Temple Trumpets and the Sabbath

Temple Trumpets and the Sabbath
By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

Did you know that in the first century AD, special trumpets were sounded as the Sabbath began?

Among the more fascinating archaeological finds relating to the Sabbath was found less than sixty years ago!

In 1968, a stone was found in Jerusalem near where the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD. On it contained an interesting Hebrew inscription. It read:

Hebrew transliteration: “LBYT HTQY‘H LH…[last part incomplete]”

English: “(Belonging) to the place (literally, house) of trumpeting…”

We have a picture of this inscription below (Hebrew is read right to left):

The Trumpeting Inscription
From wikimedia commons; public domain.

As you can tell from the picture, the end part of the inscription is missing because the stone fractured when it fell.  Researcher Aaron Demsky has done an excellent job of analyzing possible ways to fill the missing text. He proposed that the missing text should read:

Hebrew transliteration: “LHB[DYL BYN QDS L’HWL]”

English: “To distinguish between the sacred and the profane [periods of time].”

The entire inscription would then read: “Belonging to the station of trumpeting to distinguish between the sacred and the profane.”

Demsky pointed out that the missing phrase he supplied is found in the Mishnah – in the context of blowing trumpets at the Temple. We have the quote below:

“And on Shabbat eve they would add six blasts sounded adjacent to the onset of Shabbat: Three to stop the people from their labor, as the blasts inform the people that Shabbat is approaching and they stop working, and three at the onset of Shabbat to demarcate between sacred and profane…” (Sukkah 5:5).

In this passage, we learn that the silver trumpets in the Temple were sounded six times: three times just before Sabbath began and three more right when the Sabbath started. Later, the Babylonian Talmud ascribed more specific meaning to the first three blasts and then explained that the last three trumpet sounds were the teqi‘ah, a teru‘ah and a teqi‘ah (see Shabbat 35b).

The silver trumpets were blown to separate the sacred and the profane. There is also a Jewish prayer said at the end of the Sabbath during a service called Havdalah which declares the separation between the sacred and the profane (Demsky points out that Havdalah comes from the Hebrew word l’havdil, which means to separate or distinguish).

His conclusion is also supported by at least two passages from Josephus, which I have included below:

“Moreover, Moses was the inventor of the form of their trumpet, which was made of silver. Its description is this…It was called in the Hebrew tongue Asosra…They also made use of these trumpets in their sacred ministrations, when they were bringing the victims to the altar, as well on the sabbaths as on all other [festival] days…” (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.12.6)

“And having the advantage of situation, they further erected four very large towers… where one of the priests usually stood and gave a signal beforehand in the evening with a trumpet at the beginning of every seventh day, as also in the evening when the sabbath day was finished, giving notice to the people when they were to leave off work, and when they were to go to work again…” (Wars of the Jews, 4.9.12).

In the first quote, Josephus discussed the silver trumpets from the Torah. In the second quote, he referred to the place in the Temple where the priests stood to blow these trumpets at the beginning of the Sabbath and other Holy Days.

In Numbers 10:1-10, God told Moses to make two silver trumpets that were to be used by the Aaronic priests in specific situations. One of them was during festive times.

“Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days (ū·ḇə·mō·w·‘ă·ḏê·ḵem), and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings…” (Num. 10:10, KJV)

The root Hebrew word translated as “solemn days” is moad’im, and it refers to the festivals of Leviticus 23. The first of these is the Sabbath. The Jewish people of the first century AD (and possibly before) understood Numbers 10:10 to mean that these silver Trumpets were to be blown to start and end the Sabbath.

The Sabbath Trumpet inscription reminds us of an important historical detail. During the time of Jesus, the silver trumpets were blown so that the people could cease their labor and prepare for the Sabbath. This was mechanism to help them honor and observe the Sabbath.

Stay tuned for more articles that connect archaeology and the Sabbath!

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President – www.biblesabbath.org

Babylonian Talmud. Shabbat 35b. From: https://www.sefaria.org/

Demsky, Aaron. “When the Priests Trumpeted the Onset of the Sabbath,” Biblical Archaeology Review 12.6 (1986): 50–52.

Holy Bible. King James Version. Public Domain.

Mishnah. Sukkah 5.5. From: https://www.sefaria.org/

Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews, 3.12.6. Whiston’s Translation revised by Rev. A.R. Shilleto, vol. 1. London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, 1889. pp 227-228.

Josephus. Wars of the Jews, 4.9.12. Whiston’s Translation revised by Rev. A.R. Shilleto. vol. 4. London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, 1890. pp 353-354.

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