Song of the Day: The Bible in Music (Day Two).

From the very inception of the band, U2 have had a longstanding fascination with Biblical imagery.  Take for example, Gloria from October (1981) with its chorus of “Gloria in te Domine, Gloria exultate …” which translates as “Glory in you, Lord, Glory exalt (him)”, with “exalt” in the imperative, a reference to Psalm 30:2.  Gloria also contains references to Colossians 2:9 – 10 in the line “Only in You I’m complete” and James 5:7 – 9 in the lines “The door is open, You’re standing there” amongst other references.  40, the final song from War (1983) is also overtly Biblical, being based on Psalm 40.  Until the End of the World from Achtung Baby (1991) takes a different stance to other religious songs in the U2 canon.  Whereas previously, U2 had simply made Biblical reference, Until the End of the World, inspired by Luke 22:47, is a fictitious account of events based around a Bible story.

The lyrics of Until the End of the World describe a conversation between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot.  The first verse of the song tells of The Last Supper:  “We were as close together as a bride and groom, We ate the food, we drank the wine, Everybody having a good time”.  The use of the term “bride and groom” is a reference to Christ and the Church and in turn, a reference to Ephesians, where Paul speaks of the Church being a bride for Christ, the groom:

“So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the Church” – Ephesians 28 – 29.

The second verse finds Judas identifying Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Where Bono sings “I took the money, I spiked your drink, You miss too much these days if you stop to think”, he refers to the way in which, according to the Scriptures, Judas was the keeper of the purse.  Those who are good with money are often good with numbers and ‘thinkers’.  Judas’s intelligence is what is keeping him from seeing the Kingdom of Heaven:

“And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”. – Matthew 18: 2 – 4.

In Until the End of the World, Judas says, “In the garden I was playing the tart”.  If we take “tart” to mean ‘prostitute’, one meaning of which is to put oneself to an unworthy or corrupt use for personal or financial gain, then he is referring to the way in which by betraying Jesus for thirty silver coins, he has prostituted himself thus relinquishing his right to a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.  When Bono sings, “I spiked your drink”, the drink he is referring to could be interpreted as being Jesus’ blood and the spike could be taken to mean ‘a nail’.  Therefore, this could be a reference to the way in which Judas, by betraying Jesus (“I kissed your lips and broke your heart”) has condemned him to death.

The third verse of the song is about Judas’s suicide after being overwhelmed by guilt and sadness.  The final line, “You said you’d wait ‘til the end of the world” refers to The Final Judgement.  By placing the listener in the position of Judas Iscariot, Bono cleverly creates a song about the cleansing of the soul through pity and fear.

U2 continue to pay homage to the stories of the Bible to this day, with almost every song having some sort of Biblical connotation.  Examples of later Biblical references in U2 songs include the lines “The heart is in bloom, Shoots up through the stony ground” in Beautiful Day from All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000) which is based on Isaiah 52:3:  “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground”.  In the same song we find the lines “See the bird with the leaf in her mouth” which was inspired by Genesis 8: 10-11:  “[Noah] waited seven days more and again sent the dove out from the ark. In the evening the dove came back to him, and there in its bill was a plucked-off olive leaf! So Noah knew that the waters had lessened on the earth”.  Amongst the wealth of Biblically inspired songs in U2’s repertoire, Until the End of the World stands out as it takes the Bible story and tells it from a different perspective, that of Judas, in order to put a new spin on the events.

As a footnote, one of Bono’s alter-egos on the Zoo TV Tour, which accompanied Achtung Baby, was MacPhisto.  MacPhisto was Bono’s interpretation of the Devil.  The Zoo TV Tour satirised television oversaturation in order to draw attention to the desensitising effect of mass media.  Explaining MacPhisto during a 2004 speech, Bono said:

“To serve the age, one must betray it … or something like that … To me, betraying the age means exposing its conceits, its foibles, its phony moral certitudes.  It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths.  Every age has its massive moral blind spots”.

By taking on the guise of Judas in Until the End of the World and MacPhisto (the Devil) on the Zoo TV Tour, Bono not only uses the Bible as a device to talk about his Christian faith, he is also linking it to the ideas addressed on the Achtung Baby album and Zoo TV Tour in order to make a statement about an age of moral corruption.  Just as Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane, Bono is betraying the age in which Achtung Baby and Zoo TV was born into by fully embracing it, exposing its weaknesses.  Judas was obsessed and driven by money, as is the modern world.  Therefore, by adopting the character of Judas on Until the End of the World, Bono is making a statement about the greed of the modern world.

It is also important to note the influence of recording in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the country’s reunification.  Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, Soviet East Germany was seen as the poor side of Germany and West Germany was seen as the more prosperous.  This obviously influenced the band and can be seen in the cover art of the album.  For example, the sleeve prominently features the utilitarian Trabant motor car built in East Germany juxtaposed with the much more luxurious Mercedes motor car built in the richer West Germany.  On one of the album’s sleeve photos, a Trabant owner looks jealously at an obviously better dressed and richer Mercedes driver.

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” – Galatians 5:26.

See also the song So Cruel with it’s allusion to the death of Jezebel.  In the song, Bono sings, “Between the horses of love and lust we are trampled underfoot”, referring to 2 Kings 9:33: “Throw her down!” Jehu said.  So they threw her down, and some of her blood splattered the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot”.

Is what we are seeing here a comment on sin in the modern world?   In the Bible, sin is described as “transgression of the law of God” (1 John 3:4) and “rebellion against God” (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18).  Sin had it’s beginning with Lucifer: Enter MacPhisto.

“How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!” – Isaiah 14:12.

So with Achtung Baby, do we find a lyricist who, in the modern age of consumerism, is struggling with his faith?  Until the End of the World and other songs on the album with their tales of sin and corruption and the Zoo TV Tour’s comment on the way in which television had blurred the lines between news and entertainment, truth and fiction and right and wrong over the previous decade would suggest that Bono was questioning whether his beliefs were viable in the ever-evolving modern world filled as it is with moral and spiritual disintegration.  On the title track of U2’s follow up album Zooropa (1993), amidst a barrage of advertising slogans such as “Vorsprung durch technik” (Audi); “Be a winner” (The UK Lottery) and “Be all that you can be” (the US Army), Bono would sing, “And I have no religion, And I don’t know what’s what, And I don’t know the limit, The limit of what we’ve got”.  Further on into the Zooropa album, on Stay (Faraway, So Close), there is the equally telling lyric, “Just the bang And the clatter As an angel Hits the ground”.