The first colophon (or first two colophons, perhaps) of Psalm 137 reads,
1 By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows there
we hung up our lyres.
3 For there our captors
required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
"Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
4 How shall we sing the Yahweh's song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy!
These verses are beautiful and emotive, but they, particularly verse 4, cause a knot of confusion in my mind, best expressed by untangling it into the following overlapping questions:
- What are the "songs of Zion" or "Yahweh's song"?
- Why is it wrong to sing them in Babylon?—oughtn't the songs of the homeland be sung all the more to keep the memory alive (verse 5) and to shun the land of deportation?
- Is this a refusal to sing while in Babylon, or a refusal to sing the sacred songs to pagans for their entertainment?
- Is this a refusal to sing songs of joy, restricting themselves to songs of lament, or is a refusal to sing all types of sacred songs?
- Is Psalm 137 being sung in Babylon itself, or was it composed after the return?
- Is this refusal related to the doctrine of Jerusalem as the one true place of worship? Are temple songs specifically in view?
- Do we have other historical sources on whether the Jews sang Psalms in Babylon?
I put all these questions into one post because it seems to me that they need to be treated together.