The Shofar and The Ancient Near East1 
The Shofar and The Ancient Near East1 

The Shofar and The Ancient Near East1 

The Shofar and The Ancient Near East1 

Wayne Horowitz, The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem 


Sing praises unto the Lord with the harp, the harp and voice of song, 

With trumpets and the voice of the shofar, shout out before the king, the Lord. 

Psalms 98: 5-6 


The Jewish practice of blowing the shofar emerges out of a long history of blowing on animal horns in the Bible Lands of the Ancient Near East and Anatolia. Long before the emergence of Ancient Israel, bull horns were sounded in Ancient Sumer of the third millennium as a call to mobilize the army, meet in the assembly, and as a prelude to public announcements. The earliest attested use of something akin to a Jewish shofar goes back to Early Dynastic period Sumer of the mid-third millennium BCE, where the Sumerian compound verb, si gù – ra, “to blow the horn,”2 occurs six times in a literary fragment from Tell Abu-Salabikh, and in a parallel from Fara (Ancient Šuruppak).3 Roughly contemporary to these first textual examples is a steatite vase from Early Dynastic period Adab (Bismaya) where one can see a small quartet of musicians who play the harp, lyre, drums, and what appears to be a bull’s horn, accompanied by a vocalist in song.4 


  1. 1. This article provides background information for The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem exhibition ‘Sound the Shofar’ which opened at the museum on September 7, 2011. For a brief summary and overview of the horn in cuneiform texts and Ancient Near Eastern archaeology see previously Reallexicon der Assyriologie 4 469-471: Horn (Musikinstrument).
  2. 2. Sumerian compound verbs consist of a noun and verb (N and V). It is modern convention to represent such pairs as N – V. In forms corresponding to our perfect and imperfect, prefixes, and most often infixes, stand between N and V. For example, a form of the type N ni.V. For more on the Sumerian compound verb see the excursus below.
  3. 3. Biggs 1974 pl. 129, no. 282 with six examples of the form si gù ba4.ra in col. viii. A short discussion of both the Abu Salabikh and Fara examples is available in Biggs 1966: 81. See also the 2000 Ph.D. thesis of F. Karahashi, Sumerian Compound Verbs with Body-Part Terms, p. 42.
  4. 4. Frankfort 1954: 19, 11. Note also a statuette from third millennium Mari with two


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