One of my favorite songs of all time (since I first heard it in the late Seventies) has been "Rivers of Babylon" by a group called “Boney M.” Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the gravity of the words until I became a Torah observant believer in the late Nineties … and my guess is, until then I was representative of most people who have ever heard the song and never bothered to discover what the lyrics were truly about....
"Rivers of Babylon" is based on the Biblical Psalm 137:1-4, a hymn expressing the lamentations of the YHWH’s people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC: Previously the Kingdom of Israel, after being united under Kings David and Solomon, was split in two, with the Kingdom Of Israel in the north, conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC which caused the dispersion of 11 of the 12 tribes of Israel. The southern Kingdom of Judah (hence the name Jews), home of the tribe of Judah and part of the Tribe of Levi, was free from foreign domination until the Babylonian conquest to which Rivers Of Babylon refers.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion... They carried us away in captivity requiring of us a song... Now how shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?
The namesake rivers of Babylon are the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The song also has words from Psalm 19.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight...
It is one of a few pop songs whose lyrics come directly from the Bible. But here’s the thing: Originally Rivers of Babylon was a rastafarian song written and recorded by Brent Dowe and Trevor McNaughton of the Jamaican reggae group The Melodians in 1970. The lyrics were adapted from the texts of Psalms 19 and 137 in the Bible.
However, The Melodians' original version of the song twisted it to mean something else!
In the Rastafarian faith, the term "Babylon" is used for any governmental system which is either oppressive or unjust. In Jamaica, Rastafarians also use "Babylon" to refer to the police, often seen as a source of oppression because they arrest members for the use of marijuana (which is sacramental for Rastafarians). Therefore, "By the rivers of Babylon" refers to living in a repressive society and the longing for freedom, just like the Israelites in captivity. Rastafarians also identify themselves as belonging to the Twelve Tribes of Israel.
The original version specifically refers to Rastafarian belief in Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, considered by Rastas to be Christ, by changing references to "the Lord" in the Biblical text to "Far-I" and "King Alpha". In addition, the term "the wicked" replaces the neutral "they" of Psalm 137 in the line "they that carried us away captive required of us a song…".
According to David Stowe, Brent Dowe, the lead singer of the Melodians, had adapted Psalm 137 to the new reggae style because he wanted to increase the public's consciousness of the growing Rastafarian movement and its calls for black liberation and social justice. Like the Afro-Protestant Revival services, traditional Rastafarian worship often included psalm singing and hymn singing, and Rastas typically modified the words to fit their own spiritual conceptions; Psalm 137 was among their sacred chants.
So there you have an inkling as to how “religions” get started! We humans have the tendency to not only misunderstand Scripture (depending on many things, including our level of intelligence, our comprehension ability and our backgrounds, etc.); but also, our tendency to force the idea of God to fit into our own respective lifestyles and ideas as to “who” God should be. It’s the rare person who is willing to move aside their limited human understanding and take a head-first plunge into the Bible, to read and digest it all, from cover to cover, with the help of the Holy Spirit - and without over-analyzing those things that are simply too hard to understand.
What I find most interesting is that Rastafaria and many other religions (including the world’s “biggies” – Judaism, Catholicism, Christianity and Islam) all have their roots in Torah! And all have twisted YHWH’s Word to include their own, personal ideas and opinions….(Hmmm, care to guess why that is?)
Anyway, “Rivers of Babylon” was popularized in Europe by the 1978 Boney M. cover version, which was awarded a platinum disc and is one of the top ten all-time best-selling singles in the UK. The Rastafarian language was excised from the Boney M. version of the lyrics, who performed an early mix of the song in a German TV show singing "How can we sing King Alpha's song", as in the Melodians version, although it was changed to "the Lord's song", restoring the original biblical words in the released versions.
So, in the end, the BIBLICAL version won out – Halleluyah! Please check it out sometime. It will give you chills!
Unfortunately, just because "Rivers of Babylon" was restored to its original intent, I know for a fact (judging by the horrific cussing - especially his preferred use of the "F" word - during his interviews) that the creator of "Boney M" had NO clue about God and the Bible! (He is dead now, BTW, and during his funeral his daughter stood on stage and every other word out of her mouth started with the "F" word, too.) I don't know about those who actually sang the song, though, but I pray they are all believers.
It kind of ruins this beautiful song for me, but at least I know the truth behind that's what makes listening to it worthwhile!