This post first appeared on ‘More Than Writers’, the blog of the Association of Christian Writers.
A lad from the tribe of Sheeran was recently brought before the city elders. The sons of Marvin claimed he had stolen parts of a psalm attributed to their forefather. Believing that he had earned much gold, the sons of Marvin were angered and wanted retribution.
The Sheeranite – a ruddy lad with a particular gifting in stringed instruments and a probable descendant of Jubal1 made his case with all the townsfolk watching and listening closely. Much music sounds like other music. There are only a certain number of ways things can be done.
The sons of Marvin, however, maintained that he knew what he was doing, and was therefore a liar. Some in the crowd needed fine details explaining, such as the difference between a lyre and a liar. Truth be told, it would not be clever to harp on about it.
The elders considered the facts and decided in favour of the Sheeranite. You could not subtract the facts. He composed his own psalms, even when they occasionally sounded similar to other psalms.
It put me in mind of a separate case, where the clan of Samuel were offended when they discovered that lyrics from a song their ancestor Hannah had written had been stolen. The tune could not be verified, but the case was strong for the words. The original song had been composed to mark a poignant moment in the life of a mother who had finally had a son and had given him to serve God.2 The plagiarised version involved an unmarried girl from an inconsequential region who had fallen pregnant and written a song about her excitement, despite her circumstances.3
The parallels between the two versions are extraordinary, and the family of the clan of Samuel made the following case to the authorities:
* Both songs begin with the singer glorifying the Lord;
* Both explain that the Lord is unusually holy;
* Both relate examples of retributive justice from God toward the proud and self-reliant;
* Both describe how the Lord lifts up the humble and the hungry;
* Both talk about the extraordinary scale of God’s justice.
When this case went before the elders, the young woman who stole the lyrics was represented by a distant family member, a priest called Zechariah. He raised his voice repeatedly in court until he was heard. When the crowds fell silent, he explained that Hannah may not have composed the song entirely herself either. Referencing Psalm 113, he pointed out many similarities there too. I’m just thinking out loud, he said, but women have been singing in this style for centuries. They often sing when they go about their daily tasks, such as repetitive flour grinding, weaving, spinning and working in the fields. They love to copy tunes they have heard.
Perhaps his young relative was not wrong to copy the style or to reference such a poignant and powerful moment in cultural history. Although she did not earn gold or silver for her song, her story bears consideration and the parallels between the women’s lives and their sons may also warrant closer inspection.
Zechariah went on to sing a similar song himself, but by this point many of the crowd had made their own minds up and left. Maybe creative inspiration was about to run wild…
1. Genesis 4:21
2. 1 Samuel 2
3. Luke 1
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