SBL e-journal

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2019

)

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Violent Fantasies on the Rivers of Babylon: A Symposium on Psalm 137:9

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TheTorah.com

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https://thetorah.com/article/psalm-137-9

APA e-journal

,

"

Violent Fantasies on the Rivers of Babylon: A Symposium on Psalm 137:9

"

TheTorah.com

(

2019

)

.

https://thetorah.com/article/psalm-137-9

A Symposium
Violent Fantasies on the Rivers of Babylon: A Symposium on Psalm 137:9
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Introduction

Psalm 137

א עַ֥ל נַהֲר֨וֹת׀ בָּבֶ֗ל
שָׁ֣ם יָ֭שַׁבְנוּ גַּם־בָּכִ֑ינוּ
בְּ֝זָכְרֵ֗נוּ אֶת־צִיּֽוֹן:
ב עַֽל־עֲרָבִ֥ים בְּתוֹכָ֑הּ
תָּ֝לִ֗ינוּ כִּנֹּרוֹתֵֽינוּ:
ג כִּ֤י שָׁ֨ם שְֽׁאֵל֢וּנוּ שׁוֹבֵ֡ינוּ דִּבְרֵי־שִׁ֭יר 
וְתוֹלָלֵ֣ינוּ שִׂמְחָ֑ה
שִׁ֥ירוּ לָ֗נוּ מִשִּׁ֥יר צִיּֽוֹן:
ד אֵ֗יךְ נָשִׁ֥יר אֶת־שִׁיר־יְ-הֹוָ֑ה
עַ֗ל אַדְמַ֥ת נֵכָֽר:
ה אִֽם־אֶשְׁכָּחֵ֥ךְ יְֽרוּשָׁלִָ֗ם
תִּשְׁכַּ֥ח יְמִינִֽי:
ו תִּדְבַּ֥ק־לְשׁוֹנִ֨י׀ לְחִכִּי֘
אִם־לֹ֪א אֶ֫זְכְּרֵ֥כִי
אִם־לֹ֣א אַ֭עֲלֶה אֶת־יְרוּשָׁלִַ֑ם
עַ֗ל רֹ֣אשׁ שִׂמְחָתִֽי:
1 By the rivers of Babylon, 
there we sat and also wept,
as we thought of Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung up our lyres.
3 For our captors asked us there for songs,
our tormentors, for amusement,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How can we sing a song of Yhwh
on alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither;
6 Let my tongue stick to my palate
if I cease to think of you,
if I do not keep Jerusalem in memory
even at my happiest hour.
ז זְכֹ֤ר יְ-הֹוָ֨ה׀ לִבְנֵ֬י אֱד֗וֹם
אֵת֘ י֤וֹם יְֽרוּשָׁ֫לִָ֥ם
הָ֭אֹ֣מְרִים עָ֤רוּ׀ עָ֑רוּ
עַ֗ד הַיְס֥וֹד בָּֽהּ:
ח בַּת־בָּבֶ֗ל הַשְּׁד֫וּדָ֥ה
אַשְׁרֵ֥י שֶׁיְשַׁלֶּם־לָ֑ךְ
אֶת־גְּ֝מוּלֵ֗ךְ שֶׁגָּמַ֥לְתְּ לָֽנוּ:
ט אַשְׁרֵ֤י׀ שֶׁיֹּאחֵ֓ז וְנִפֵּ֬ץ
אֶֽת־עֹ֝לָלַ֗יִךְ אֶל־הַסָּֽלַע:
7 Remember, Yhwh, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall;
how they cried, “Strip her, strip her
to her very foundations!”
8 Fair Babylon, you predator,
happy is the one who repays you
in kind what you have inflicted on us;
9 Happy is the one who seizes and dashes
your babies against a rock!
                                      (NJPS with adjustments)

By the Rivers of Babylon Al Naharot Bavel (Psalm 137) contains some of the Bible’s most beautiful passages. The verse, אִם אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלָ‍ִם תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי , “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither,” is sung at traditional Jewish weddings. The psalm itself is officially part of the weekday bentching (grace after meals) in the Ashkenazi tradition.

This same psalm, however, a mere few verses later, contains one of the most horrifying curses against Israel’s enemies in the Bible:

אַשְׁרֵי שֶׁיֹּאחֵז וְנִפֵּץ אֶת עֹלָלַיִךְ אֶל הַסָּלַע
Happy is the one who seizes and dashes your babies against a rock! (v. 9).

Question: How are we supposed to read such a verse nowadays? How do we understand the biblical author and, perhaps more troubling, how do we understand how such a verse made it into the Bible?


Banner image: “By the Waters of Babylon” (1882-1883). Artist Evelyn de Morgan, Edited

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