By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.
And the wicked carried us away in captivity, required of us a song.
How can we sing the Lords song in a strange land?
- Psalm 137
Countless musicians have made Psalm 137, "By the Rivers of Babylon," an anthem for the oppressed throughout the world. For example, African-American singers used the song to bemoan their experience as slaves and the exile from their African homelands.
The Psalm's origins, however, go back to 586 B.C.E. when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for the first time and thousands of Jews were sent into exile at the hands of the Babylonian ruler, Nebuchadnezzar. The siege of Jerusalem is recorded in detail in the Chronicles of Nebuchadnezzar from ca. 597 B.C.E. as well as in the Bible (2 Kings 24).
By the late 7th century B.C.E., Assyrian power was waning and Babylonian power was on the rise. In less than a century, the Babylonians determined the fate of the Near East, including the only remaining autonomous Jewish kingdom Judea.
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By the Rivers of Babylon
Under Babylonian domination, Jerusalem was captured, the Temple destroyed, and thousands of Jews were forced into exile.
Nebuchadnezzar's Chronicle records siege of Jerusalem