“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun” (Psalm 19:1-4). The word for line in verse 4 can mean rope or musical string.
When the Jewish-schooled Apostle Paul quoted this verse to the Romans, he used a Greek word for “line” that actually translates into “musical sound.” Romans 10:18: “But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.” According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word here for sound means “musical sound, whether vocal or instrumental” and is only used one other place in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 14:7, which speaks of “a distinction in the sounds” of the pipe and harp).
These verses do not contain merely poetic or symbolic language about the cosmos. They reference a concept known as the “harmony of the spheres.” This is the idea that the planets were analogous to musical pitches—first in the sense that their distances held the same ratios as between pleasing musical intervals, and second, literally, in that “the planets, or rather the spheres, resounded in actual, though imperceptible, tones” (Curt Sachs, Rise of Music in the Ancient World).
This belief is now attributed to Pythagoras. There is a wealth of information written on him and this subject.
Aristotle said that, to the Pythagoreans, “the whole heaven [was] a musical scale and a number.” Jamie James writes, “Here, in our first encounter with the concept of the musical universe, it is clear that the Pythagoreans did not simply discern congruities among number and music and the cosmos: they identified them. Music was number, and the cosmos was music. … The Pythagoreans conceived of the cosmos as a vast lyre, with crystal spheres in the place of strings” (Music of the Spheres).
Pythagoras was a lyre player intrigued by whole numbers. He “found that a plucked string produces its most pleasing tones when divided into whole-number ratios. For example, a string held at its middle produced sound pitched exactly one octave higher than the whole string” (astronomy.com, December 2005) This ratio between the two pitches in this example is 2:1, since the half string vibrates twice as fast as the whole string. If two notes an octave apart sound together, then for every two waves of the higher frequency, there is one wave of the lower frequency. This alignment of both pitches every other wave means the two notes sound pleasing together—i.e., in harmony.
“The hidden order in sound reinforced his own sense of an underlying cosmic harmony expressed in number and proportion. His followers extended this idea, assuming that the crystalline spheres thought to carry the sun, moon, and planets were spaced according to musical intervals. Later, Plato imagined each sphere producing a single tone, and ‘the music of the spheres’ was born” (ibid).
No, the “music of the spheres” was not “born” at that time. Pythagoras received his understanding of that concept from earlier sources.
This complex music theory was brought to Greece from the Orient—or the ancient Hebrews, Alfred Sendrey writes in Music in Ancient Israel. “Pythagoras seems to have been largely instrumental in the introduction of that theory since it is a well-known fact that he had had strong leanings toward borrowing his ideas from Oriental sources.”
Pythagoras of Samos is believed to have lived between 560 and 480 b.c., soon after 585 b.c. when Judah had been taken captive by the Babylonians, who gleaned much from the educational and musical system of the Jews (see Psalm 137:1-4 and Daniel 1:4).
This is interesting since some historians clearly attribute the “harmony of the spheres” to the Hebrews: “Expressions like ‘when the morning stars sang together’ … and ‘Sing O heavens’ (Isaiah 49:13) reflect the teaching of the ancient Orient about the ‘harmony of the spheres.’ According to it, the seven planets … produce the seven tones of the basic musical scale as discovered independently and expounded by ancient theorists” (ibid).
The Bible reveals that God “created all things by Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:9). Jesus Christ is elsewhere described in the New Testament as “the Word.” The Greek word for “Word” is logos, which is the same Greek word for the English word “ratio.” Jesus Christ was the revelatory thought, spokesman and mathematical executioner of the God Realm! The Bible reveals that God measures and calculates elements of His creation (Isaiah 40:12). He is the master mathematician who created the celestial orchestra we call the universe! Therefore, it is not strange that Israel, the nation God worked directly with, was aware of these heavenly and mathematical phenomena as well as the similarities between the earthly music and the cosmic structure.
Sendrey asserts: “The early translators of the Bible assumed the poets of the Old Testament to have been familiar with the … ‘harmony of the spheres.’ Thus, the verse in Song of Songs 6:10 ‘clear as the sun’ is translated by Aquila as ‘sounding as the sun.’ The Vulgate renders Job 38:37 … ‘who will reduce to silence the music of heaven?’” (ibid). That word for “music” (oddly translated “bottles” in the kjv) is nebel, used mostly in the Bible to describe a common musical instrument of Hebrew culture.
