Psalm 137

Psalm 137 (Ps. 137 EU, counting the Septuagint and the Vulgate: Psalm 136 VUL, Latin opening words: Super flumina Babylonis ) is one of the best known biblical psalms. His opening line - " By the rivers of Babylon ... ", Eng. "By the rivers of Babylon ... " - have become part of several successful pieces of music.

The psalm is a hymn describing the longing of the Jewish people during the Babylonian exile to his homeland. Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jews, had been conquered in 586 BC by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar II and largely destroyed. The streams of Babylon are the Euphrates and its tributaries and the Khabur.


The Psalm describes the longing of the abducted Jews to Jerusalem and Zion, where the temple of YHWH stood. Is the introduction yet written rather melancholic, is in the second part of the Psalm of the hatred and the expected vengeance of God on the slave drivers.

The psalm is generally attributed to the prophet Jeremiah. The Septuagint contains the heading " For David, Jeremiah, in Captivity".

The first four verses of the psalm are very well known due to the multiple use in successful pieces of music.

" 1In the waters of Babylon, there we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. 2We hanged our harps upon the willows in that country. 3Dort demanded of us the oppressors songs, our tormentors demanded cheers: Sing us songs of Zion ' 4How we could sing the songs of the Lord, far away, in a strange land "?

The displaced desire ardently to return back home and to be able to worship God again on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. You want to build the ruined city and the Temple of Solomon again, which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon. This expulsion had been predicted by many prophets to the Jewish people for their unfaithfulness to God. At the forefront of Jeremiah fought for a return to God. In Jeremiah serious charges against Judah shall be: " From the north the evil pours upon all the inhabitants of the country ... then I'll [God ] my judgment talk about them and punish them ... because they have forsaken me, sacrificed to other gods, and the work have worshiped their own hands. " ( Jer 1:15-16 EU) " where are thy gods that thou hast made thee? They may arise, if they can help you if you are in need. For as many as your cities, O Judah, ( Jer 2,28 EU) are your gods. "

Finally, Jeremiah announces the people the deportation to Babylon as punishment for their transgressions against the Lord: " This whole country is to the debris field and to an image of horror, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. " ( Jer 25, 11 EU) But in the very next sentence, the prophet announces the return of the people of Israel and the harsh punishment of the Chaldeans. In anticipation of this the vengeance of God Psalm 137 moves because even with very sharp words and the threat of self-mutilation continues:

" 5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither. 6The tongue cleave to my jaws, if I do not remember thee, if I prefer not Jerusalem above my highest joy. 7Herr, forget the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem not; they said, ' Tear down to the ground, it breaks down ' 8Tochter Babylon, you destroyer! Blessed is the home pays you what you have done to us! 9Wohl the one who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! "

The outspoken threats appear by a strong hatred for the slavers to be driven, but is narrated that it was not so bad many Jews in Babylon and they even came to high office in the Babylonian state apparatus. This honor was bestowed about the prophet Daniel ( Dan 1 EU). After 539 BC permitted Cyrus II, king of Persia, the return of displaced people to their homes, after he had conquered the Babylonian Empire.

How far the prophecy of the destruction of Babylon has arrived, is controversial today. What is certain is that the city after the 5th century BC in world politics played no role, and the longer the more disintegrated.

Effect story in the liturgy

In the Orthodox and Eastern Churches that use the Byzantine rite, the Psalm is read at Matins 137 (136 after the Greek counting) except in the Octave of Easter every Friday.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Psalm is part of the Divine. However, since he does not belong to the so-called fixed psalms, he is in the normal church service rarely presented.

In Judaism, the Psalm 137 on weekdays - neither on the Sabbath even on holidays - at the table prayer, called " Birkat Hamason " sung.

Effect story in music

The psalm was set to music by various composers. In German-speaking significantly was the chorale to water rivers of Babylon ( 1525) by Wolfgang Dachstein. Heinrich Schütz set to music the psalm in 1619 for double a chorale By the rivers of Babylon, SWV 37

In the English -speaking world, there are numerous versions of By the waters / rivers of Babylon. Often while the second part, or at least the last verse of the psalm is omitted. John L. Bell, a Scottish songwriter, says to his own interpretation of the Psalm: "The final verse is omitted in this metricization, Because its seemingly outrageous curse is better dealt with in preaching or conversation group. It Should not be forgotten, Especially by Those Who have never known exile, dispossession or the rape of people and country. "

  • In the Oration by William Walton, Belshazzar's Feast, the opening sequence of the Israelite captives in Babylon is sung.
  • The Psalm was the inspiration for the famous slave chorus Va, pensiero in Giuseppe Verdi's opera Nabucco.
  • Also, the pop song By the Waters of Babylon from Don McLean's American Pie album is based on the text of Psalm 137 It is in this song to the processing of a canon by Philip Hayes ( 1738-1797 ).
  • Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the group The Melodians Rivers of Babylon wrote to Jamaican music. The version was covered by Boney M and was in many countries long on One Of The Boys. The text of the evergreens consisting of the first four verses of the Psalm, which is about the Babylonian exile of the Jews. By the way was this related to the translators of the German version of the same song - The Legend of Babylon, sung by Bruce Low - apparently not known why in this version, the story of the Tower of Babel is told, which is historically at least a thousand years earlier.
  • 1999 produced the rock group Sublime a cover version of the piece on the album of the same name.
  • The psalm is recited in the Broadway musical Godspell as to the pastures.
  • Matisyahu used the verses 5 and 6 in his song Jerusalem.
  • Harry Partch used the text in a piece composed by him of the same name
  • John Williams provides the first sentence of his first performed on 23 September 2009 Harp Concerto On Willows and Birches, a quotation from the 137th Psalm ahead: "We hanged our harps upon the willows ... "

Effect story in the literature

  • Psalm 137 was Stephen Vincent Benet's short story By the Waters of Babylon the name.
  • Luís de Camões, a Portuguese poet of the 16th century, based one of his oft-quoted songs, Sobre os Rios que Vao, in this psalm.
  • TS Eliot refers in his poem The Waste Land also on the Psalms. In the third chapter, The Fire Sermon, he writes: "By the water of Leman I sat down and wept ... "
  • Heinrich Heine's 1851 published collection of poems Romanzero is intensely inter alia, the question of Jewish identity. The poem Jehuda ben Halevy plays specifically with the tradition in which the Psalm is 137.