Thanksgiving hymns are a few centuries old, tops – but biblical psalms of gratitude and praise go back thousands of years

13 days ago Wausau Pilot & Review

David W. Stowe, Michigan State University

Thanksgiving doesn’t ring in the ear for months on end, unlike another holiday that lies just ahead. Yet readers may remember a couple of hymns that roll around each November in church, around the dinner table, or even – for readers of a certain age – in school. One I remember well is “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” Then there’s “We Gather Together,” or “We Plough the Fields and Scatter.”

Interestingly, for songs associated with a distinctly American holiday, none have American origins. “Come, Ye Thankful People” was written by Henry Alford, a 19th-century English cleric who ascended to become dean of Canterbury Cathedral and supposedly rose to his feet to give thanks after every meal and at the close of every day. “We Gather Together” is much older, written in 1597 to celebrate the Dutch victory over the Spanish in the Battle of Turnhout. “We Plough the Fields” was written by a German Lutheran in 1782.

As someone who studies American culture and religious music, I’m interested in the backstory of the songs that we have come to take for granted. Someone wandering into a church and picking up a hymnal will likely find a handful of hymns filed under “thanksgiving,” but many more express a general sense of gratitude, such as “Now Thank We All Our God” and “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Even more hymns fall under the related category of praise – after all, a common response to feeling blessed or rescued is to offer praise to the higher being thought to bestow those gifts.

None of these impulses are uniquely Christian, or even religious. But hymns of praise and gratitude have been central to Jewish and Christian worship for millennia. In fact, they go back to one of the best-known scenes in the Hebrew Bible.

Fleeing Pharaoh

The earliest musical performance mentioned in the Hebrew Bible is “The Song of the Sea,” referring to two songs Moses and his sister Miriam sing to celebrate the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. As Pharaoh’s army pursues the fleeing slaves to the edge of the Red Sea, God opens a dry path for them before closing up the sea to swallow the soldiers, according to the Book of Exodus:

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.’

Jewish singer Debbie Friedman, who died in 2011, wrote “Miriam’s Song,” adapting these lines from Exodus into a modern favorite.

A page from an old Book of Psalms shows a woman in a red dress dancing next to a group of people emerging from water.A page from an old Book of Psalms shows a woman in a red dress dancing next to a group of people emerging from water.‘The Chludov Psalter,’ a book of psalms, shows ‘The Song Of Moses and Miriam,’ from around A.D. 850. Found in the Collection of State History Museum, Moscow. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Temple worship

One research project took me deep into the world of the Hebrew Psalms, which originally were sung mainly during rituals at the temple in Jerusalem. Scholars have speculated for centuries over the composition and sequencing of these Hebrew poems that form one book of the Bible. The 150 psalms include a great many laments, expressions of praise and gratitude, and quite a few texts that combine both.

Hermann Gunkel, a pioneering Bible scholar at the turn of the 20th century, developed a system of classifying the texts in the Book of Psalms by genre, which experts still use today. What Gunkel called “Thanksgiving” psalms are texts that celebrate God’s actions to bestow blessings and alleviate affliction in particular times and places: healing from a serious illness, for example. Gunkel’s categories also include psalms that refer to gratitude for more general divine actions: creating the cosmos and the wonders of the natural world, or protecting the ancient Israelites from foreign enemies.

It’s hard to find a text more brimming with gratitude than Psalm 65, which includes verses very suitable for Thanksgiving Day:

The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops. You crown the year with your bounty, and your carts overflow with abundance.

A new idea: Songs about Jesus

Though the original tunes of the psalms have been long lost, their words are still a mainstay of religious singing for both Jews and Christians.

Their key role in Protestant churches today owes partly to the Reformation of the 16th century. During the Renaissance, Catholics had developed more ornate musical forms for the Mass, including the use of polyphony: songs with two or more simultaneous interwoven melodies. Protestants, on the other hand, decided that unadorned psalms, put into standard musical meters that matched existing tunes, were optimal for church.

