MIRIAM, PASCHAL CANTOR1
Miriam, Paschal Cantor, has been published also under the title « The Lord is my Song ». This article refers to the Song of Moses in Exodus 15.1-18 which commences with a quotation of Miriam’s ancient song in verse 21. Gouel aims to show through Miriam the potentially significant role of women in public worship. Moses’ sister was highly qualified to serve in this capacity, being endowed generously with many native gifts as well as a keen awareness of the Divine Presence. Through her liturgical and prophetic roles she encouraged her people, and gained for herself an unforgettable place in the history of Israel as she led the people to reflect on the marvel of their deliverance by God at the Sea of Reeds. The prophet Micah in 6.4 mentions her along with Moses and Aaron as one of the noted leaders of the Israelites. Miriam helped to foster dialogue between God and his people, and gave impetus to the creation of a liturgical tradition continued by her descendants among the Levitical choristers in the tabernacle service, I Chronicles 6.48. Song was, and is, the ideal vehicle by which people could express totally their gratitude to God for deliverance and redemption. The declaration « The Lord is my Song », is a joyful affirmation of the reestablishment of the final reconciliation of all human beings with Him.
The Lord gave the word; Great was the company of women who proclaimed it. Psalm 68:11 Let us now discover Miriam, a rather mysterious character seldom spoken of amongst Christians3, who strikes our imagination with an unusual destiny. Raised as a slave, she will be ordained, after the crossing of the Red Sea4, in her dual mission as first prophetess and musician, and leader of the people of Israel at the side of her two notorious brothers, Moses and Aaron5. Her story calls for the awakening of our consciousness in days such as these, where questions on ordination and liturgy have both come into focus in the Church.
In Les Cahiers Liturgiques, “Jesu, Priceless Joy” (incl. bibliography by Linda Mack, English Editor, Andrews University Library), Nr 04, Geneva, 1993, pp. 103-113. Joëlle Gouel, M.A. (Andrews University). Editor of Les Cahiers Liturgiques, a bilingual (French/ English) publication, P.O.B. 2539, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland, email: email@example.com. From the same author: God's History of Praise, CL01:1990; The Psalmist, CL02:1991; Israel, Cantus Dei, CL03:1992; The Song of Moses, CL06: 1994, The House of David, CL09:1997. "Miriam, sister of Moses, prophetess, musician, and leader in Israel, symbolizes Wisdom in Jewish tradition (Midrash Rabbah, p. 549). She is the inspirer and active agent of praise and singing, educating people for worship ... at the historical level". Joëlle Gouel, God's History of Praise, CL01, op. cit., p. 117. Exodus 14:15-31. Micah 6:4.
Have you ever thought about Miriam's inward conviction6? As a daughter of pious parents she knows that Divine Providence is leading her. Inspired by her mother, she follows her guidance to the letter: Moses, as a predestined child, is to be saved despite Pharaoh's order. Full of intelligence, diplomacy, and visionary wisdom, she steps forward to meet the daughter of the most powerful monarch in the world, the man-god 7 Pharaoh! Nothing stops her, not even the penalty of a death sentence that she might have to face, being already assured in her own mind, with truly prophetic instinct, that her brother Moses is to have an exceptional destiny, which starts as soon as Pharaoh's daughter takes him to the palace8.
