Tuesday, January 2, 2024

By the rivers of Babylon

Yesterday I posted on Facebook about the well know reggae song and the psalm 137 it was based on.  Today I want to dive into that a little deeper.. I read through psalm 137 a few more times and looked at some newer translations (other than the one by the old English king). The psalm can be be broken into three sections.

The first is what we are most familiar with. The captors, no doubt conscripted against their will, ask their captives, the Jewish refugees, to sing them as song of their home country. The Jews refuse saying "how can we sing of our beautiful home in this foreign land?".

The second section affirms the refugees love for their homeland and their vow to never forget and to someday return. It also firmly establishes Jerusalem as the center of Judaism, even in exile.

Then the third section takes a bizarre turn towards a wish for violent revenge. It is difficult to read and very troubling. But then my research turned up this website where various authors wrote their own interpretation of the psalm. This one by Anna Miransky especially put the last section in a different perspective.

Recall, O Lord, the Edomites, on the day of Jerusalem, saying: “Raze it, raze it, to its foundation!” (this is in reference to the destruction of the temple - PL).

I watched as you defiled my wife and smashed the skull of my infant son.

My heart burns with the desire to inflict these atrocities upon your loved ones so that you will know my pain.

You occupy my land but I will not allow you to occupy my soul.

I will sing my praises to what is left of my life in the privacy of my mind.

And I will pray for the grace that will show me how to tame the brutality in my own heart and return my soul to peace.

All of a sudden this was no longer ancient history but current events.

Recall how the Arabs danced with joy after the attacks on Oct. 7, 2023 and Sept. 11, 2001. Recall the young Hamas fighter calling his mother to brag about how he had killed Jews. (Was she proud of him, I wonder?)

Read the stories of the survivors of Oct. 7 that were forced to watch as their wives and daughters were raped, their children murdered, and their neighbors carried away captive.

The last line also takes me to a quote by Golda Meir, one of the founding mothers of Israel.

“When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons."

Today's headlines and media pundits would have you believe that the Israelis are a cold, brutal people, forcing untold suffering upon the Palestinians. The truth is the Israelis have been traumatized by endless violence inflicted on them. They do not relish revenge as the Palestinians do, but rather see it as a burden that crushes their soul. 

All of this was in a poem, written 2500 years ago by a Jewish refugee.