Minstrel (מנִגֵּן, menaggen', one striking the harp, 2Ki 3:15; αὐλητής, Mt 9:33, a flute player, "piper," Re 18:22). Music was often employed by the Hebrews for sacred purposes, and in the case of Elisha it appears to have conduced to inspiration (2Ki 3:15). See Music. It was a usual accompaniment of funerals likewise (Mt 9:33; comp. Josephus, War, 3:9, 5), as it is still in the East (see Hackett's Illustra. of Script. page 113). SEE BURIAL.
The English word minstrel represents the French word menestral, which is itself a diminutive of ministre, and is applied to the class of persons who administered to the amusement of their patrons by their skill in music and poetry. Chaucer uses the word minister in the sense of minstrel in his Dr- eame (Richardson, s.v., and Du Cange, Gloss.). The class of minstrels had in mediaeval times a social position almost akin to the bards and scalds whose Sagas they sung and whose inspiration they imitated at humble distance. Musical sound has been an accompaniment of religious worship in all countries. The expert player on the musical instrument has been associated with the possessor of yet higher faculties (see Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, chap. 2 and representations of harpers in the tomb of Rameses III, Thebes; Muller's Hist. of Greek Literature, chapter 12). The "pleasant voice and lovely song," and the art of "playing well on an instrument," were associated with the functions of prophecy (Eze 33:31-33). Various passages of Holy Scripture show that the skilful performance of sacred music formed a large portion of the education of the sons of the prophets; 1Sa 10:5: "Thou shalt meet a company (חֶבֶל, Sept. χορός) of prophets coming down from the high place, with a psaltery, a tabret, a pipe, and a harp before them, see PROPHET, and they shall prophesy." It is not certain whether the prophets were here distinct from the players on instruments, but most probably they were the same individuals as those of whom we read elsewhere, that they "should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals" (1Ch 25:1); that they resembled" the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with a harp, according to the order of the king, to give thanks and to praise the Lord" (see also verses 6, 7). In this passage the performance of sacred song and choral music in the temple received the exalted designation of prophecy. Sacred music, "a joyful noise unto the Lord," and "thanksgiving to the Lord upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery" (Ps 66:1; Ps 87:7; Ps 92:1-3; c. 1), were characteristics of close communion with God. The effect produced upon the auditors is described (1Sa 10:6) as being in that instance very remarkable Saul is assured that when he hears the prophetic minstrelsy, "the Spirit of the Lord will come upon him, and he shall prophesy with them, and be turned into another man." See verse 2, and comp. 1Sa 19:20-24, the account of the prophets being instructed by Samuel, and the effect of the holy song under the influence of the, Spirit of God upon Saul's messengers, and afterwards upon Saul himself. Saul is thus seen to be peculiarly accessible to the highest influences of music, and hence the advice tendered to him by his servants (1Sa 16:16), " Seek out a man who is a cunning player on a harp, and it shall come to pass that when the evil spirit from God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand and thou shalt be well." The participial form מנִגֵּן (from נַגֵּן, in 'Pielb which is used of striking the strings of a musical instrument) is here translated " a player," and in 2Ki 3:15, "minstrel." The effect produced on Saul was remarkable. SEE SAUL. The custom of applying such a remedy to mental disturbance may be traced in other writings. Thus Quintil. (Instit. Orat. lib. 9 chapter 4) says, "Pythagoreis moris fuit, cum somnum peterent ad lyram prius lenire mentes, ut si quid fuisset turbidiorum cogitationum componerent" (comp. Plutarch, De Musica, and Aristotle, Pol. lib. 9, chapter 5; Apollonius Dyscolos, De Miris, quoted by Grotius, ad loc. Ι᾿ᾶται ἡ κατάλαυσις τῆς διανοίας ἐκστάσεις See also King Lear, act. 2, c. 5, where music is used to bring back the wandering mind of Lear). Josephus (Ant. 6:8, 2), in his account of the transaction, associates the singing of hymns by David with the harp- playing, and shows that though the tragedy of Saul's life was lightened for a while by the skilful minstrelsy of David, the raving madness soon triumphed over the tranquillizing influence (comp. 1Sa 18:10; 1Sa 19:10). Weemse (Christ. Synagogue, chapter 6:§ 3, par. 6, page 143) supposes that the music appropriate to such occasions was " that which the Greeks called aplonian, which was the greatest and the saddest, and settled the affections." In many references of Holy Scripture the minstrel and the prophet appear to be identical, and their functions the same; but in 2Ki 3:15 their respective functions are clearly distinguished. The prophet Elisha needed the influence of "the minstrel" to soothe the irritation occasioned by the aggravating alliance of Israel with Judah. Not until this was effected would the prophetic influence guide him to a sound vaticination of the duty and destiny of the allied forces. The minstrelsy was produced, according to Procopius; by a Levite, who sung the Psalms of David in the hearing of the prophet; if so he was thus the means of producing that condition of mind by which the prophet was lifted above the perceptions of his. senses, and the circumstances which surrounded him, into a higher region of thought, where he might by divine grace penetrate the secret purposes of God. Jarchi says that "on account of anger the Shechinah had departed from him;" Ephraem Syrus, that the object of the music was to attract a crowd to hear the prophecy; J.H. Michaelis, that the prophet's mind, disturbed by the impiety of the Israelites, might be soothed and prepared for divine things by a spiritual song. According to Keil (Comm. on Kings, 1:359, Eng. tr.), "Elisha calls for a minstrel, in order to gather in his thoughts by the soft tones of music from the impression of the outer world, and, by repressing the life of self and of the world, to be transferred into the state of internal vision, by which his spirit would be prepared to receive the divine revelation." This in effect is the view taken by Josephus (Ant. 9:3, 1), and the same is expressed by Maimonides in a passage which embodies the opinion of the Jews of the Middle Ages. "All the prophets were not able to prophesy at any time that they wished; but they prepared their minds, and sat joyful and glad of heart, and abstracted; for prophecy dwelleth not in the midst of melancholy, nor in the midst of apathy, but in the midst of joy. Therefore the sons of the prophets had before them a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, and [thus] sought after prophecy" (or prophetic inspiration) (Yad hachazakah, 7:5, Bernard's
Creed and Ethics of the Jews, page 16; see also note to page 114). Kimchi quotes a tradition to the effect that, after the ascension of his master Elijah, the spirit of prophecy had not dwelt upon Elisha because he was mourning, and the spirit of holiness does not dwell but in the midst of joy. The references given above to the power and dignity of song may sufficiently explain the occurrence. The spiritual ecstasy was often bestowed without. any means, but many instances are given of subordinate physical agencies being instrumental in its production (Eze 2:2; Eze 3:24; Isa 6:1; Ac 10:9-10; Re 1:9-10).
The word minstrel is used of the αὐλήτας who, in Mt 9:23, are represented as mourning and making a noise on the death of Jairus's daughter. The custom of hiring mourners at the death of friends is seen on Etruscan amphorae, tombs, and bass-reliefs (see Dennis's Etaruria, 1:295; 2:344, 354, where music was considered appropriate; and Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, 2:366-373). Skill in lamentation (Am 5:16; Jer 9:17) was not necessarily skill in playing on the pipe or flute, but probably included that accomplishment (Ec 12:5; 2Ch 35:25). SEE MOURNING.