Times of preparation
But what can we know about Miriam's function as a prophetess and musician, which she seems to have already assumed as a slave in Egypt, and carried on until the end of her life. Let us imagine the daughter of Amram in her own environment as a slave girl in the very unusual position of having her younger brother educated at Pharaoh's court. It is not impossible to imagine that she herself might have benefited through her brother from royal training, including the art of Egyptian music. Moses, as a Prince, was necessarily educated in priesthood9 which entitled him to a musical education10 11. If we go further with the story of Moses, the incident of the golden calf is indicative of his
Exodus 2:4-10. "In Ancient Egypt, the king was responsible for the seasons, and looked upon as capable of producing drought or rain as he was both priest and sovereign, and as such, endowed with a magic and powerful voice." Jules Combarieu, La musique et la magie, Minkoff Reprint, Geneva, 1978, p. 43, free translation by the author. Exodus 2:10. "By the laws of Egypt all who occupied the throne of the Pharaohs must become members of the priestly caste; and Moses, as the heir apparent, was to be initiated into the mysteries of the national religion. This duty was committed to the priests. But while he was an ardent and untiring student, he could not be induced to participate in the worship of the gods. He was threatened with the loss of the crown, and warned that he would be disowned by the princess should he persist in his adherence to the hebrew faith. But he was unshaken in his determination to render homage to none save the one God, the Maker of heaven and earth. He reasoned with priests and worshipers, showing the folly of their superstitious veneration of senseless objects. None could refute his arguments or change his purpose, yet for the time his firmness was tolerated on account of his high position and the favor with which he was regarded by both the king and the people". Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Mountain View, USA, 1958, p. 245. "Observers of ancient civilizations have said of Egyptians that they were the most pious people in the world... Worship fosters liturgy and appropriate music, to speak of music only in its broader aspect, composed of recitatives, cantillation, hymnic songs in solo or chorus form, built on responsorial or alternate antiphony..." "Frescos, bas-reliefs, and statues in tombs depict numerous musical scenes: burial services, solemn feasts in honor of the dead, religious or profane ceremonies to which the dead would have been present. Such scenes show extra-terrestial dances portraying Egyptian beliefs... Some tombs have been discovered showing mutilated sound transmission organs, such as harpist fingers, mouth of singers, hands of instrument players, so as to harm the dead and prevent him from listening to concerts that the living may not hear." Encyclopédie des musiques sacrées, Ellen et Hans Hickmann, La musique rituelle et cultuelle des Egyptiens pharaoniques, Editions Labergeries, Paris, 1968, volume 1, pp. 310-311, free translation by the author. "Moses had been learning much that he must unlearn. The influences that had surrounded him in Egypt... the refinement, the subtlety, and the mysticism of a false religion, the splendor of idolatrous worship... all had left deep impressions upon his developing mind and had molded, to some extent, his habits and character. Time, change of surroundings, and communion with God could remove these impressions." White, Patriarchs and Prophets, opus cit. p. 248.
3 musical sensitivity in relation to worship12. As he climbs down Sinai's slopes with young Joshua at his side, the latter identifies the noise coming up from the camp as an attack from the enemy. Indeed it is an attack but not of the kind we expect: this one is of a theopoetical 13 nature, and Moses is not fooled at all: "It is not the voice of those who shout in victory, nor is it the voice of those who cry out in defeat, but the voice of those who sing that I hear. So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses' anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain14." We are struck by Moses discerning spirit concerning musical styles, and also with his anger as he broke the tables after his incomparable encounter with God. The difference is too brutal and the people have followed too dangerous a course of action. The noise of pagan feasts is still the same today, just as easy to identify, just as terrifying in its profanity, and dangerous because of their demonic influence. Anger is sinful. Yet as we face many Christian's unawareness in cultual areas where much of these musical practices are filtering through, Moses experience remains a very serious indication of the gravity of musical events.
Prophetess and musician
Let us now revert to Miriam. Could the role of pagan priestess have been a model for leadership, discernment, inspiration - a role acknowledged by the people and the elders15. Roles that she would have assumed as she came out of paganism under the revelation of the True God16. Miriam prepares17 her people for the rapidly approaching day of deliverance by means of exhortation, singing and dancing, perfect poetical expressions within the prophetic function, designed to impress the human heart and soul. When Aaron receives directly from God the order to go and meet Moses at Horeb18, she must have been an eager witness proving her prophetic calling, went out to prepare the Elders to the historical meeting of the two brothers19. Miriam is both the interpreter of the extraordinary destiny of Moses and his respected sister. It is through faith that she awakens daily the consciousness of her people and gives them hope.
