Babylon Is Fallen (I)
DESCRIPTION: Chorus: "Babylon is fallen, is fallen, is fallen! Babylon is fallen, to rise no more!" Verses: "Hail the day so long expected." Babylonians cry, trade and traffic die, all in one day. Saints, throngs, elders shout "hallelujah," "the loud and long amen"
EARLIEST DATE: 1859 (_The Hesperian Harp_, according to Jackson; see notes); 1813 (see notes)
KEYWORDS: floatingverses nonballad religious Bible Jesus
FOUND IN: US(SE)
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Dett/Fenner/Rathbun/Cleveland-ReligiousFolkSongsOfTheNegro-HamptonInstitute, p. 2, "Babylon's Fallin'" (1 text, 1 tune; pp. 248-249 in the 1874 edition)
ADDITIONAL: William Hauser, The Hesperian Harp (Philadelphia: S.C. Collins, 1874 ("Digitized by Internet Archive")), p. 291, "Babylon Is Fallen" (1 text, 1 tune)
NOTES [1799 words]: The Biblical prophecies of Babylon's fall are fulfilled in Daniel 5:30-31.
The description follows Hauser. Dett replaces Hauser's verses with two floaters: "Oh, Jesus tell you once before... To go in peace an' sin no more" and "If you get dere before I do, Tell all my friends I'm comin' too." The form of Dett's verse is also changed and follows a familiar Black call and response format. Dett's verse is a couplet with "Babylon's fallin', to rise no more" after each couplet line. While these changes may be the "folk process" in action, changes like these were sometimes introduced by Black hymn writers and hymnal printers (see, for example, Portia K. Maultsby, "Music of Northern Independent Black Churches during the Ante-Bellum Period" in Ethnomusicology, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Sep 1975 (available online by JSTOR)), pp. 413-414, citing the work of Richard Allen, early in the nineteenth century). The difference between the Hauser and Dett versions illustrates the structural difference Maultsby defines between white and Black Protestant hymns: "Although exceptions may be found, the most common textual structure found in [white] hymns consists of four different lines of text: a, b, c, and d. On the other hand, textual structures common to [Black] spiritual texts include the alternation of different lines of text with recurring lines of text (a b c b and a b a c), three repeated lines of text followed by a different line of text (a a a b), and the alternation of a recurring line of text with another recurring line of text (a b a b). The use of refrain lines as found in the above textual structures allowed for continuous participation of all congregational members in the singing of spirituals."
Maultsby writes that [white] hymn structure has four different lines of text (a, b, c, d). I take that not to be referring to rhyme, but to non-repetitive lines. For example, in John Wesley's Hymn Book of the United Methodist Free Churches (London: William Reed, 1861 ("Digitized by Google")): of Hymns 1 through 28 the 26 by Charles Wesley are all rhymed; the remaining 2, by Isaac Watts and Samuel Wesley Sr also rhyme; after that, as far as I can tell, the book is filled with rhyming hymns. Maultsby's point is not about rhyming but that there are no refrain lines, no repeated lines, and no choruses.
Jackson, #226 p. 137, "Babylon Is Fallen": "The Shakers enjoyed the song as early as 1813 (see their Millenial Praises, Hancock, Mass., p. 50)" (George Pullin Jackson, Another Sheaf of White Spirituals (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1952)). Hauser's 1848 preface to the 1874 edition of The Hesperian Harp still describes that 1874 edition as to the number of pages; my point is that the 1859 early date I have from Jackson should probably be 1848. Incidentally, Jackson has the treble and alto tune from Hauser, as well as the chorus and first two verses. - BS
Re "The Biblical prophecies of Babylon's fall are fulfilled in Daniel 5:30-31." Yes, Daniel 5 (very inaccurately) describes the overthrow of Babylon. But it is not properly a prophecy fulfilled -- for one thing, 5:31 refers to "Darius the Mede" becoming King of Babylon, but there was no "Darius the Mede"; it was Cyrus's Persian Empire which conquered Babylon (Hartman/Di Lella, p. 191. The first Greek translator of Daniel seemingly knew this, and instead of "Darius the Mede," read either "Artaxerxes the Mede" [so the MS. known as 88] or "Artaxerxes the king of Persia" [so the Harkleian Syriac rendering]; Ziegler, p. 156).
"This Darius is almost certainly a figment of the writer's imagination.... the prophets had foretold that Babylon would fall to the Medes and so there had to be a Median kingdom between the Babylonian and the Persian and there had to be a Median king to succeed Belshazzar [who himself was never actually king]. Every attempt to prove that there was such a monarch [as Darius] has failed. Astyges, the last king of the Median Empire will not fit..." (Porteous, p. 83).
The apparent reason for the error in Daniel is that the book was written around the time of the Maccabees in the second century B.C.E. Even its canonical position indicates this; despite claiming to be the work of a prophet, it is not included among the Prophets in the Jewish canon. The evident reason is that it was not written until after the corpus of the Prophets was closed. Hence it ended up as is part of the Writings, which were canonized last. The mere fact that half the book is in Aramaic hints that it was written after the Exile, and Soggin, p. 409, says "terms of Greek and Persian origin abound. Whole passages are written in imperial Aramaic, whereas logically we would expect early Aramaic."
InterpretersDict, vol. I, p. 767, after allowing all possible excuses for why a sixth century author would get everything wrong about that era, concludes, "Thus the weight of evidence -- internal, historical, and linguistic -- forces us to the conclusion that the book of Daniel was not merely published, but was also written, fairly late in the Greek period." Soggin, p. 410, says that "We shall not go wrong in dating the book between 168 and 164," four hundred years after Babylon fell, and even this may be generous; it seems likely to me that it was begun no earlier than 167 (except for some of the parts that may have been taken from old folktales), and author's draft finished by 165. What is notable is that it iis almost completely wrong in its history -- except when it gets to the Seleucid era, two and a half centuries after the fall of Chaldean Babylon.
