South Asia

Organized Panel Session

2 - How a Missionary Psalter Became a Jewish Songbook: The Case of Davidachi Gite

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Coolidge, Mezzanine Level

For over a hundred and fifty years, Bene Israel people of western India have sung Marathi metrical Psalms in social and ceremonial gatherings. These beloved Psalms, known in Marathi as Davidachi Gite (Songs of David), form the core of the Bene Israel Marathi song repertoire, but their importance in Indian Judaism occludes a colonial missionary past. Davidachi Gite are drawn from a nineteenth-century psalter of the same name, which was composed and first published in 1836-39 by a British missionary with the help of Hindu and Indian Christian scholars. American, British, and Scottish missionaries invested great time and energy in Marathi Bible translation and hymn composition with the hope that these texts would attract Marathi speakers to Christianity. Despite these efforts, very few Bene Israel people actually converted and few missionary translations continue to circulate among Marathi Jews. Davidachi Gite is a notable exception; although it has been out of print for over a century, photocopies of the 1890 edition are a staple in Bene Israel households. In this paper, I explore why Davidachi Gite succeeded among the Bene Israel when other Old Testament translations did not. I also consider how these Christian texts were colored by Hindu devotional song, and how they have been re-oralized and re-textualized by Bene Israel women to bolster their Jewish knowledge, generate new forms of sociality, and articulate changing Bene Israel identities.

Anna Schultz

Stanford University, California

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