Exodus 32. Theopoetic. Deals with religious questions about the poetic content of the Bible (music, poetry, art, etc.), its history, its sacred use and its dogmas. Complementary to theology (intellectual and analytical), theopoetic is of analogical character and deals with the religious imagination:
It encompasses the study of Beauty, one of God’s attributes, on which imagination builds artistic expression. It calls to discerning of good and evil, beautiful and ugly, sacred and secular; It studies Biblical texts pertaining to adoration and worship, i.e. poetry, prophetism, ministry, history, liturgy, etc.; Reflects on aesthetics, i.e. intrinsic value, symbolism, authenticity, and sources; it opens the debate on questions of choice, discerning, identity, talent, spiritual gift, and management.
14 15 16
Exodus 32:18-20. Exodus 15:20a). "In fact, Israel's monotheism does not fit with lax worship forms of a pagan nation, where debauchery is integrated to priesthood... Abraham's descendents, faithful to pure worship forms remain estranged. They are practicing other customs and, no doubt, their musical repertoire includes noble and sweet melodies that reflect their ancestors' aspirations. Priesthood is not excluded from their lifestyle eventhough they became slaves." Suzanne Haik Vantoura, La musique de la Bible révélée, Ed. Robert Dumas, Paris, 1976, p. 35. Free translation by the author. To prepare a people is an active role which also means "to prepare a people to praises", and, in actual truth, to work against occult forces, to reshape musical treatment so that it becomes a vehicle for deliverance, a motoric force that propagates a people's live creed. Many other prophets have done it and Israel's notorious lack of receptivity also connected to singing is a concretization of Old Testament false worship. Exodus 4:27. Exodus 4:29.
Has she already ringing in her mind the Song of the Sea sung, at the time of Exodus, by a prepared people? When the women "went out20" then to sing and dance under Miriam's leadership, according to Scripture, this underlines that the practice of worship was already acquired during the time of slavery21. Miriam does not cease to call and guide us in her prophetic musical mission: her early awareness of important future events, her collaboration with the Elders in awakening the people, and her vision of Israel's vocation as Cantus Dei 22, a people set apart for praise.
The prophetess, at the Red Sea, already holds a confirmed liturgical function, and the Song of the Sea23 will enter Israel's history as an archetype and become a perpetual poetical form in traditional Jewish liturgy24. Daily, through faith before, and after Israel's deliverance at the Red Sea, Miriam re-enacts liturgically with her songs the history of Israel. Thus, she is the female forerunner of the dialogue between God and the chosen people, in turn listening, singing and celebrating. The Bible does not seem to assign to her any other mission than that of a prophet and musician, and it is interesting to note that the Prophet Micah speaks of Miriam as being in an equal position with Aaron and Moses, a leader in Israel25. The genealogy of the first book of Chronicles (6:3) mentions Miriam as a son26 of Amram, and in more details in the following verses (6:16-32), the musical vocation of Kohath lineage confirmed by David when he assigns to Heman the cantor "the service of song in the house of the Lord" (6:31). The various translations might also lead us to think that female musicians and singers might have been participants in the liturgy of the Jewish temple. Miriam, in the Chroniclers' mind (in keeping with tradition) indicates that she is the mother of Levitical singers and not solely one who led Israel in a one-time secular entertainment, as today's traditional Christian thinking indicates.
