Volume 4, Issue 3, 2016
Violence and Biblical Imagination
Joel M. LeMon
Violence against Children and Girls in the Reception History of Psalm 137
The reception history of Psalm 137 is marked by numerous attempts to mollify or expunge its descriptions of violence, specifically, its last line: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock” (verse 9, NRSV). This essay explores the various ways that interpreters have perceived the psalm’s violent imagery to be problematic and what they have done to change the psalm. Many interpreters have “spiritualized” the psalm, altering its rhetorical effect by suggesting that the “little ones” are little sins rather than little children. Still other interpretations have modified the structure of the psalm through a process of selective omission. Frequently, these versions do not include the last verse of the psalm. Yet, these versions often highlight and implicitly authorize violence against girls specifically, since a girl, “Daughter Babylon” or “a/the daughter of Babylon,” is the subject of the preceding verse. Throughout the analysis, special attention is paid to the reception of the psalm in Christian hymnody and other music, including art songs, anthems, and symphonic treatments.