Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East

Analyzing Babylonian clay tablets, archaeomusicologist Richard Jean Dumbrill found overwhelming evidence that certain musical intervals were associated with specific deities.*

For instance, the Akkadian water and creation god Ea (Sumerian Enki) was associated with the musical perfect fourth. In the Babylonian "enneatonic" or 9-step scale {b-a-g-f-e-d-c-b-a} Ea's perfect fourth interval was considered a "correction" to the dissonant tritone {b-f} to make the scale sound consonant and more ethically pleasing.

Thus, Ea's cuneform sign was the number 4 or 40 which was associated with a descending perfect fourth (b-f#). This in turn was associated with the planet Mercury as part of an astrological and numerological theology.

Other Sumerian gods had other "god-numbers" and intervals in this scale, such as the god of heaven An (Anu) = 60 (major sixth), storm god Enlil = 50 (perfect fifth) and moon god Sin = 30 (major third). The musical ethos (or mode of persuasion) associated with these numbers and intervals then represented the character or personality of the gods.

Indeed, the Sumerian/Akkadian/Babylonian pantheon were derived from a musico-astronomical system where a given interval was the voice of its corresponding god. Hymns were composed around certain intervals to worship specific gods. Lyrics praising that god were then added.

The Babylonians took this idea a step further by combining god-numbers to create musical ratios. For instance, Istar (Ishtar) and Bel Marduk formed the ratio 15:14 equal to 119.44281 cents while Anu's second number 21 and sun-god Samas' (Shamash's) 20 produced the ratio 21:20 or 84.46719 cents. When combined, this amounts to 203.91 cents which is exactly the value of the ratio 9:8 equal to a musical whole tone. All the gods thus worked together to create a singular coherent harmony in the Cosmos.

In this way, melodies described relationships and interactions between the gods, which would be further illuminated by the choice of lyric. Together, the music and lyric would tell a story of spiritual relationships throughout Nature.

Just imagine the religious significance of the following lyrics as they were sung to a melody composed of a series of god-numbers and intervals.

"May Ea proclaim your life
Offspring of Anu I sing your strength
Lioness 1f642(= Ishtar)
That I sing to Erra, and that I magnify her strength.
It is a joy to protect Erra.
May the praise of the hero Adad be proclaimed.
The one loved by Enlil
that I sing...for Sin."

* The Archaeomusicology of the Ancient Near East by Richard Jean Dumbrill.