The shofar of the ancient Hebrews, used at the siege of Jericho, was a cow's horn (Josh. vi. 4, 5, 8, 13, etc.), translated in the Vulgate buccina, in the paraphrase of the Chaldee buccina ex cornu. The directions given for sounding the trumpets of beaten silver described in Numbers x. form the earliest code of signals yet known; the narrative shows that the Israelites had metal wind instruments; if, therefore, they retained the more primitive cow's horn and ram's horn (shofar), it was from choice, because they attached special significance to them in connexion with their ritual. The trumpet of silver mentioned above was the Khatsotsrah, probably the long straight trumpet or tuba which also occurs among the instruments in the musical scenes of the ancient Egyptians and Assyrians. Gideon's use of a massed band of three hundred shofars to terrify and defeat the Midianites (Judges vii. 16), and Saul's call to arms (1 Sam. xiii. 3) show that the value of the shofar as a military instrument was well understood by the Jews. The cornu was used by the Roman infantry to sound the military calls, and Vegetius states that the tuba and buccina were also used for the same purpose.Cow's horn?
My first thought is, how could this esteemed encyclopaedia have got it so wrong?
But then I realize, that just as Wikipedia contains errors that are later corrected, so too might we forgive the editors of E. Britannia. Their current online edition says,
shofar, also spelled Shophar, plural Shofroth, Shophroth, or Shofrot, a ritual musical instrument, made from the horn of a ram or other animal, used on important Jewish public and religious occasions. In biblical times the shofar sounded the Sabbath, announced the New Moon, and proclaimed the anointing of a new king. This latter custom has been preserved in modern Israel at the swearing in of the president of the state. The most important modern use of the shofar in religious ceremonies takes place on Rosh Hashana, when it is sounded in the synagogue to call the Jewish ... (100 of 175 words)
After reflecting on their apparent error, a question creeps into my mind: How do any of us know whether ancient Hebrews also used cow horns for shofarot, especially in non-ritual settings and before the establishment of a priesthood.
I know what Talmud and later commentaries says, and I know our oral tradition. But it seems likely that our ancestors also used the horns of the cows in their herds.
Let me know what you think.
See ancientmusic.co.uk for other ancient instruments. While this site is about ancient Northern European culture, it is not that different than ancient music from the Levant.