Identify one biblical allusion in each song or spiritual. Explain how each allusion functions as an allegory. 

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akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A biblical allusion in "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" can be seen in the reference to the River Jordan.  The Jordan River is significant in the Biblical narrative.  It is the river that streams through the Holy Land, and represents what the ancient Israelites followed in their search for the Promised Land.  The allegorical meaning of the River Jordan marks where suffering no longer exists.  It is a physical point, a barrier that slaves can see that serves as a demarcation as to where they wish to go.  The allegorical meaning of the River Jordan can be seen as the Ohio River, which marked the point where slaves could go and be free.  Since Ohio was a free state, the Ohio River marked freedom for slaves, akin to how the River Jordan represents the search for the Promised Land.

In "Go Down, Moses," the biblical reference to Pharaoh is deliberate.  Slaveowners in the South were embodiment of Pharaoh, the Israelites were the slaves.  Moses could be seen as the deliverance of the divine, or someone like Harriet Tubman, whose work on the Underground Railroad earned her the nickname of "Black Moses."  With the invocation of Moses and Pharaoh, the spiritual is able to operate on an a biblical level in expressing the reality that slaves experienced.

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jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The spiritual "Go Down, Moses" alludes to Moses's commandment to the Egyptian pharaoh to "let my people go" in Exodus. The lyrics refer to the enslavement of the ancient Israelites in Egypt and the harshness of their treatment. According to the lyrics, the Israelites were "oppressed so hard they could not stand." The allegory behind this allusion is its reference to African-Americans enslaved in the U.S. before the Civil War. Like the Israelites in Exodus, they were oppressed and prayed for freedom. They looked for a Moses-like figure to free them from their enslavement, just as Moses in the spiritual begged the pharaoh to let his people go. In the spiritual, God tells Moses to instruct the pharaoh to free the Israelites, and the slaves who sang this spiritual also hoped for a divine force to free them from slavery. 

The spiritual "Pharaoh's Army Got Drowned" is a reference to the drowning of Pharaoh's army in the Red Sea in Exodus after the Israelites were freed from Egypt. This is also an allusion to the prayers that African Americans had for freedom and the hopes that their oppressors would perish. 

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