Psalm 135: An Early MashUp
My first experience of a “mash-up” (weaving two songs together) was at the Irish Music Festival in Muskegon, Michigan. Unknown to me, though, mash-ups were around for much longer than that. Psalm 135 is an example of one early mash-up.
It was my first time at the Irish Music Festival. After a long day listening to non-stop Irish music in three tents, all the music was starting to sound alike. We decided to listen to one more band, Millish, before calling it a day.
Playing all instrumental music including traditional Irish instruments, pipes, fiddles, drums, flutes, Millish was a high energy group that had the tent rocking. They wove Irish tunes together with popular rock songs, including songs by Queen, which had us on our feet clapping. When you thought they were ending, they started into another song going flawlessly from one to the other in a chain that seemed to go on forever. Every time they launched into a familiar song influenced by the Irish instruments and style, the crowd cheered. I didn’t know the term for it back then, but now I recognize it as a mashup of different musical styles making a new composition.
I learned about mashups while watching the TV series Glee. The members of the Glee club were routinely required to take two songs and weave them together into a new creation. Other forms of mashups include editing videos into one (my favorite version of this is one that combines dancers from old movies, including Gene Kelly and Shirley Temple, dancing to a modern tune); combining a pre-existing text with a popular genre such as zombie or vampire into a new book; or a web application that combines data and/or functionality from more than one source.
Mash-Ups in the Psalms
Mash-ups have become quite popular, but it occurred to me that this has been around for a while.
Often in the Psalms, lines from one psalm may be repeated in another, or even a whole stanza. Psalm 70 is the same as Psalm 40:13-17. The writer may have pulled this psalm out of the longer psalm, or the writer of the longer psalm may have decided to incorporate this short psalm into Psalm 40.
At first I attributed this to the fact that there were no copyright laws that I’m aware of back then. The written word was reserved to the scribes, not the common person. Hymns were passed down from one generation to the next through memorization. It comes as no surprise to me, given the situation, that there might be repetition.
But what if they were intentionally repeating verses from other psalms? What if it wasn’t a coincidence but a planned, Biblical mashup of well-known verses from different psalms? Perhaps with the introduction of each new stanza, people cheered as they sang together portions of a beloved psalm.
This could be the case for Psalm 135. A hymn of praise, it is composed of passages influenced by a variety of other sources. Verse 1 – “Praise the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord, give praise, O servants of the Lord.”- is found in Psalm 113:1. Verse 2 – “You that stand in the house of the Lord in the courts of the house of our God!” – is found in Psalm 134:1. Verse 4 is based on Deut. 7:6, vs. 7 – Jer. 10:13; verses 10-12, are repeated in Psalm 136:17-22; verses 13-18 are based on Isaiah 44:12-20 and Jer. 10:6-10, and verses 15-20 are found in Psalm 115:4-11. (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4)
While not original material, these passages were skillfully put together into a single hymn in Psalm 135. Just as Millish’s selection of familiar songs heightened their effectiveness, the choice of these verses improved the experience for those attending. “Its effectiveness in providing utterance for the spirit of praise in the congregation was probably heightened by this use of familiar matter, but the skill of the psalmist in the selection and arrangement of the borrowed elements gave the psalm its distinctive quality as a hymn.” (Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4)
God’s Great Mash-Up
This hymn has since lost much of its appeal. It is not one of the psalms that children are required to memorize nor is it in great demand for preaching, yet it, too, has its place in the Psaltery. It reminds me that not every line of writing has to be an outstanding, frame worthy quote; not every book has to be the great American novel; nor does every person have to be written about in history books. Yet all are important in their own way. We all serve our own particular purpose in God’s great scheme of life, the ultimate mashup!
How goes the mash-up which is your life???
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