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10 Songs Inspired by the Bible

Updated on May 27, 2015
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CJ Baker is a published writer who is currently writing a book on the historical developments of protest music.

The Bible and Pop Culture

Regardless of one's religious or philosophical beliefs it is hard to deny that the Bible is an ancient book. It is also hard to dispute the cultural impact of the Bible. This impact can be seen in the different fields of art. The world of secular music is no exception.

Right now we will consider a list of 10 songs inspired by the Bible. I intentionally avoided music by artists of faith based music. These songs are performed by those that are generally viewed as secular artists. It includes a diverse group of artists. It also includes songs from what would appear to be unlikely sources.

The list is presented in chronological, not numerical order.

Turn! Turn! Turn! -- The Byrds

The song was composed by Pete Seeger in the late 50s and the lyrics were taken almost directly from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The first recorded version of the song was in 1962 by The Limeliters, under the name "To Everything There Is a Season".

The Byrds version appeared on the 1965 album of the same name. The song became a huge hit, hitting #1 on the US Hot 100 Billboard Chart. With lyrics that are traditionally ascribed to King Solomon, it gives the song the distinction of being the #1 hit with the oldest lyrics.

Interestingly, the only lyrics that Pete Seeger added that were not lifted from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes is the line "I swear it is not to late" which appears after the line "a time for peace". This help give the song a strong anti-war message which made it an appropriate anthem for the 1960s protest movement.

Turn! Turn! Turn! by The Byrds (Video)

Highway 61 Revisited -- Bob Dylan

In the late 70s Bob Dylan did convert to Born Again Christianity and released a couple of Gospel albums in the late 70s and early 80s. But prior to that Dylan has a couple of songs which contained Biblical allusions. "Highway 61 Revisited" from his 1965 album of the same name is an example of one of these songs.

The opening verse of the song makes reference to the account at Genesis 22 where God commands Abraham to kill his son Isaac. In this instance the scriptural reference seems to more of a poetic and literary inspiration than any kind of religious statement.

Just as a note I ended up including Johnny Winter's classic rock cover from his 1969 album Second Winter. I opted for this version because I could not find Dylan's original on YouTube.

Highway 61 Revisited by Johnny Winter (Video)

Sacrifice of Isaac - Rembrandt

Both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen were inspired to write songs that dealt with the Biblical account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
Both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen were inspired to write songs that dealt with the Biblical account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. | Source

Story of Isaac -- Leonard Cohen

"Story of Isaac" is from Leonard Cohen's 1969 album Songs from a Room. It is another song which makes reference to the story of Isaac and God commanding Abraham to sacrifice him. As opposed to "Highway 61 Revisited" which addresses the subject from Abraham perspective, this song addresses the subject from Isaac's perspective.

Leonard Cohen's Jewish background is touched upon in many of his songs and he commonly makes reference to verses in the Old Testament. In connection with this, I was also seriously considering his modern day standard "Hallelujah" from his 1984 album Various Positions as well.

Story of Isaac by Leonard Cohen (Video)

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Rivers of Babylon -- Melodians

This 1970 reggae classic is adapted from Psalm 137:1-4 and Psalm 19:14. The song was written to reflect the band's Rastafarian beliefs. In the Rastafarian faith Babylon is referred to oppressive governmental authorities. Initially the song was banned in Jamaica for it's strong Rastafarian and anti-authoritarian message.

The song was also included in the groundbreaking soundtrack for the 1972 Jimmy Cliff film The Harder They Come. In 1978 the song became an international hit when it was covered by Boney M. Boney M's version modified the lyrics to exclude the Rastafarian references.

Rivers of Babylon by Melodians (Video)

Loose Booty -- Sly and the Family Stone

This funky little ditty is from Sly and the Family Stone's 1974 album Small Talk. The song repeats the chant "Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego", the three Hebrew boys who at Daniel Chapter 3 were thrown into the fiery furnace. This particular song doesn't really touch upon the details of the Biblical account. The Bible character names are used more as a divine call to get funky on the dance floor.

The Beastie Boys heavily sampled this song on their song "Shadrach" from their 1989 landmark album Paul's Boutique.

Loose Booty by Sly and the Family Stone (Video)

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Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego are not only  three Hebrew boys who were saved from a fiery furnace, they are  also a divinely inspired dance floor chant.
Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego are not only three Hebrew boys who were saved from a fiery furnace, they are also a divinely inspired dance floor chant. | Source

Creeping Death -- Metallica

"Creeping Death" is from Metallica's 1984 album Ride The Lightning. The song was written from the perspective of the Angel of Death and it contains references to the some of the ten plagues referred to in Exodus chapter 8. The band was inspired to write the song after watching the movie The Ten Commandments. The song became a popular live staple partly due to the crowd participation of the "Die!" chant.

Creeping Death by Metallica (Video)

Gouge Away -- Pixies

"Gouge Away" is one of three songs from the Pixies classic 1989 album Doolittle which would of qualified for this list. The other songs are "Dead" (David and Bathsheba) and "Monkey Gone to Heaven" (Biblical numerology). "Gouge Away" deals with the Scriptural account of Samson and Delilah. The song makes reference to Samson being blinded and it makes reference to Samson being "Chained to the pillars... I break the walls/Kill us all/With holy fingers".

