Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Psalm 137 - Babel, expose


Babel, expose in which remembering is expressed from many voices

עַל נַהֲרוֹת בָּבֶל שָׁם יָשַׁבְנוּ
גַּם בָּכִינוּ בְּזָכְרֵנוּ אֶת צִיּוֹן
1By the rivers of Babel - there we sat
yea we wept when we remembered Zion
עַל עֲרָבִים בְּתוֹכָהּ
תָּלִינוּ כִּנֹּרוֹתֵינוּ
2on willows in the midst of her
we hung our harps
כִּי שָׁם שְׁאֵלוּנוּ שׁוֹבֵינוּ דִּבְרֵי שִׁיר
וְתוֹלָלֵינוּ שִׂמְחָה
שִׁירוּ לָנוּ מִשִּׁיר צִיּוֹן
3for there our captors asked us the words of a song
and our tormentors mirth
Sing to us a song of Zion
אֵיךְ נָשִׁיר אֶת שִׁיר יְהוָה
עַל אַדְמַת נֵכָר
4how will we sing such a song of יְהוָה
on alien ground?

אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם
תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי
5If I forget you Jerusalem
let my right hand forget
תִּדְבַּק לְשׁוֹנִי לְחִכִּי
אִם לֹא אֶזְכְּרֵכִי
אִם לֹא אַעֲלֶה אֶת יְרוּשָׁלִַם
עַל רֹאשׁ שִׂמְחָתִי
6let my tongue cleave to my palate
if I do not remember you
if I do not offer you up Jerusalem
over my ultimate mirth

זְכֹר יְהוָה לִבְנֵי אֱדוֹם
אֵת יוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם
הָאֹמְרִים
עָרוּ
עָרוּ עַד הַיְסוֹד בָּהּ
7Remember יְהוָה of the children of Edom
in the day of Jerusalem
those saying
Expose
expose her to the foundations
בַּת בָּבֶל הַשְּׁדוּדָה
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם לָךְ
אֶת גְּמוּלֵךְ שֶׁגָּמַלְתְּ לָנוּ
8Devastating daughter of Babel
happy the one who makes peace with you
even rewards you as you rewarded us
אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ
אֶת עֹלָלַיִךְ אֶל הַסָּלַע
9happy the one who grasps and smashes
your babies on the cliff
Hebrew words: 84. Percentage of Hebrew words that recur in this psalm: 55%. Average keywords per verse: 5.1.

6ultimate, ראשׁ (r'sh), or head, top, beginning, chief, ultimate etc. Note the Aramaic form of the second person singular suffix for remember.
8the one who, interpreting the relative use of the letter shin, also in v9.
rewards גמל (gml) in the sense of payback. See also Psalm 131 where the root indicates a nursing child on the mother's back.

Selected recurring words in relative order
Word and gloss * first usage1234567891012345VsRoot
* בבל Babel
1בבל
שׁם there
1שׁם
בזכרנו in remembering
1זכר
ציון Zion
1ציון
שׁם there
3שׁם
שׁיר a song
3שׁיר
שׂמחה mirth
3שׂמח
שׁירו sing
3שׁיר
לנו to us
3לנו
משׁיר a song of
3שׁיר
ציון Zion
3ציון
נשׁיר will we sing
4שׁיר
שׁיר a song of
4שׁיר
יהוה יהוה
4יהוה
אם if
5אם
אשׁכחך I forget you
5שׁכח
ירושׁלם Jerusalem
5ירושׁלם
תשׁכח let forget
5שׁכח
אם if
6אם
לא not
6לא
אזכרכי I do remember you
6זכר
אם if
6אם
לא not
6לא
ירושׁלם Jerusalem
6ירושׁלם
שׂמחתי my mirth
6שׂמח
זכר remember
7זכר
יהוה יהוה
7יהוה
ירושׁלם Jerusalem
7ירושׁלם
* ערו expose
7ערה
* ערו expose
7ערה
* בבל Babel
8בבל
אשׁרי happy
8אשׁר
גמולך rewards you
8גמל
שׁגמלת as you rewarded
8גמל
לנו us
8לנו
אשׁרי happy
9אשׁר
Verses 1 to 4 are first person plural. Verse 2 sets the scene. No word of verse 2 is repeated in the rest of the poem. This first part is about song.

Verses 5 and 6 are first person singular. They are about Jerusalem, the place that is remembered when the people are in Babel.

Verses 7 to 9 are prayer and address concerning the persecutors, Edom and Babel, who itself is directly addressed in the third person singular. Recall the only other use of smash in the Psalter is in Psalm 2, in which the anointed is reminded that he will like fashioned pots, smash them.

The three sections are held together by remember with support in the second section by a repeated forget. This reading was pointed out by Magonet in his lecture at Oxford 2010. His advice for the reading of the psalms is a good part of the reason for my study, analysis, and writing on the psalms.

Psalm 137 reminds us of the exile. This is the last direct mention of the exile, closing the bracket opened in Psalms 42-44.

If one has not experienced exile, one cannot appreciate the shame, the memory, the loss of identity, home, place, and dislocation of community. While exile may be deserved or not, there are captors instrumental within it that need correction.


To have noted that quotation from Charles Williams is a curious accident. Indeed the foundations of Jerusalem are exposed. We hear no more of exile after this. We had heard nothing of it prior to Book 2. The exile is not the saving event. While we may learn from our affliction, even affliction for our own sin, salvation is effected differently and is remembered. So Passover, so the Eucharist. But God makes his presence known both in rebuke and in mercy - and both are good. As the psalmist said - of affliction Psalm 119:71, 75, and of mercy Psalm 63:3.  And I did not hesitate to translate the loving-kindness in Psalm 23 as rebuke.

This video is well sung - very deep and does not mince any words. It is in Hebrew with subtitles.