Adding a Few

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.  There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”  How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?  Psalm 137:1-4  NIV

Rivers of Babylon – Can there be any doubt whatsoever that this song was added to the collection after the Babylonian victory?  Its author is not David, nor any man living before the 6th Century BCE.  This is a song that requires captivity.  And yet we were taught that the psalms were David’s creation (with a few by Asaph).  But here is one that comes hundreds of years after Israel’s greatest king—and still finds a welcome home in the midst of much more ancient poetry.  Does that ever give you pause?  Have you asked yourself, “If this song is so clearly after Babylon but found in the Psalms, why do I believe that the rest of the Bible is chronologically accurate?”

Once we get past this issue (and it’s a big one for ex-Fundamentalist Christians), we notice something else, perhaps even more important.  Nahum Sarna makes the point:

We know that powerful forces of assimilation were at work.  We are certain that the Jews adopted the Aramaic language and script, exchanged their native calendar for that of Babylon, and appropriated Babylonian personal names.  Yet they retained a consciousness of exile and fostered a yearning to return to Zion. . . . There is absolutely no parallel in the ancient Near East of a people resisting the current universal religious thought patterns, challenging the prevailing world views and producing a national religion and literature that in its fundamentals goes against the stream of the entire existing tradition of which historically, culturally and geographically it is a constituent part.  The phenomenon defies all attempts at rational explanation . . .”[1]

Monotheistic Judaism did not evolve from pagan roots.  Nor did it succumb to pagan influences.  Whatever the reasons, the Jewish worldview seems to have erupted into the consciousness of this people in events that transformed their understanding of God and themselves.  This worldview was so embedded in the popular consciousness that even exile couldn’t erase it.  Nor could the litany of pogroms since the rise of Christianity.  Aren’t we forced to admit that God might be behind it?  Oh, and if we do admit that there is divine oversight involved, then aren’t we also forced to admit that God’s divine oversight hasn’t departed.  Christian replacement theology requires us to assert that God has given up on the Jews, that they are destined to be eliminated by eventually becoming Christians (accepting Jesus as their Messiah, of course).  But I wonder if Sarna’s comment about Jews in Babylon couldn’t be equally applied to modern religious convictions.  Are Christians the current Babylonians, espousing a syncretism with the pagan world while, at the same time, insisting that Jews are “incomplete Christians”?  Aren’t the forces of the Western culture at least as powerful as Babylon once was, perhaps more so?  And aren’t we observing the same resistance, the same paradigmatic commitment by Jews who will not give up what God did with their ancestors so long ago?  “The phenomenon defies all attempts at rational explanation . . .”  Yes, it does.  And that should give us great pause.  Christianity has its reasons.  Judaism has its experiences.  Which do you think lasts?

Topical Index:  Babylon, paradigm, culture, replacement theology, Psalm 137:1-4

[1] Nahum Sarna, “Paganism and Biblical Judaism,” in Studies in Biblical Interpretation (JPS, 2000), pp. 16-17.

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Richard Bridgan

Neither… nevertheless, “according to his promise we are waiting and look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)