The Hebrews did not consider the heavens to be a mere philosophical analogy to music: “Talmudic writers adopted the biblical conception that the movement of celestial bodies produces certain sounds.” They believed the heavens were actually making noise.
Aristotle, in On the Heavens, explained the Pythagoreans’ belief this way: “[T]he motion of bodies of that size must produce a noise, since on our Earth the motion of bodies far inferior in size and speed of movement has that effect. Also, when the sun and the moon, they say, and all the stars, so great in number and in size, are moving with so rapid a motion, how should they not produce a sound immensely great? Starting from this argument, and the observation that their speeds, as measured by their distances, are in the same ratios as musical concordances, they assert that the sound given forth by the circular movement of the stars is a harmony” (James, op. cit.).
Plato believed that “the celestial logic, once it was understood, would be reconcilable with a sublime system of mathematical harmony” (ibid). Also, according to Plato, “[M]usic and mathematics could be used to explain every terrestrial phenomenon; they encompassed every possible dimension of thought” (ibid).
Again, the Hebrews didn’t simply believe the space between them was akin to musical intervals, like mere poetic analogy, but that the celestial bodies were actually resounding in imperceptible tones. It is amazing the Hebrews knew this because modern science is now backing this up.
The December 2005 astronomy.com article quoted earlier reads: “[S]ound exists anywhere pressure waves can travel …. [A]ny planet with an atmosphere provides audio opportunities. … Sound waves not only course through the atmospheres of Mars, Venus and Titan, but they also echo inside our sun and ripple through the gas surrounding an accreting [enlarging] black hole. Other cosmic ‘sounds’ occur when electrically charged gases, such as those in solar flares and aurorae, interact with a planet’s magnetic field. The result: radio waves scientists can translate into sounds we can hear.”
This article asserts that there are the equivalent of rhythmic pulses in the universes, like a percussion section, as well as low drones, like a bass section.
An Apr. 17, 2007, article on space.com shows how science has also discovered “heavenly music bellowed out by the sun’s atmosphere.” These frequencies, at a thousandth of a hertz, are too low for human ears to hear: we can hear between 20 and 20,000 hertz with good hearing. “The study … reveals that the looping magnetic fields along the sun’s outer regions, called the corona, carry magnetic sound waves in a similar manner to musical instruments such as guitars or pipe organs. … They found that explosive events at the sun’s surface appear to trigger acoustic waves that bounce back and forth between both ends of the loops, a phenomenon known as a standing wave. ‘These magnetic loops are analogous to a simple guitar string,’ [Robert] von Fay-Siebenburgen explained. ‘If you pluck a guitar string, you will hear music. … ‘These energies are plucking these magnetic strings or standing pipes, which set up standing waves—exactly the same waves you see on a guitar string.”
By flying through space, celestial bodies are emitting sound. A deeper study of the heavens indicates that those sounds are working together like a musical composition.
An article in Scientific American showed how scientists studying these sounds discovered more information that caused them to ask: “Is the Universe Out of Tune?”—the title of an August 2005 article. “Like the discord of key instruments in a skillful orchestra quietly playing the wrong piece, mysterious discrepancies have arisen between theory and observations of the ‘music’ of the cosmic microwave background. Either the measurements are wrong or the universe is stranger than we thought. … Certain of those harmonics are playing more quietly than they should be. In addition, the harmonics are aligned in strange ways—they are playing the wrong tune. These bum notes mean that the otherwise very successful standard model of cosmology is flawed—or that something is amiss with the data.”
However correct these scientists are on this particular subject, the Bible does state that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22).
The universe—as much as it declares God’s glory—is not nearly as glorious as God intended. It is “without form, and void.” An evil former archangel bent it out of shape—and we could say it is literally groaning.
The music of the cosmos is currently out of tune, and Romans 8:21 reveals that God has a plan for His Family to restore cosmic harmony. What exciting work awaits us!