Chapter

History

David W. Stowe

in Song of Exile

Published in print June 2016 | ISBN: 9780190466831
Published online May 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780190466862 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190466831.003.0001
History

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Part 1, “History,” takes its cue from the opening lines of Psalm 137. These verses, in the first-person plural, evoke communal memories of better times remembered in moments of dislocation, ending with the question, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” These opening lines have generated by far the most musical settings, from classical—Bach, de Monte, Guerrero, Byrd, Dvoř ák, Verdi, Bloch, Alkan—to popular renditions sung by Don McLean and in Godspell. But it was “Rivers of Babylon,” a Rasta-tinged rendition by the Jamaican group the Melodians, that gave the psalm global exposure—and revived an established American tradition of antiracist and anticolonialist adaptations of the psalm that began during the American Revolution. That song has established a global presence through myriad cover versions and diegetic use in world cinema.

Keywords: forced migration; Babylon; Judea; prophecy; Hebrew Bible; immigration; diaspora; reggae; Rastafarianism

Chapter.  23902 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Early Christianity

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