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date: 20 January 2020

Magrepha (from Heb. garaph: ‘to scoop’ or ‘shovel’)locked

  • James W. McKinnon


(from Heb. garaph: ‘to scoop’ or ‘shovel’)

A shovel employed in the Temple of Jerusalem and possibly a kind of ritual pipe organ. The magrepha is first mentioned in the Mishnaic tractate Tamid, a work written soon after the destruction of the Herodian Temple by the Romans in 70 ce that describes the Temple and its daily sacrifice. It is depicted as a bronze shovel used by a priest to clear away the accumulation of ashes from the continually burning sacrificial fire. At one point in the service it is cast down upon the pavement near the altar with a great clatter (presumably as a threatening cultic symbol): ‘No one in Jerusalem’, the Tamid reports, ‘could hear his neighbour’s voice because of the sound of the shovel’.

A number of somewhat later rabbinic sources speak of the Temple’s magrepha as a kind of pipe organ. Yasser has reconstructed the instrument on the basis of these sources, concluding that it consisted of a cube-shaped chamber housing the bellows from which projected a long shovel-like handle. The handle serves a number of purposes: its stem is hollow and contains a wind-pipe leading from the bellows; its spade-like ending functions as a wind-chest, from each side of which protrude five clusters of ten small pipes; and the entire handle is worked back and forth to inflate the bellows. Such an organ would have all 100 pipes playing simultaneously to produce a shrill and menacing sound, one fulfilling with greater efficiency the purpose of casting down the original shovel. If Yasser’s reconstruction seems strange, it corresponds nonetheless with the later sources and has a certain historical plausibility in view of the fact that instrument repair experts from Alexandria (the home of mechanical signalling devices) are known to have visited the late Temple. The possibility cannot be ruled out, however, that the ...

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Journal of the American Musicological Society