Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137

David W. Stowe. Oxford, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-19-046683-1
Psalm 137 opens with a lament—“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept.... How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land”—and closes with what sounds like a gleeful cry for vengeance: ”Happy is he who dashes your little ones against the rock.” As Stowe (No Sympathy for the Devil) points out in this illuminating and clear-eyed work, which is part biblical criticism and part pop-culture study, most folks never hear the entire psalm read in their religious services. He explores the ways that the first four verses reflect and mediate upon the historical situation of the Jewish writers, as well as the ways that civil rights activists and popular music adapt this history to modern times. The psalm’s second section engages the collective memories of the Jews in exile, and Stowe examines the ways that this theme of forgetting weaves its way into sermons by Frederick Douglass and Jeremiah Wright and hymns by American composer William Billings. Finally, Stowe interprets the final lines of the psalm through that same theme, illustrating that the closing line’s call of vengeance finds resonance in early American colonial attempts to take revenge on Native Americans for siding with the British against the colonists in King Phillip’s War. Erudite but never abstruse, Stowe carefully and quite brilliantly illustrates the ways that Psalm 137 is still resonant today. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/14/2016
Release date: 04/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Digital Format - 978-0-19-046686-2
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