Insofar as the Hebrew Bible has a genuine reference to the fall of Babylon, it's in 2 Chron. 36:22-23=Ezra 1:1-3, where Cyrus King of Persia (the *real* conqueror of Babylon, not this "Darius the Mede" fiction) permits the Jews to return home. The comment about "Zion's walls are now erected" might also be from this period; the (re-)erecting of Jerusalem's walls by Nehemiah is the subject of Nehemiah 1-4, 6, with the actual completion being mentioned in Nehemiah 6:15.
What's more, the events allegedly described in Daniel do not describe a fall of Babylon "to rise no more"; the city continued to be important until after the time of Alexander the Great -- Seleucus I, founder of the Seleucid Empire, made it his first capital in 312 B.C.E. (Grainger, p. 28). It's just that, after the time of Cyrus, it was no longer the chief city *of the Babylonian Empire.* An historical reference to Babylon not rising any more almost has to date from after 100 B.C.E. -- the Roman period, when the Seleucid Empire decayed and Babylon finally was deserted. (By the Christian era, "only a small group of astronomers and mathematicians still continued to live in the ancient city"; InterpretersDict, vol. I, p. 335).
So the song is not a reference to Daniel; the reference in the song is almost certainly to Revelation 14:8, which in the King James Bible reads "And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication." In this instance, "Babylon" is a cipher for Rome (Harvey, p. 823), so that the chronology works. (To be sure, Rev. 14:8 is an expanded quotation of Isaiah 21:9, one of two clear prophecies of the fall of Babylon; Ford, p. 237; Jer. 51:8 is the other prophecy).
(Interestingly, there is tremendous variation in the manuscript copies of this verse of Revelation. There are seven copies in what is called "uncial" script, the earliest Greek writing style used for the Bible: P47, of the third century, which is fragmentary; ℵ or S, of the fourth century; A and C, of the fifth (the latter fragmentary), and P, 046, and 051 (the latter fragmentary), of the ninth; there are assorted later copies. P47 and the first hand of S, plus some later manuscripts, omit "angel"; 61 69 and the Latin translation omit "second"; A disagrees with C P 051 about the word order of the two words. S C 046 and about half the late manuscripts omit one instance of "fallen." Some of this may be under the influence of the text of Isaiah 21:9; the Hebrew of that verse reads "Fallen, fallen is Babylon," without "the great," but the early manuscripts of the Greek translation, which is the version of the Old Testament usually quoted by the New, reads simply "Fallen is Babylon," without the second "fallen" -- and with a different verb tense. There are also some minor differences later in the verse. There isn't really much doubt about what is meant, but the memory of this verse, in Greek, was very confused.)
What's more, the version I've heard of this song has an additional verse that is explicitly Christian and another clear citation of the Revelation to John: "Blow the trumpet in Mount Zion, Christ shall come a second time, Ruling with a rod of iron All who now as foes combine. Babel's garment we've rejected And her fellowship is o'er, Babylon is fallen...." Again the passage is based on the Revelation, in this case 2:27: "And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father." "Rod" is Greek ραβδως, "rabdos," a rod or staff, but often used of the Roman fasces, a token of office, so a ruler's staff of office. The phrase "rod of iron" derives from Psalm 2:9, which in the Greek version of Psalms uses the exact same words.
I'm not sure what the reference to "Shiloh's wide dominion" is supposed to mean; Shiloh was the cultic center of Israel in the time of Eli and Samuel (see 1 Samuel 1-4), but it seems to have been abandoned after the Philistine raid which captured the Ark of the Covenant (1 Samuel 4), seemingly causing the priests to move to Nob (cf. 1 Samuel 22:11), and any hopes for a return there surely ended when the cult moved to Jerusalem. Jeremiah (7:12ff., 26:6fff.) refers specifically to its destruction.
There is, in the King James translation of Gen. 49:10, the statement that "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be." No one knows what "Shiloh" means in this verse, and indeed, the text is in some doubt; the Greek reads something along the lines of "until what is saved for him comes" for "until Shiloh comes", while the New Revised Standard Version renders "until tribute comes to him" (not that the composer of this song would know that!). I think the only thing that can be said with certainty of this verse is that it has been puzzling commentators for more than two thousand years.
Perhaps the best explanation is that the reference is to Joshua 18:1: the Israelites are at Shiloh when Joshua sends out surveyors to survey Canaan so that the land can be divided among the tribes. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.2
- Ford: J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation (being volume 38 of the Anchor Bible), Doubleday, 1975
- Grainger: John D. Grainger, The Rise of the Seleukid Empire, 323-223 BC, 2014 (I use the 2018 Pen & Sword paperback)
- Harvey: A. E. Harvey, The New English Bible: Companion to the New Testament, Oxford/Cambridge University Press, 1970
- Hartman/Di Lella: Louis F. Hartman and Alexander A. Di Lella, The Book of Daniel, being volume 23 of The Anchor Bible, Doubleday, 1978
- InterpretersDict: [George Arthur Buttrick et al, editor], The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, four volumes, 1962 (a fifth supplementary volume was published later)
- Porteous: Norman W. Porteous, Daniel: A Commentary, The Westminster Press, 1965 (previously published in German translation in 1962)
- Soggin: J. Alberto SOggin, Introduction to the Old Testament, revised edition, 1974, 1977; translated from the Italian by John Bowden, Westminster Press, 1980
- Ziegler: Joseph Ziegler: Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum: Susanna * Daniel * Bel et Draco, being volume XVI part 2 of the "Gottingen Steptuagint," Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1954
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