Reformation leader Martin Luther loved music and wrote his own hymns with original words that are still popular today, such as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” As far as the more austere reformer John Calvin was concerned, however, the plainer the better. Unharmonized a cappella psalm singing was plenty good for the sabbath, he insisted.

Calvin’s judgment carried the day in New England, which was settled largely by Puritan Calvinists. In fact, the first book published in North America was “The Bay Psalm Book,” in 1640. It took a century for hymns with new words to start finding acceptance in churches, and even longer for organs to make an appearance there.

A black and white illustration shows a woman helping four children sing from hymnals.A black and white illustration shows a woman helping four children sing from hymnals.An illustration from an 1866 edition of hymn writer Isaac Watts’ ‘Divine and Moral Songs for Children.’ Bridgeman/Culture Club/Hulton Archive via Getty Images

Gradually these restrictions began to soften, even in New England. During the 1700s, hymns began to compete with psalms in popularity. The key innovator was Isaac Watts, a talented poet who wondered why Christians couldn’t sing worship songs that referenced Jesus Christ – since the Book of Psalms, written before his birth, did not. John and Charles Wesley, founders of Methodism, were also inveterate hymn writers.

Praise yesterday and today

To modern ears, the difference between psalms and hymns is barely perceptible. Hymns often draw heavily on the images and tropes of the psalms. Even a simple-sounding Thanksgiving hymn like “We Gather Together” contains no fewer than 11 allusions to particular psalms.

Watts, the Wesley brothers and several other hymn writers were part of movements that helped birth modern evangelical Christianity. Some of the most famous hymns of thanksgiving and praise have been popularized by evangelical revivals over the centuries: “Amazing Grace,” by an 18th-century English curate, and “How Great Thou Art,” the theme song of world-famous preacher Billy Graham’s revivals.

Over the past 30 years, the booming genre of contemporary worship music, often referred to simply as praise music, has become the standard heard in megachurches and other evangelical congregations across the world. Not surprisingly, praise and gratitude are inescapable themes in this genre – whether or not they evoke a Thanksgiving feast.

David W. Stowe, Professor of Religious Studies, Michigan State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Continue reading...