The Song of Deliverance
The role of prophetess in the Bible may be historically and archeologically traced. Miriam belongs to the more particular vocational line of a prophetess-musician, a spontaneous vocation, ordained by God and consecrated by the sign of the crossing of the Red Sea. If we take the example of Deborah, prophetess and judge in Israel, she stems from a category which
Exodus 15:20-21. "So, it is likely that sacerdotal singing was specifically created in Egypt. The Song celebrating the crossing of the Red Sea is no doubt, not the first one." Haïk Vantoura, La musique de la Bible révélée, opus cit., p. 35. “Man was created in the likeness of God - the Imago Dei, and by extension, in the likeness of God’s Song the Cantus Dei”, cf. Joëlle Gouel, Israel, Cantus Dei, CL03:1992, p. 95. "The Song of the Sea sung by Moses and the Israelites may have its origin and central theme in the popular song given in v. 21, known as Miriam's song... composed at an earlier date which is not known". Commentaire de l'Ancien Testament, Frank Michaeli, Le livre de l'Exode, Delachaux et Niestlé, éd. Paris, p. 133, free translation by the author. "The Hebrew Prayer Book contains the full quotation of the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) which is sung at the daily morning liturgy (beraka), as well as in the Sabbath morning service (musical preamble to the Sh'ma'). Eric Werner, The Sacred Bridge, Columbia University Press, New York, 1959, pp. 7, 8. Micah 6:4. N. B. provided by Pastor R. Daellenbach (Switzerland): "The fact that Miriam is mentioned amongst Amram's sons (also children) confirms, no doubt, her exceptional role. Generally, only male names are cited. However, the expression 'sons of Amram' includes all the latter's descendents, of the two sexes.
5 belongs to the "Deuteronomical tradition"27. Her vocation is sustained and nurtured by a knowledge of judicial and cultual Mosaic tradition, and confirmed by the victory over the Canaanites. Her song, a mode of expression within the cultual position that she holds, recalls through emotional experience, the story of that particular deliverance. It is in essence God's victory of redemption. The prepared people (also practiced in music) can identify itself to that victory, physically, emotionally and spiritually, that may be recalled historically through the expression of singing. The function of a cultual prophetess-musician (at the side of the essentially masculine sacerdotal priesthood) holds a central position in the Ancient Testament. It is in that function that the Song of Deliverance finds its place as an audible sign, alive and proclaimed, of Israel's deliverance at various stages of its history28. Mary, the mother of Jesus, stemming from a lineage of priests, expresses in her Magnificat 29 a tradition and reality of the same order.
Music and the Prophetic
Let us remember that in Israel, the expressive means are of a vocative30 nature, and that the tradition is an oral one: God speaks, ("Listen Israel"), his people answers Him. God not only gives orders but expresses His own feelings as a parent, a lover: "O my first-born! O, my Israel!" God lingers on with passionate poetry and song that can be heard throughout the Old Testament, uttered through the mouth of the prophets. Through its liturgy "Israel is engaged in holy listening and responses and participates in a sacred dialogue with the God of its history. Israel hears itself speak through cultual prophets, and gives the response that God expects it to give"31. Its canticles, its psalms, its laments, are but the live expression of a reality of the sacred dialogue that takes place between God and its people. Biblically speaking, musical expression is an integral part of prophecy. It touches various areas, such as ethics, history, eschatology, law, liturgy, etc. and uses a variety of means of self expression. "Israel's cultural mentality is reflected not only in rhetorics but also in literary styles through which it expresses itself in a natural way" 32. Amongst such literary styles are the narrative, legal, liturgical and apologetic. Various poetical forms are used: oracles, laments, blessings and cursings, proverbs, canticles, psalms, etc... Music, in all these forms, is omnipresent, as cantillation33 is used for prose (free text) as well as for psalmody (metrical verse). Thus, music is an ordinary and natural means of expression for any communication mission. It would have been a pleonasm for Biblical writers to state the existence and importance of music in Israel. Without these vocables the dialogue between God and His people does not exist. Without them the people and God do not vibrate. Their mutual responses are extinguished, liturgies remain mute (even if there is much noise). In the Song of the Sea found in Exodus 15, verse 2 says:
28 29 30 31 32 33
L. O. Ramlot, Le Prophétisme, tiré à part du Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, Le Touzet & Ané, éd. Paris, 1972, Tome VIII, colonne 911. Cf. Joëlle Gouel, The Song of Moses, in CL06, op. cit. Luke 1:47-55. Cf. Joëlle Gouel, Luke, Cantor of the Wonders of God, Introduction, CL01:1990, pp. 38-40. From the Latin, vocare, to call. James Muilenberg, The Way of Israel, Harper & Brothers, Pub., New York, 1961, p. 27. Muilenberg, opus cit. p. 27. Cantillation. Chanting in free rhythm, in a plainsong style. The term is most used in connection with the Jewish liturgical music. The Oxford Companion to Music, Percy A. Scholes, Oxford University Press, 10th edition, London, 1975.
