Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137

ISBN : 9780190466831

David W. Stowe
232 Pages
140 x 216 mm
Pub date
Jun 2016
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"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion." The line that begins Psalm 137 is one of the most lyrical of the Hebrew Bible, and has been used since its genesis to evoke the grief and protest of exiled, displaced, or marginalized communities. The psalm is most directly a product of the Babylonian exile-the roughly fifty-year period after Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar's army and many of its leading Judeans taken northeast into captivity. Despite the psalm's popularity, little has been written about its reception during the more than 2,500 years since that period. In Babylon Revisited David Stowe addresses this gap using a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary approach that includes textual analysis, historical overview, and a study of the psalm's place in popular culture. Stowe locates its use in the American Revolution and the Civil Rights movement, and internationally by anti-colonial Jamaican Rastafari and immigrants from Ireland, Korea, and Cuba. He studies musical references ranging from the Melodians Rivers of Babylon to the score in Kazakh film Tulpan. Based on numerous interviews with musicians, theologians, and writers, Stowe reconstructs the rich and varied reception history of this widely used, yet mysterious text. The book is broken up into three parts that closely examine each of the psalm's stanzas. Stowe concludes by exploring the often ignored final words: "Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones." Usually excised from liturgy and forgotten by scholars, Stowe finds these words echoed in modern occurrences of genocide or ethnic cleansing, and more generally in the culture of vengeance that has existed in North America from the earliest conflicts with Native Americans. Exploring the presence and absence of these words in modern culture is the culmination of Stowe's study as he weaves together the fascinating story of how Psalm 137 has both shaped and been shaped by our understanding of violence, pain, oppression, and justice.


Part One: History
1) Mapping History
2) Comprehending Migration
3) Babylonia
4) In Nebuchudnezzar's Court
5) By the Kebar
6) People of the Land
7) Jeremiah
8) Lamentations
9) Strange Lands
10) Existential Exile
11) Rivers of Watertown
12) Melodious Rivers

Part Two: Memory
13) New World Babylon
14) American Jeremiah
15) Africa as New Israel
16) Echoes of Roland Hayes
17) Footnotes to C.L. Franklin
18) Moses and Jeremiah
19) Moses and Jeremiah
20) Forcing Memory
21) Wood Street

Part Three: Forgetting
22) Jedwabne
23) Revisiting a Vanished World
24) Blaming Victims
25) Thirsting for Vengeance
26) New World Captivity
27) Better Angels
28) Holocaust Songs
29) Sepulchral Memory
30) After Exile


About the author: 

David W. Stowe teaches English and Religious Studies at Michigan State University, where he is interim chair of the English Department. During the 2012-13 academic year, Stowe held a research fellowship at Yale's Institute of Sacred Music. His most recent book is No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism. His previous book, How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans won the Deems Taylor Award from ASCAP.

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