Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOURTEEN
SECONDARY ACTS OF THE CULT

I. Liturgical prayer

PRAYING means 'speaking to God'; prayer, therefore, establishes a personal relationship between man and God, and it is the basic act of religion. The reason why we are treating it here among the secondary acts of worship is because our theme is the institutions of Israel, and prayer is relevant only in so far as it forms part of exterior worship. In the Old Testament, liturgical prayer was not an institution independent of other cultic acts, as it has come to be in synagogue services. There are, it seems, only two references in the Old Testament to liturgies which consisted entirely in singing or reciting prayers, and they were both penitential services ( Ne 9 and Jl 1-2).

(a) Prayer and the cult. It is quite certain, however, that in Israel cultic actions were accompanied by words; this was so in all Oriental religions, and indeed, it is true of every religion in the world. The Bible contains some formulas for blessings ( Nb 6: 22-27) and for cursing ( Dt 27: 14-26: the people joined in these curses); it also gives the formula to be used in the ritual of the 'bitter water' ( Nb 5: 21-22), the words to be pronounced when the person responsible for a murder could not be discovered ( Dt 21: 7-8), the formulas for the offering of the first-fruits ( Dt 26: 1-10) and of the three- yearly tithe ( Dt 26: 13-15), and the 'lesson' for the feast of the Passover ( Dt 6: 20-25, cf. Ex 12: 26-27).

Sacrifice was the central act of the cult, and the very action of sacrifice was itself a prayer; but it was accompanied by vocal prayer. The code in Lv 1-7 does not mention vocal prayer in connection with sacrifice, because it is concerned only with the actual rites to be followed, but Am 5: 23 says that hymns were sung to the accompaniment of instruments while sacrifice was being offered. And in fact, public prayer naturally tends to become rhythmic hymn-singing. Liturgical singing made its appearance once the cult and the priesthood were organized in a public sanctuary, and Solomon's Temple had a group of singers attached to it from its earliest days.1 After the Exile, the members of this Temple choir became more important and more highly esteemed, and the Chronicler's interest in sacred music is well-known,2

The hymn-book, or the prayer-book, of the second Temple is the Psalter,

____________________
1
Cf. p. 382.
2
Cf. pp. 391-392.

-457-

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