Gouge Away by Pixies (Video)

Delilah Cuts Samson's Hair

Samson and Delilah is just one example of a Biblical account which inspired the song writing of Frank Black of the Pixies.
Samson and Delilah is just one example of a Biblical account which inspired the song writing of Frank Black of the Pixies. | Source

Some Other Songs Which Refer To Samson and/or Delilah

Run Samson Run
Neil Sedaka
Neil Sedaka Sings Little Devil and His Other Hits
Tom Jones
Samson and Delilah
Middle of the Road
The Pointer Sisters
Written by Bruce Springsteen, who released it on his album Live 1975-85
Leonard Cohen
Various Positions
Modern day standard, most well known version Jeff Buckley from his 1994 album Grace
All Women Are Bad
The Cramps
Stay Sick
PJ Harvey
Someday We'll Know
New Radicals
Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too
Covered by Hall & Oates, 2003 album Do It For Love
Sin Wagon
Dixie Chicks
Regina Spektor
The Dresden Dolls
Yes, Virginia....
Modern Day Delilah
Sonic Boom
Sim Sala Bim
Fleet Foxes
Helplessness Blues

Thin Blue Flames -- Josh Ritter

This was a coin toss between this song and "Girl in the War", both from Josh Ritter's excellent but somewhat overlooked 2006 masterpiece The Animal Years. Both songs protest the Iraq war and they both provide poignant commentary on religion's destructive involvement in wars. Both songs are two of the finest protest songs of the 2000s protest movement.

I opted for "Thin Blue Flames" because this nearly 10 minute epic of a song contains more direct Biblical references. Examples include "He bent down and made the world in seven days/And ever since he's been walking away", "If what's loosed on earth will be loosed up on high/ It's a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die" and "The fruit trees of Eden and the gardens that seem/ To float like the smoke from a lithium dream".

Thin Blue Flames by Josh Ritter (Video)

A Pillar of Salt -- The Thermals

"A Pillar of Salt" is from The Thermals 2006 album The Body, the Blood, the Machine. The album is a punk rock concept album which according to the band's website "tells the story of a young couple who must flee a United States governed by fascist faux-Christians."

The song alludes to the Biblical account of the destruction of Sodom of Gomorrah and how Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt. In the context of this song and the album that it is from, the Sodom and Gomorrah that they are escaping from is the fascist regime of faux-Christianity.

A Pillar of Salt by The Thermals (Video)

Lot's Wife Pillar

The Lot's Wife Pillar located in Mount Sodom, Israel.
The Lot's Wife Pillar located in Mount Sodom, Israel. | Source

Mount Sodom, Israel

A markerMount Sodom, Israel -
Mount Sodom
get directions

Contains a pillar named "Lot's Wife" who in the Biblical account turned into a Pillar of Salt during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Matthew 25:21 -- The Mountain Goats

"Matthew 25:21" is from The Mountain Goats 2009 album The Life of the World to Come. Every song on the album is named after and inspired by a Bible verse. Some of the songs do allude to aspects of the verse, where in other cases (such as with this song) the verse is a jumping off point for songwriter John Darnielle to weave a compelling narrative. In the case of "Matthew 25:21" that narrative involves someone who is dying from cancer. I can't listen to this song without getting choked up.

Darnielle considers himself to be a non-practicing Catholic who borders on being a non-believer. But he is also into the Bible and has cited it has an important inspiration for his creative efforts. This reminded me of a High School English teacher who I had, who considered herself Agnostic. She felt that everyone should read the Bible and it was an important part of a well balanced education. She respected it from a literary standpoint.

Matthew 25:21 by The Mountain Goats (Video)

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© 2014 CJ Baker


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    • Sheri Faye profile image

      Sheri Dusseault 3 years ago from Chemainus. BC, Canada

      Well who knew....very interesting hub!

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 3 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Hi Sheri, thanks for the read and the comment, greatly appreciated!

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 3 years ago from The Garden State

      I have stood in the crowd at many Metallica shows screaming "DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!" at the top of my lungs during "Creeping Death!"

    • WriterJanis profile image

      Janis 3 years ago from California

      It's amazing how many songs were originally inspired by the Bible.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 3 years ago from Parts Unknown

      FatFeddyCat - It really is a fun Biblical inspired chant! Thanks for the read and comment!

      WriterJanis - This Hub was really just a small sample of the number of songs that were inspired by the Bible. Many people just connect the Bible's influence to Faith based music, but I thought it would be interesting to examine its impact on secular music. Especially in connection with musical artists that would generally fall under the category of non-believers. I appreciate the read and the comment!

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 3 years ago from Tennesee

      Good list! I'll have to check out The Thermals; I don't think I have yet listened to any of their music.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 3 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Thank for the read and the comment, Beth! The Thermals are pretty solid, and I do recommend their album The Body, the Blood, the Machine.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      I remember hearing Turn, Turn, Turn during my high school years. It was quite popular and thought provoking. There are many songs out there today inspired by the Bible as well, and many are very inspiring. I am not familiar with some of the artists and songs, thank you for highlighting their purpose and musical response to Biblical beliefs.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 3 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Teaches, thanks for the read and the comment! I agree that Turn, Turn, Turn is a very thought provoking song. I am also glad that I may of introduced you to some artists and songs that you never heard of before. That is always one of my objectives with these Hubs. I want to offer a diverse selection of musical genres, along with a mix of the well known and obscure.

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