When Sam Smith penned the theme song for Daniel Craig’s latest outing as 007 in Spectre, was he aware that he was drawing inspiration straight from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament?
To mark the film’s release we’ve compiled ten songs (including Sam’s) which, knowingly or unknowingly, include a whole lotta Bible in them.
1. Writing’s on the wall
Bible bit: 'Cause the writing's on the wall'
This well-known phrase that concludes the chorus of Sam Smith’s Bond tune usually refers to some negative outcome that is in the offing if we would only take the trouble to see it. The phrase is so well-known that many people are completely unaware of its biblical origins in Chapter 5 of Daniel in the Old Testament.
In the story, Daniel a faithful Jew in the Babylonian exile is summoned to a feast being held by king Belshazzar. The feckless king has been using the sacred cups, looted from the temple in Jerusalem, to toast pagan idols. A disembodied hand appears writing words on the wall of the palace. Daniel interprets the phrases which tell the king that his rule has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Bible bit: 'Hallelujah' and 'Well I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord, but you don't really care for music, do you?'
The song by Leonard Cohen gained a new legion of fans after being popularised by Jeff Buckley in the 1990s and then the X-Factor in the 2000s. Like most Leonard Cohen songs, the poetic lyrics are hard to decipher. Apart from the obviously biblical title, Cohen picks up on some Old Testament imagery during the verses too. The song opens speaking of King David as a psalmist and elsewhere seems to reference the cutting of Sampson’s hair by Delilah in the book of Judges.
3. Turn! Turn! Turn!
Bible bit: Pretty much the whole song
The Byrds 1965 hit is based entirely on Chapter 3 of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, where King Solomon contemplates the meaning of life, God and eternity. There aren’t quite so many exclamation marks in the biblical version however.
'To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep'
4. Where is the love?
Bible bit: 'People killin', people dyin', children hurt and you hear them cryin', can you practice what you preach? Or would you turn the other cheek?'
The Black Eyed Peas breakthrough hit in 2003 was full of moral advice for the state of the world, and seemed to suggest the solution could be found by turning to God: 'Father, father help us please, need some wisdom from above' and included a reference to Jesus’ famous command to ‘turn the other cheek’.
Their next major hit ‘My Humps’ was slightly less spiritually focused…
5. By the rivers of Babylon
Bible bit: the whole song
When Boney M hit the charts with this up-tempo number in 1978 (it became one of the top ten all-time best-selling singles in the UK) it’s fair to assume that most people remained blissfully unaware that the lyrics come from one of the Bible’s most famous songs of lament.
Psalm 137 tells the story of the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon, and the anguish they experienced when their captors asked them to sing the songs they used to sing in their beloved Jerusalem.
'By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down
ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion.
When the wicked
Carried us away in captivity
Required from us a song
Now how shall we sing the lord's song in a strange land?'
6. Gangsta’s Paradise
Bible bit: 'As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there's nothin' left'
The opening line to Coolio’s 1995 hit borrows its phraseology from perhaps the Bible’s most famous poem – Psalm 23. King David, recalling his days as a shepherd boy, speaks of God’s presence with him both in green pastures and in ‘the valley of the shadow of death’.
The image has been used by numerous other artists over the years, including Kanye West on 'Jesus Walks'.
7. By the grace of God
Bible bit: 'By the grace of God (there was no other way) I picked myself back up (I knew I had to stay)'… 'Yeah, the truth will set you free'
Katy Perry grew up in a church-going home and her early career was as a Christian artist singing explicitly Christian songs. Since achieving success in the mainstream, Perry is less certain about her religious affiliations. Nevertheless, songs such as this, from her 2013 album Prism, demonstrate her continuing openness to spiritual and biblical imagery in her songs.
8. Awake my soul
Bible bit: 'Awake my soul, for you were born to meet your maker'
Folk rockers Mumford and Sons have long been an object of speculation for Christian lyric-hunters. Front man Marcus Mumford grew up leading worship in the UK Vineyard church (which his parents John and Ele Mumford founded).
No surprise then that plenty of biblical imagery finds its way into songs replete with themes of salvation, grace and faith (plus the odd swear word). Awake My Soul borrows its title from the opening line of Psalm 57.
9. Perfect Day
Bible bit: 'You’re gonna reap just what you sow'
Lou Reed’s 1972 song from the album Transformer has been covered by numerous other artists over the decades, with its last major outing as the charity single for the BBC’s Children in Need in 1997.
The song concludes with words taken from Galatians 6:7 'Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.'
10. 40 (or just about anything by U2)
Bible bit: the whole thing
No list of Biblically inspired songs would be complete without mentioning U2. Front man Bono frequently infuses the band’s songs with lyrics inspired by his Christian faith. From 1987’s 'Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For' to 2004’s 'Yahweh', biblical imagery is rife throughout their back catalogue.
Their song 40, is based directly on Psalm 40:
'I waited patiently for the Lord
He inclined and heard my cry
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song'
The band traditionally end each gig with the song, gradually departing the stage until the crowd are left alone singing the song’s final plaintive refrain ‘How long to sing this song?’.