¶ 80 | phthongos: Boethius, De musica I, 8) on the genesis of consciousness (τῆς ψυχῆς γένεσις: Platon, Timaios¶ 35-36 |animæ  generatio| anima mundi: Boethius, De arithmetica II,2 | Boethius De musica I, 1) and on the Cognitive Process in general (gnώmh|cognitio) from Plato to Boethius, was entitled in French:

Autour de Boèce: Genèse musicale et arithmétique de l’âme

Title in English:

On Boethius: The Genesis of the Soul-Consciousness, its musical and mathematical Implications

Title in German:

Über Boethius: Die musikalische und mathematische Entstehung der menschlichen Seele




Dr Illo Humphrey, HDR

NEMO I Near Eastern Musicology Online


Please click on the following links for updates about NEMO publications:



NEMO-Online, Volume 1 is now available for free. Download from:


Table of contents:

Erik MARCHAND : “Une musique modale de tradition populaire en Occident – Tribune”, NEMO-Online 1 1 |2012-11| p. 5–10; François PICARD : “Back to modality. Musical Modes Revisited”, NEMO-Online 1 1 |2012-11| p. 11–18;  Markos SKOULIOS : “Modern theory and notation of Byzantine chanting tradition – A Near Eastern musicological perspective”, NEMO-Online 1 1 |2012-11| p. 19–38;  Jacob OLLEY : “Modal diversity in early Ottoman music – The case of makâm Sabâ”, NEMO-Online 1 1 |2012-11| p. 39–54;     Rosy AZAR BEYHOM : “La modalité écrite. Un exemple avec Mīkhāʾīl Mashāqa au XIXe siècle”, NEMO-Online 1 1 |2012-11| p. 55–66;  Amine BEYHOM : “Kashf al-Asrār an Karkarat al-Aḥbār fī Taʾwīl al-Adwār” NEMO-Online 1 1 |2012-11| p. 67–88; Richard DUMBRILL : “Modus Vivendi”, NEMO-Online 1 1 |2012-11| p. 89–116.