Yahwe is ... my song. This prophetic affirmation reveals singing as an act which praises, tells, proclaims, publishes, and delivers. An oral tradition, one of dialogue, God speaks, the people answer. Yahwe is my song. To respond to the act of adoration involving man's whole soul and thinking power. Interestingly, modern psychology34 confirms what God has created good, and singing was good for him35. Yahwe is my song. To be enthused, in Theos, in God, a spontaneous expression of all creed lived through, alleluia of deliverance over demonic powers, unity to others, to the world, to the angels, and to all creation. Yahwe is my song. Joy and reconciliation of all things between mankind and God, through Jesus Christ and in Him, our eternal Song.
Like many of us today, closed in her own self-righteousness, Miriam and Aaron judged Moses “for he had married an Ethiopian woman” as being inappropriate. Miriam’s remarkable ministry is brought to a sudden stop36: she is struck by God with leprosies and banished from the camp. During seven days she will live total separation from her people and from God. Seven days to relive the victory of redemption. No song this time, but repentance in silence, vibrated in the desert where nature has no color, no birds’ songs, but where we hear God. Liturgical silence, paschal silence, leading to restoration.
Moses remembers Miriam as Christ remembers us. His inspired and prophetic sister, who, with an immense and indefatigable faith never failed for 40 years, carrying, edifying through songs a rebellious and often dissatisfied people, is anchored in his heart. Moses, the friend and legist of God, the mediator of his people, had confirmed Miriam in her function of prophetess and leader in giving her the liturgical part: in the dialogue with God, the people's part was hers. It is she who prepared them. A formidable profession, moving, dependant on expression, moods, and places. Aaron had received the sacrificial function37 in worship, a part carried on by males, unchanging, imposing and precise. Today still, communion remains unchanged: bread and wine. But liturgy, how difficult to discern, in its choices and adaptation of its means of expression. Yet, its role remains that of an evangelist proclaiming its creed to the world, magnifying the name of the Lord by means of true beauty. In choosing his brother and sister, hasn't Moses, a Messianic archetype, given a living example and symbol of the perfect complementarity of man and woman in the sacrificial and liturgical act? Isn't the Adam, formed of the dust, male and female, called to worship God in such a complementarity? Isn't the blood tie between Aaron and Miriam a symbol of the close
"Even a well fed brain that receives plenty of oxygen still needs other kinds of stimulations to reach its maximum productivity. Now, singing has been recognized as being one of the primary stimuli affecting the brain, yielding better environmental perception and awareness". La Suisse, Geneva, 27 September, 1992. Free translation by the author. “Music is a unique language that sets to motion human nature as a whole, which contributes to the development of personality and behaviour”. Joëlle Gouel, The Psalmist, CL02:1991, op. cit., p. 82. Numbers 12. Exodus 28; Numbers 18.
7 relationship between Eucharist and liturgy? Hasn't Moses reunited, as symbols of reconciliation, man and woman - brother and sister - in their dual and complementary cultual function, as in marriage? What has become of Miriam, a radiant and prophetic woman? Have we opened to her the way back, as Moses did? Yet, she reappears in all her value as a luminous, missionary woman, at her brothers' sides. Miriam, a prophet musician, leader in Israel, in the broad meaning of the vocation: liturgical mother, responsible for the divine dialogue that God, in His gentleness, engages with man! Miriam, the Woman of the Song, Paschal Cantor who brings to life the Song of the Lamb of Revelation; who prepares us in our waiting; who teaches us that a song may cancel battles because God fights for us; that it is concrete faith of our life in Jesus Christ, the song of our waiting and hope in His return, the only one possible for our deliverance, the eternal song of our redemption.