Stowe, David W. Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137 (NY: Oxford University Press, 2016).

As the title suggests, this book focuses on Psalm 137, which Stowe explores in three parts:

  • History (“…there we sat and wept…”),
  • Memory (“If I forget thee, Jerusalem…”), and
  • Forgetting (“O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed…”)

The discussion explores Babylonian Captivity and Jewish experience of Babylon, but it also examines cultural uses of the psalm, particularly in U.S. history. Stowe uses personal interviews and textual analysis as well as in-depth exploration of the psalm in music.

The book is enjoyable and informative. It’s important to note that, like several other sources cited on this blog, Stowe relies heavily on Christian scholarship. In fact, his statement, “I rarely meet people who can immediately identify Psalm 137,” causes me to wonder how many Jews he meets. (My acquaintance includes many Jews who regularly recite the entire book of psalms and include Psalm 137, in particular, in after-meal blessings on many everyday occasions — although, of course, practice and interests vary.)

Additional material, including musical settings and videos, is available on his website.

See also: Why a 2500 Year Old Hebrew Poem Still Matters.

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Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at Vspatz.wordpress.com

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