Read On "Wausau Pilot & Review"
More News On "Wausau Pilot & Review"
BREAKING NEWS
13 minutes ago - Musicians, bands release sleigh full of new holiday music 14 minutes ago - Thompson’s 5-goal game sends Sabres past Blue Jackets 9-4 16 minutes ago - NBA-leading Celtics embarrass sloppy Suns in blowout 16 minutes ago - NHL Thursday parlay at mega (+1111) odds, today 12/8 17 minutes ago - Here's What Stood Out in the Celtics' Win vs. Suns: Dominant Defensive Performance Paves Way to Blowout Victory 20 minutes ago - 3 reactions from short-handed Warriors’ horrible yet encouraging last-second loss to Jazz 23 minutes ago - Gujarat Election Results 2022 LIVE Updates: Trends show that BJP set to get over 50% of votes 26 minutes ago - Gujarat poll results: AAP looks to breach BJP's bastion, emerge as principal challenger of the saffron party 27 minutes ago - A list of all NBA teams in alphabetical order and their logos 32 minutes ago - Kobe Bryant's advice to Kevin Durant: 'Really just don't be a crybaby' 33 minutes ago - World Cup winner White warns ‘naive’ S.Africans ahead of Champions Cup debut 33 minutes ago - Virginia stays perfect with 83-54 victory at William & Mary 35 minutes ago - Courteney Cox Jokes About How ‘Real New Yorkers Eat Pizza’ In Hilarious Video 47 minutes ago - NHL world reacts to historic five-goal performance 51 minutes ago - Recap: Avs blanked by Bruins 51 minutes ago - Elon Musk turns Twitter office rooms into bedrooms for 'tired' employees 51 minutes ago - Extreme Natural Events and Climate Change 52 minutes ago - Golden State Warriors suffer heartbreaking loss in unbelievabably crazy finish 57 minutes ago - 1,100 New York Times Employees to Go on 24-Hour Strike 1 hour ago - After Teaching Him for Free, Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame Coach Reveals the ‘Hardest Thing He Had To Overcome’ in Golf 1 hour ago - What Makes a Great Gift? 1 hour ago - [latest] Black Clover Movie Latest Spoilers, Leaked Summaries, Plot & More News 1 hour ago - TV and Streaming Viewing Picks for December 8, 2022: how to watch Thursday Night Football 1 hour ago - Rangers’ Kaapo Kakko showing potential, but goals hard to come by 1 hour ago - OMEGA X legal battle against SPIRE begins, CEO Kang Seong Hee defiant to New York Times – Asian Junkie 1 hour ago - Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus 1 hour ago - Judge goes back to Yankees as Giants, Padres examine options 1 hour ago - How Streaming Has Rewritten the Script for Movies 1 hour ago - Capitals finish season-long road trip 3-2-1 to stay afloat in East 1 hour ago - Quick Recap: Ja Morant sets franchise-record for triple doubles in win over Thunder 1 hour ago - What kind of company do the striking HarperCollins workers face? 1 hour ago - 'The Amazing Race' Finale: 'Big Brother' couple Derek Xiao and Claire Rehfuss win Season 34 1 hour ago - Watch Durant, Irving combine for 62 points to lift Nets past Hornets 1 hour ago - 2023 Original Song Contenders (Part 3) 1 hour ago - Clippers vs. Heat Odds, Pick, Prediction: Offense Likely Limited in Miami (December 8) 1 hour ago - NBA roundup: Magic halt skid with OT win over Clippers 1 hour ago - The Amazing Race 34: Derek Xiao and Claire Rehfuss Winner Interview (2022) 1 hour ago - Richmond NGA product at home with Tigers' VFL program 1 hour ago - Giannis Antetokounmpo, Since ‘The Ladder Incident’, has averaged 36 and Tied 7’2″ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1 hour ago - Jazz Take Third Quarter Lead With Three Point Barrage 1 hour ago - Tigers trade Joe Jimenez for top-rated position player in Braves' system 1 hour ago - Knicks Light Up Injury-Riddled Hawks 2 hours ago - New York Times journalists will stage historic 24-hour strike after management and union fail to reach deal 2 hours ago - Avatar’s James Cameron on art, AI and outrage 3 hours ago - Ex-Theranos president Ramesh Balwani gets 13-year prison term in fraud case 3 hours ago - Sabres' Tage Thompson torments Blue Jackets with 5-point first period 3 hours ago - New York Times braces for 24-hour newsroom strike 3 hours ago - Exclusive For Boost Users! Stand The Chance To Win Tickets For Blackpink World Tour [Born Pink] Kuala Lumpur When Redeeming RM2 Rewards 3 hours ago - America’s most Googled term in 2022 is puzzling 3 hours ago - Edey stands tall as No. 4 Boilermakers rout Hofstra 85-66 3 hours ago - KEN PERROTTE: Canadian gun-control push should concern US gun-rights advocates 3 hours ago - CTB vs WF Dream11 Prediction, Fantasy Cricket Tips, Dream11 Team, Playing XI, Pitch Report, Injury Update- The Ford Trophy 3 hours ago - Germany busts far-right cell plotting to ‘overthrow state’ 3 hours ago - Some New York Times Employees Will Go On Strike For 24 Hours 3 hours ago - Harry & Meghan: King Charles and Prince William ‘to respond to any claims’ in Netflix series 3 hours ago - Holmes' former partner gets nearly 13 years in Theranos case 3 hours ago - Tage Thompson becomes first Sabres player with four goals in a period 3 hours ago - Men’s and women’s swimming and dive both place first at Big AI Invitational 3 hours ago - 1 Key Player The LA Clippers Could Trade Soon 3 hours ago - Watch Mars get eclipsed by the moon tonight on the free webcast
free geoip